Thursday, October 7, 2010

Background checks show 600 felony offenses in 900 churches

During the past two years, about 900 churches and organizations conducted background checks using the discounted service offered through LifeWay, which is the publishing and research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Those background checks turned up "more than 600" felony offenses. This data was reported by the Associated Press yesterday.

Let me give you those numbers again. When LifeWay-sponsored background checks were run on staff and volunteers in about 900 churches and organizations, they showed more than 600 felony offenses.

Now do the math.

The Southern Baptist Convention has about 45,000 churches. If you extrapolate the numbers, they would project to about 30,000 felony offenses in the 45,000 churches.

Are you horrified yet? I sure am.

The fact that the 900 churches aren’t a statistically representative sample doesn’t comfort me any. Sampling errors in data can cut both ways. This means that, if we could compile the data from each and every one of the SBC’s 45,000 churches, the actual number of felonies could be either less or more than the projected 30,000.

LifeWay markets its services primarily to Southern Baptist churches, but the reported data doesn’t indicate whether the 900 churches were exclusively Southern Baptist churches. Conceivably, there could have been some other types of churches who also used LifeWay’s discounted background check service. But this caveat doesn’t comfort me any, either.

I just can’t find any way to look at the numbers without being horrified.

And, of course, the danger is actually far worse than what these background checks reflect. As the Associated Press article reports, “only about 3 percent of sex offenders have criminal backgrounds.” This means that about 97 percent of sex offenders won’t be discovered when churches conduct criminal background checks.

This is one of the reasons why other major faith groups make use of denominational accountability systems for assessing and tracking clergy sex abuse reports. They make this effort to try to assure that those who carry the highest level of trust in their churches -- ministers -- will not be able to slip through the cracks so easily if they have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

But the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t bother with such safety systems for its churches. In 2008, the SBC decided that “it should not create its own database to help churches identify predators or establish an office to field abuse claims.”

That’s right. The largest Protestant denomination in the land decided that it wouldn’t institute basic safety precautions similar to what other major faith groups do. It would leave churches to handle things on their own without any denominational assistance in assessing or tracking credibly-accused Baptist clergy. It would simply encourage churches to conduct background checks.

Why aren’t Southern Baptist leaders more worried about the 97 percent of sex offenders who won’t show up in background checks?

And why aren’t Southern Baptist leaders expressing a great deal more concern about the high number of felony convictions that showed up in even the small number of churches that they can point to as having actually done background checks?

The news of 600 felony convictions in 900 churches should be news of grave concern for Baptist leaders. But I’m sure not seeing much sign of any concern. To the contrary, it seems like just another day in Baptistland.

Related post: "450 churches had 80 serious felony offenses," 8/8/09.

Update: "LifeWay background-check service finds hundreds of felonies," ABP, 10/7/10.


Dr Who said...

SO this is beginning to make some sense and explains why Baptist ignore many issues brought out here and other places.

Looks like that lovely Baptist Motto and statement we hear from the pulpits of these S B C ministers weekly is very true and reveling ;

The church is full of hypocrites and there is room for one more is sooooooo true....

Maybe they ARE telling us in there own way, their true background.

Anonymous said...

Oh my word! I cannot believe the ratio. That is incredible and you are right, it does not bode well for the SBC.

but the SBC as an org does not care. They only care about image and money.

Their great defense is that they have no control. They are not responsible. but I say, look at the speaking gigs Gaines got from SBC leaders AFTER his pedophile scandal and that tells you all you need to know about where the SBC stands on this issue!

Christa Brown said...

"...but I say, look at the speaking gigs Gaines got from SBC leaders AFTER his pedophile scandal..."

Yup. Not only do Southern Baptist leaders fail miserably in their blind-eyed do-nothingness, but even worse, they actively promote pastors who are known to have kept quiet about and covered up for clergy predators. The unmistakeable message they send is this: "Clergy sex abuse cover-up? No big deal."

Equalist said...

I just did the math, and if only 3% of offenders are found through background checks, and the study found 600 offenders in 900 churches, then that means that in those 900 churches, logically speaking there are 20,000 offenders. Insanity.