Saturday, December 15, 2012

Deadly Secrets: New book shows terrible cost of Baptists' keep-it-quiet culture

Author Kathryn Casey tells the true crime story of Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker, who was able to migrate through many Baptist churches and schools despite multiple reports of sexual assault and abuse. In Baptistland, Baker apparently learned that his deeds carried no consequence. Ultimately he tried to get away with murder. . .  and he nearly did.  This is NOT fiction. Here’s aere’s Hn excerpt from Deadly Little Secrets.

”When her parents arrived, they accompanied Lora back to the stadium to meet with Sims. Once Lora explained what had happened, Matt was called into Sims’s office. 'Matt admitted what he’d done, but he said he didn’t realize he was hurting me,' she said. But there was no doubt that Lora had attempted to fight him off, attested to by the bite mark on his shoulder. 

'This will be taken care of,' Sims assured her, saying she didn’t need to involve the police. Lora and her parents agreed to let the university handle the situation.. . . .  [“The university” is Baylor, a school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.]

Lora returned to the campus after Christmas break… When she reported for work at the stadium, Matt was there, and it appeared his only punishment was to be confined to the training room to work with the players. ‘That was something that usually only the seniors were able to do,’ Lora says. ‘It wasn’t a punishment. It was more of a promotion.’

For Lora, the effects of Matt Baker’s attack lingered. She dropped out of athletic training and left Baylor before the semester ended. Months later, she was asked to put her recollection of the events in writing for Matt’s file. She did so. At the time, she was told there’d been another episode with Matt. . .

Departing Waco and Baylor, however, didn’t end Lora’s suffering. For years after, she endured nightmares in which it happened all over again . . . . Such nights, Lora woke up terrified. . . .

Were there any ramifications for Matt? . . . The university and Mike Sims would later refuse comment, so there would be nothing by which to judge their actions but the results. The undeniable consequence of the attack was that no one at Baylor filed a police report . . . and Matt Baker was allowed to continue at the university.

Perhaps it would have been expected that Matt would have learned from what he’d done, but then, he’d apparently suffered no punishment, so why should he change his ways? If Baylor had taken action, made sure that he was charged with a crime, Matt might have been held accountable. But they didn’t, and he wasn’t, and the following January, just weeks after Baker’s attack on Lora Wilson, he was home in Kerrville. It was there that he struck up an old friendship with Dina Ahrens . . . . Dina would later testify about what happened that night . . . It took all her physical strength to keep her clothes on. Why did Baker finally stop? According to Ahrens, it was only because he heard her mother at the door. . . .

Meanwhile, all continued to go well for Matt Baker. . . . The month after Wilson accused him of assault, no one from the university apparently protested when Matt was given a highly coveted position, an internship in the recreation department at the First Baptist Church of Waco, the premier church in the city, one tightly tied to Baylor. Perhaps they didn’t realize or maybe they didn’t care that at the church Matt’s duties would include working in the recreation center and at the summer youth camp, often around young, vulnerable women.

The man who hired him, Jake Roberts, was one of Matt’s teachers at Baylor… who also worked at First Baptist. . . .

In Texas, many [Baptist churches] belong to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) at the state level and the Southern Baptist Convention at the national level….  Says a former member of the BGCT’s board: ‘We can’t tell them whom to hire. Basically, to be called a pastor of a Baptist church, all you have to do is have a church vote to hire you.’. . . .

When it comes to ministerial misconduct. . . ‘Many [Baptist churches] just fire the offending pastor or ask him to find something else and move on,’ says a former BGCT employee. ‘They want to get rid of their problem. They don’t worry about where that pastor goes next and what he might do once he’s there.’ . . .

It would later be unclear whether anyone at First Baptist reported to the BGCT regarding the allegations against Matt Baker since BGCT would refuse requests for records. . . .

Concerned about Baker, Roberts… took an additional step, writing a report on all that had transpired and putting it in First Baptist’s safe . . . .  [where it certainly didn’t function to keep anyone else any safer]

Later it would be difficult to pin down dates when Matt Baker worked at particular churches since few kept records. According to Matt’s resume, his first church position after First Baptist Waco was as a part-time youth and music minister working under the pastor at … First Baptist of Robinson . . . . Like so many of his jobs, his position in Robinson was short-lived, less than a year.. . .

In the summer of 1996, after losing the job in Robinson, Matt worked as recreation director at the prestigious Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in downtown Waco. . . . Matt’s sojourn as assistant recreation director, however, lasted only four months. . . .Yet, that fall, Matt was given another plum job, to pastor Pecan Grove Baptist, a small country church outside Waco. Pecan Grove was known as a good assignment for Truett students, a place where the seminary’s stars were groomed for the future . . . .”

Baptist pastor Matt Baker was convicted of murder in January 2010. At the time of his trial, prosecutors said they were prepared to put on evidence of at least 13 young women, including four minors, toward whom Baker had made sexual assaults and inappropriate “advances.” Here is a list of the many churches, schools and organizations where Baker worked, as they were reported by Texas Monthly magazine. Notably, almost all of them are affiliated with the same umbrella organization, the Baptist General Convention of Texas – an organization that is obviously lost in oblivion on the need for effective systems of clergy accountability. Indeed, even after multiple allegations, it was Baptists’ endorsement of Baker as a chaplain that allowed him to still get a job working with vulnerable kids at the Waco Center for Youth. If only Baptists had held Matt Baker accountable from the start, and precluded him from carrying the mantle of trust as a Baptist minister, perhaps the murder of a vibrant young woman could have been avoided, and almost certainly, numerous girls and young women could have been spared the savagery of sexual abuse and assault. Read the book.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Multi-accused pastor preaches on forgiveness

First Baptist Church of Stover, Missouri
(photo by Tim Townsend)

Excerpts below are from the 12/8/2012 St. Louis Post Dispatch article by Tim Townsend: "Fate of Baptist pastor accused of abuse is in the hands of his flock"

Last Sunday, the Rev. Travis Smith paced First Baptist Church’s sanctuary, decorated for the holidays with poinsettias and a Christmas tree. He addressed his congregation, speaking to them about forgiveness.

Smith read verses from the Gospel of Matthew that follow the Lord’s Prayer:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” he said.

Since Smith’s arrest in October on sexual abuse and statutory rape charges, which follow similar allegations from 2010, forgiveness from his congregation has become critical to his survival as its pastor. . . .

A deacon at First Baptist Church of Stover said that at its last monthly business meeting no one from the congregation even put forward a motion to dismiss Smith. . . .

The most recent accusations against Smith, 42, by two different women, stem from alleged incidents in 1998, 1999 and 2005, when the women were minors. Those allegations led to what the Missouri Highway Patrol called a “lengthy investigation.” The Martineau County prosecutor has charged Smith with six felonies, including sexual abuse, second-degree statutory rape and forcible rape. . . .

In 2010, according to news reports and law enforcement officials, Smith was arrested after a 14-year-old girl, a friend of his daughter, accused him of molesting her during a fishing trip. Another girl then came forward and said Smith began having sex with her, in 2005, when she was 15. Both girls were members of his congregation.

Last year, Smith was acquitted in one case and the other was dropped. A year later, he was arrested on the current charges, which involve different girls. . . .

In a statement, Rob Phillips, a spokesman for the Missouri Baptist Convention said the Convention has “no direct authority over” First Baptist Church of Stover, but that it was “deeply grieved by the allegations,” and prays . . . .

Advocates for clergy sexual abuse victims say Southern Baptist leaders are hiding behind their governing structure to avoid taking responsibility for the misconduct of Southern Baptist pastors.

“There’s nothing about autonomy that precludes denominational structures,” said Christa Brown, author of “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang.” “Other large congregational faith groups have regional bodies that assess a minister’s fitness to continue ministry.”. . .

“When a Southern Baptist church faces a crisis like this, the easiest thing to do is just let the guy go — he moves to a different state, gets a job at another church and there’s no record of his actions,” Brown said. “If a minister is not literally sitting in prison, he can find a Southern Baptist pulpit to stand in.”. . .

“This is a delicate situation for our church,” said Marriott, the church deacon. “We could jump to conclusions and dismiss him, but what if we’re wrong? We’re just a bunch of average people trying our best to live by God’s word.”

Smith’s sermon Sunday resonated with that struggle. Just as the Gospel of Matthew promises heavenly forgiveness to those who forgive, so, too, does it spell out consequences for those who refuse.

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

“Salvation,” Smith told his flock, “is conditional.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Three allegations in three years, but church kept quiet

In Oklahoma, police arrested Southern Baptist youth pastor Dustin Ray Werneburg on multiple charges of child sex crimes. Werneburg, who was previously a pastor at First Baptist Church in Coalgate, now faces three counts of second degree rape and three counts of forcible sodomy along with charges of lewd molestation and lewd or indecent proposals to a child. Investigators say that all of the crimes were committed against a girl under the age of 16.

Jeff Self
(Savannah Morning News photo)
Jeff Self, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Coalgate, has admitted that he knew about prior allegations against Werneburg.

"We had three allegations over the course of three years,” said pastor Self in a statement to KXII News. “Two of them he had come to me and said you are going to hear this . . .  and it was a he said she said and we believed him . . . but once we had that third allegation that was really significant in August," Self said.

So what exactly did pastor Self do with the third allegation – the one that he finally viewed as being “really significant”?

He met with the leadership of the church, and they asked for Werneburg’s resignation.

So, even after three allegations, pastor Self still did not take appropriate action for the protection of kids.

Having resigned at the church, Werneburg was able to continue working as a teacher’s aide at a middle school, which is where he was when he was arrested last week. A parent reported Werneburg to the police after finding text messages and photos exchanged between his daughter and Werneburg.

Thanks to that parent, perhaps the justice system will be able to hold Werneburg accountable.

But what about accountability for the church’s senior pastor, Jeff Self, whose irresponsible do-nothingness betrayed kids and left them at risk for terrible harm?

In all probability, pastor Self will face no consequence whatsoever. Institutionally, the Southern Baptist Convention does nothing at all when pastors keep quiet about clergy sex abuse allegations in their churches. Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t even have the bare pretense of any process of denominational accountability for keep-it-quiet pastors such as Jeff Self.
Wondering how pastor Jeff Self can look at himself in the mirror? Wondering whether he's even cognizant of the soul-murdering harm that his do-nothingness allowed? Is Self even rethinking his conduct? For more insight into Self's way of thinking, read his column in the Savannah Morning News. His words purport to place high value on the younger generation; his deeds say otherwise.

Related posts:
Pastor accused of cover-up is featured speaker for Southern Baptist Convention, 6/16/2012
Dear Al, 12/8/2011

See also: Churches not typically first reporters of sexual abuse, ABP, 11/22/11

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Multi-accused pastor remains in pulpit; Baptist officials claim they're powerless

Travis Ray Smith (ABC 17 News)
Missouri Southern Baptists stand by their man despite multiple child sex charges  . . .  again.
Southern Baptist Pastor Travis Smith stands accused of child sex crimes, and he remains in the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Stover. Despite the fact that Pastor Smith also faced child sex charges in 2010, when he was youth pastor at Pilot Grove Baptist Church, his congregants remain steadfast. Shortly after his arrest, First Baptist congregants held a fish fry, which some described as a show of support for Pastor Smith.
So what do Southern Baptist denominational officials do when a pastor such as Smith is accused of multiple sex crimes with multiple kids, and he stays in the pulpit?
Top officials of the country’s largest Protestant denomination claim they are powerless.
They pray.
Meanwhile, the multi-accused minister remains in the pulpit. And if First Baptist gets tired of the negative publicity and decides to let Pastor Smith move on, he will likely be able to find some other Baptist church that will take him. Prison is about the only thing that will keep a Baptist pastor out of the pulpit, because unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists do diddly-squat denominationally when a minister is accused of sexual abuse.
Here’s what Missouri Baptist Convention spokesman, Rob Phillips, said about the “situation in Stover” – a “situation” in which at least four kids have now made some pretty dreadful allegations:
“While we respect the independence of the local church and have no direct authority over it, we are deeply grieved by the allegations. We pray that the courts will administer justice fairly and swiftly, and that there will be healing among the wounded church members. We also pray that the church members will have the wisdom, grace and courage to act biblically in their dealings with their pastor.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the coded language of Baptistland, allow me to offer a translation:
“Thank goodness that we as Southern Baptists give lip-service to local church autonomy because we’re able to use this religious-sounding construct as a ruse to protect the $500 million per year that local churches send to denominational offices through the “Cooperative Program.” (That’s the money that helps to fund all those nice undisclosed salaries of denominational officials, not to mention all those cushy travel expenses at the Wyndham.) So trust me when I say this, we really really respect the independence of the local church because, that way, if something goes really wrong (such as a bunch of church-kids getting molested), then we can say that the local church messed up totally independently, and we don’t really care much if a local church winds up going out of business so long as we can protect our denominational coffers. But hey – we are deeply grieved. Trust me. We really are. We just don’t plan to do anything about it. But of course, we pray that the courts will administer justice (because, first of all, we’re big on saying that we pray, and second, because unlike other major faith groups, the Southern Baptist denomination has totally abdicated clergy accountability to the criminal justice system, and so, if the courts don’t do anything,  there’s no one else who will, and yeah, we’re aware that less than 10 percent of child molestation cases are prosecuted, but hey, this denomination is just totally powerless with its mere $500 million per year. Trust me. We really are powerless – unless of course a church hires a woman pastor or a gay man – and then we’ll do something about it. Confused? Well duh. It’s definitional. In Baptistland, “independence” means that churches can keep accused and admitted child molesters as pastors, but “independence” doesn’t mean churches can keep women or gays as pastors. It’s our religion -- or so we say.) We also pray that there will be healing among the wounded church members. (But please, please, please don’t even mention the kids who say they were molested and raped. We don’t want to pray for them because we prefer to pretend they don’t exist.) We also pray that the church members will have the wisdom . . . yadda yadda yadda . . . to act biblically. (Hey, I’m a communications guy for Baptists and so I have to talk about how much we pray and say biblical-sounding stuff. Saying we pray is what’s important to us. Doing something to protect kids against clergy child molesters? Not so much.)" 
In addition to the $500 million in annual revenues that Southern Baptists take into denominational coffers through their “Cooperative Program,” the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention take in about $10.4 billion in annual “offerings” and they have about $42 billion in congregational assets.
Yet, even with such massive resources, Southern Baptists claim that they are powerless to even keep denominational records on the molestation allegations against their ministers, much less to remove a multi-accused minister from the pulpit. It's a claim that strains credulity.

Related post:
Multi-accused pastor preaches on forgiveness, 12/8/2012

Accused Missouri pastor faces new charges, 6/14/2013

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Those days" are still here in Baptistland

“In those days, this was a no-no in terms of publicizing it,” said Rev. James Griffith, former executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Griffith was talking about the numerous child sex abuse allegations against former scoutmaster Ernest Boland, whose troops were sponsored by Baptist churches, including Griffith’s own church, Beech Haven Baptist in Athens, Georgia.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Griffith acknowledged that, as Boland’s pastor, he had heard reports about Boland’s “sexual transgressions.”

“It was suspected, but there was not much done about it,” said Griffith.

No one at Griffith’s church discussed the possibility of reporting Boland to the police or even telling the boys’ parents.

Boland started his troop at Beech Haven Baptist Church after he was accused of molesting boys in troops that were sponsored by two other Georgia Baptist churches – First Baptist of Athens and Green Acres Baptist. When the allegations arose at Green Acres, Boland simply resigned.

Three years later, Boland started the troop at Griffith’s church.

Nobody stopped him – neither the Boy Scouts nor the Baptist churches.

All of this came to light recently when the Boy Scouts’ long-confidential files on accused scoutmasters were finally released. Apparently, Boland’s name in that file is what delayed his start of a new troop for three years . . . but it didn’t stop him.

Obviously, the Boy Scouts should have done a whole heckuva lot more to stop Boland and to protect children. Many kids could have been spared profound wounds if the Boy Scouts had properly reported Boland to the police. As one mother said, in speaking of her son’s alcoholism and premature death, “The only time he didn’t think about this was when he was drinking.”

But before you focus all ten of your fingers on pointing at the Boy Scouts, consider this. At least the Boy Scouts were keeping organizational records on accusations against scoutmasters. That’s more than Southern Baptists do when molestation allegations arise against their preachers.

How do Baptists imagine that they will ever illuminate the darkness of the preacher-predators in their ranks if they don’t even bother with systematic record-keeping?

And now, Rev. James Griffith, a former Southern Baptist leader in Georgia, dares to suggest that this sort of institutional secrecy is a problem from an earlier era.

Yet, we have seen many, many other Southern Baptist pastors and denominational officials who have engaged in similar sorts of secrecy when clergy abuse allegations arose in their own churches. And, these keep-it-quiet scandals have implicated some of Baptistland’s top honchos – men such as former Southern Baptist president Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist megachurch in Dallas, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board Kevin Ezell, former president of the California Southern Baptist Convention Wayne Stockstill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Anthony Jordan, and former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention Wendell Estep.

Baptists have been using the keep-it-quiet approach to clergy child molesters for a very long time, and so far, we have seen virtually no indication that anything about this has changed in Baptistland. While other major faith groups have begun to implement denominational accountability systems for their clergy, Southern Baptists remain sitting on the sidelines of this enormous problem, acting as though they are somehow above the fray and refusing to implement even the most basic system of denominational record-keeping on their clergy.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist ministers such as James Griffith seem to still brag about how they handled things. ”It’s the kind of thing that can tear up your church,” said Griffith. “A wise pastor certainly will not do anything to hurt the entire congregation.”

Wise? I think Griffith's self-delusion concisely illustrates the problem – the continuing Baptistland ethos that it’s better to leave kids at risk of clergy sex abuse than to do anything that might “hurt” the illusions of the congregation.

When the accusations against Boland arose in Griffith’s Beech Haven church, Griffith says he asked a church deacon and a lawyer in the congregation to speak to Boland.

“That took care of it,” saysGriffith.

Took care of it for whom?

Certainly not for the children.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Blasting child rape victims is cruel tactic

What do Jerry Sandusky and Frank Page have in common?

Jerry Sandusky
Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted of molesting children, blasted his accusers as “opportunistic.”

Page, the current chief executive of the Southern Baptist Convention, blasted support groups for clergy molestation victims as “opportunistic.”
One man blasted child molestation victims in an apparent effort to undermine their credibility so as to salvage some shred of his own reputation, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

Frank Page
The other man blasted child molestation victims in an apparent effort to undermine their credibility so as to preserve the reputation of the Southern Baptist Convention, despite the overwhelming number of Baptist clergy abuse and cover-up cases.

What does it say about the nation's largest Protestant denomination when their highest official blasts clergy rape victims with the same cruel language as a convicted child molester?

And Page has never bothered to apologize.

With this sort of example at the denomination’s highest level, is it any wonder that Southern Baptists are so far behind the curve in protecting church children against predatory preachers?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Studies show religious sex offenders do more harm

Thanks to BaptistPlanet, these two eye-opening studies were recently brought to my attention.

1.  In Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, a study examined "associations between self-reported religious affiliations and official offense histories among 111 incarcerated adult male sexual offenders. Four categories of religiosity were devised according to self-reported continuities and discontinuities in life-course religious affiliations: atheists, dropouts, converts, and stayers. . . .  Stayers (those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood) had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims, than other groups. Results challenge assumptions that religious involvement should, as with other crime, serve to deter sexual offending behavior."

2.  In the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect, an article reported on a study comparing twenty-four male clergy who were accused of sexual offenses with twenty-four male sex-offender controls who were matched on offense type, age, education and marital status. "The most noteworthy features differentiating the clerics from highly-educated matched controls were that clerics had a longer delay before criminal charges were laid, or lacked criminal charges altogether, and they tended to use more force more often in their offenses."

Thus, those men who were the most consistently religious were also the men who had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims. The very fact of religiosity seems to be a factor that gives rise to more sexual offenses -- perhaps because religiosity allows for the "repent and repeat" model which results in "more victims."

Not only does religiosity itself form a factor that results in more sex-abuse victims, but for clergy, it also means that the perpetrators will be able to get away with their crimes more frequently. And that their victims will suffer the use of force more often.

Meanwhile . . . Southern Baptist leadership remains in la-la-land on this issue, refusing to address clergy sex abuse in a systematic denominational manner and leaving many thousands of kids and congregants at greater risk.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How long until Southern Baptists implement safeguards against clergy sex abuse?

The Southern Baptist Convention is convening its annual ballyhoo in New Orleans this week, but it doesn’t look as though they will make any progress on protecting kids against clergy sex abuse.

Since 2006, clergy abuse survivors, and others, have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.

The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in
other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.

In 2008,
TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists' rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.

Now here we are in 2012, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines.

A faith group that so devalues its children must change. So we know where this is going. Change is inevitable.

Sooner or later, Southern Baptists will learn the lesson that pious preaching won't protect kids against clergy predators. What we don't know is how long the lesson will take.

Maybe it will take 10, 20 or 50 years. But we know how this ends. Southern Baptists will eventually come up to speed with what other faith groups are doing to assure that predators cannot easily hide among their clergy ranks.

It is inevitable. A future is coming when children in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer than they are now. A future is coming when those who report clergy abuse will be met with ministry and outreach rather than minimization and denial. A future is coming when people in the pews will be able to find out about credibly accused clergy so that predators cannot so easily church-hop.

When that future arrives, we will all look back with a vague sense of wonder at why it took Southern Baptists so long.

But there is always someone who fights a rear-guard action to preserve the status quo. And it doesn't matter how irrational or dysfunctional that status quo may be.

When it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse, it looks as though the rear guard status quo will be Southern Baptists.

While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness. Worst of all, they claim religious principle as the reason. Confronted with people trying to report predatory clergy, Baptist leaders retreat behind the Pharisee-like legalism of their autonomous
polity as an excuse for why they are powerless.

It might be comical if it weren't so dangerous.

But someday, even this most recalcitrant of faith groups will see the light and take action. It is inevitable.

Meanwhile, the rear guard is convening in New Orleans this week. How many more conventions will it take before Southern Baptists provide their kids with the same sorts of safeguards as kids in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal churches?

This is a revised version of a column that was written on the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 2010 annual meeting and that was previously published by Ethics Daily.

Thanks to Associated Baptist Press for republishing this post on June 19, 2012.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pastor accused of cover-up is featured speaker for Southern Baptist Convention

Jack Graham
As the "horror story" of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky unfolded at trial this past week, I thought about the boys of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. They too hold horror stories about sexual abuse inflicted on them by someone they trusted and revered, church minister John Langworthy.

That was twenty years ago, and prominent pastor Jack Graham was at the helm of Prestonwood at the time. He still is.

Graham and other Prestonwood leaders were told about abuse allegations against Langworthy, but they kept it quiet. Amy Smith, a former Prestonwood intern, said that Langworthy even confessed to church leaders about “molesting boys in the church,” but that Prestonwood leaders didn’t go to the police. They simply "dismissed" Langworthy and got him off their own church-turf, but they didn’t act to protect other kids or to prevent Langworthy from moving on to other churches . . . which Langworthy did.
Last August, when Langworthy revealed to his Mississippi Baptist congregation that, while “serving” in a Texas church, he had “sexual indiscretions with younger males,” it was an admission that pointed to a prior “cover-up” at Prestonwood.

So you might imagine that those Prestonwood church leaders who kept quiet about Langworthy’s abuse of kids would be held accountable, right?

Jack Graham will be a featured speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors' Conference on June 18th in New Orleans. So... not only does the Southern Baptist Convention do diddly-squat to hold accountable those who keep quiet about clergy sex abuse, but it actively promotes a pastor with a long “cover-up” history in his church . . . as though Graham were a model for other pastors to follow. The implicit message the SBC sends is this: "Clergy sex abuse cover-up? No big deal."

When the Penn State scandal first came to light, Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler said that the tragedy of it was “teaching the entire nation a lesson it dare not fail to learn.”
Maybe what Mohler really meant was “the entire nation” except Southern Baptists . . . because it’s obvious the Southern Baptist Convention has not yet learned any lesson from the Penn State scandal. Indeed, when Baptists promote pastors such as Jack Graham -- less than a year after news of his church’s “cover-up” – it appears that Baptists aren’t even trying.

If Southern Baptists had actually learned something from Penn State, there would be no more excuses. No church or denominational leader who is complicit in the soul-searing action of turning a blind-eye to reported clergy child molesters would be let off the hook. No more “uncharted waters” excuses. No more of the “we asked him to resign” excuse (knowing full-well that Baptists’ porous system leaves predatory ministers free to roam). And no more of the immorally misused “local church autonomy” excuse. Kids deserve better, and their safety demands it.
I find it particularly troubling that Baptists are featuring Jack Graham at a Pastors’ Conference with a Father’s Day theme. Fatherhood carries with it a covenant to the next generation. Yet, by refusing to hold pastors such as Graham accountable, the Southern Baptist Convention breaches that covenant of care.

It is not enough for Southern Baptists to simply talk the talk of “children are precious.” Both individually and institutionally, they must demonstrate this by their deeds – actions speak louder than words.
Many clergy abuse reports are not able to be criminally prosecuted, often because of the delay caused by church cover-ups. Yet, even when clergy abuse reports are no longer subject to criminal prosecution, clergy who are credibly accused must still be held denominationally accountable and refused access to ministerial positions of trust.

And clergy who keep quiet about reports of abuse must also be held accountable.

Prestonwood saga shows clergy abuse database is overdue
Jack Graham: Deceiver, believer or in-betweener?
Words alone won't stop Baptist predators
Penn State and Prestonwood: Consequences are necessary

And see Amy Smith's post about the price she paid for seeking to protect other kids and to expose the terrible keep-it-quiet cover-up that happened at Prestonwood.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baptist pastor had long rap sheet

A “pastor now facing child sex abuse charges in Texas spent nearly a decade in the Texas state prison system before he was hired to pastor a church” in Alabama.

Despite a long criminal rap sheet, Mark Allen Green got hired into a position of trust as a pastor for the Cowboy Church of Marshall County in Albertville, Alabama.
The “Cowboy Church” in Albertville is shown as being affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Green’s rap sheet speaks volumes about how low the standards are for Southern Baptist pastors  – in fact there are no denominational standards – and about the perilous lack of systemic safeguards in the largest Protestant denomination in the land.
When it comes to their clergy, the Southern Baptist Convention engages an excess of permissiveness. So long as a man isn’t literally sitting in prison, he can likely find a Southern Baptist pulpit to stand in.

There is no denominational system that will stop him.
There is no denominational system that will warn people in the pews.

When the Sand Mountain Reporter contacted Randall Stoner, the director of missions at Marshall Baptist Association, Stoner made a short written statement and then said, “Due to legal issues, we cannot comment any further.”
"Legal issues"? I hope so. Why? Because the Southern Baptist Convention has shown that it will not, on its own, implement the sorts of common-place clergy oversight mechanisms that now exist in other major faith groups. It will take the long, dogged development of the law to eventually prod this denomination into action.

Southern Baptist leaders candy-coat their reckless intransigence with religious rationalization. “We believe in the autonomy of the local church,” they say . . .  as though the Bible itself somehow precluded denominational cooperation for the prevention of clergy sex abuse.
Yet denominational entities exercise power, influence, and authority in a wide range of other contexts. For example, the regional “director of missions” is often the guy who helps Baptist churches with finding new pastors and helps pastors with finding new jobs.

Recently, in a clergy sex abuse case in Florida, a jury found liability against the statewide Florida Baptist Convention, in addition to the Lake County Baptist Association and the local church. So, Southern Baptist denominational entities may be starting to get a little less overconfident and a little more nervous.
I think that’s a good thing.

Besides, according to WAFF News, the Marshall Baptist Association director of missions, Randall Stoner, "said they began dealing with the issue” last Sunday. But, if Southern Baptist churches are so totally and utterly autonomous and independent, as Southern Baptist officials assert, then why is a denominational entity, the Marshall Baptist Association, “dealing with the issue” at all?
And if this is a matter that rests wholly on the local church’s shoulders, then why does an official for a denominational entity say that he cannot comment due to legal issues? His own statement refusing comment is a statement that demonstrates the cooperative alignment between the denominational entity and the local church.

Denominational connectivity is the de facto reality of Southern Baptist life. The local churches are not totally independent, but rather, are part of a denominational web.
I wish I could say that the Cowboy Church’s hiring of a career criminal as pastor was incomprehensible. But it’s not. When a denominational web is so lacking in systemic oversight mechanisms, such stories become tragically predictable.

Update 9/27/2012: A Texas grand jury declined to indict on the child sex charges. But the question remains of whether this man should have been allowed into a position of trust as a pastor when he had a multi-year, multi-county rap sheet like the one shown here. Is a religious system safe when it so easily allows for this?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Florida Baptist Convention found liable for pastor who molested boy

Douglas Myers
(Florida Dept. of Corrections)
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel

Yesterday, a Florida jury “found the Florida Baptist Convention liable for a former pastor who sexually abused a 13-year-old boy.”

“Jurors decided that the convention didn’t do enough to investigate the background of Douglas W. Myers, who started two churches… after receiving funds and training from the convention.”

“The convention had argued that it is more of a support organization for Baptist churches and that it didn’t have any control or responsibility for him.” [But the jury didn’t buy that phony-baloney argument. Hallelujah.]

“The verdict … clearly shows the Florida Baptist Convention failed to follow a basic standard of care,” said Ronald Weil, attorney for the victim.

“The victim and his mother had filed suit against the convention, arguing that it failed to uncover past allegations of sexual abuse at churches in Maryland and Alabama …. “

“This is the first such liability case against the convention, which comprises nearly 3,000 congregations and 1 million members in Florida.” [Nationwide, the Southern Baptist Convention claims about 100,000 congregations and 16 million members. Let’s hope that, state by state, this Florida precedent advances forward so as to prod Southern Baptists into implementing denominational accountability and tracking systems for their clergy.)

“Though Myers had never faced prior criminal charges for sex abuse, members of his Maryland and Alabama churches knew about questionable behavior, including inappropriate contact with young boys....”

The Florida Baptist Convention’s attorney argued that the convention “had no right to control anything” Myers did. But Myers “was included in church directories and Baptist publications as being affiliated,” said Weil. “He wasn’t a rogue. He wasn’t on his own. He was part of an affiliated church.”

Jurors decided that at least part of the blame also rested with the Lake County Baptist Association. However, “the trial focused on the responsibility of the statewide organization.”

Read here for more info on the prior history of this case. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

SBC keeps special no-accountability status under pre-Civil War law

After convening a task force and debating the issue at length, Southern Baptist officials have taken the bold step of recommending that the Southern Baptist Convention remain the Southern Baptist Convention.

Big whoop, eh?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re right. This is a “been there done that” several times over situation. The only thing that makes it interesting this time is the glimpse we get as to the reasons.

Since as far back as 1958, the largest Protestant denomination in the land has repeatedly considered changing its name, and every single time, it has arrived at the same status-quo conclusion: The Southern Baptist Convention will remain the Southern Baptist Convention. Despite the inherent incongruity in the pairing of a regional “Southern” identity with a global evangelistic mission, and despite the negative connotations that the “Southern” identity carries for many, the Southern Baptist Convention will not change its name.

Reason Number 1

“We are intertwined in our cooperation and any change in the SBC format affects every entity in Southern Baptist life,” explained former Southern Baptist president and task force chairman Jimmy Draper. “There is no way to unwind our cooperation with other Baptist entities that work alongside the Convention.”

So . . . even though Southern Baptist officials have repeatedly rejected the notion of denominational cooperation for keeping track of church-hopping preacher-predators, insisting instead that the denomination has no oversight obligation for clergy because each church is so utterly autonomous, Southern Baptist officials now acknowledge the reality that “every entity in Southern Baptist life” is so intertwined in the Southern Baptist Convention’s denominational web that even a simple name change is not feasible.

Reason Number 2

As Draper explained, a name change would yield “uncertainty about whether or not [the Southern Baptist Convention] would be able to retain our ‘grandfather’ position gained from the Act of the Georgia Legislature in 1845, which exempts us from some of the requirements of modern non-profit legislation.”

Whoa. If you think about it, this one’s a “real kicker.”

Under a pre-Civil War Georgia law, the Southern Baptist Convention receives special status that gives it free-rein to avoid what are now commonly-accepted accountability mechanisms for other sorts of non-profit entities. As an SBCattorney explained: “The Southern Baptist Convention” is a Georgia corporation by virtue of a legislative act granting the Convention a charter on a hand-written document enacted in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845. As long as the Southern Baptist Convention does not amend this charter, “the Convention is not regulated by the present Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.”

Thus, if the Southern Baptist Convention were to change its name, it would no longer be a special-status entity under a “no-strings-attached” 1845 Georgia charter. Instead, with a new name, it would become “a newly organized non-profit organization accountable to and in compliance with the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.”

So that’s why the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t change its name. It wants to keep its special 1845 status as a free-wheeling entity with no accountability requirements.

Talk about the preservation of status-quo structures! This is a status-quo that dates all the way back to 1845. It is a status-quo that dates to a slave-holding culture that birthed the Confederacy, and that also birthed the Southern Baptist Convention, which had its very origins in its 1845 split from other Baptists over the issue of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention biblically rationalized slavery and cast its loyalty in conformity with Southern culture.

And now, to this day, the Southern Baptist Convention still operates under the free-wheeling special status that it gained in those pre-Civil War days with its support for slavery.

Other institutions and organizations are typically proud of their advancements in assuring accountability and safety. But not Southern Baptists. They’re clinging to a pre-Civil War Georgia law that helps to keep them unaccountable.

Can you imagine what would happen if a hospital bragged that its accountability for infection rates was in conformity with the standards of 1845? I suspect such a hospital would soon find its beds empty.

And what if a car manufacturer bragged that it would be accountable for safety standards in conformity with the horse and buggy era? Would you buy such a car?

Perhaps the Southern Baptist Convention’s unaccountability under an archaic special privilege law could be ameliorated if the Southern Baptist Convention would step up to the plate and implement effective denominational mechanisms for policing itself. It could choose on its own to institute accountability structures and quality control mechanisms for Southern Baptist clergy. Certainly, the 1845 law would not preclude the Southern Baptist Convention from making such a choice, and such a choice would not entail rocket science. Most of the other major Protestant groups in this country have already implemented various forms of clergy accountability and oversight mechanisms, including those northern Baptists (aka American Baptist Churches USA) from whom Southern Baptists split but who retain a similar congregationalist polity.

But, of course, that brings us back to Reason Number 1. Though every entity in Southern Baptist life is intertwined, and though Southern Baptists cooperate on all manner of endeavors, Southern Baptist officials remain entrenched in their refusal to implement any sort of denominational oversight for Southern Baptist clergy. For that refusal – a refusal that is of their own making and that places Southern Baptist kids and congregants at greater risk – there is no excuse.

Not even an archaic special-status law can excuse the SBC’s own failure.