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?