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.