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