One of the chief complaints about Southern Baptists and clergy sex abuse is that clergy against whom there are accusations of abuse are able to relocate without consequence where they may repeat the abuse in a different church.
Clearly, this is a problem. Is there a solution?
The Greenville (SC) News has a very helpful story on the prominent case in that state which involved a top South Carolina Baptist Convention leader:
How to track sex allegations in churches? A survivor says schools have the answer. Oddly, the article’s online headline leaves out the word “may” (“A survivor says schools may have the answer”) which is part of the web link. Regardless, the piece does a good job of summarizing the case.
The key point, the one about tracking clergy abusers, is suggested by the victim in the case who suggests that churches with systems of governance that are independent rather than hierarchical, and this includes every Southern Baptist church, could design systems similar to schools. Here’s how some schools handle accusations of abuse:
- An investigations is conducted and the results are made a part of a teacher’s record.
- That record is shared when other systems seek to hire the teacher.
- The records of the teacher go across district and state lines through the teacher certification system.
In regard to replicating this system for SBC churches, one would have to note the following.
- The responsibility for examining suspicions rests with the church or denominational entity. There is no central SBC body that can, would, or should do this work. This presumes that reports of criminal abuse are referred to law enforcement. It is not clear to me what allegation of abuse would remain with the church to be investigated.
- There is no system of credentialing for SBC clergy. There is no clearinghouse or registry for ordained SBC ministers. In fact, there are no “SBC” clergy, only clergy that are ordained or licensed by an autonomous church affiliated with one or more levels of SBC life. Someone could create this but participation would be voluntary.
- It is inescapable that the burden of recommending or not recommending a minister falls on a local church (or entity) where that minister served. The IMB has indicated that if asked, they will share their employee’s personnel file with a prospective employer but that they will not aggressively follow a former employee with the information.
I credit the journalist for going to the SBC Executive Committee for comment where Sing Oldham one of the VPs there said,
He said, in a statement, that the responsibility of investigating accusations falls on local churches. They are urged in the strongest terms possible to report any accusations to law enforcement. The convention recommends background checks and offers assistance if something is found in the background check.
“The SBC routinely reminds churches that abuse is not only a sin; it is a crime,” Oldham said.
While the suggestion that the SBC follow the protocols of some school systems as a way to more effectively track abusers or accused abusers, the facts on the ground make that impossible.
Our new SBC President, J. D. Greear, has announced that he will appoint a “Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group” in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. I assume he’s working on it, since no list of names has been put out.
Perhaps some measures I haven’t considered may be possible. I look forward to seeing what the group says.