The SBC meeting in Birmingham is one week past. In this short time three horrific cases of sexual abuse of children involving the SBC at various levels have come to light. All of these are malevolent and deplorable.
The nationally-known reporter for the Houston Chronicle and co-author of the long and depressing series on abuse in SBC churches, Robert Downen, related a conversation in an airport bar (where else?) with an SBCer returning home from the convention in Birmingham. Downen said that the man, an associational worker, attributed a lot of the SBC’s problems as “not malevolence, but incompetence.” Pastors and churches, he said, mishandle abuse because they are ignorant, untrained, and inexperienced. This is somewhat true, although not acceptable as an excuse.
LifeWay had one of their employees, a CentriKid summer camp worker in Arizona, arrested and charged with child molestation. LifeWay fired the worker immediately and interim CEO Brad Waggoner addressed the matter himself, saying that “We are heartbroken for the victims and the victims’ families,” among other things. Contrast this with the handling of the press over an abuse case in the church pastored by Matt Chandler. Religion writer Julia Duin describes the latter as “how not to deal with bad press.” Brad Waggoner showed competence. I’d judge Chandler as showing incompetence. Why can’t a megachurch get this stuff right?
“Why would a 14-year old girl would allow abuse to progress to the length that it did and not at least tell someone about it early on?” This question was asked me by a layman and church leader after I tried to describe one of the abuse testimonies I heard at the SBC meeting. I asked if he had ever heard of “grooming” in this context. No, he had not, although further conversaton revealed that he had some understanding of how devious abusers can be. All of the abuse education materials, (my church uses MinistrySafe, there are others) including the new, free ChurchCares resource covers this. Pastors and/or church leaders should immediately get and use these. It would be negligence if you don’t.
Southern Baptist pastor arrested for abusing teen relative, this in Texas, an absolutely deplorable case. Most media outlets carried this story. When the pastor confessed to two other church pastors they called law enforcement the same day and stayed in touch with officials until the matter resulted in an address. The church fired and “excommunicated” the pastor. One might expect the local association and state convention to address this. Thank God that in this case no one in the church tried to handle it internally.
SBC pastor in Louisiana arrested for rape of a minor. Terrible case. The SBC association was contacted for comment and the DOM said, ““We are heartbroken. The church and the association of churches are devastated. We are mobilizing resources to care for the family, church, and community.”
Does it need to be explained that the median size for an SBC church is around 70 in their weekly primary worship service. That puts about 25,000 churches at that size or smaller. Many of these have seminary educated and trained fulltime clergy, probably just one. Smaller churches may have only a part time pastor, perhaps a bi-vocational minister, and rely mostly on lay leadership. LifeWay has people on staff who are trained experts in the area of abuse. The average church probably has clergy staff who might know some things and have some training and experience but that’s not a given. All the more reason for maximum effort by SBC leaders at every level to work to get churches and pastors educated. We are a convention of mostly smaller churches.
I acquired the gold-standard clergy degree, Masters of Divinity after three years of postgraduate education that included a heavy dose of Greek and Hebrew, Bible survey courses, Bible intensives, archaeology, theology, and some other stuff I’ve successfully forgotten. The few hours of practical ministry I had centered on how to handle baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, and other church stuff. There was not a syllable in the syllabus on handling any kind of abuse.
Is it safe to assume that clergy who seek to attain advanced degrees will have been required to pass some course relative to abuse? Would it be reasonable to assume that at some point young pastors and prospective pastors are bluntly instructed that abuse has to be reported? Maybe. But I’d guess that ignorance is still the rule in churches.
All of the autonomous levels of SBC life – associations, states, national entities – are on board. The ChurchCares material is thorough and free but no church or pastor has to use it. I’d encourage pastors and churches not to wait until a crisis to get educated. Kids in our churches and families should be protected.
These three prominent cases share a couple of things. One is that someone reported the abuse to law enforcement. A second is that no database would have contained these people who have now been arrested. There has been no indication of earlier credible reports against any of these men, although I would not be surprised if some come out.
It is only partly related here but I’ve always had respect for Tom Ascol in spite of not sharing his Calvinistic views. I’m reading that a man with a mic approached Ashley Easter, one of the protest rally speakers and asked some questions. Sounds like a reporter, huh? That’s what she thought. Turned out to be an Ascol follower, one Jared Longshore. At the same event I spoke to three rally speakers including Ashley Easter (Dee Parsons and Christa Brown were the other two) with my bright blue lanyard and SBC name tag in full view. Why Tom Ascol, don’t you guys do the same? This incident has some pungency to it and some answers are needed.