Those of us who follow these things have probably thought that abuse victims and their advocates are in a perpetual state of anger at “the SBC.” Two abuse victims wrote here that “There is a tipping point, though, at which genuine advocacy slips into routine outrage…” I thought that to be a cogent statement at the time…but then, cases keep coming forward.
There are a number of abuse stories involving the SBC that feature megachurches, celebrity pastors, and notorious cases that are years, decades old. The SBC is a convention of small churches. USA Today has a lengthy story on a small SBC church and their experience with abuse. I don’t have much expectation that many people will read the whole story. Fine, please note that this isn’t about any credible report of abuse. It’s about a confessed, convicted, formerly incarcerated abuser.
‘The tongue is a fire’: Southern Baptist church fractures over secrets and sex abuse
The story is very long, over 6k words.
- The story centers around a man who is a confessed, convicted sex abuser. His conviction was in 2000 and he served some jail and probation time. He abused a family member.
- The abuser was a longtime pastor and private school principal.
- The pastor of the church he started attending in 2001 asked him to help on staff in 2006.
- The abuser disclosed his past but said that he was falsely accused by a family member.
- The congregation was not informed.
- Later, other church leadership learned of the past abuse but thought the man could be trusted.
- A police officer in the church checked into the abuser’s background and reported that he had no issue with the man staying in ministry.
- The abuser gained more responsibility and trust as a church worker, preacher, and dayschool director.
- The pastor set out guidelines for the abuser about being around children. These were eventually ignored and effectively discarded
- A family in the church learned of the past abuse and pushed matters. The church was divided and both pastors left.
- The church was forced to inform families but did so without naming the man. The letter emphasized (with bold font) that there are no pending charges.
- There was no accusation of abuse by the convicted abuser at this or any other church although some actions did raise questions after the church was made aware of his past.
There are a lot of details. I suspect that sex abuse victims and their advocates are angered by several things that are typical in abuse cases.
- There was a feeling among church leaderhsip that the abuse happened in the past and the man should be forgiven.
- The pastor knew of the abuse but chose not to inform the church. He claimed priest/penitent exception to any reporting rules.
- The abuser was skilled, energetic, and worked hard to gain the trust of members and parents. This is typical behavior.
- The local Baptist associational missionary (DOM, AMS) knew the abuser and his past.
- He remained “neutral” about the church conflict over the man but claimed it was difficult to do so because the abuser was a friend.
- Although he knew of the past abuse, the AM refused to get involved “because of the autonomy of Southern Baptist churches.” (This quote from the news article, maybe not verbatim from the AM.
- The abuser moved to another church in the same association.
- Questionable behavior with children (not abuse, but noticeable behavior for an adult with children) was reported to the pastor/supervisor of the abuser. He chose not to inform the church.
- The abuser “pushed” out of their jobs two women at the school after they complained about his behavior. Nothing was done. The abuser had gained considerable stature and power in the church.
- Part of the abuser’s defense was that he didn’t want to put the family through difficulty so he pled guilty.
- Why would any pastor, church leader, or associational missionary believe that a man convicted of sex abuse of a minor would still be qualified to serve in any church, much less to serve a leader over children’s ministries in any church?
- Why would church leadership not understand that parents and families should be informed so that they could make their own decisions about the safety or risk of their children?
- How would local church autonomy absolve any AM of responsibility to inform churches something they should know about a pastoral candidate?
- In the current environment, this church could have been reported to the Credentials Committee and the church could have been excluded from the national SBC. Does the Credentials Committee see their role, formally or informally, as involving an associational missionary who has handled an abuse situation poorly?
- If another child were to have been abused, who would share the blame aside from the perpetrator?
- Do we SBCers really blame abuse victims and advocates for screaming about abuse, and “the SBC doing nothing,” when cases like this one occur where boxes are checked for about every typical characteristic of church-based abuse: pastor knew but didn’t inform church, associational missionary knew but did nothing, abuser moves to a different church (in the same association) without difficulty, warning signs were ignored because the man was a friend and good church worker, forgiveness was extended but parents were not informed, etc.
- Does autonomy, the cold reality that churches can hire anyone they want, release everyone from if not legal responsibility then moral responsibility?
There are fifty thousand or so SBC churches and missions. I expect more stories like this. Maybe the Credentials Committee will have an impact, maybe not (they should report something this month). CaringWell is a great program but no church can be made to use it nor can anyone in the SBC make any church that has trained workers and staff with it be compelled to take proper actions.
…but, now we’ve got CRT/I on the front burner and we can think about children another time?
Might as well say it: The most effective measure that leads to children being protected in SBC churches is for the victims and advocates to continue to do what they’ve been doing for a decade or so.
And there’s a question someone is going to ask me. I’m ready for you, brother or sister, ask away.