Editor’s note (Todd Benkert): I’ve encouraged more ideas on how to address sexual abuse — particularly the problem of serial abusers who go from church to church. Here is one such idea. Feel free to discuss the merits of Tim’s idea in the comment section, but I applaud such efforts at creative thinking on the issue.
Tragic stories of sexual abuse have come to light during the past year. These horrific sins have created a movement among Southern Baptists to do more to protect our congregations. The convention strongly believes in Scriptural inerrancy. Everyone universally condemns all forms of sexual abuse, and every person wants perpetrator accountability.
Convention action is so difficult due to our church polity. We believe that the Bible requires individual churches to choose their own pastors, leaders, and procedures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Denominational leaders maintain literally no authority over the local church. Our convention is built upon mutual cooperation by autonomous churches. As we seek practical ways to battle sexual abuse together, the reality of our Biblical polity must be remembered. Following the Scriptures is always a strength and not a weakness. As the first three chapters of Revelation clearly teach, each church must give an account before King Jesus.
While individual churches will be held responsible by Christ, Southern Baptists also believe that cooperation is Biblical. The first Lottie Moon offering was taken up by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Cooperation among churches is both Scriptural and wise. We can always do more together for Christ than apart. Here is the question of the hour: How can we better cooperate with one another as Southern Baptists to fight against sexual abuse? I propose the following idea.
The Southern Baptist Executive Committee should establish an online platform similar to LinkedIn. Pastors and churches would then be able to create site profiles. Abusers often doctor their resumes to hide past employment in churches that discovered their sin. This can tragically lead to other churches unknowingly hiring them for a staff position. If SBC churches utilized a network similar to LinkedIn, all previous ministry employment could be identified via a quick search. Past employment would not simply be reported by a pastoral candidate alone, but potentially verified by his previous churches. Those guilty of sexual abuse would have a much more difficult time hiding their offense.
Pastors and churches could be provided with identification numbers on this new platform. Posted photos would be possible, as well. Information that a pastor has deleted could be recorded in his page’s past history (similar to Wikipedia’s “View history” tab). Churches would rarely, if ever, alter their employment records. Accurate employment data could reveal abusers and help prevent future employment. As you can see, information would create greater accountability. This approach could be merely one of the blessings of cooperation.
Forming a new web platform for Southern Baptist can result in numerous other benefits. Pastor search teams could easily locate qualified candidates who upload their profiles. Email news alerts would easily be sent by various entities concerning partnership opportunities. Seminaries could verify who has earned degrees. Annual Church Profile information could be accessed so that the North American Mission Board, state conventions, and associations can better identify and assist congregations in decline. Electronic messages among participants could facilitate Christian fellowship. Just as the LinkedIn platform has many benefits for its users, a similar web platform operated by the Executive Committee could aid Southern Baptists. The greatest blessing is that sexual offenders would be less likely to find another ministry position within the convention.
This practical plan enables the SBC to do something tangible. It enhances cooperation and communication while simultaneously protecting our churches from abusers. In addition, I feel that creating a new SBC web platform enables all of our autonomous churches to work together in combating sexual abuse. The Southern Baptist Convention rightly celebrates our mutual cooperation to fulfill Kingdom goals. Let’s come together to make this vision a reality. Potential victims of sexual sin will be glad we did.
Tim Overton is pastor of Kingston Avenue Baptist Church in Anderson, Indiana. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in history and philosophy from Dallas Baptist University and a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.