The widespread publicity surrounding this scandal cost the leader of Michigan State University her job as well as that of various other MSU and Olympic officials. It is a sad, sordid tale of sex abuse, enabling, cover-ups, and girls victimized by a child sex predator. One of the victims, Rachel Denhollander, is an authentic hero in all this and some were surprised when she said,
It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.
The church? Ouch.
In response to that and other aspects of the scandal Dave Miller brought to this site the opinion that The Church Needs More (and fewer) Rachel Denhollanders in which he outlined his views of the issue of sex abuse and the church and concluded by saying,
We live in a world filled with victims of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, the church is not immune to that. Rachael Denhollander is a wonderful example of how we can respond – upholding the holiness of God, responding with grace and not bitterness, and advocating for the victim.
Also in response to the Olympic gymnast sex abuse scandal Southern Baptist outlets made the point that a Southern Baptist Church [was] at the Center of Sexual Abuse Discussion. The church was a Louisville church and you can listen to the SBC This Week podcast and read the Christianity Today Denhollander interview article for details. It has to do with the Sovereign Grace Ministries sex abuse scandal (multiple links of it and related stories are in CT, here where a statement from Sovereign Grace Churches disputes Denhollander’s remarks. You can read up on that. It is too complicated for this article.
In the wake of the sex abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests one of the main victim advocacy organizations, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) targeted the Southern Baptist Convention. More than a decade ago SNAP made this request to the SBC Executive Committee back in 2006 (emphasis mine):
We request that, at the 2007 SBC annual meeting, the SBC Executive Committee seek approval for the establishment of an independent review board as an auxiliary to the SBC, but with adequate and assured funding from the SBC. Its purpose would be to receive and investigate reports of clergy abuse and to arrive at a determination of whether the report should be deemed credible. All reports should be archived, and as part of its investigatory powers, the review board should establish a procedure for notifying people in the pews whenever a report of abuse is made about a minister who worked in their congregation. In this way, the denomination can reach out to other possible victims, allow for the possibility of legitimate denominational investigations, and put parents on notice so that they can talk with their kids. Whenever a report of abuse is deemed credible, the review board would also be responsible for reporting that decision to the people in the pews in every congregation in which the minister has worked. This board should be composed of independent professionals, including non-Baptists, who have extensive experience in dealing with the dynamics of clergy sex abuse and whose careers will not be vulnerable to any sort of political considerations within the denomination.
Neither the SBC, nor any SBC state convention, nor any SBC Association has ever established an independent review board to receive, investigate, arrive at a determination of such reports credibility, and archive the reports. The SBC Executive Committee’s response to the SNAP request said that “Baptists would never authorize or recognize such a panel if it were composed of people outside their local church” a statement that was true in 2007 and remains true today, I suspect.
Except for those ministers who are employees of our various entities and institutions, no one hires, supervises, and fires church pastors but an individual, autonomous church. No church must have approval of any association, state convention, or the SBC for any minister that they have on their staff. No church is forced to do any evaluation of any prospective staff member nor to contact his or her former churches for references. Churches can be smart about hiring staff, or stupid. With the median church at an attendance of around 70 in worship, I suspect that most are somewhere in between.
As one with daughters and grandaughters who I hope and expect will be involved in SBC churches, I want the SBC to do all that can be done to keep them safe from the miscreants like the Olympic doctor. I’d like to know that my church is doing all they can do in this area but also my Association, State Convention, and all SBC-level agencies and institutions. I don’t think we are doing as well as we could.
Here’s what I observe,
- Training, education, and resources for churches on child protection are abundant and available at about evey level of SBC life. No church is forced to do the right and proper thing, though. Only insurance companies have demanded that churches adopt protection policies. I am unaware of any reason why an association, state convention or the SBC could not require the same for “friendly cooperation” although administering this would be difficult, especially at the ‘higher’ levels.
- Our publicity outlets, mostly state papers, Baptist Press and a few others are doing what they would not do a decade ago, publicizing news of sex abuse scandals involving SBC churches. Good. No one is helped if we ignore it. They shouldn’t shy away from churches of prominent SBC leaders, either.
- The SBC has passed resolutions on sex abuse. State conventions have done this as well. I’m not sure what can be done beyond this but am open to additional measures. Another, more current, resolution would be a positive move.
- Our entities must, be more diligent in vetting those whom they recommend to the churches. If there are credible reports of scandal for a minister, he should not be recommended to any church. This is problematic unless there is a confession or conviction.
- I join most every suggestion made by Todd Benkert in his recent piece, Before the #metoo moment: Act NOW to address sexual assault in your church
- On a personal level, SBC clergy, independent operators every one of us, need to be proactive if we know or suspect a colleague of being a sex abuser or adulterer.
- We should be firm at every level in excluding from our common work and ministry any and all confessed or convicted sex abusers.
I don’t expect to see, ever, any independent review board in the SBC or state convention. At times like the present, I wish there was a workable way to do something like this.
But, there are people smarter and more optimistic than me in the SBC. Perhaps someone has thought of a solution, or partial solution, that I have not.
I’m wide open to it.