Abuse victims group holds vigil backing protections

By Jim Jones

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 12, 2007

SAN ANTONIO -- Leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests -- which now has a Baptist unit -- staged a prayer vigil here Monday, urging members of the Southern Baptist Convention to expose pastors and other church employees who are guilty of sexual abuse.

"It's way too easy for perpetrators of sexual abuse to hide in the Southern Baptist Convention," said Christa Brown of Austin, coordinator of the Baptist unit of the Survivors Network.

She and David Clohessy, executive director of the organization, which is based in St. Louis, conducted the vigil outside the San Antonio Convention Center, where the Southern Baptist Convention opens its two-day annual meeting today.

They urged individual Baptists passing by to approve a motion on sexual abuse.

The Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla., said he will offer a motion to consider making available to churches "a database of Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally have been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse."

"We're looking at doing all we can to protect children and others from sexual abuse," Burleson said in an interview.

Clohessy said the motion, if approved, would be "a tiny first step," but he said he is grateful to Burleson for taking the initiative.

Brown, of Austin, became coordinator of the Baptist unit of the Survivors Network after she ran into difficulties in exposing a minister who she says sexually abused her when she was 16.

"Molesters can be found in any religious group," she said. "But Southern Baptists are far behind in identifying those in their denomination."

Brown noted that the Baptist General Convention of Texas recently announced that it is publishing the names of pastors and church leaders who have been convicted of sexual abuse.

Leadership election

The meeting isn't expected to have a knockdown battle over who will be convention president. The Rev. Frank Page of Taylors, S.C., will probably be re-elected by acclamation.

Page was supported by younger Baptist bloggers who said it was time to move in a new direction. He promised to move Baptists away from a perceived image as a fighting, narrow group and to emphasize the good that Baptists do around the world.

He has sought to broaden leadership by giving committee appointments to Baptists who have been left out because they were not in complete agreement with key conservative leaders.

He invited Charles Wade, executive director of the moderate-controlled Baptist General Convention of Texas, to address the meeting. Wade will speak Wednesday.

Although Page appears to be a shoo-in for president, some political intrigue is involved in the race for first vice president between a Texas conservative leader, Jim Richards, and David Rogers, a career missionary and son of the late Rev. Adrian Rogers, an iconic leader of the conservative rise to power in the nation's largest Protestant group.

Rogers is backed by many of the younger bloggers who supported Page. Richards is executive director of the Grapevine-based Southern Baptists of Texas, an alternative state convention to the more moderate Baptist General Convention of Texas. He is a member of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth.

The Rev. Ben Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington and an active blogger, said Richards' election would mean many Baptists want to remain in a strict conservative mode to protect themselves from perceived liberalism.