Sexual Abuse of Children in Southern Baptists Targeted by Watchdog Group
See also reporter Jamey Tucker's blog
with comments from abuse survivors
By Jamey Tucker
May 11, 2007
A group that brought attention to sex abuse among Catholic Clergy has set its sights on Southern Baptists.
The watchdog group claims church policy and structure makes it easy for Baptist ministers to sexually abuse children and get away with it.
The charges and arrests are shocking. Baptist preachers and ministers charged with using their position in the church to molest children and adults.
Todd Brock, a pastor near Greensboro, North Carolina faces four felony charges involving a 17 year old boy.
A 35 year old youth pastor charged in April with molesting a child, and in March, reverend Roy Honeycutt was arrested and charged with sex crimes dating back to the 1960s.
Mike Coode believes there are more, who get away with it.
Coode said, “I’ve been abused by two priests, and the first time was when I was 12 years old.”
Coode's experience in the Catholic Church prompted him and others to look at the policies of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Coode said, “We are trying to get them to establish some sort of autonomous review board, similar to the Catholic Church but hopefully structured better than that.”
The Catholic Church,rocked by clergy sex scandals, implemented a review board to investigate claims involving priests, but Southern Baptist convention officials say that can't be done in their denomination.
Will Hall said, “We don’t have the policing powers that some of the denominations have because of our policy. So we can’t force churches to give us information.”
Will Hall said since Southern Baptist churches are autonomous; they are guided but not governed by the state or national convention.
There is no comprehensive list of ministers or pastors, and the SBC effectively has no control over individual churches.
The power to deal with ministers falls completely on the individual church.
Pastor Marty Blakely said, “We run background checks on everybody that works with anybody under the age of 18, whether its paid staff or volunteer staff.”
Marty Blakely, administrative pastor at Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, says the convention gives them guidelines on hiring new ministers.
Once a minister is hired, there are lots of eyes and ears to make sure every staff member conducts himself in a way that never even gives the perception of inappropriate behavior.
Blakely said, “I’ve toldour people for a number of years that I don’t want our churches to be the lead story on the evening news or the front page of the paper.”
That policy or attitude usually works. But it can also lead to cover-ups. In fact, in nearly every case involving a molesting minister, someone in that church knew or suspected that something was wrong. And if the victim doesn't file criminal charges, which is pretty common in sexual molestation cases, some believe it is possible for a minister to move from one church to another, without the new church ever knowing about his past.
Coode believes that's at the heart of the problem for Baptists,keeping things quiet for the sake of the church.
Coode said, “Nobody wants to talk about this. For goodness sake, it’s a horrible thing to talk about and to endure, but it’s just absolutely necessary to protect our children.”
Hall believes churches do share that information, and he pointed to the relatively low number of suspected cases in Baptist churches.
In the nearly 44,000 Baptist churches, the organization making the claims says there've been 40 incidents in the past 15 years.
Hall says that shows the way Baptists deal with the problem is working.
Hall said, “If churches are doing adequate background checks, they’re going to discover if something was happening. In fact, if a man is convicted of sexual abuse, he’s going to be in prison.”
It is a policy that works well when the victim comes forward and individuals in the church do the right thing.
Baptists will decide this summer if they can continue to trust in those things, or whether the Convention should do more.
Two Southern Baptist ministers say they will introduce a resolution at this summer's national convention, calling for a review board to look into any claims or allegations and to also keep a list of ministers and pastors who are accused of sex crimes.