July 10, 2008


Cost plays a role; child safety a priority

by the Rev. Wade Burleson

Should the Southern Baptist Convention do more to inform members of child sexual predators? Yes, we should, and yes, we can.

To be fair, no Southern Baptist denominational leader condones predatory behavior toward children, nor the safe harboring of those predators.

Dr. Morris Chapman, executive director of the SBC, made that clear in his impassioned speech to our 2008 convention in Indianapolis.

But the question that forms the subject of this editorial has nothing to do with Southern Baptist attitudes toward sexual crimes against children, but our actions to help prevent future predatory behavior by men who present themselves as Southern Baptist ministers.

It has been said a database that tracks sexual predators credentialed as Southern Baptist ministers will intrude on the autonomy of the local church. Autonomy is defined as "self-government."

To argue that a list of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators violates the self-government of a local church is illogical. The database would simply be a list.

What a church does with that list is their business. A list identifying ministers who are sexual predators no more intrudes on church autonomy than a list that identifies the top mission giving churches in the SBC, or a list that ranks churches with the most baptisms in the SBC, or a list identifying which pastors have Ph.D.s, etc.

Database can help

In the case of small, rural Southern Baptist churches (which most SBC churches are), it would be helpful for a ministerial search committee to quickly pull up a database via computer to see if their ministerial candidate has ever been charged or convicted of a sexual crime.

Not all databases are equal. A Southern Baptist Convention database would specifically target men who claim Southern Baptist ministerial credentials (experience at a SBC church, ordination in a SBC church, etc.).

The office that keeps such a database could also provide assistance to those churches that find themselves in the regrettable position of having to deal with a minister accused of such an atrocity.

In my estimation, the real, unstated reasons for not wanting to keep a database revolve around money and manpower. It takes funds and personnel to have an office devoted to keeping track of child sexual predators who offer themselves for employment as Southern Baptist ministers.

Our main mission as a Convention is to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world, and the notion that we have to divert money and personnel from our main mission to help prevent a child predator from being hired by one of our Southern Baptist churches is difficult to accept.

If, however, even one child is protected from a predatory action that is thwarted by the information gleaned from a database kept by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, it will be worth every single dollar we spend — no matter the cost.

Wade Burleson is a pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla.