Victims of Baptist Clergy Abuse Urge SBC Leaders to Take Action
By Hannah Elliott - Associated Baptist Press
Published: September 27, 2006
NASHVILLE (ABP) -- Members of the coalition that fought the Roman
Catholic Church's hierarchy over sexual abuse by priests are asking
the Southern Baptist Convention to prevent similar clergy abuse
in the denomination's churches.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or
SNAP, delivered a letter to the SBC Executive Committee at its Nashville
headquarters Sept. 26. It asks convention leaders to form an independent
review board to receive and investigate charges of clergy abuse
in Southern Baptist congregations.
Abuse from clergy is a "systemic" problem, the letter
said, and must be addressed by the denomination's main permanent
governing body, the Executive Committee. SNAP members also mailed
the missive to South Carolina pastor Frank Page, who was elected
to the SBC presidency in June.
The letter is the second one they have sent to Southern Baptist
"Just as [a] family member cannot properly investigate a molestation
claim made against a close relative, local church leaders cannot
properly investigate a report of clergy abuse made against a much-loved
minister," SNAP members wrote. "The usual dynamics dictate
that there cannot possibly be a proper inquiry without outside intervention."
Part of the difficulty the SBC faces in taking aggressive action
involves the autonomous nature of local churches in Baptist polity.
Since individual congregations have full control over their decision-making
and governing processes, the SBC can't dictate rules or punishment
Christa Brown, 54, who said she was abused by a Southern Baptist
youth minister in 1968, told Associated Baptist Press she believes
if SBC leaders cared enough to focus on protecting kids, they would
not let congregational autonomy be an impediment to action.
"For denominational leaders to use congregational autonomy
as an excuse for inaction strikes me as a rather Pharisee-like focus
on an ecclesiological legalism," said Brown, who maintains
www.stopbaptistpredators.org , a website aimed at challenging Southern
Baptist leaders to "get tough" on sex abuse by clergy.
"And it's a misplaced focus that is very dangerous because
it leaves kids at risk."
In January, Brown won an apology from the Texas Baptist church
that employed the youth minister she says sexually abused her when
she was 16. Officials took no legal action against the man at the
time, and he was employed by other churches for more than two decades.
Brown filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court last year.
Abuse survivors complain that too often abusive ministers move
on to other churches without being punished, only to repeat the
abuse in another location.
The SNAP letter said that, given the frequently reported pattern
of church officials failing to respond to clergy-abuse allegations,
the SBC must provide national leadership to rid the ranks of such
"When kids are at stake, there is no place for passivity on
the part of denominational leaders," it said.
David Clohessy, Mike Coode, Miguel Prats and Brown said in their
letter that the denomination's structure is no excuse for Executive
Southern Baptists have shown themselves capable of cooperative
endeavors when they choose, they wrote, so, "given that congregational
autonomy does not preclude a cooperative denomination-wide effort
for these other endeavors, why should it preclude a domination-wide
effort at protecting kids from clergy predators?"
SBC president Page responded to SNAP's first letter. After stating
how disturbed he was by the egregious abuse of power in some local
churches, Page said he would meet with SBC officials to see whether
they "might provide this kind of assistance without infringing
upon the autonomy of these state-level or local-level entities."
Requests in the latest letter call for a victim hotline, church-wide
education about sexual abuse, and a "zero tolerance" policy
for Southern Baptist churches that hire someone with any report
of having sexually abused a minor. Another issue in the letter highlights
the fact that the Baptist General Convention of Texas keeps confidential
a file of ministers who reportedly committed sexual misconduct.
The SNAP representatives said parents nationwide should have access
to the list.
The SNAP letter asks the SBC Executive Committee to recommend the
establishment of a review board to messengers at the SBC's 2007
annual meeting, set for San Antonio.
According to the Tennessean of Nashville, SBC officials have said
they will continue to provide support for abuse victims and will
fully support criminal prosecution when necessary.
Copyright © 2005 Associated Baptist Press. All rights reserved.