Victims: “No response from church officials yet”
Thousands of Baptists will meet this week in Houston
Group has asked to speak to convention about abuse
Abuse survivors deplore “rallying around” alleged predators
It wants Baptist church officials to train their staff and flocks
Baptist officials have not responded yet to clergy sex abuse victims who have asked to speak to this week to thousands of Baptists in Houston. The victims want to discuss how church staff and members respond when allegations of clergy sex crimes and cover ups surface.
Last week, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, wrote officials with the Southern Baptist Convention hoping for a chance to address their annual convention which begins tomorrow. SNAP leaders say that congregants and clergy often “immediately and publicly rally for an accused child molester instead of keeping an open mind and urging anyone with information to come forward.” Then, SNAP contends, “Victims, witnesses and whistleblowers are frightened or depressed and stay silent. And as a result, all too often, those who commit and conceal child sex crimes walk free, remain hidden, and hurt others.”
The group cites three congregations at which it says church employees or board members publicly rallied or are rallying behind accused wrongdoers: Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, Sovereign Grace Ministries in Maryland, and The Richmond Outreach Center in Virginia.
“Many Baptist pastors offer their staff and their flocks absolutely no training on how to act when church folks are accused of abuse,” said Amy Smith, Houston SNAP Director. “Even worse, many times ministers themselves take insensitive or hurtful actions, by backing the accused and intimidating the accusers.”
“Southern Baptist officials steadfastly refuse to take any real steps to protect children from child molesting clergy,” said David Clohessy, SNAP Executive Director. “So the very least they could do would be to teach people how to make it easier, not harder, for child sex abuse victims to speak up and report criminals.”
A civil lawsuit accuses Rev. C.J. Mahaney of the Sovereign Grace Ministries of refusing to report suspected child sex crimes to police. Among the prominent Protestant officials who have expressed publicly support for Mahaney are Rev. Mark Dever (senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC), Rev. Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist seminary president),and Rev. Ligon Duncan (pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi).
Devers and Mohler are scheduled to speak to the SBC conference next week.
Baptist officials who SNAP considers to have acted in appropriately regarding the Prestonwood controversy include Rev. Jack Graham (past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and now head pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church) and Rev. Neal Jeffrey (associate pastor at Prestonwood).
“These men should be chastised and disciplined, not held up as models,” Clohessy said.
“We know SBC officials will claim our request is ‘too late,’” said Smith. “And we admit we might have acted more promptly. But we also know that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ If SBC officials really want to help catch child molesters and protect kids, they’ll make a few adjustments and give us a chance to speak.”
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent Friday by email to five Baptist officials, is below:
June 7, 2013
Rev. Fred Luter
President, Southern Baptist Convention
email@example.com , 504-488-8488 ext 123
Dear Rev. Luter:
We are deeply troubled, in a number of ways, with how local SBC churches - and the SBC itself - deal with clergy sex abuse and cover up cases. Our concerns are widely-known and long-standing, and it’s likely not productive to re-hash them all here.
But as best we can tell, we’ve never raised this particular issue nor made this particular request of the SBC. And while we realize this may seem like short notice to you, we also realize that usually “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
We are very upset at how church officials and congregants respond when child sex abuse allegations surface against Baptist ministers, volunteers and employees. All too often, clergy and congregants immediately and publicly rally for an accused child molester instead of keeping an open mind and urging anyone with information to come forward. In response, all too often, victims, witnesses and whistleblowers with information are then frightened or depressed and stay silent instead of reporting what they know or suspect about child sex crimes. And as a result, all too often, those who commit and conceal child sex crimes walk free, remain hidden, and hurt others.
(Recent examples of this hurtful behavior include controversies at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, Sovereign Grace Ministries in Maryland, and The Richmond Outreach Center in Virginia.)
So when you meet in Houston next week, we respectfully ask for an opportunity to address the full assembly and share our organization’s expertise on how church members and staff should respond when such accusation arise.
We’ve distilled much of what we’ve learned about this subject over the past 25 years into a short pamphlet that’s posted on our website:
It’s very hurtful to child sex-abuse victims when people in authority publicly back accused wrongdoers. And it hinders criminal investigations, because it intimidates victims, witnesses and whistleblowers into staying silent.
We urge church employees and members to support accused ministers if they must. But do so privately in ways that don’t further harm, depress and scare other child sex-abuse victims into keeping silent and thus helping child predators escape detection and prosecution.
Child sex crimes are incredibly common place. Very few children or adults can promptly report their suffering. So very many predators remain free to prey on others. So as responsible adults, we must make it less hard, not more hard, for victims of these heinous crimes and cover ups to step forward, get help, expose wrongdoing, protect others and start healing.
In light of this, again, we are asking the SBC board?? to let one or two of us speak to the entire convention next week about how SBC staff and individuals SBC church members should respond when accusations of misconduct by church employees and volunteers emerge.
We hope to hear from you soon.
Amy Smith Smith, Houston SNAP director,281 748 4050, spacecitySNAP@gmail.com
David Clohessy, SNAP executive director 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Gregg Matte, president of the SBC pastors conference, Senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church
Gregg.Matte@HoustonsFirst.org, 713 957 5852
Frank Page, president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the SBC 615 244 2355, firstname.lastname@example.org
Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns.) email@example.com, 615 782 8405
Doug Bischoff, Next Generations minister at Houston’s First Baptist Church, Doug.Bischoff@HoustonsFirst.org, 713 957 7630