Statement by Houston SNAP leader Amy Smith re the SBC Annual Meeting in Texas

We are here today to protect kids. For far too long, SBC church officials have remained silent on what we believe to be a systemic problem of inappropriate and dangerous responses within Southern Baptist churches when Baptist clergy are credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

Church staff and members often immediately and even publicly rally around an accused child molester instead of keeping an open mind and urging anyone with information to come forward. Then, victims, witnesses and whistleblowers are intimidated or frightened and stay silent, many times, for decades. As a result, all too often, those who commit and conceal child sex crimes walk free, remain hidden and hurt others.

This ought not to be. All children and their parents in our churches and communities deserve our utmost transparency and truthfulness.  It’s the light of truth and knowledge that is our greatest tool to protect kids.

We urge the SBC to wait no longer and today decide to leave behind the status quo of silence and worn-out, weak and cowardly excuse of Baptist polity and autonomous church structure that keeps officials from cooperatively addressing the issue of child sexual abuse within SBC churches and subsequent cover-ups of that abuse by the failure to immediately report any knowledge or suspicion of abuse to law enforcement authorities.

We have asked for a chance to address the annual SBC meeting to discuss how church staff and members should respond when allegations of clergy sex crimes and cover ups surface.

Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators writes,

The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.

Most critically, pastors should be expected to clearly follow mandatory reporting laws and report suspected child abuse to the police immediately. Any pastors who have not done so should be held accountable and urged to do the right thing to protect kids from more harm from accused clergy who have been shuffled off to other unsuspecting churches, as in the case of former Prestonwood Baptist minister John Langworthy, a confessed child molester and recently convicted sex offender in Mississippi. Certainly, any pastor accused of failing to report and covering up child abuse should not be held up as models. They should be chastised.

A civil lawsuit by 11 plaintiffs accuses C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries of refusing to report suspected child sex crimes to the police. Two prominent SBC pastors, Al Mohler and Mark Dever have expressed public support for Mahaney.

Church officials who SNAP considers to have acted inappropriately regarding the Prestonwood Baptist Church/Langworthy child sex abuse case include Dr. Jack Graham, past president of the SBC, and Neal Jeffrey, associate pastor at Prestonwood.

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant