Author’s Note: This post discusses church sex abuse. It’s not for the faint of heart.
When I heard that The Houston Chronicle did a three-part story on sex offenders in Southern Baptist churches, something sounded familiar. I could have sworn that I heard someone predicting this several years ago. Then I remembered it was Billy Graham’s grandson, “Boz” Tchividjian who talked about it. He was talking about the danger as far back as the organization he founded to combat sex abuse in churches. That was fifteen years ago.
What The Chronicle found.
Since 2008, roughly 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches were charged with sex crimes. Since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist workers and volunteers have faced charges or lawsuits relating to sexual misconduct. Some of these people are still working in churches. During this entire time, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has refused to track sexual predators to warn member churches and prevent access to children. The Houston Chronicle had to compile its own database from public records.
According to the SBC, it was not able to do anything to prevent such abuses because it couldn’t force congregations to comply. However, the SBC has – in the past 10 years – removed at least four churches from its fellowship “for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior.” So, there’s at least some precedent for the SBC to come down hard on churches that don’t sing from the same proverbial songbook.
The most concerning thing in the article is that their database might only be a small glimpse as to what’s going on in Southern Baptist churches across the United States. It is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Allegations of abuse are typically smaller than the number of instances of abuse. The Chronicle found at least a few cases of SBC local leaders who were angrier at the reporting of sexual abuse than the abuse itself. This indicates a culture of indifference to victims and protection for perpetrators.
It’s easy to see that Boz Tchividjian was right.
It’s also sad to see that The Chronicle found people within the Southern Baptist faith who also saw the scandal approaching. How bad does something have to be that people from across the country can independently come to the same conclusion? My fear is that the newspaper is right; there are far more than 700 victims.
Certainly the least the SBC could have done was ask congregations to report sex abuse allegations. It could have compiled its own database with public information. While it wouldn’t have been perfect, it at least could stop convicted sex offenders from getting access to children under their protection.
And really, what’s the point of association here anyways?
The alleged reason for being in a collection of congregations is combined strength. That strength gets undermined when the collective can’t act for whatever reason. With regards to preventing sexual abuse of children, the SBC might as well not exist. Its only accomplishment that I can think of is to promote religious teachings. Safety is not part of that at all.
Also, consider these revelations along with prior allegations against the Catholic Church. This is now the second systemic problem revealed in churches that have a long history of abuse. We’re not even talking about pulling the curtain all the way back and locating everyone who has been abused in a church setting either in a SBC or Catholic church. Instead, we’re just talking about people convicted or found liable for sexual relations with minors and other sexual assaults. What about the next largest denominations?
Perhaps it is time people ask more questions regarding their churches. I get that people have a colloquial view of churches as being safe places, but this and other reporting indicates such views aren’t completely justified. If anything, people need to look into what a church does to actually protect children.