Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Baptist Press and SBC clergy child sex abuse

Baptist Press, our Executive Committee's press arm, is not known for a lot of news reporting these days. I daresay that Southern Baptists get most of their religious news, indeed most of the news that includes our entities, state conventions, and other things of interest, from other sources. I suppose This merely reflects changes in the distribution of information in our society rather than demonstrates anything unique to Southern Baptists.

But one area where BP is lax has been in regard to the scandal of clergy sex abuse in our churches. With almost 50,000 individual churches and dozens of entities and organizations it is not uncommon for SBC clergy, staff, or church volunteers to be accused of the abuse of children. One reads of these incidents regularly if not frequently in Associated Baptist Press and secular outlets but very rarely in any BP stories.

These cases are ugly, a stain on all Southern Baptists, and most of all a great tragedy for those victimized. while I understand the motivation to let the secular press handle the reporting of such sordid things, I would say that in this area Baptist Press does a disservice to Southern Baptists by mostly ignoring them.

So, I was pleased to see that BP got around to doing a story on the most recent clergy sex abuse incident in an SBC church. Their story yesterday, Children's pastor charged with sex abuse, was a summary of  information "compiled by the Alabama Baptist staff" of the case of a children's minister in a Muscle Shoals, AL church arrested for child abuse. The Alabama Baptist is the state paper for the Alabama Baptist Convention. If that paper had an article on the matter, I couldn't find it.

When our Baptist news outlets ignore these highly visible and publicized cases, they convey to the public that we would rather not talk about such things. This exacerbates the impression that the SBC is less concerned about child safety in affiliated, autonomous churches than they should be. Such in an unfair impression but an understandable one.

One might ask what possible good could come from BP or state papers carrying such stories?

I believe that the reporting of such news conveys concern, provides an opportunity for education of other congregations in child protection, and gives denominational people who are knowledgeable about child protection policies and measures an inroad into our autonomous churches. I would speculate that there are many Alabama SBC churches that see some of the same things made public in this one case of clergy sex abuse. Perhaps some of these will ask for assistance in strengthening their child protection procedures and policies. Most SBC churches are small and I'd guess that most pastors are less well informed that they should be in what should be done to ensure the safety of children. State conventions surely have knowledgeable people in this area who are willing to help.

I commend Baptist Press for carrying this uncomfortable story.

1 comment:

dr. james willingham said...

You are right, William. Actually, the report of such things is really required in the phrase, providing all things honest in the sight of all men, just to mention one. I think the reality is that the conservative editors have no idea of the harm that is being done in such cases and, in a sense, the failure to report is aiding and abetting (legal term), allowing a person to move to another area so that he can continue his terribly destructive acts, a blight to children and their future. Having dealt with the matter as minister and a Licensed Professional Counselor in years gone by, I can speak from knowledge garnered from education and from counseling: Such actions are incredibly destructive to the child's psychological and social development, causing a detriment to the child, the family, his or her future, employment, industry, etc. The law suit against the Florida Baptist Convention underscores the need for knowledge on this issue and I note in a Lifeway blog that some churches are beginning to deal with the issue.