Saturday, November 17, 2012

Autonomy and clergy sex abuse

Southern Baptists have no real power when it comes to removing even the most offensive pastors from their church staff positions. No associational missionary, no state convention executive, no Southern Baptist Convention CEO, no megachurch pastor - no one compels even the smallest SBC church in the handling their church matters.

So, what should be done when a local church affiliated with a Southern Baptist association, state convention, or national SBC has as their pastor a man who has credible accusations of and pending charges for child sex crimes?

Such is the question raised concerning a pastor and Baptist church in Missouri that is affiliated with a local Baptist association, the Missouri Baptist Convention, and the SBC.

The story is reported by a local television station:
Missouri pastor remains in pulpit after sex crimes allegations

The pastor faced child sex crime charges in 2010 that resulted in one charge dropped and acquittal on the other. There are two new charges against the pastor.

Some people in his church are openly supportive of the pastor. Others associated with his former church are aghast at it all.

The Missouri Baptist Convention has issued a statement that provides an explanation of local church autonomy and the high standards for church leaders. It then says:
We're aware of the situation at First Baptist Church, Stover, and are in contact with the association's director of missions, who is working closely with the pastor and the church. While we respect the independence of the local church and have no direct authority over it, we are deeply grieved by the allegations. We pray that the courts will administer justice fairly and swiftly, and that there will be healing among the wounded church members. We also pray that the church members will have the wisdom, grace and courage to act biblically in their dealings with their pastor. The biblical qualifications for pastor as spelled out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are clear that a pastor must be above reproach — and even above suspicion. God is gracious to forgive all sins — even grievous sins — and we should be forgiving as well if and when our leaders suffer moral failures. At the same time, we should understand the Lord holds leaders in the church to a higher standard that, when violated, disqualifies them from continuing in their leadership role.
Clearly, the state convention and association desire that the pastor resign or be terminated by the church. One hopes that if the church fails to take action that the association will move to disfellowship the congregation.

But there is a glaring omission in this article. With child sex abuse by clergy being so prominently reported and discussed for the past decade or more, how could a state convention possibly issue any statement that fails to include anything about the alleged victims of an accused abuser?

Not a syllable.


Joe McGee said...


Our association has provided workshops in which we invited insurance personal, lawyers, and even the local sheriff with the intent of making an awareness that even in small town rural Georgia there are some perverts in the neighborhood. We encourage and even provider forms for our churches to seek criminal background checks on all adults 18 and older who in any shape or fashion comes in contact with the children of the church. With that said I beleive that if there is a viable and provable accusation against a minster or church members of such an act that the associaiton would give the church the necessary time to deal with the issue. During which time the association would go on record publically against such conduct. If the church does not remove a guilty individual from the their position, or even membership, I would speculate that during the next association meeting the issue would be address and, knowing the pastors in the association, expect a move to disqualify the church from the associaiton.

Unknown said...

I'm guessing that both the association and state convention in the case cited are waiting for the church or pastor to remedy the situation.

The association should rightly disfellowship the church if they fail to take action.

Nicholas said...

This is the problem with local church autonomy. It is not Biblical.

Even Al Mohler, Russell Moore, and SBTS are complicit in the wider SBC scandal of ignoring sex abuse. Mr. Thornton, please read this article from the Wartburg Watch:

Don't forget to follow the links to the sources it cites.

Nicholas said...

Here is an excellent article Christa Brown has written on the subject of "church autonomy":

Also, Jeri Massi shows how "local church autonomy" is unbiblical in her book Schizophrenic Christianity.

Unknown said...

Nicholas, I'm way ahead of you on both of these.

Those who would argue that local church autonomy is unbiblical are welcome to make their points but it is wasted time and effort.

It may be interesting to attack Baptist church polity but it is acutely unproductive. It is the reality on the ground that must be dealt with.

Amy Smith said...

Enabling a serial child sexual predator: Prestonwood Baptist Church and John Langworthy