"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Christa Brown Makes Clear Case for Predator Database in Light of Langworthy/Prestonwood Scandal

On this blog and Wade Burleson's blog, Christa Brown - attorney, author, and creator of the Stop Baptist Predators website - has posted a comment calling again for the establishment of a Southern Baptist sexual predator database, pointing to how it very well could have prevented Langworthy from so easily going to a sister church undetected. She makes a great point that the most common scenario would not be a church self-reporting a predator in their midst (we see that time and again), but for victims, or even lay people or staffers to come forth with credible accusations. Amy Smith should not have had to work for an entire year before Langworthy finally was exposed.

Here is Christa's comment as it appeared on this blog (link to the comment is here):

"A database of convicted, admitted and credibly accused ministers could have made a huge difference in this case. By keeping records on credibly accused ministers, Southern Baptists could assure that trained professionals -- people outside the accused minister's immediate circle of trust (and also outside the cover-uppers' circle of trust) -- will assess accusations to determine their credibility.

For example, look at what happened in this case. Amy Smith, the former Prestonwood staff member who is quoted in the WFAA report, had been trying for over a year to get someone to do something. Trying hard. That’s over a year in which still more kids were left at risk, and parents unwarned (that’s in addition to the 21 years’ worth of additional risk that Prestonwood had already allowed by its original inaction). If there had been a denominational office to which Amy could have provided her information – an office with trained professionals -- kids could have been better protected much sooner. That office could have responsibly assessed the allegations, reported on its assessment to Morrison Heights, and then kept a record if the allegations were found credible. (And if a church chose to keep a convicted, admitted or credibly accused minister in the pulpit, the SBC could conceivably choose to disfellowship.)

Such denominational review processes are common for clergy abuse allegations in other major faith groups. If Southern Baptists provided such a process (and if it were truly a safe and welcoming place staffed by trained professionals), there would likely be many more clergy abuse survivors who would bring forward reports of abuse. But as things now stand, there is nowhere within the faith community for them to turn, and most won't even attempt to go to the church of their perpetrator. Since most cases are too old for criminal prosecution, this leaves them with little recourse.

In effect, the creation of a denominational database would help to protect churches against the inaction of their sister churches because it would allow that reports could also be received from knowledgeable church staff members (i.e., people such as Amy Smith) and from abuse survivors. As things now stand, a single church that ordains a minister on minimal standards or that turns a blind eye to egregious conduct can effectively unleash a predator into the larger body of SBC churches. By implementing a denominational system of assessment and record-keeping, Southern Baptists could assure that churches have a chance to be better informed about their clergy. They could also provide a compassionate hearing within the faith community to those who have been horribly abused within the faith. And even if denominational assessments can’t put a predatory preacher in prison, they can at least assure that he will not be able to use the power and trust of his ministerial position as a weapon."

The following line was added in her comment at Wade's site:

In October 2006, there was a huge discussion of this on the BaptistLife forums, and I compiled a FAQS page based on the questions asked at that time. For those interested, it’s here."

36 comments:

William Thornton said...

I share support of a database with Christa Brown and Wade Burleson, although the details are difficult.

If a database is to include "credibly accused" individuals, that demands some degree of subjective evaluation. I know of no difficulty with a database of convicted and confessed abusers.

In the case at Prestonwood the problem seems to be failure to call law enforcement. If that had been done and a criminal case pursued there would almost certainly been some disposition, innocence or guilt, that would negate the necessity of any 'credible accusation' action.

Today, there is what looks like both a credible accusation and some degree of confession for the minister. The confession alone would mean that if we had a database of convicted and confessed abusers this individual would be on it.

The climate in 1989 is light years removed from 2011. Had it happened today, almost certainly the law would have been called, as is the protocol for every church child protection policy I have ever seen.

Sorry for the long comment.

Anonymous said...

There's a national sex offender research database available to the public now.

This is connected directly to local jurisdictions. Probably the best way to look for people that have been convicted.

I checked it for a name in my state that I know is a convicted sex offender and his name was definitely there.

National Sex Offender Search

The "admitted" and "credibly accused" is the tough part. The SBC isn't a typical denomination because of the local church autonomy thing.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with a database if the people whose names are placed there have been convicted of something or have confessed to something. "Credibly accused" leaves way too much room for subjective evaluations and some rabid anti-pastor person. Just because a person is accused does not mean they are guilty in this country--thank goodness.

There already is a database with the Baptist General Convention here in Texas and any church is welcome to check it without fear.

Since Baptist churches are autonomous (and I know you hate that word) there is not an agency that can demand participation. Of course the proper (and legal) way is to always call the authorities and let them deal with it.

But then, that's not always the Baptist way is it?

William Thornton said...

In Texas, the Baptist General Convention of Texas does keep a confidential file of incidents of clergy misconduct.

As I understand it, BGCT churches may ask if a specific minister's name is in the file but no one may review the entire file and the list is not made public.

So, a credibly accused minister is known only if a church asks.

Add to that the fact that the BGCT accepts abuse reports only from churches.

My guess is that few churches know enough to ask and that the BGCT system is not very effective in preventing credibly accused clergy from continuing to serve in churches.

Then again, I know of no other state convention that keeps a file of accused abusers.

Seneca Griggs said...

"A database of convicted, admitted and credibly accused ministers could have made a huge difference in this case. By keeping records on credibly accused ministers, Southern Baptists could assure that trained professionals -- people outside the accused minister's immediate circle of trust (and also outside the cover-uppers' circle of trust) -- will assess accusations to determine their credibility."

Let the lawsuits begin and let's turn away from Biblically and spiritually mature believers and towards secular experts.

BTW, Christa would prefer that the Southern Baptist be more centralized (like Methodist/Presbyterians/Catholics) which would simply be a lawyer's delight.

Then you can sue them as a whole and make a lot more money.

I believe the Roman Catholic Church has paid out in the neighborhood of 3 billion dollars for their sings.

Count me unimpressed with the database idea for a number of reasons.

Christa Brown said...

Thornton is correct in stating that the BGCT system is "not very effective," but in truth, it's an understatement. The BGCT's system is utterly dysfunctional. The BGCT will receive abuse reports only from church officials, not from clergy sex abuse survivors, nor from ex-church staff members -- i.e., people such as Amy Smith. My own perpetrator's name was placed in the BGCT's file, and yet when I tried to report him, the BGCT responded by sending their own long-time attorney out to "help" my childhood church in dealing with my abuse report. The way that attorney "helped" was by threatening to sue me (despite the fact that another minister in the church had knowledge of the abuse inflicted on me as a kid). This isn't ancient history. BGCT officials know their attorney uses such intimidation tactics. And make no mistake about it, these kinds of tactics are still going on. Why? Because most of the time, they work – i.e., they re-silence the victim, saving churches the trouble of dealing with it. Suffice it to say that the BGCT gave me zero help in trying to warn others. All the while, he was continuing to work in children’s ministry in Florida (and he had previously worked at Charles Stanley’s church, FBC-Atlanta). Plenty of Baptist officials knew where this guy was, but no one thought it worthwhile to warn parents in the pews or to get him away from kids. So, based on personal experience and the stories I hear from other, I have zero respect for how the BGCT “handles” clergy sex abuse.

The climate in the SBC today is not “light years removed”. If that were so, Prestonwood would have responded differently a year ago when Amy Smith first started trying to get them to do something about this. If that were so, Prestonwood’s executive pastor, Mike Buster, would not have made such a ridiculous statement to WFAA just a couple days ago when he bragged that Prestonwood had acted “firmly and forthrightly” in “removing him from all responsibilities within the church.” Obviously, if kids are to be made safer, it is not enough for a church to simply get a reported predator off its own turf. But Buster doesn’t seem to have yet learned that.

Other major faith groups have systems for assessing “credible accusations” or “substantial evidence” of clergy abuse. Because Baptists are so far behind the curve on this, they don’t need to re-invent the wheel. They could use the systems of other faith groups as guidelines for setting up their own “credible accusation” assessment system. For Southern Baptist officials to persist in thinking that they’ll be doing enough IF churches conduct background checks is just plain ignorance. (It’s also a big “if” because a great many churches don’t even bother with that minimal step of a background check.) Over 90 percent of active child molesters have never been convicted of anything and aren’t going to show up in a sex-offender database. If kids are to be better protected, additional safeguards are needed, and other major faith groups have realized that by now. Southern Baptists are light years behind.

As for the whole “local church autonomy” argument . . . it’s very sadly being used as a "false wall" and as a smokescreen. This is one of the most troubling aspects in all of this. A religious doctrine is being twisted into an excuse for this denomination’s do-nothingness in addressing clergy sex abuse. If the 45,000 autonomous churches of the Southern Baptist Convention can cooperate to provide ministers with more secure retirements, to establish an archive of Baptist historical records, to fund international mission work, etc. etc. etc., why can’t they also cooperate to provide better protection for kids in Southern Baptist churches and to provide the churches themselves with better information about their clergy? More info on the autonomy excuse is here.

Anonymous said...

I'm very appreciative of Christa Brown's commitment for standing in the firing line . . .I personally know of one Christian School's high school teacher who ran off with one of the teenage girls in the academy (he was married, with little ones I might add) and would you believe even though he was fired from the Christian School, he actually is serving now in one of the local sister churches & writing a book on his experience. Most of the congregation had no clue of his past, but most certainly the Pastor did that hire him did!

As many say, thank God for this new era of Blogs - no more secrets can the churches hide from us.

William Thornton said...

I always appreciate hearing from Christa Brown even though she sometimes takes me to task.

My sense is that the SBC of 2011 is light years removed from that of 1989 with regard to how most churches would handle a report of sexual abuse: call the cops, not the deacons.

If the SBC had a database of convicted or confessed abusers, this man would be on it. Since we don't, absent widespread publicity such people can easily move from church to church.

Anonymous said...

"Let the lawsuits begin and let's turn away from Biblically and spiritually mature believers and towards secular experts."

So you would be against mega pastors hiring consultants instead of listening to the Holy Spirit.

Funny how I've never heard you speak out against that before.

I wonder why?

Anonymous said...

"I believe the Roman Catholic Church has paid out in the neighborhood of 3 billion dollars for their sings."

"Count me unimpressed with the database idea for a number of reasons."

Sounds like money is the primary one. You are right of course. Let's just sweep everything under the rug and pretend it didn't happen. That's what Christ would do right?

Anonymous said...

Seneca Griggs is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

What we have in Texas with the BGCT is sure better than nothing and not as bad as Christa would have you believe. They don't just accept anyone's word about something because then it would be a gossip's heaven. Preacher's lives and ministries have been ruined by malicious and faulty accusations.

It is interesting how everyone seems to have such insight into what happened at Prestonwood when actually, none of you know the facts. That church operates on a very strict level of authority and those details would not be given out to some blogger or a friend of a blogger for sure.

Before much can be done there has to be a way to deal with "credible accusations" but I'm not sure a database is the answer. What if the "credible accuser" turned out to be a liar--then someone's life is permanently ruined.

Maybe we should just teach people in our churches and leadership in our churches that when abuse and molestation surfaces that you call the local police and let them handle it. They have a database for sure.

Katie said...

Sad that we have gone from hiding our dirty laundry to placing it in one of the countless legal concepts that protects sexual offenders and belittles those who have been damaged for life.

The truth is that 1 in 3 females will be victimized by a sexual predator. Often the offenders are family members. For males, it is only slightly better, they are abused at the rate of 1 in 5. Most victims never tell a soul about the assault and spend their lives in self-hatred, guilt and shame for something they are not responsible for.

No one who truly loves the Lord and chooses to use their talents for the gospel would engage in any kind of cover-up.

Seneca, I could care less what you think about a data base. As a victim (at the age of 6), I can assure you that failing to address this problem will only encourage abusers to carry on without having to consider any consequences.

Christa, lot's of 'religious people' scoffed at the idea of Jesus being the Messiah and that didn't seem to work out well for them. Keep fighting. Those of us who have worked for years to rid ourselves of undeserved guilt applaud you.

Anonymous said...

I was a victim of lying. There should be a liars database!

WishIhadknown said...

Seneca Griggs, we would not expect anything else from you.

Anonymous said...

I agree that any church or individual which finds this abuse happening ought to call the authorities right away. It does not matter if it is a pastor, a SS teacher, lay person, former staff person.

Did Amy Smith call the police when she discovered this info? Obviously Prestonwood did not but did Amy?

If she did why did it take so long for the church he was recently at not approached by the police? If she didn't, why not? If she did and the police did nothing, she is the hero for taking it beyond them. If she did not, she is as guilty as Prestonwood.

Seneca Griggs said...

"Seneca, I could care less what you think about a data base. As a victim (at the age of 6), I can assure you that failing to address this problem will only encourage abusers to carry on without having to consider any consequences." Katie

Katie my problem is this. People think a database would actually protect young children. I don't think it would.

It's one of those Utopian things. "If we just pass these laws we can stop poverty, hunger, aids, cancer, abuse etc.etc.etc."

My experience and cynicism says you can't bring in the kingdom by passing laws, developing data bases or hiring more lawyers.

All of those things end up bringing new abuses.

The UNFORSEEN CONSEQUENCES will continue on and sinners will not stop sinning.

Seneca Griggs said...

I'm pretty sure it is Mac Brunson's fault.

New BBC Open Forum said...

My sense is that the SBC of 2011 is light years removed from that of 1989 with regard to how most churches would handle a report of sexual abuse: call the cops, not the deacons.

Morrison Heights Baptist is a recent exception which comes to mind. So is Bellevue Baptist. It's light years removed though but because of the internet, not some enlightened change in attitude.

Got this interesting comment today.

WishIhadknown said...

So why not do away with all laws and let "sinners keep on sinning?"

Anonymous said...

Seneca,

I think you are a little too fatalistic. I do think churches need to be warned to protect their children. I am not 100% convinced the SBC needs to have their own database because of legal implications. But they can certainly run background checks and do their due diligence in contacting all prior churches of a potential employee and asking specific questions about whether any improprieties happened. I am not even sure if legally a former employer can even answer those questions. If churches got better at pressing charges on sex abusers as someone mentioned earlier, then the abusers would show up in the national database.

Definitely a tricky situation. I am all for protecting children. Just not sure the right way to go about it. Seems like a lot of the abuse happens not on church property, but in private homes where abusers manage to make themselves trusted.

Anonymous said...

To be honest,

I think the "Seneca's an idiot" comments need to stop. He may be cynical and sarcastic and carry a different point of view than most, but he's not attacking people but giving his opinion. Isn't that why comments on blogs are open? To get opinions? I think they are honestly his opinions, not like the troll here who just says the opposite to get people going.

Seneca Griggs said...

"I think you are a little too fatalistic. I do think churches need to be warned to protect their children. I am not 100% convinced the SBC needs to have their own database because of legal implications. But they can certainly run background checks and do their due diligence in contacting all prior churches of a potential employee and asking specific questions about whether any improprieties happened. I am not even sure if legally a former employer can even answer those questions." Anon
Points well made.
Once you establish a database, inevitably your tithe or gifts is going to the law firm of Dewey, Cheatum & Howe.
I'm so against that.

Seneca Griggs said...

Christa Brown appears to be a very honorable woman, wife and mother.
While I may disagree with her answer to the problem (and her assessment of the problem) she appears to be quite a fine person.

I have a whole lot of respect for Christa Brown who has been willing to take serious heat for her beliefs.

Seneca Griggs said...

"I think you are a little too fatalistic. I do think churches need to be warned to protect their children. I am not 100% convinced the SBC needs to have their own database because of legal implications. But they can certainly run background checks and do their due diligence in contacting all prior churches of a potential employee and asking specific questions about whether any improprieties happened. I am not even sure if legally a former employer can even answer those questions." Points well made.

A great concern would be that with a SBC database, inevitably there are lawyers involved and you find your tithes/gifts supporting not mission but the law firm of Dewey, Cheatum & Howe. I don't want my gifts going there.

William Thornton said...

Anon 2.27 wrote "What we have in Texas with the BGCT is sure better than nothing and not as bad as Christa would have you believe."

I admit that it is better than nothing, but I'm having difficulty seeing it as much better than nothing.

Would you have any issue with a publicly available list of convicted and confessed abusers?

The man in question would be on the latte.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about Christa's abuse, I was abused sexually by a male cousin when I was 7 and 8 years old. He was not a minister.

I believe that Christa has some valid points, but I also believe that the huge blanket of "credibly accused" is so dangerous. Rumor, revenge, false accusations and even mistaken identity and mistaken memories can be factors in "credibly accused" or "admitted."

It is clear to me that only convicted criminals need to be placed into the database and as aforementioned that is already done on a state level.

Let me say Christa that there is no healing in accusations, and no healing in a database, and no healing in your constant calling out of churches, institutions and specific ministers - - there is only healing in the cross of Christ. I know this now, after several years of wanting to punch everything and everyone.

I know the judicial system of our nation can be suspect at times, but conviction of sexual criminals must be the standard for any database, otherwise we are hoping that all who "credibly accused" are actually credible, sane and non-vindictive.

Todd

Anonymous said...

There already is a list of convicted abusers. All you have to do is go on there and check. The BGCT has a list of confessed abusers that a church can check so I guess that covers what you want.

Sometimes Christa accuses Baptists of things that aren't really happening. If a church in Texas needs information, all they have to do is contact the BGCT.

Anonymous said...

So what happens if an innocent person gets thrown in this database only to have his or her life and ministry completely ruined?

Can anyone guess the outcome of that storm of fecal matter?

Anonymous said...

Anon 6.08, I see the list of convicted. You cannot see the list of "confirmed" but can ask if a certain minister is on it.

I ask again, why would there be an objection to a public list that included convicted and confessed?

William

Anonymous said...

That fecal matter is exactly one of the reasons why there is no SBC database of people who have been accused. An accusation is not proof of guilt.

Dee said...

Watchdog and BBC

You guys are awesome. I will write about this over at TWW tomorrow. Thank you for drawing attention to this.

Anonymouse said...

I think we have a scatophiliac among us.There's treatment for that.

Anonymous said...

Off topic check this story out from the drudgereport.com.
How would you like to be a member of this church?


(ST. ELMO, Ala.) - The Mobile County Sheriff's Office is investigating a bizarre case out of St. Elmo, after a church pastor was tased, and a woman was stabbed during a fight.

It happened at the New Welcome Baptist Church after Sunday service.

Simone Moore is a self proclaimed R&B artist, he ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate, and he's a teacher in Mobile County. Now, Moore is wanted by the Mobile County Sheriff's Office after authorities say he tased Rev. Daryl Riley.

Deputies say it all started when Moore, who worked as the Minister of Music was handed his last paycheck, and told by Rev. Riley that his services were no longer needed. Investigators say that's when Moore tased the pastor.

A fight ensued, and deputies say Harvey Hunt, a deacon at the church, pulled out a pocket knife and began stabbing Moore's mother, Agolia, in the arm.

Six people were injured in the fight, all have been released from the hospital.

Lashea Gray lives near the church, she told us, "It was unbelievable for it to be at that church, a lot of people go there, never heard of any problems. That was shocking to me to see that going on."

Warrants have been signed for both Moore and Hunt.

Thy Peace said...

ABP News > Pastor renews call for database of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse

Thy Peace said...

The Wartburg Watch > Does the SBC Fear Women Pastors More Than The Molestation of Children?