"Without institutional consequences, we will continue to see the pattern of Southern Baptist leaders – leaders such as Philip Gunn, Jack Graham, Greg Belser, Steve Gaines and many more – who weigh each scenario for themselves and conclude (for whatever rationalized mess of a reason) that their particular scenario is somehow exceptional and that reporting isn’t necessary." Christa Brown, 12/8/11While it will probably be a cold day in Hades before baptists enact institutional consequences for their lay folk and ministers who don't report abuse, we can rejoice that our government is moving forward on the legal side. In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child sex abuse scandal, the U.S. Senate is doing the right thing: they are going to hold a December 13th hearing on child abuse reporting, and legislation has already been proposed to require states to enact tougher laws to punish any adults that fail to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement.
Christa Brown is exactly right. And not only are institutional consequences necessary, but also stiffer legal penalties as well.
If the focus of the hearing is to help legislators understand the risk to children from sex abuse because of failure to report the abuse to law enforcement agencies, the Senate must focus on a bigger risk to children than college administrators and coaches: that of the risk from failure to report allegations of abuse by ministers as in the Bob Gray scandal at Trinity Baptist here in Jacksonville (Bob Gray's booking photo is above, next to Jerry Sandusky's). Tougher penalties must be imposed on clergy and lay leaders in churches who become aware of abuse allegations yet fail to report them to the police. This nonsense of "priest penitent" privilege as an excuse to not report pedophile ministers must go out the window, as evidenced by the latest scandal where even lay "elders" of a church are using the priest penitent excuse to not speak to law enforcement in an abuse case.
The witness list of the hearing has not been announced. I would recommend the Senate consider some of these as witnesses at their hearing to fully understand that the Penn State scandal is nothing new, these cover-ups have been going on for years in baptist churches.
Witnesses I would suggest at the hearing:
- Christa Brown: Christa would be a powerful witness. As a victim herself, she has lived through the pain of trying to hold her perpetrator accountable while watching him continue to minister and receive the support of his peers. She can speak to this problem of churches failing to report abuse, why so many churches fail to report, and why tougher penalties should be enacted against clergy and lay leaders who cover for an accused minister.
- Dr. Jack Graham: the most recent scandal amongst Southern Baptists involves John Langworthy, who ministered at the megachurch Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas. The Senate ought to subpoena the Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham to ask him why the local authorities were not contacted about John Langworthy when allegations arose of sexual abuse. The Senators should ask Dr. Graham why his church chose to conduct their own investigation, fire Langworthy, and chose not make a report to the local authorities, allowing Langworthy to move on to another position without warning the next church.
- Dr. Tom Messer of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida: Messer would be an excellent witness. The similarities between the Bob Gray scandal at Trinity Baptist Church and the Penn State scandal are really unbelievable. Messer should be asked why Trinity Baptist church did not call the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office when allegations of sexual misconduct arose against pastor Dr. Bob Gray. He can be asked about why allegations were not disclosed to parishioners of the church (and in fact why Messer and church leaders stood by while Gray lied to his congregation about them), and why Gray was allowed to go on mission to Germany without the mission sending agency being alerted to the allegations. It is a story like that of Bob Gray, and the tendency of churches to not report their "men of God" ministers who are accused of abuse and to even accuse the victims of wrong-doing, that will help Senators realize that stiff penalties for failure to immediately report allegations are required, and no statute of limitations should apply in these cases.
I hope the Senate does act. I hope states are required to enact tough laws with mandatory jail time for all persons who become aware of child sexual abuse allegations and don't report them to the police.
And we can thank God we don't live in a theocracy run by Baptists or Catholics or any religious men. We can thank God we have a government who can do something to increase protection for children from pedophiles and their friends who think they are doing the will of God by not reporting the abuse.