In one of the most shocking and disturbing Christian news stories in years, the Houston Chronicle And San Antonio express released a 3-part series in which their research into Southern Baptist Churches revealed over 700 cases of sexual abuse and over 250 convicted sexual predators working in prominent positions of church leadership – many of whom were permitted to work after being caught and convicted. This horrific study showed decades of neglect and outright opposition to the claims of abuse by many churches and the battle against sin right within the walls of God’s house.
20 Years: 700 Victims As Southern Baptist Churches Refuse Reforms To Prevent Sexual Abuse
According to reports:
“Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.
She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.
In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.
“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”
Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.
The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.
In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals.
It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.
They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.” (source).
A Stunning Abuse of Trust And The Faith
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:4-6
The report found that over 250 who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist Churches have been charged with sex crimes. Since 1998, 380 workers and volunteers have faced allegations. Of these nearly 100 are incarcerated, registered sex offenders. The report even created its own database of all of these church sexual predators.
For some of the victims like David Pittman, who stated that he was 12 when he first molested by a youth pastor, the assailant (who 2 other men told the Houston Chronicle molested them as well) still works at a Southern Baptist Church.
“That is the greatest tragedy of all,” he said. “So many people’s faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators.”
The calls for reform in the SBC often fell on deaf ears. As the infographic below shows: in many instances, even confessed molesters were permitted to remain working in leadership positions in their respective churches.
In one particular outrageous case, Leslie Mason, an Illinois pastor who confessed to sexual abuse of four young girls was not only rehired after serving prison time for his crimes, but defended by Glenn Akins, then-interim Director of the Illinois Baptist State Convention. Michael Leathers, a writer for the State Baptist newspaper who outed Mason in an article, was forced to resign for writing factually about the criminal past of Mason – a convicted sex offender, who again hired after seven years in prison:
“That just appalled me,” Leathers said. “They had to have known they put a convicted sex offender behind the pulpit. … If a church calls a woman to pastor their church, there are a lot of Southern Baptist organizations that, sadly, would disassociate with them immediately. Why wouldn’t they do the same for convicted sex offenders?” (source).
Not Just A “Catholic Problem”
“ Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” – Romans 2:23-24
Although The Roman Catholic Church has been repeatedly reported in the media for massive ongoing scandals of abuse, there should be no confusion that this is just a “Catholic issue.” In the most Bible-based, fundamental churches, abuse of children should be a glaring, red-flag issue for church leadership.
Make no mistake: churches are targets for child abusers. With the chance for direct access to children, freedom to build relationships and the “spiritual endorsement” of church leadership, child and youth ministry positions are a priority for those wicked predators engulfed in the sin of child abuse. Note in the video below, the church “leader” shows absolutely no remorse for his abuse even once convicted.
100 Youth Pastors Convicted of Sex Crimes – The Biblical Error In Choosing “Leaders”
“ Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” – 1 Timothy 3:8-10
The report also stated that over 100 youth pastors were convicted of sexual abuse – many again who were permitted to work in other churches after being outed. In today’s modern church – hyper-focused on building large congregations, sprawling campuses and dozens of ministries many new attendees are encouraged immediately to “join a ministry.” In many cases, the Youth Pastor or Youth Leader is an inexperienced, spiritually immature and unscreened “leader” for those most vulnerable in the church.
Again, Christians have to face the facts: churches attract pedophiles and child abusers. Being a Youth Pastor provides direct access and influence over children who are putting full trust in the men or women their pastor has appointed over them. What is your church’s process for selecting a Youth Pastor or any ministry worker? The book of Acts provides a clear model:
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” – Acts 6:1-8
Notice the standards the Apostles used in selecting men to serve in ministry:
1) Honest report: these were men who other members of the church could testify to their living righteous lives for Christ. This means the witness actually personally knew these men and they were not new people who just showed up for one or two services. In other words, they were vetted.
2) Full of the Holy Ghost And Wisdom: These were men who knew the Bible and demonstrated their Biblical wisdom. Spending time in the Word is one of the most powerful ways to combat sinful temptation in your life. Does your church test the knowledge of Scripture of their leaders? Are Youth Pastors required to demonstrate their understanding, knowledge and Biblical wisdom?
And these requirements were for a position in bread distribution. Not as a pastor or leader but as a bread distributor. If the Apostles took that role so seriously that they went through the above process – how seriously should Christians treat the role of leaders who are actually responsible for teaching and preaching and serving the spiritual needs of the congregation? The modern model of throwing inexperienced, unknown attendees into ministry is wildly unbiblical and a formula for the disastrous criminal activity that is rampant in the church today.
How A Church Can Combat And Prevent Sexual Abuse
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” – John 3:19-20
Child predators do not want the light of Christ to shine on their wicked deeds. A church that is outspoken and public in their opposition and condemnation of child abuse will scare many potential abusers away. All churches need to take a long look at their policies on preventing and reporting abuse and ask some simple questions:
- Formal Policy on Sexual Abuse – Pastors and Church leaders should openly preach and discuss the heinous sin of sexual abuse and make it a part of their church’s culture. Bathrooms should have posted signs with confidential emails and phone lines that congregants can call if they are in or being pressured into inappropriate relationships. Church nurseries should have very clear signage outlining the church’s policy on sex abuse and screening protocol for all teachers and volunteers – including making sure no volunteer is ever alone with a child.
- Biblical Vetting of Teachers, Leaders – as stated above all ministry workers, without exception should be subject to criminal background checks before ever working for a church. If the church cannot afford the cost of a background speaking then that ministry worker should pay for it. If no one has the funds, then the church should remain with the small leadership they have until they have appropriate funding to grow. Additionally, all ministry workers should be required to demonstrate their Biblical knowledge either in an interview or written form and provide at least 2 or 3 witnesses of their moral character and Christian life. All ministry workers should sign a letter of commitment that clearly outlines the church’s position on moral issues with specific statements about abuse.
- Child Abuse Training – All ministry workers should be required to go through child abuse and domestic abuse training. All ministry workers should be trained in identifying red flags in the behavior of their colleagues to report any suspicious behavior. http://www.netgrace.org/how-we-help\
- Take All Allegations Seriously – When a victim finds the courage to step forward with an accusation against a church leader – reassure them that they are believed and they will be supported. It is incredibly intimidating to accuse and tarnish the reputation of a “leader.” In this age, when pastors, ministry workers and leaders have large social media followings, plaster their faces all over every piece of marketing material and embrace celebrity status, it is even more daunting to reveal their criminal behavior. Victims should be comforted, believed and their charges taken seriously. And the church leadership should regularly encourage victims to come forward.
- Involve the Police Immediately – It is incredibly foolish and potentially criminal for churches to conduct their own “investigations” into matters as serious as abuse of children. This is an issue for the police to get involved immediately and resolve.
- Remove Accused Abusers Immediately – There is nothing wrong with stating someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” However in the case of child abuse, the accused should be removed from their role on a temporary basis pending the outcome of the investigation. And the church should be informed publicly of this. While this may seem unfair to the accused leader – they should be encouraged to know that the church leadership takes these issues seriously.
As displayed in the video above many child abusers, even after they are convicted, do not believe they have done anything wrong. Many even blame the young children for “seducing them.” Do not let the proclamations of innocence by a ministry worker prevent the church leadership from immediately removing that person and publicly sharing the situation with the church.
7. Prepare The Ministries To Support The Abused –
“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” – Psalm 9:9-10.
God’s house should be a refuge and safe haven for those who have been victimized by abuse. Ministry workers need to be trained in dealing with victims after abuse takes place and understanding the massive damage done to their psyche and spiritual walk. The church should readily use funds to pay for Christ-centered counseling for the victims as well whatever arrangements need to be made for their families.
8. Repent – Where there is abuse there must be repentance. The Pastors and Church leadership need to openly repent to the church for any abuse that took place on their watch. And again, should encourage any victims to come forward.
This Battle Against Abuse In Church Is Spiritual Warfare
“…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Jesus Christ, Matthew 17:18
The Devil and his minions want to do anything to destroy the church. And the rise of sexual predators infiltrating congregations is a major tool in the Adversary’s arsenal. While this is a sad situation, it should not be a surprise to a Bible believing Christian that Satan wants to ruin your church. If you go to a church that has not outlined their policies on sexual abuse, challenge your Pastor and leadership to do so and take the steps outline above or implement similar protocols. Pray for churches throughout the United States and worldwide to use Godly wisdom and proactively confront child abuse before it even takes place.