The day Southern Baptist Convention leaders discussed in Nashville, Tenn., how well the nation’s second-largest faith group is handling the problem of clergy sex abuse, a congregation in South Carolina was shocked to learn its pastor was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex on-line from a police officer he believed to be a 14-year-old girl.
Deputies of the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department arrested Kevin Ogle, 42, of Camden, S.C., at his home Tuesday afternoon. He faces 11 counts of sexual exploitation of a child in Loganville, Ga., where he allegedly chatted and sent pornographic images of himself on a computer to an undercover officer in the Loganville Police Department’s on-line predator unit.
According to news reports, Ogle has been pastor at Northgate Colonial Baptist Church in Camden for about three years. The 106-member congregation, which held an emergency meeting Tuesday night in an effort to hold itself together, is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, according to officials there.
“We knew he was a pastor and that he was from South Carolina, but he was very smart about being elusive and we had difficulty tracking him down,” Loganville Police Sgt. Mike Westbrooks told The Walton Tribune. “We eventually solicited the help of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division through the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, and that’s how we identified him.”
Police said they had been investigating Logan for about three months. “We believe he has probably been doing this for some time,” Westbrooks told the Georgia newspaper. “In one of the conversations he had with us over the Internet he disclosed that he had been a youth pastor at a church some time back and had been in love with a 12-year-old girl. He never would say why, but he did confess that he had to leave that church.”
Church members described Ogle, who is married with two sons, as a good preacher who loves his family and his church. He grew up in nearby Lugoff and attended Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, N.C. One of his arresting officers said he graduated with Ogle in high school and has known him all his life.
Bill Drees, director of missions for Kershaw Baptist Association, told the Charlotte Observer he had lunch with Ogle a week before he visited him Wednesday in jail. “This is why this is such a total shock to everyone,” Drees said. “He grew up around this community, and it’s something no one expected.”
Police Sgt. Westbrooks told the Loganville paper he believed Ogle is a true pedophile, who really believed he was in love with the 14-year old he thought he was chatting with. Police are investigating if he had contact with people he met on-line.
When arrested, Ogle reportedly told officers “now his life is over,” Westbrooks said. Each count he faces carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Tuesday morning a work group of the SBC Executive Committee met with two representatives of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SBC leaders objected to charges by the victims’ advocacy group the denomination isn’t doing enough to rid its clergy ranks of sexual predators.
SBC President Frank Page told the Associated Press the denomination plans to teach its churches how to conduct background checks.
Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist told EthicsDaily.com that urging churches to conduct background checks isn’t enough. Most Catholic priests defrocked in recent years for sexual abuse, she said, were never charged with a crime and therefore wouldn’t be listed in any sex-offender databases.
One SBC congregation, First Baptist Church in Greenwood, Mo., said it conducted two background checks in 2003 before hiring a music minister recently convicted of sexually abusing children at Southern Baptist churches in two states.
Page told the AP the SBC does not have legal authority to establish an independent review board to investigate clergy sexual abuse complaints requested by SNAP, because each local church is autonomous.
Brown said that is the same argument Roman Catholic bishops made in 2002. Bishops view themselves as having dominion in their own diocese, she said, and creation by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of an Office of Child and Youth Protection was termed an “extraordinary and unprecedented” step.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) established its Independent Committee of Inquiry, which SNAP recommends as a model for the SBC to follow, as an “extra-constitutional” body outside the normal structure to investigate and consider reports of clergy sex abuse.
Southern Baptists have already overstepped autonomy of the local church concerning at least one issue involving sex. The SBC voted in 1992 to insert language into its constitution declaring any churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” as being “not in cooperation” with the convention’s work and purposes. A Baptist state convention in North Carolina last year affirmed its authority to investigate whether or not individual churches comply.
Augie Boto, general counsel and a vice president with the SBC Executive Committee, denied in a statement in Baptist Press that the convention is negligent in protecting kids of sexual abuse.
“The Southern Baptist Convention structure leaves the responsibility for such matters in the hands of those most motivated and capable of addressing it,” Boto said, “the members of the local churches–many of whom are parents and grandparents.”
But Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teenager by a minister in the Southern Baptist church of her youth, says that method isn’t working. Churches predisposed to see only good in a beloved minister and refusing to believe anything evil about him, she said, often instead disbelieve those making the charges or blame or shun them.
“In effect, the SBC washes its hand of this crime, knowing full well the all-too-frequent pattern is for the local church to either leave the predator in the pulpit or to allow him to move on to another congregation,” she said. “The SBC washes its hands of any responsibility, and kids are the ones who get physically and spiritually ravaged.”
At Northgate Colonial Baptist Church, deacon chairman Mike Clifton told WLTX-TV there is no question about whether the congregation will forgive its fallen minister. “We can’t expect God to forgive us when we ask him for forgiveness, and not forgive our pastor, or any fellow man, when they do wrong,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.