Members of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee were scheduled to discuss the denomination’s response to sexual abuse by clergy in a work group session this morning.
A proposed agenda item for a 9:30 a.m. meeting of the bylaws work group is “Discussion of Requests Made by Survivors Network of Persons Abused by Priests (SNAP).” The group’s correct name is Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and other Clergy.
SBC President Frank Page told EthicsDaily.com Monday night he had been asked to attend the session and would be there if able. He said he didn’t know specifics of what would be discussed, other than some members of the Executive Committee desired to respond to concerns raised by a variety of sources.
The agenda item comes five months after SNAP representatives delivered a letter to Page and two other SBC officials requesting formation of a national review board and adoption of a “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse by clergy. A member of the group was unaware the item was on the agenda until notified by EthicsDaily.com.
“I’m trying not to be too optimistic, but just making the agenda is something,” said Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist. Brown, an Austin attorney and survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a minister in her childhood Southern Baptist church, traveled to Nashville, Tenn., Monday to deliver informational packets to Executive Committee members meeting yesterday and today. (Video)
Brown and Mike Coode of SNAP-Nashville left copies of a Sept. 26 letter to Page, Executive Committee President Morris Chapman and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land at both the SBC headquarters building and the hotel where committee members were staying.
In an earlier letter, Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., pledged to “not ignore” SNAP’s request for a denomination-wide program targeting sexual abuse by Baptist clergy. An SBC spokesperson said in September the leaders “fully agree” there should be more scrutiny of persons involved in ministry to children and youth but needed “time to vet the specific requests being made.”
The SNAP letter recognized the autonomous structure of Southern Baptist churches, but challenged the idea that responsibility for the “cover up” of sexual abuse rests solely with the local church. “Southern Baptists have shown themselves capable of all manner of cooperative endeavors when they choose,” it said. “The most obvious example is international mission work, but the denomination also makes a cooperative effort for such activities as providing financial investment services and maintaining an archive of Baptist historical records.”
“Given that congregational autonomy does not preclude a cooperative denomination-wide effort for these other endeavors, why should it preclude a denomination-wide effort at protecting kids against clergy predators?”
Specific requests by SNAP, a national support group for victims of clergy sex abuse started amid the pedophile priest cover-up scandal in the Roman Catholic Church five years ago, included:
–Establishment of an independent review board as an auxiliary to the SBC, with adequate funding to receive and investigate reports of clergy abuse and arrive at a determination of whether they seem credible. All reports would be archived, and there would be a process for notifying a particular church whenever a report of abuse is made about a minister who worked in that church. For a model, they commended procedures adopted by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
–After a review board is established, the SBC should publicize its existence through a toll-free number for reporting abuse and material to educate churches about sexual abuse and existence of the review board.
–Immediate adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy, under which a church is expelled from the SBC for hiring or retaining a minister credibly reported to have sexually abused a minor. The SBC already has a similar policy in place regarding churches that affirm homosexuals.
–Discourage the use of “secrecy contracts” to settle lawsuits over clergy sex abuse by offering victims assistance with counseling costs in exchange for pledging not to discuss their abuse with the media. Such a policy, the letter said, would “demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting those who reveal such abuse rather than the churches that strive to keep it secret.”
“The long history of Baptist officials staying silent about abuse is a history that carries a cost,” Brown said in a press statement Monday. “Vulnerable children, wounded adults and trusting families are the ones who bear that cost.”
Brown, who runs a Web site called Voice to Stop Baptist Predators, implored leaders of the SBC, America’s largest Protestant faith group, to take action to “stop using congregational autonomy as an excuse and to recognize and embrace your moral obligation to protect kids.”
“Be good shepherds,” Brown said. “Southern Baptists work cooperatively for all manner of endeavors, and they must also work cooperatively to rid their ranks of clergy predators.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.