A group known for challenging the Roman Catholic hierarchy over sexual abuse by priests called this week on the Baptist General Convention of Texas to disclose names held in a confidential file of ministers suspected of child sex abuse.
Members of Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests and other Clergy, SNAPnetwork.org, planned to hand out leaflets today at the BGCT annual meeting in Dallas calling on the nation’s largest statewide Baptist organization to change policies they believe harbor sexual predators.
“We call upon the Baptist General Convention of Texas to stop shielding clergy predators and to take action for the protection of kids,” Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist and the Web site StopBaptistPredators.org, said in a statement.
Brown, who is also leading an effort to convince leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to develop a national strategy to combat the problem of sexual predators entering the ministry to gain access to minors, claims she was abused by a minister in a Southern Baptist church when she was 16.
Decades later, attempting to alert Baptist officials a predator might be in their midst, she learned her perpetrator was named in a file kept by the BGCT of clergy with credible evidence of sexual misconduct, including sexual abuse of children.
The list is provided only to churches that request it. Brown eventually discovered her abuser had remained in ministry for all those years and was working in a Florida church with potential access to kids. He was not forced to resign until she filed a lawsuit publicized by a news story in the Orlando Sentinel.
SNAP wants Texas Baptists to do what 15 Catholic bishops have done: list the names of all admitted, proven and credibly accused ministers on the BGCT Web site so parents can be warned and children protected.
They also want an independent investigation into an “institutional lack of accountability” that allows a man to remain in ministry even after Baptist leaders place his name in a secret file of “known offenders.”
Members of SNAP suspect that hundreds of child-molesting clergy remain active in Baptist churches across the country and have not been exposed or removed.
“We call upon the Baptist General Convention of Texas to stop shielding clergy predators and to take action for the protection of kids,” Brown said.
“We urgently hope that Baptist leaders will learn from the mistakes of Catholic leaders rather than repeating them,” Brown said. “We want Baptist leaders to take effective action BEFORE widespread scandal hits rather than waiting until they are finally pressured into reforms by concerned congregants, brave victims, determined prosecutors and investigative journalists.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page, Executive Committee President Morris Chapman and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land have not yet answered a letter hand-delivered in September by Brown and other SNAP activists at convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., calling for a national task force to investigate credible charges of molestation by Baptist clergy.
Dee Ann Miller, who has advocated for victims of clergy sex abuse for decades, said change will not happen in a male-dominated organization like the SBC unless courageous men speak up with passion.
“In patriarchal systems, men are considered to be more credible than women,” Miller, a former SBC missionary who detailed her own sexual assault by a fellow missionary in a book How Little We Knew, told EthicsDaily.com.
“A male voice has a much greater chance of being heard and breaking through the denial than any female,” Miller said. “Yet, because the men need one another so much, in order to keep their personal and collective privilege, they cling to belief systems that have oppressed others.”
Miller said in a system like the SBC it takes “tremendous courage and humility” for a minister to speak to even one buddy, and much more to speak to the masses, because he risks rejection and the loss of personal power.
“Until male voices step out of the darkness and confront their own kind, no change occurs,” Miller said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.