Ky. Baptists act to prevent sex abuse in churches
Advocate praises action, seeks more
By Peter Smith
November 15, 2007
The state's largest religious body is urging its churches to take sweeping steps to prevent sexual abuse in its congregations, action an advocate for victims says is a good first move, though it falls short of what is needed.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention approved a resolution Tuesday at its annual meeting that urges churches to increase their awareness of the issue and obtain professional background checks on all staff members and volunteers who work with minors.
The resolution came a day after the convention's Mission Board adopted a more detailed report calling for such policies.
The convention also says it will use ads, direct mail and training to educate churches about the threat of sexual abuse and how to detect it.
And it has arranged for Protect My Ministry, a company that does background checks, to give Kentucky Baptist churches reduced rates for screening potential workers.
"Churches are more than wanting to deal with this, but they don't always know how," said Robert Reeves, director of communications for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
The Kentucky convention also considered a proposal to create a registry of sexual abusers in the ministry but decided against it, saying it could create a "false sense of security" because it may not be up to date, and it would be difficult to decide what to do about accusations that haven't been confirmed in court.
But professional background checkers could use existing public registries of sex offenders, and the convention plans to provide links on its Web site for churches to use such registries themselves, Reeves said.
The resolution follows growing attention to incidents of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention, which also is considering establishing a registry. The Southern Baptist Convention is the Kentucky convention's national affiliate.
While the Roman Catholic Church underwent a massive crisis in 2002 after revelations of a widespread cover-up of sexual abusers in the priesthood, news reports and court cases also have revealed numerous instances of a cover-up of abuse among Baptist and other religious denominations.
In seeking to curb sexual misconduct, the Kentucky Baptist Convention's new policy also urges churches to establish safeguards for counseling vulnerable clients by ministers and others in church-based settings.
It also is urging establishment of polices for Internet use on church computers, reflecting growing concern about the use of Internet pornography by Christians.
"Comments such as: 'It won't happen to us,' 'We are just a small congregation and know all of our people,' 'That kind of thing doesn't happen here,' may reflect a lack of awareness of the potential hazard facing a church," the report said. "Volunteer-hungry churches are also especially sensitive to doing anything they feel may offend a potential volunteer or church member."
Christa Brown of the group SNAP Baptist, which advocates for victims of abuse by Baptist clergy and works with the Catholic group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the convention could go further.
Most sex crimes against children never result in a court conviction that would place the offender on a registry, said Brown. She said she was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist minister when she was a child and that the man remained in the ministry even though another minister knew of his actions.
Brown added that Baptist associations and conventions should have a process for someone to report abuse "within the faith community," even years after the fact.
"Until they (victims) are received with compassion and with some system in place for allowing that, other steps will never be adequate," she said.
She said that because Baptist churches are self-governing, victims who report abuse to these larger bodies are told to bring their allegations to the congregation where the abuse occurred, and often meet a hostile reaction from those who know and admire the accused.
A convention or association review board could respond compassionately to the victim and report its findings to the congregation, she said.
She cited the recent decision of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to adopt a policy for investigating abuse allegations.
"That is certainly what I would urge the Kentucky Baptist organization to do -- look at that Alabama policy and ask themselves why they can't do something like that," Brown said.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469