Southern Baptists open hearings into clergy sexual abuse
Proposals include creating database to track offenders

Staff Writer
Saturday, 09/22/07

The Southern Baptist Convention has launched the first hearing of what is expected to be a yearlong investigation into the problem of sexual abuse by Baptist clergy.

On Monday, victims of alleged clergy abuse met in front of Baptist headquarters in downtown Nashville to request a seat at the table during that discussion.

"Every mom and dad who sits in a Southern Baptist church pew should want the same thing I want — a substantial report about this problem, and public accountability," said Christa Brown of Austin, Texas, who wore a photo around her neck of a pretty 16-year-old girl with a bow in her hair and a smile on her face. It's a picture of her, taken shortly before she says she was molested by a trusted minister.

"The kids who become victims of these sex crimes, it's the kids who are the most devout. They're the ones vulnerable to a minister who uses faith as a weapon," she said.

Report expected by June

In an almost unanimous vote this summer, 8,600 members of the Tennessee Baptist Convention called for a yearlong study into the problem of sex abuse by the clergy.

Among the proposals up for debate is the possibility of creating a database that would track ministers who have been convicted, confessed to, or credibly accused of sexual abuse. The study group is expected to deliver its report by next June.

Monday's meeting was the first of what is expected to be several closed-door hearings on the issue.

Brown was invited in to view the meeting from the gallery but she and other advocates are hoping for more.

A hand-delivered message to the convention requested private hearings where survivors of abuse could share their stories, as well as public hearings about the problem.

Convention spokesman Sing Oldham said the church has taken a strong stand against abuse by its ministers, but the individual churches — not the national organization — are responsible for policing their ministers.

The national convention can condemn behavior, but only local churches can defrock a minister or remove them from their posting.

"Clearly, a database alone would be insufficient," Oldham said.

"It's closing the barn door after the cows are already out. We need to develop recommendations, set up guidelines…We renounce any individual who commits heinous acts against children. Jesus Christ who is lord of the church said that we are not to allow harm to come to God's little ones."