An alternate headline would go something like this: OMG! The Southern Baptist Convention Has a Sex Abuse Problem — Who’d a Thunk It?
The media, much like a hog finding an acorn, breathlessly reports that notable Southern Baptist leaders knew that sexual predators were roaming the halls of SBC churches, colleges, seminaries, and youth camps. The media acts like the recently released Guidepost report on sexual abuse in the SBC (read full report here) is new information; that no one knew the depth of the depravity until the report was released. To that, I say, bullshit. Some of us have been writing about sexual abuse in Evangelicalism, in general, and the SBC and the IFB church movement, in particular, for decades. I know I have. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) Our voices, for the most part, were ignored. I was routinely dismissed because I’m an atheist, a bitter, jaded ex-Evangelical with an ax to grind. Even if such claims are true, and they are not, this question remains: is what I write about sexual abuse, pastors abusing their positions of authority for sexual gain, and sundry other crimes committed by so-call men of God, true?
Countless Evangelicals have self-righteously told me: yes, preachers can and do commit crimes, but they are just a few rotten apples among a bushel of Red Delicious apples. As the latest report reveals, there are a lot more rotten apples in that bushel than Evangelical sects, churches, and colleges would have us believe. We are not talking about a few isolated incidences here. I suspect that there are thousands of preachers, evangelists, missionaries, college professors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth directors, bus workers, and church janitors who are sexual predators; men (and a few women) who prey on vulnerable children, teenagers, and adults — most of whom have never been prosecuted for their crimes (though this is changing thanks to the Internet and increasing pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors to aggressively investigate and prosecute preachers and other church leaders). We know that these predators will not stop until they are caught; until they are arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned.
For years, SBC and IFB preachers gleefully pointed out the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal. “We preach the true gospel and personal holiness, so we don’t have such problems in our churches,” many preachers self-righteously said.
Here’s what William Reeves, pastor of North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska, had to say:
Reeves knows this is a bald-faced lie; a denial of the facts on the ground. As IFB and Southern Baptist preachers are wont to do, all that matters to Reeves is protecting the “good” name of the sect and its churches. That’s why the SBC executive committee, pastors, college presidents, and attorneys covered up sex crimes. All that matters is outward appearance, victims be damned.
Much like a mob family, SBC leaders buried countless sex abuse victims in non-descript, out-of-the-way plots of ground, never to be heard from again. The good news is that a true miracle is taking place. Those buried victims, long thought dead, are very much alive, shouting their stories from rooftops to all who will listen. And they will not be silenced. And as a small, insignificant voice in this battle against predatory preachers, I will continue to leverage this site’s traffic to continue to expose their crimes. As far as the SBC is concerned, several things need to happen
- The FBI needs to begin an immediate investigation of the SBC Executive Committee and other denominational leaders. It’s evident that some SBC leaders engaged in organized criminal behavior, and, if warranted, should be prosecuted for their crimes.
- The SBC should establish an accessible database of people accused of sex crimes. Not just those who have been prosecuted. Yes, there is a small — a very, very very small — chance someone could be wrongfully accused. That’s unfortunate, but the overwhelming majority of preachers and other church leaders accused of sex crimes are as guilty as Judas Iscariot. Often, guilty preachers escape punishment due to statutory limitations, so a lack of prosecution is not a statement of innocence.
- Churches must enact policies that put the safety and welfare of children, teenagers, and church members first. Background checks on an annual basis (state and federal) must be required for a church to remain in the SBC. Churches must use outside investigators to thoroughly investigate new hires. Word of mouth is not good enough. Contacting a pastoral candidate’s previous church is not good enough. I candidated at a number of churches over the years. I still find it astounding what churches DIDN’T ask me. Not one church performed a background check or investigated my past. All that seemed to matter is that I was winsome, an excellent public speaker, and had a wife who could play the piano.
- Churches should immediately shutter their youth programs and fire their youth pastors. The sheer number of youth pastors accused of sex crimes is such that the risk far outweighs the benefit. Young youth pastors have raging hormones, yet churches think it is a good idea to put them in ministries that afford them close, intimate interaction with teens and college students who also have raging hormones. What could possibly go wrong? According to the Black Collar Crime Series — a lot.
- Accusations of sexual misconduct should be IMMEDIATELY reported to law enforcement. Don’t investigate, call for a church meeting, or interrogate the victim. It is up to law enforcement, not the church, to determine if a crime has been committed. If churches don’t do this, their leaders should be prosecuted for “failing to report.” Start throwing in jail preachers, deacons, and other church leaders for not reporting allegations of sexual abuse, and I suspect they might start taking the matter seriously.
And let me conclude by saying, Christa Brown was right.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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