In the wake of increasing cases of sexual immorality among clergy, including those in the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC head says one instance of sexual abuse by a minister is too much.
Frank Page, who will be featured on ABC's 20/20 on the matter, does not believe the problem in the SBC – the largest Protestant denomination in the nation – is "systemic and large-scale," but he still recognized that there have been several reported cases of abuse by "trusted members of staff" in SBC churches.
He commented on the cases, stressing that Southern Baptists are not hiding anything as some have claimed.
"Some persons have accused Southern Baptists of ignoring the issue and hiding behind our polity," stated Page in a Monday commentary on Baptist Press. "Let me clearly state that we believe in the autonomy of the local church as a biblical mandate. We are not hiding behind anything, except the Bible."
His comments come as a group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told Southern Baptists to crack down on sexual molesters among its preachers. The group claimed in February that the SBC had been "unresponsive" to letters they sent regarding sex abuse cases that recently came up.
According to D. August Boto, attorney with the SBC's Executive Committee, those claims were "untrue" as SBC had responded to every communication sent by SNAP to the denomination. The group later issued an apology for their false accusations.
Still, SNAP member Christa Brown said she remained unconvinced that children will be safe in Southern Baptist Churches. Page, however, assured more caution in the churches, saying the denomination will do "as much as possible" to assist churches on the issue.
With the SBC and its Executive Committee having no authority over any Southern Baptist church, which run autonomously, Page stressed the responsibility of the local church to enforce accountability.
"I call upon every local church to develop written policy guidelines for the care of children and youth," he stated. "I call upon every church to have a system or policy in place to deal with any accusations made. We must protect children and youth, and the integrity of staff members."
Page further called Southern Baptist churches to require background checks on both state and national levels and thorough reference checks for all staff. There are also multiple resources the SBC provides to help safeguard the children, the SBC head noted. And in the case of sexual abuse, Page called local churches to prosecute the victimizer to the fullest extent of the law.
"Simply put, there is no place in the church for persons who would take advantage of these relationships [with children and students]," he said.
"As stated earlier, even one instance of sexual molestation is one too many."