Sex Abuse Victims Still Say Southern Baptists are 'Unresponsive'

A network of formerly abused victims remains "very concerned" about the Southern Baptist Convention's response to the issue of clergy sex abuse as the nation's largest Protestant denomination allegedly remains "unresponsive" to its calls to enforce accountability in its churches to ensure safety from sex offenders.

Contrary to recent reports that the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had apologized for claiming the SBC had been "unresponsive" to all their letters containing requests for action, SNAP-Baptist coordinator Christa Brown said the group had only issued an apology for one specific letter, dated Sept. 26, 2006, that the denomination had responded to.

Although the response letter by the SBC had been misplaced at SNAP's Chicago office, Brown said the network had called the response a "terse brush-off letter." Furthermore, the SBC took no action on the abuse prevention requests in response, she added.

SNAP has urged the SBC to establish an independent review board to hear molestation reports and institute a national zero-tolerance policy. Baptist leaders, however, say because of the autonomy of local churches, the church body does not have the legal authority to create an independent board.

Under Baptist polity, the SBC and its Executive Committee has no authority over any Southern Baptist church, D. August Boto, attorney with the SBC's Executive Committee, had stated in response to SNAP's recent requests.

Some, however, including Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, have criticized the denomination for "hid[ing] behind the shield of local church autonomy to avoid taking needed actions to protect children from predatroy preachers."

But SBC President Frank Page has stressed that Southern Baptists are not hiding behind their polity.

"Let me clearly state that we believe in the autonomy of the local church as a biblical mandate," Page stated in a column earlier this month. "We are not hiding behind anything, except the Bible."

And considering the autonomy of the churches, Page – who has expressed deep concern over reported cases of sexual abuse within the denomination – urged every local church to enforce accountability with policy guidelines, background checks and a system to help safeguard the children. In the case of sexual abuse, he called 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."

Despite efforts by the denomination to study SNAP requests that "are feasible," Brown said the network "remains very concerned about the failure of Southern Baptist leaders to respond effectively to the problem of clergy sex abuse."

SNAP stated last month that it still stands by its claim that Southern Baptist officials are "unresponsive" to the issue.

"Southern Baptist officials are unresponsive to the serious problem of clergy sex abuse," the network stated, "and contrary to their recent misleading comments, SNAP stands by that claim."

According to the network, about 40 cases, some dating years back, of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers have been reported over the last six months.

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