Southern Baptists have begun developing a strategy and a denomination-wide response to clergy sex offenders.
Amid rising concern over several sex abuse cases and demands by former clergy abuse victims that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) take action to prevent further abuse, the convention's Executive Committee met last week to study the feasibility of developing a database of ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse the denomination.
It was the first meeting held since SBC messengers – representatives from churches around the country – unanimously passed a resolution during their annual session in June to protect children from sexual abuse in the church body. The matter of concern has been widely publicized by national media and left Southern Baptists in moral outrage and concern.
It wasn't, however, the first time the committee tackled the issue.
"The bylaws work group (part of the Executive Committee) has already been looking at the entire matter on how to protect our children within our church governance," Roger Oldham, vice president of convention relations, told The Christian Post.
Taking up the recently passed resolution is in addition to what the bylaws work group has already been working on to develop a strategy addressing clergy sex abuse, Oldham noted.
Just outside the SBC headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., where the meeting was held on Sept. 17, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) held a press conference and urged for public and private hearings with victims, experts and other religious leaders who have dealt with sex abuse.
"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, Baptist outreach leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), according to The Tennessean. Brown had traveled to Nashville along with SNAP national Director David Clohessy to hand-deliver a letter to the Executive Committee's bylaws work group urging them to be "open and transparent" about the study's methodology and resources.
"Our request is that Baptist officials do not take the most narrow view possible, but in fact create a broad, true helpful list of dangerous predators," said Clohessy.
SNAP has adamantly spoken out against the SBC, claiming that the denomination has been "unresponsive" to requests for action including a call to establish an independent review board to hear molestation reports and institute a national zero-tolerance policy.
Brown and Clohessy believe there have been "far too many" reports over the last year of Baptist clergy sex abuse combined with church cover-ups, according to EthicsDaily.com, a publication of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Critics have argued that Southern Baptists are hiding behind their polity in which the SBC and its Executive Committee has no authority over any Southern Baptist church as all local churches are autonomous.
SBC President Frank Page, however, has expressed deep concern and urged every local church to enforce accountability with policy guidelines and background checks and to prosecute victimizers to the fullest extent of the law.
Already, state conventions, including the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Texas convention, have begun to crack down on sex abusers this year, posting links on their websites to direct visitors to information on a comprehensive child protection program for churches and listing names of convicted sex offenders who have worked as ministers in affiliated churches.
The Executive Committee is expected to release a report at the convention's annual meeting in June next year on whether a national database of clergy sex offenders will be a "piece of their total strategy" on protecting children, according to Oldham.
"The database by itself would be an insufficient safeguard of our children. We're looking at a much broader, multi-prong approach of how we can best, first of all, protest autonomy of local church, and second, protect the children, too," he said.