Southern Baptists Contest Clergy Sex Abuse Claims

In response to an organization that called for Southern Baptists to crack down on sexual molesters among its clergy, an attorney with the denomination stressed that they condemn such behavior and have long been addressing the problem.

D. August Boto, attorney with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the recent claims by Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) that the SBC has been "unresponsive" to the sex abuse cases are "untrue," according to Baptist Press.

SNAP presented a letter to the committee on Monday, asking the group to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on sex abuse. SNAP member Christa Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a child by a Southern Baptist minister, alleged that the Southern Baptists "don’t' want to see this problem."

Boto argued that the SBC has responded to every communication that SNAP has sent to the denomination, which Brown recently determined was true. The organization issued an apology for claiming that the denomination was unresponsive, according to Boto.

About 40 cases, some dating years back, of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers have been reported over the last six months, SNAP reported. The organization believes there are more cases that are being unreported because of the painful experience.

SBC President Frank Page said the denomination is "deeply concerned about this" and will do "as much as possible" to assist churches regarding the issue. Emphasizing SBC's stance against sexual abuse, Boto said the Executive Committee "thoroughly deplores and condemns" such criminal acts which "violate a myriad of biblical commands and principles and even the most basic standards of human decency.”

"And we believe such behavior should be prosecuted to the fullest," the attorney added.

Brown has remained unconvinced that children will be safe in Southern Baptist Churches and that an independent review board is needed to investigate molestation reports and keep a list of ministers who have been accused of abuse. Boto said there is an abundance of such lists and while they are accessible to any church, the problem lies more in exercising the due diligence of qualification.

Due diligence cannot be mandated, said Boto. Baptist churches run independently and hire ministers on their own. And the SBC and its Executive Committee has no authority over any Southern Baptist church, Boto stated. The SBC thus does not have the legal authority to create an independent board, as Page pointed out. With such a unique structure, many of SNAP's requests are not possible, Boto said. But the requests that "are feasible" are being studied.

In the meantime, the SBC has "repeatedly encouraged [its] churches to exercise due diligence in background research when considering a prospective minister or volunteer," said Boto.

In response to the assertion that sexual abuse of children is more likely in a Baptist context because of Baptist polity, Boto wrote in his statement that this assertion by SNAP is "ironic." Many of the members in SNAP are victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic church, which has a rigid hierarchical framework, and these members, according to Boto, "now believe that victimization is more likely in a congregational" structure.

"They quote one ethicist for the proposition that the Baptist context may make victimization more possible, but when that quote is read closely, it becomes apparent that the problem being complained of is the exercise of unbridled authority," Boto wrote in the statement. "This can occur in any setting - school, church, employment, or government.

"The Baptist context includes congregations exhibiting a full range of willingness and ability to correctly relate to their ministers. Some do it very well and some do not. And those which do not often suffer, and allow suffering by victims, as a result. Tragically, even some of the most vigilant congregations have also fallen victim to an occurrence. We must improve wherever we can."

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