An Open Letter to Southern Baptist Messengers                           

        David Clohessy & Christa Brown

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Southern Baptist Convention  gathered for its annual two-day hoopla. The theme of this year's convention was "Actions speak louder than words."

Dear Southern Baptist Messengers:

"Actions speak louder than words." It's a good slogan, but do you really mean it?

A year ago, your Executive Committee announced its decision not to create a clergy-predator database or an office to field abuse claims. (Eric Gorski - Associated Press, "Southern Baptists reject sex-abuse database," Washington Post, 6/10/08).

What message do you imagine this do-nothing decision sent? To Baptist clergy abuse survivors, it sent a message of "we don't really care." To Baptist clergy-predators, it sent a message of "we'll look the other way."

Oh sure, we heard the fine preaching of Executive Committee president Morris Chapman. We heard him "encourage" local churches to rout out predators. But that was just words. Where is the action?

Southern Baptist woman Alyce Faulkner also heard Chapman's preaching, but she didn't applaud like so many others. "Am I the only one sick of empty words?" she asked. "We rally around words -- when will we rally around reality? Once again, we resolve to do nothing. God help us." (Miracle of Mercy blog, 6/10/08)

Law professor Marci Hamilton summed up the sad reality of this denomination's inaction. "The Southern Baptist Convention has . . . proven why it is that children are at risk for sexual abuse in our society: It's easier to issue ineffectual platitudes while looking the other way." ("The Southern Baptist Convention's unconvincing claims...," FindLaw, June 12, 2008)

Make no mistake about it: others can see that this denomination's response to clergy sex abuse is just talk -- platitudes and preaching. Where is the action?

Did your Executive Committee even do so much as a legitimate study on the clergy abuse issue, as messengers directed it to in 2007? Some might reasonably wonder. When asked, no one at SBC headquarters could provide a budget for the "study," and SBC official Roger "Sing" Oldham admitted that there was no specific budget for it. (Elizabeth Ulrich, "What would Jesus say?" Nashville Scene, 2/14/08) Recently, in talking about a marketing strategy, your former vice-president of evangelization, John Avant, said that "you can't have a vision that doesn't have a funded budget." (David Waters, "Southern Baptist decline and God's bottom line," Washington Post, 12/22/08) He's right. Without even so much as a funded budget, it's obvious that your Executive Committee never had any vision for effectively addressing or even studying Baptist clergy sex abuse.

When this denomination finally decides to actually take action against clergy sex abuse, here are the basics of what it needs to provide: (1) a safe and welcoming place for people to report clergy sex abuse; (2) an objective, professionally trained panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports; and (3) an efficient means of assuring that the assessment information reaches people in the pews -- i.e., a database.

Tell your Baptist officials to get busy. Tell them you're tired of just talk. Tell them "actions speak louder than words." Tell them soon.

Action is what protects kids; not words.

Very truly yours,

David Clohessy
SNAP National Director

Christa Brown
SNAP Baptist Outreach Director

 




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