Abuse Among Independent Baptists

Two Sunday nights ago, one of our men made me aware of a series of articles that appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the week prior.  This series of articles highlighted cases of sexual misconduct in Independent Baptist Churches, claiming to have uncovered hundreds of cases in nearly 200 different churches.  Our church member was concerned about this article because the Star-Telegram created a map to serve as a database of sexual misconduct among Independent Baptist churches, and our church was included on that map.

When I saw our church, and the specific case they mentioned, I was not concerned.  A few years ago, a young man in our church was arrested for possession of child pornography.  As a matter of policy, our church has always cooperated with law enforcement in such cases, and this case was no different.  There was no concealment on our part, no attempt to hide what he did.  When the news media showed up at my door, I answered their questions.  We were very clear in our judgment against this sin: it has no place among God’s people.  We sought to protect our church and to ensure the safety of every child.

So, when I saw our church listed on a database of churches guilty of sexual misconduct, I assumed that this would be easy enough to clear up.  I immediately sent an email to the Star-Telegram reported in order to clear up the matter.  I gave her four reasons why we should not be included in her database: first, because there are no allegations of sexual misconduct against our church, certainly not in the matter of this young man.

The fact that a young man in our congregation was arrested for child pornography does not warrant this charge.  No allegation was ever made, found, or substantiated that he had committed a crime against any child in our ministry, or that he committed his crime on our property or in conjunction with any of our ministries.

Second, because when we learned of this young man’s problem with child pornography, we immediately insisted that he go to the police to turn himself in.

I personally cooperated with the police in the matter and sought justice for the children in those videos.  None of the children in those videos were known to us, as the police stated very clearly.  Never was there a charge that the child pornography he viewed was generated in our church or involved any children known to Jeremiah.  He did not produce the videos, merely viewed them.  We did not conceal his crime in any way.  These things are a matter of public record, and this has been our practice whenever there has been an allegation against any member of our congregation.  Simply put, we do not tolerate sexual abuse, nor do we protect abusers.

Third, because we had greatly limited any access this young man might have had at least a year prior to his arrest because we had concerns about his involvement with pornography that really amounted to an addiction.

In short, while the incident with this young man was a bad deal and involved our church in a painfully public situation, we believe that we handled the matter both ethically and Scripturally.  There is no “sexual misconduct” involving our church ministries.

The editor of the Star-Telegram, Mr. Steve Coffman, replied that while they appreciated that I brought “this additional information and context to our attention” they would not be removing us from the database because

There are a number of other cases included in the map in which someone’s crimes did not occur at church or involve a church member but had an impact on the congregation, as I’m sure (this young man’s) case did with your congregation.

In other words, since his actions impacted our congregation, our church therefore is part of a broader problem of sexual misconduct.  Frankly, this is bogus.  The Star-Telegram claims to have “uncovered” over 400 cases of sexual misconduct on the part of Independent Baptist Churches, but includes cases where neither the church nor the leadership of the church was the perpetrator of the alleged sexual misconduct or implicit in it. That is seriously misleading.  According to the article “How the Star-Telegram Investigated Sex Abuse in Fundamental Baptist Churches,”

The Star-Telegram counted 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and affiliated institutions that had been affected by sexual abuse allegations.  The Star-Telegram included in its count churches where alleged abusers had served before or after alleged abuse occurred because the allegations could affect the congregants.

I find this duplicitous at best, and pushing the edges of integrity.  Apparently, they intend for the term “affected” to be understood in the broadest possible sense.  In our case, the “impact” on the congregation was, above all else, heartbreaking for our people.  We were not heartbroken for ourselves by the way, and we have nothing to be ashamed of in the way we dealt with this young man.  Our heartbreak was for this young man who became so ensnared by Satan.  And while protecting our church and especially our children from any risk from him, our biggest concern was to see him recovered from Satan’s snares.  But when the Star-Telegram exploits his case in order to inflate their numbers, their own motivation in this series is brought into question.  The struggles of print media, and specifically of the Star-Telegram being well-documented (link to articles about their restructurings), one is left to wonder if this is not a desperate attempt to draw attention, not to the issue itself, but to themselves for the sake of self-preservation.  Certainly in Texas, one would imagine that any scandal involving Baptists is bound to gain some attention.  But exploiting, for financial purposes, in some cases decades old cases of sexual misconduct hardly seems to be about truth and justice.

Because Christianity Today has taken up the cause and spread this misinformation, I feel I need to say a few words.

First, one of the major accusations against Independent Baptists coming from the broader evangelical world has been that we are “hyper-separatists.”  Having grown up in Independent Baptist circles, I have seen the way churches tend to cluster in particular circles, usually based on a particular college or Big Name.  But one thing that often gets overlooked in discussions of separation and hyper-separation is the role that sexual indiscretions have played in the issue.  Frankly, a significant portion of the Independent Baptist world has turned a blind eye to the moral failures of their leadership.  And while the public reason for many of the divisions among Independent Baptists have been “theological” issues (often loosely defined), the truth is that under the surface, much of the division has had to do with the way certain camps deal with sexual indiscretions.

Independent Baptists have a sad history of turning a blind eye to moral failure.

This controversy, I think as much as any, has caused much of the undercurrent

It is good and right that this should be exposed

This is not a new thing.  For the past 2 decades, the issue has been discussed over and over.  Websites, forums, and etc. have been dedicated to exposing it and repudiating it.

I have played at times a very active role.  I personally exposed the pastor I grew up under for this very thing.  It is shameful and disgraceful that this has happened, and worse that it has been covered up.  And it is true that some of the strange doctrines common among Independent Baptists have enabled it.

The Star-Telegram has done a disservice to the issue by including a number of churches who are simply not guilty of sexual misconduct.  They sought to pad their numbers, and in doing so undermine their case.

They have dredged up decades old cases that have been well-documented, exposed, and frankly, most Independent Baptists including those in the Hyles’ circle of churches have condemned this sort of thing.

This is an example of media excess.

Every institution that deals with children has come under scrutiny, and has been found to have these kinds of things.  With one glaring exception.

The cause – human fallenness.  Simply put, we cannot trust ourselves.  We must enforce safeguards.  we cannot tolerate abuse in our churches.  Period.