Grace Baptist (Owatonna) youth group volunteer charged in sexting case

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Jim's picture ]Youth leader faces sex charges

The quote below is from the principal of the Owatonna Christian School at the church, Shawn Smith. (in the comments section of the above article)

Firstly, to address the question about Pastor Burggraff being available for comment. He and I have talked and he received no messages via work, home, or cell phone regarding this incident. Secondly, Caleb assumed no role of any manner in the youth group. Once in a while, he sat in with the youth, but not in any leadership role.

Jonathan Charles's picture

How much control can a church have in such a situation. If 2 people meet at church and then do things away from church that you know nothing about until someone gets arrested, what could you have done differently? Did anyone know that this young man was living immorally until this came out? If not, what is a church to do? Considering the girl was young, the burden rests on the parents to know what a child is doing with a cell phone. Considering what happened, perhaps it is best for a 14 year old not to have one.

Greg Linscott's picture

I just wanted to briefly mention that it is very appropriate to be praying for grace and strength for the pastor and congregation as they seek to handle this in a God-honoring way, both with the people involved in the immediate situation and with the repercussions this event will have in their community.

I also wanted to clarify (particularly as a pastor in the Minnesota Baptist Association, of which Grace is also a member) that I personally did not post the link to this article, and immediately contact the SI administration when it did get posted questioning the 'newsworthiness' of the article. It is not my desire to "throw anyone under the bus" at SI, but I am very aware that something similar to this situation could occur in a ministry I am involved in (such as my church or Junior week at Camp Shiloh ). I am not at all certain it is worthy of this level of notation.

I am praying for the church in Owatonna (and my friends there). I hope you will, too. I am also striving to use this situation to consider whether there is anything in the ministry situations I oversee that could be "shored up" in this particular area. However, as I am understanding the situation there at Grace, I am not sure what else could have been done by the church administration. The young man could have easily been trained and screened and still committed the acts he did.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Susan R's picture


this is important- because it could happen in any church, and obviously it does. We all just hope it's never our church, which is naive at best.

Filings aren't posted so folks can 'ooh-aah, look how scandalous' or speculate about what church leadership could/should have done. The way this is portrayed in the news media is also important to discuss- I think the media tries too hard to link sexual crimes with churches and 'make a case' out of thin air. Look how ]this article calls him a 'youth leader', when he is no such thing. It also states

Sanburn, an assistant to the youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church, has no prior record beyond minor traffic offenses.

“There’s a public safety concern here,” said Prosecuting Attorney Jamie Kreuser, who said that Sanburn’s position at the church gave him access to other girls of a similar age.

But it isn't unusual for college/career/singles classes to mingle with the youth group. It isn't unusual for young men thinking about ministry to 'volunteer' to work with teens. In a sense, 'so what' if they met at church, at a friend's house, at the mall, or at school.

I agree with Jonathan that this isn't a church problem per se, but a parenting problem.

You are right, Bro. Linscott, that our first reaction should be to pray for this church and the families involved, and certainly not to gloat because it hasn't happened in our church... yet.

Greg Linscott's picture

Susan, I will not get into an extended discussion on this here. However, if the intent was to comment on the quality of journalism, there were certainly no indications of language in the posting that would indicate such, like there was ]here in the Maranatha story ("hatchet job"). It was presented originally in such a way where it would seem the story presented simple facts.

BTW. I received this from a church member at Grace. It might lend some further needed clarity.

By the way, the story as it appeared in the Owatonna People's Press and subsequent other webpapers, has many errors. The young man in question met the girl at a friend's house. It was not at church or at a church activity. It was a graduation party from a young man in our church that did not even go to school in our town. Secondly, he is not a youth pastor, a youth leader, or an "assistant to the youth pastor". He has never planned or led any activities for our youth group, and after meeting this girl he has not even been to any youth group meetings or activities. She started coming to our church shortly after the two of them met. According to written and verbal testimony by both the plaintiff and the defendant in this case, neither of them saw him as a "youth leader" at our church. That was the prosecutor speaking to the journalist to make his client's case stronger.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Jim's picture

Seems like there was perhaps some confusion that Greg posted the filing and that it upset some folk

To clear things up.

  • I posted the filing and I am responsible alone for it!
  • Greg and I did have an extensive email exchange about it yesterday. I will not reproduce it publicly
  • I do think there is some confusion about filings that somehow everything that is posted is some kind of official position of S/I. It's not. Filings are items either in the news or in the blogs. That's it!
  • As to whether S/I tried to verify the facts of the case. Well we are not a news source like that and we do not have reporters at the Owatonna bureau to go out and about and interview everybody and report back!
  • Skip back ]to comment # 2 above and you can see that I did try to honestly represent the church's position that the youth in question is not involved in any official capacity with the youth ministry.
  • Additionally I did advise Greg (as a Pastor in the MBA) to call the Grace Pastor and advise him to get out an official press release stating the church's position. That was wise advice and it is not too late to follow that. Below is what I advise Greg yesterday before noon
  • About the ]Maranatha Baptist Bible College filing that Greg refers to. It was a mistake to use the phrase "hatchet job" in the filing title.


You ought to call Andy B and suggest that they issue a well-crafted statement:

* We put a high priority on protecting children ... etc
* We have these standards and training in place ...
* A reminder that this activity (the sexting) took place outside of the church

If they haven't already they may want to consult with an attorney that can help them with this

Jim's picture

Every church ought to have child protection classes and processes in place.

Whether Grace does or not is their business. I hope for them that this is a wake up call to review all procedures and make sure all protections are in place.

I've been at my church for over 5 years. If Sunday I wanted to sit it with the teens or work in the nursery, I could not because I have not been through the child protection classes or submitted to a criminal background check. If this Summer I wanted to work at our camp, I could not for the same reasons. (Don't read into this that I could not pass a criminal background check!)

I believe School administrator Smith (who commented multiple times to the Owatonna article (linked above) that the youth in question is not on staff at the Church.

If they did let the 21 year old man volunteer with teens, they need to examine whether they had appropriate checks in place.

Aaron Blumer's picture


SharperIron Filings are links to bits of news around the world and the “blogosphere.” The items linked to are not published by SI and do not necessarily express the opinions of anyone at SharperIron. They’re chosen because we believe they may be of interest to SI readers.

If you have suggestions or tips for Filings items, please use the ]contact form and select “Filings item suggestion” as the category.

I can only add to this that we're usually not in a position to verify whether the news outlets have properly done their homework... that is, we don't have the staff for that. But we're (almost) always happy to post a church's or individual's statement on a news item if they want to tell their version of events.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

BryanBice's picture

I'm wondering if, when posting links, it would be advisable sometimes for the posting admin to state his purpose(s) for the posting. If nothing else, that would 1) clarify how the post fits SI's parameters and 2) minimize unnecessary comments...speculation...judgments, etc. re. the post.

In a way, I appreciated being informed of this news because Caleb's family used to be in our church years ago and many people in our congregation know him.

Aaron Blumer's picture


We have alot of ongoing discussions among the team about Filings. Your idea is one that has come up in various forms. Sometimes the "tags" reflect purpose to a degree. But it's often a gut thing: "This seems interesting." When it's fundamentalist ministries the only reason is often the fact that there are very few places (zero?) besides here where people can be quickly aware of what's going on in fundamentalism. The print sources of fundamentalist news tend to be more focused on their constituencies within fundamentalism.

I'd really like to us be able to be more comprehensive with fundamentalist news (more comprehensive in the sense of getting news out from a broader array of fundamentalist subsets... we have almost nothing from BBFI ministries, for example), so that's kind of a long-term aim.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jim's picture ]Judge allows Sanburn to attend church

I offer several selective quotes but feel free to read the entire article

During Sanburn’s second court appearance on Wednesday, public defender Grant Sanders asked Judge Gerald Wolf to amend the conditions of Sanburn’s bail, which Sanders described as unduly restrictive. The terms of conditional bail were established last Friday by Judge Joe Bueltel, who ordered that Sanburn suspend his activities as an assistant to the youth pastor of Grace Baptist Church. There is some question as to whether Sanburn did in fact hold this position.

On Thursday, prosecuting attorney Jamie Kreuser said that the information came from Sanburn himself, who called himself an “assistant to the youth pastor” during his statement to police. Based on this information, Kreuser asked Bueltel to bar Sanburn from his activities at the church during his initial appearance.

In the criminal complaint, the 14-year-old victim said that she met Sanburn through church. Sanburn said he met her at a friend’s house. Both said they began exchanging e-mails and text messages in July. The girl said that she sent five nude pictures to Sanburn, who sent her two of his own. Many of their purported encounters also took place on Skype, an Internet-based service that offers free voice and video calls. The girl told officers that Sanburn asked her to take off her clothes and masturbate over Skype and that, at least on one occasion, he did the same.

According to the police report, Sanburn turned himself in on Oct. 11.

“There’s a public safety concern here,” said Kreuser, who added that Sanburn’s position at the church gave him access to other girls of a similar age.

Sanburn, who was sitting at the next table, did not disagree with this description of his activities at the church at the time.

However, church officials say that Sanburn held no leadership position at the church — paid or otherwise.

On Friday, Grace Baptist Senior Pastor Andrew Burggraff said he has known Sanburn for a little more than two years. He said he met the alleged victim once, but did not know her personally. To his knowledge, the girl and her family are not regulars at Grace, though they have come once or twice. Burggraff said that he first learned of this issue only recently, after Sanburn turned himself in.

Burggraff said that Sanburn never held a position of leadership within the youth group.

“Caleb has never been on-staff here at our church. He has never had a paid position in the past or presently,” Burggraff said. “As I would describe Caleb, he was a member of our church who had been involved in different areas of ministry here. The perception that was given was that he was a leader. Even to Caleb’s description — I spoke with him recently — he never considered himself a leader within our youth group.”

Burggraff said Sanburn had been active in the youth group as a teen and had continued to attend. However, Burgraff said that Sanburn had not attended any youth group functions or services during the last few months.

When asked if Sanburn had ever acted as a volunteer, perhaps chaperoning or leading prayer, Burggraff said he wouldn’t be able to comment. Burggraff said he didn’t know what happened before he came on staff or before the current youth leader took over.

On Thursday, Kreuser pulled out the original complaint written by the Owatonna Police Department after Sanburn’s initial interview. The interview was conducted in the Law Enforcement Center interview room, which has a digital video recording system.

“According to Mr. Sanburn he assists the youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church during youth group,” Kreuser read from the initial report.

The report offered no other information as to what exactly “assistant to the youth pastor” meant.

“We don’t have any more information about that. There is no other description of that role,” Kreuser said.

However, Kreuser said she had no reason to believe this statement was false

“Considering that this is a statement from the defendant, I take it as accurate,” Kreuser said. “We base our complaint off of officer investigations. That’s where this information came from.”

When asked about Sanburn’s alleged statement to police, Burggraff said, “Again without speaking on behalf of Caleb, I don’t really know where the basis for that would come from. He has not ever been viewed that way by our church. He has never been promoted to a position of leadership, to that role.”

Sanburn himself was willing to clarify the matter on Friday evening.

“The role I had was simply that of very limited helper. I helped out with the games once in a while, set them up,” Sanburn said. “I was a member with the youth group, but not in a position of authority. I knew the pastor really well, and since I was older, he asked me to help out here and there.”

Sanburn said that the title — “assistant to the youth pastor” — was taken out of context. He said that he told police that he was assisting or helping the youth pastor. He added that he hadn’t been involved in the youth group for about six months.

On Nov. 12, Bueltel ordered Sanburn suspend his activities as “assistant to the youth pastor” at Grace Baptist. He also ordered that Sanburn was to have no contact with the alleged victim or anyone else under the age of 16. These terms precluded even Sunday attendance at Grace Baptist, Sanders said, because the alleged victim has gone to Grace from time to time.

On Wednesday, Sanders asked the judge to amend the terms to “no unavoidable contact” with the girl so that Sanburn may attend the church he has been a part of for 17 years.