SBC head suggests expelling churches, creating registry to address sexual abuse

"In an address to the SBC's executive committee on Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, Greear proposed a range of reforms to help make churches safer. The 10 'calls to action' include repenting, providing free training for ministry leaders, encouraging churches to review and strengthen their policies on abuse and a re-examination of the ordination process." - Christian Post

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Ed Vasicek's picture

It found more than 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998. Some 220 have been convicted and 100 are still in prison. 

If 380 leaders have been guilty and 220 convicted, that is probably as good or better than most denominations, when you consider the vastness of the SBC in that area -- that nearly 58% of perpetrators have been convicted.  I wonder how this compares, for example, to the Roman Catholic Church percentages, or other denominations, both in number of offenses and percentage of conviction?

It sounds like many SBC churches have taken things seriously and progressed more than many groups toward addressing these awful crimes, just not enough.  

I think the response -- which really was in progress well before this information hit the presses -- is exceptional.  SBC churches may have to surrender just a bit of autonomy to remain in the convention.  To my way of thinking, any church that would not agree to the suggested standards should not be part of any solid association.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

I'm glad to see them pointing at resources, considering expelling churches that handle things badly, and requiring background checks for pastoral/other positions.  That's good, and it's better than what many others are doing.

What I don't see yet is actions that would deal directly with known pathologies in these cases.  We know churches "pass around" errant pastors; what about a database of them, with a requirement that SBC member churches use it?  They have "denominational discipline" in other areas; why not this? 

Also, we know that a key part of a lot of these cases is the failure to report evidence of criminal acts to police; what about a statement about why it's the best option for accuser, church, and accused because of the resources (subpoena power, physical evidence, investigation training, massive resources, Constitutional protections) that instantly become available when a report is made?  About how an understanding of Matthew 18 needs to be balanced with an understanding of Romans 13?

Hopefully I'm just being impatient here, and they're going to get to this point, but while I'm glad to see this movement, I'm hoping that we see a lot more soon. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Several of the "10 calls to action" are likely to result in some of what you've described, once it's built.

6. Reexamine the ordination process. Churches should evaluate how to strengthen screening and background efforts in the ordination process.

7. Update the Annual Church Profile to ask about abuse. Questions related to updated abuse policies and occurences of abuse should be considered for inclusion in the Annual Church Profile completed by SBC churches.

...

9. Explore possibilities related to a database solution. The Study Group will continue to evaluate possibilities for a registry of offenders.

Some combination of these may well involve processes that would at least mitigate the "passing around of errant pastors."

But I remain persuaded that long term solutions are all in the attitudes department. It's about shaping beliefs of leaders and congregations through a variety of educational and motivational tools.

We did a study on this in SS last Sunday and one of the points someone mentioned is that quite often, what she observes professionally is that institutions have good procedures but someone fails to follow them. This is where attitude comes to the rescue. If you win hearts and minds to the importance of protecting potential victims, protecting the institution's reputation, and--in the case of churches and ministries--protecting the reputation of Christ and the gospel, good procedures are going to be followed, even where they've failed to develop good "rules." (Though I do recommend making the rules!)

David R. Brumbelow's picture

There numerous potential problems with a database.

First, if a pastor or staff member has committed an illegal act of abuse, the police and courts should deal with him, and he will come up in a background check. 

The problem is with immoral, but not illegal acts.  Do you hire people to investigate?  What if you think he’s guilty, but you can’t prove it?  What about the he said, she said, situations?  What about false accusations?  What about those who almost deserved to be on the list, but not quite?  What happens when someone sues?  What happens when someone is mistakenly put on the database and his life, ministry, family are ruined?  Is being put on the list a life sentence, or can they ever get off the list? 

Just a few of the possible complications of a database. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

....that it's likely to end up there, and for that matter I should correct myself a touch and say that people are at least saying that there ought to be a database of people "shown the door for sexual or other misconduct".  Obviously some work to be done in that area to make it hold up legally, but it's a good start.  

Agreed as well that you've got to work on attitudes, and I've seen it in action recently as I've done a couple of training sessions for children's workers.  People clue in about the "two adult rule" when you point out the other person is the witness you might need to be exonerated, why it's in everybody's best interest to have criminal allegations investigated by the police, and so on.  There is a real enthusiasm on peoples' part for doing things well.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

There numerous potential problems with a database.

First, if a pastor or staff member has committed an illegal act of abuse, the police and courts should deal with him, and he will come up in a background check. 

The problem is with immoral, but not illegal acts.  Do you hire people to investigate?  What if you think he’s guilty, but you can’t prove it?  What about the he said, she said, situations?  What about false accusations?  What about those who almost deserved to be on the list, but not quite?  What happens when someone sues?  What happens when someone is mistakenly put on the database and his life, ministry, family are ruined?  Is being put on the list a life sentence, or can they ever get off the list? 

Just a few of the possible complications of a database. 

David R. Brumbelow

David, probably good to go through a few of your thoughts here.  First of all, as the grieving families of the Sutherland Springs massacre know very well, not every crime makes it onto federal or state crime databases.  You had the same issue with the Parkland shooter not being reported by his school, as well as a number of other mass shooters.  Plus, you've sometimes got difficulties with the name--so if you record a pastor's conviction, along with age, resume, and the like, you probably have a better, more useful database than does the government.

Regarding non-criminal acts, there's a bunch to say, starting with while you've got the possibility of being sued for someone being listed (rightly or wrongly), you've also got the likelihood of being sued because you didn't warn a future employer about problems with a person.  Moreover, the pattern for most people who eventually do criminal abuse is that they've been pushing the boundaries in various ways for a while before that.   Good examples of this are Donn Ketcham and Darrell Gilyard.  As a result, you're not generally building the case off one piece of evidence or one witness.

Best practice, really, is that if the evidence aren't clear, you bring in an outsider who won't be motivated to sweep things under the rug.  It is a catch-22 kind of situation, to be sure, but generally it's one where you can pick your odds.  It also helps a lot if you define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and take action with those, rather than waiting for things to get really bad.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joeb's picture

Seems the SBC is moving in the right direction on many fronts including the topic of this thread.  My brother who was a Pastor in two different denominations with the SBC being the last one said he had sexual assault incidents in his churches in both denominations.   My brother pointed out that in both instances the Police were contacted immediately and the perp was arrested and convicted.  

In my mind that is all that can be asked of Church Leadership besides Counseling the victim or victims and families and doing the appropriate background checks.  Even at that your going to have people go off the rails who have shown no past behavior in these matters.  My brother added that some people complained about the background checks at his former SBC Church and he told them that if they wanted work at his church it was part of the application process.  

As far as Pastors going from one church to another and the prior church hiding the Pastors dirty laundry it happens and It would be hard to blame the receiving church if past behaviors occur in the new church especially if the Pastor has no prior arrests or convictions.  Churches can’t afford to do a whole background investigation on a new Pastor.  Believe me I did them for Security Clearances in the IRS.  The only way to find out any dirt is to go into the prior neighborhoods to interview neighbors and speak with members in the prior church.   It probably costs 5 to 10k to get that done by a Private Investigator   

Believe it or not Top Secret Security Clearances for the defense department   dig into a subjects sexual relations outside of marriage.  This is done because information like that could be used by China and Russian Operatives to blackmail someone into give them secrets.  When I was a young Agent with a wife and four young kids under 6 years old if I ran around on my wife and was caught her Attorneys would have picked me like a spring chicken.  

Of course now I’m hen pecked to death and broke so I got there anyway. Boy what a retirement this old milk cow needs to be put out to pasture. 

Jay's picture

David raises good points.  These are very hard questions to grapple with.  In a perfect world, you would report an incident to the police and the SBC, and then let the adjudication process answer many questions about what gets recorded in the database.  

Someone makes an allegation?  Recorded.

Allegation is found to be baseless?  Recorded.

Investigation turns into a prosecution?  Record that as well.

Etc.

The problem with that, of course, is that most people prefer to ignore their way out of problems (which eventually blows up in spectacular fashion, as we are currently seeing), or nothing gets done at all because the people who should be watching out are gutless cowards or worse, prefer to gaslight and blame the victim that “led him astray”.

You can’t fix sin nature or gutlessness, but you CAN make this kind of reporting SOP -if- these churches want to remain in the SBC.  So I favor a database and would gladly help with it if they asked me to (which I highly doubt they will).

We can’t save everyone and stop every evil deed...but we can put a white hot spotlight on it so that evildoers flee back to the darkness instead of hanging out with “our” children.  Sunlight is still a powerful disinfectant, and people don’t want to be transparent and open about this, maybe then they should deal with the resulting consequences.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

John E.'s picture

After the Houston Chronicle published part 1 of their expose, it was interesting to watch the variety of responses from my friends across church polity lines. My Presbyterian, Anglican, and Lutheran friends were quick to sharply point out that this is what happens with congregationalism (ignoring what's happened/ing in the RCC, but that's not my point here). They would go on to encourage their SBC friends to join a denomination. On the other side of the polity spectrum, I saw some IFBer's assert that this would be less likely to happen in churches independent from a denominational office. 

If these recommendations are implemented, I predict that the pro-denomination crowd will get their way and the anti-SBC crowd will finally be speaking correctly when they accuse the SBC of being a denomination. 

I'm not saying that's good or bad either way; I haven't thought enough about it to know what I think. However, these recommendations will require an ever-growing oversight of local churches that will turn the SBC into a denomination. I don't see how that couldn't happen. 

Ed Vasicek's picture

I know accusations vs. actual prosecution are two different things.

What troubles me, though, is that any church in modern times would not do a background check and check references when hiring a pastor.

This would not get all the evil doers, but it would get some.  Yet some churches hire pastoral staff practically right off the street.

A basic background check does not cost much, and neither do some phone calls.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

John, good point about "becoming a denomination", but if I remember correctly, hasn't the SBC exercised a degree of "message discipline" in many areas already?  That is, if your church denies the Trinity, starts sprinkling infants, and a range of other non-Baptist behaviors, you can expect the state or national association to suggest your church go elsewhere for fellowship, no?

So I'd suggest that what we have here is a matter of degrees, not a black and white distinction between associations and denominations.  It's a lot like the distinction between a franchise model and company owned stores.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

M. Osborne's picture

I'm a member at an SBC church, but I know very little about how the SBC actually works.

That being said, certainly the SBC can dissociate from / discipline churches that knowingly hire predators, the same way they'd dissociate from churches that deviate from orthodoxy.

I'm skeptical of the centralized database; the costs may outweigh the benefits. Even if you had 100% participation from SBC churches, the boundaries between SBC and independent Baptist / Bible churches are fully permeable. If you can't significantly increase your "gotcha" rate over ordinary background checks and reference checks, what's the point?

I work for a real estate title company. The American Land Title Association has published a series of best practices, and a title company can become certified as compliant with the best practices. For churches, a minimum best practice would be a background check. Best practices should also include calling previous churches and employers and educational institutions and documenting your findings. Having a child protection policy is also a minimum. Church insurance companies also provide assistance with reviewing your policies and facilities. Our insurance company basically just made us install windows in every classroom door. (It's an old building.)

So what I'm thinking about is more of a compliance-badge approach than a top-down-enforced approach; "enforcement" can be done through recognized groups auditing the church's practices; and insurance companies might have an interest in making this happen, too.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

T Howard's picture

As a manager, I've been told by HR that I can no longer provide job references for previous employees. Instead, all I can do is state the person worked for me between this date and that date. This is because people have successfully sued their previous employers for defamation and invasion of privacy when their previous employer provided a negative employment reference to the person's potential new employer.

Given this, the only thing this "database" may be able to realistically do without opening the SBC and the former church to significant liability is record if the pastor has been convicted of any crimes. Recording unproven allegations would definitely open the SBC and the previous church to significant liability.

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that doing best practices like background checks, reference checks, and the like really doesn't work by "catching" people.  Think about it; what man with a felony sexual assault conviction is going to expose himself to prosecution by applying for a youth pastor job involving a background check?  What it really does is more basic; it lets people know that the organization has their act together, and that acts as a deterrent for all likely perpetrators, whether they are known to the justice system or not.  

A good comparison; having a clean, well-kept property with an alarm system, a dog, or lots of neighbors walking by is going to attract a lot less attention from burglars than an unkempt property without an alarm or a dog.  It's all about "we know what to look for, so think twice before you tangle with us."

Regarding the difficulties of the warning list, it's worth noting that any number of organizations have similar efforts that have addressed the issues of being sued, being used, and such.  For example, in sports organizations, it's called "SafeSport."  There are procedures for evaluating the evidence, appeals processes, and more to reduce the odds of a lawsuit.  Moreover, the structure is public, and those trying to protect kids are generally glad to let us "copy" what they've done.  What's covered; actual crimes, of course, but also repeated violations of child safety guidelines.  

And here's the balance of cost.  Let's assume that 10% of the time, we wrongly add someone to our "do not call" list.  On the flip side, if we don't create that list, that means that 90% of people shown the door for non-criminal reasons are free to go on to the next church.  Keep in mind that those 90% are generally involved in repeated moral transgressions, and thus for every ten people wrongly added, you would have literally hundreds of victims if you don't create the list.  

Keep in mind as well that "rejected for pastoral pay or unpaid service in AWANA" is not going to earn as much sympathy in a court as "you looked aside as a child molester groomed ten little girls/boys for sexual acts."  The balance of risk is not exactly subtle here--we are talking orders of magnitude less risk of having the list than of not having it.  I would guess, therefore, that if the SBC (or GARBC or whoever) created one, that those outside would be begging to take a look as they do pastoral hires.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Keep in mind as well that "rejected for pastoral pay or unpaid service in AWANA" is not going to earn as much sympathy in a court as "you looked aside as a child molester groomed ten little girls/boys for sexual acts."  

Bert, I understand your point. However, the first time a church loses a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and/or defamation because it "flagged" a former pastor, deacon, or congregant based only on accusations, that will be the end of the database. No church will want to risk bankruptcy and/or forfeiture of property. 

Bert Perry's picture

T Howard wrote:

 

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Keep in mind as well that "rejected for pastoral pay or unpaid service in AWANA" is not going to earn as much sympathy in a court as "you looked aside as a child molester groomed ten little girls/boys for sexual acts."  

Bert, I understand your point. However, the first time a church loses a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and/or defamation because it "flagged" a former pastor, deacon, or congregant based only on accusations, that will be the end of the database. 

Nah.   Think about it a moment.  We fundagelicals are infamous for pathetic pay, so your hypothetical victim would be trying to tell the court that not only was he willing to sue fellow believers in the courts of men (1 Cor. 6), but that because he was deprived of $30k/year or so, he somehow deserves millions in compensation.  Good luck with that one.  Reality is that while courts would occasionally make awards, those awards pale in comparison to those that attorneys for sexual abuse victims like John Manly are getting--his top three are $1 billion, $500 million, and $140 million.  He's probably the best in the business, but again; that's just three cases by one guy, the biggest against the Catholic Church.

Praying that the GARBC/SBC/EFCA and others get together to get their own version of SafeSport going, as the numbers are not subtle.  A bit of intestinal fortitude born of the numbers will go a long way to make sure it's not dropped.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

 

T Howard wrote:

 

 

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Keep in mind as well that "rejected for pastoral pay or unpaid service in AWANA" is not going to earn as much sympathy in a court as "you looked aside as a child molester groomed ten little girls/boys for sexual acts."  

Bert, I understand your point. However, the first time a church loses a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and/or defamation because it "flagged" a former pastor, deacon, or congregant based only on accusations, that will be the end of the database. 

 

 

Nah.   Think about it a moment.  We fundagelicals are infamous for pathetic pay, so your hypothetical victim would be trying to tell the court that not only was he willing to sue fellow believers in the courts of men (1 Cor. 6), but that because he was deprived of $30k/year or so, he somehow deserves millions in compensation.  Good luck with that one.  Reality is that while courts would occasionally make awards, those awards pale in comparison to those that attorneys for sexual abuse victims like John Manly are getting--his top three are $1 billion, $500 million, and $140 million.  He's probably the best in the business, but again; that's just three cases by one guy, the biggest against the Catholic Church.

Praying that the GARBC/SBC/EFCA and others get together to get their own version of SafeSport going, as the numbers are not subtle.  A bit of intestinal fortitude born of the numbers will go a long way to make sure it's not dropped.

Invasion of privacy and defamation lawsuits are not limited in their awards to one's lost salary. Churches have had to pay $400K+ when they've lost similar lawsuits in church discipline cases.

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, I could grant your whole point, but I'd still be at the "choose your poison" decision of a 10% risk of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars vs. a 90% risk of losing tens of millions of dollars or more.  So even in the worst case, it's a pretty straightforward choice.  Shoot, even if you were "flip of the coin" for getting things right, you're still talking a couple orders of magnitude difference in the risk.

Plus, as many other groups have found, it's not that difficult to get things right.  Pretty much every state has lists of teachers, coaches, and the like who are not allowed in their profession, professional governing bodies do the same, you've got SafeSport, etc..  If you mind your Ps & Qs in the matter, paying attention to the rules of evidence and all, you'll quickly improve the relative risks of doing vs. not doing by another couple of orders of magnitude.  

Not that there is no risk, but quite frankly, the relative risk of not doing something is far worse than of creating and using the database.  I hope and pray that "our movement" is not completely idiotic in this regard.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jonathan's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Not that there is no risk, but quite frankly, the relative risk of not doing something is far worse than of creating and using the database.  I hope and pray that "our movement" is not completely idiotic in this regard.

Fully agree (and hopefully those in charge agree as well...)

I would advocate a database that is a referral service and not a list of crimes or accusations. For example, church (or seminary or school or ...) ABC contacts SBC headquarters and registers as having information on John Doe (without giving details on the accusations). Church XYZ is considering calling John Doe as a pastor. They contact SBC headquarters and are put in touch with Church ABC. Church XYZ then gets to decide what to do with the information from Church ABC. This is not a cure-all. Churches still need to do background checks, verify timelines and employment, contact other denominations/associations, etc... However, this process does keep the information flow between those who need to know. Therefore, this process minimizes the liability that the SBC headquarters may have, while providing the benefit of flagging certain individuals.

Joeb's picture

If some Pastor tried to sue good luck with that without a $20,000 retainer up front.  Plus another 100 Gs to boot.  No Attorney is going to take a case without money up front.  The only case Attorneys take without money up front are car accidents.  That’s why they call them ambulance chasers. 

I was asked if I new a good Christian Attorney in Pa for a Christian.  The Institution the  Fellow wanted to sue was well known for their ungodly illegal activity. My advise was don’t bother unless you want to shell out big bucks.  My additional advise was get a Non Believer Attorney and fight fire with fire if you go down that path.  One shark deserves another if the church or Organization are scum bags.  The church or organization or business don’t deserve any kindness once you have crossed a certain line and they are in terrible sin and unrepentant.  You hire an Attorney for the job they can do not one who is just saved.  

Once you make that move as a believer the name of the game is to use every legal move to force your opponent into a settlement or to win in court.  

Im not trying to be unloving here.  Just being honest about the situation. 

T Howard's picture

I don't think Bert's 10%/90% ratio has been substantiated. Regardless, churches won't get sued for not posting to the database, they just won't be part of the SBC. There is no legal requirement for churches to keep records of who in their congregation was alleged or accused of child abuse. Other than reporting to law enforcement / children's services when a reasonable accusation of child abuse is made, churches have no legal requirement to tell others outside of law enforcement. Therefore, their legal risks are actually HIGHER if they do decide to report allegations / accusations of child abuse to outside organizations when those allegations / accusations have not been proven.

We're assuming all these abusers are poor pastors who can't afford legal representation. That's a false assumption as the article itself points out many were deacons and other congregants. Regardless, defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits can be VERY costly to the church if it loses. So, I don't think Bert has really thought through this well.

Jay's picture

You either run the risk of not reporting someone who did something wrong or you run the risk of defaming someone unjustly if you create a database.  I don't know a workaround for that, but I'd still favor having something other than the "well, we knew he did something weird but didn't do anything about it" line in a courtroom.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

For me, Tom, it boils down to a couple of key questions.  #1, is your church doing discipline of people who violate moral codes or children's protection best practices?  If not, why?  #2, does your church do reference checks, and does your church answer them honestly--if Pastor Bob was fired for adultery, or Volunteer Jim was shown the door for being repeatedly being alone with children behind closed doors, does the church tell a new employer that?

If the answers are, per Paul's denunciations of Alexander and Hymenaeus and John's of Diotrephes and Jezebel, "yes", then your church is rightly assuming the risk already.  All the proposed database does is to make it easier to check up on people.

And if you're not at least 90% confident of church discipline decisions, there are any number of resources to help you.  And again, even if you are not, the fact is that a man can only sue you for wrongful inclusion on the list once.  However, a man who rightly ought to be on that list can molest many victims, and the legal payouts for sexual abuse are generally much higher.

Once again, the math on this is not complicated, brother.  I have little doubt that many misguided churches might refuse to take part, but it's not because of any reasonable appraisal of relative risk.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

For me, Tom, it boils down to a couple of key questions.  #1, is your church doing discipline of people who violate moral codes or children's protection best practices?  If not, why?  #2, does your church do reference checks, and does your church answer them honestly--if Pastor Bob was fired for adultery, or Volunteer Jim was shown the door for being repeatedly being alone with children behind closed doors, does the church tell a new employer that?

Church discipline is not for violations of the child protection policy. Church discipline is for unrepentant sin. Pastor Bob's adultery has no bearing on child protection, so why would he be in the database?  Further, if Volunteer Jim was found alone with children behind closed doors but there were no substantiated accusations of wrong doing, you'd boot him out the church and place him on the child predator database?

Bert Perry wrote:
And if you're not at least 90% confident of church discipline decisions, there are any number of resources to help you.  And again, even if you are not, the fact is that a man can only sue you for wrongful inclusion on the list once.  However, a man who rightly ought to be on that list can molest many victims, and the legal payouts for sexual abuse are generally much higher.

Bert, my point is that the first church who did not put the guy on the list is NOT legally required to do so and is not financially liable if he goes to a second or third church and molests children there. However, if the first church puts the guy on the child predator list because of unsubstantiated accusations or just because he violated a "best practice," he can turn around and sue the first church for defamation and invasion of privacy.

Joeb's picture

T Howard you make a good point.  What is the qualifier.  Tough question. I’d say if the guy was alone with a child at church under suspicious conditions that would warrant an interview of the child  by a highly trained Sex Crimes  Criminal Investigator from the appropriate Law Enforcement Agency.  Now if the Investigator says no harm no foul then the person then that’s the end of it.   If the suspects leaves the church over it so be it.

 A man or a Youth Pastor does not take a young child or 14 year old girl into a room to talk to her alone in a remote location in the church with the door shut.   That behavior is highly suspicious right up front. If a young lady seeks the counsel of the Youth Pastor have a women present.  I never did interviewed female suspects alone.  

Bottom line if I’d report it to the Police the person would end up on the data base. 

Again remember THoward that offended person is going to need $120 k in cash to do his lawsuit.  I have been threatened to be sued by Taxpayers during my career as a Criminal Investigator  so many times I could even give you a number.  Quests what I never got sued once.  

T Howard's picture

Here is part of our policy of when to report suspected child abuse:

Quote:
If a children’s ministry staff member or volunteer knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect based on facts that would cause a reasonable person in similar circumstances to suspect, that a child was or is being abused on church property or during a church sponsored event, that individual should immediately report the situation to the children’s ministry leader and to the church elder board.

Reasonable suspicion means that there is credible evidence or a discrepant or inconsistent history in explaining a child’s suspected abuse. A report based on reasonable suspicion does not require proof that abuse or neglect has actually occurred or that the reporter witnessed the incident in question. Reporting is not a determination that child abuse or neglect has actually occurred; rather, it is a request for an assessment of the condition of a child...

After receiving the report and allegation of child abuse, if the elder board has reasonable cause to suspect based on facts that would cause a reasonable person in similar circumstances to suspect, that a child was or is being abused on church property or during a church sponsored event, the elder board will

  • Immediately notify the Fairfield County Sheriff and Child Protective Services of the allegation and fully cooperate with the investigation of the incident.
  • Immediately notify the parents of the alleged victim if it is not known that they have previous knowledge of the allegations.
  • Immediately notify the church’s insurance company and complete an incident report. Any documents received relating to the incident and/or allegations will immediately be forwarded to the insurance company.

So, the question is does Volunteer Jim or Pastor Bob get put on the database because someone else in the church had "reasonable suspicion" that he abused a child and reported it to the elder board? Or, does it take more than reasonable suspicion? How about if Volunteer Jim or Pastor Bob gets reported to law enforcement and child protective services for suspected abuse, but these agencies don't move forward with any charges against him? Does he get reported on the database then? How about if these agencies charge Volunteer Jim or Pastor Bob with child abuse but he is found not guilty of the charges. Does he get reported on the database then? In all of these situations, reporting Volunteer Jim or Pastor Bob on the database opens the church to significant legal liability and lawsuits. However, if they choose NOT to report him on the database in these cases and Volunteer Jim or Pastor Bob moves on to another church, there is no legal or financial risk to the first church regardless of what he does at the second or third church he attends.

Joeb's picture

T Howard your policy is with the Church in mind not into proving the allegation is true or not.  The initial Supervisor should immediately contact the Police and Parents period.  Letting the whole Elder Board in on what’s going on only hurts the Investigation short of the witness seeing what’s going on Johnny on the spot and removing the child to safety.  If the child tells someone what’s happening then that person should talk to ONE other person and the Police and family should be contacted ONLY.  

One monitored and recorded phone call by the victim or a parent of the victim to the Perp may resolve the case quickly and spare the victim from ever having to testify in court.  Letting the whole Elder Board know destroys that opportunity and maybe others.  

In my cases I always went after the best evidence and nothing is better then the words coming out of the Perps mouth.  It’s legal and nothing is illegal about deception by the Police to get the truth. I suggest you revise your plan THoward to many cooks in the kitchen. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think it may help to point out that there are professional organizations that have databases like these already, though they aren't necessarily shared outside a particular jurisdiction. 

For example, I read police department policies and procedures from all over the U.S. almost every day. Quite a few of them have disciplinary procedures that are very detailed because of collective bargaining agreements or personnel-related civil lawsuits, or both--and they keep very detailed records of accusations, how they're investigated, and final disposition. They're all also very specific about what accusations are being made. 

So the database has cases of cops accused of sleeping on the job as well as cops accused of using excessive force or showing up drunk, etc. Quite often, there are rules about how soon an internal investigation must be completed, and always what the final disposition was. Commonly something like:

  • Baseless (investigation quickly terminated due to lack of evidence)
  • Exonerated (accusations found to be false)
  • Sustained (basically guilty of the accusation)
  • Not sustained (not enough evidence to prove it but also can't disprove it)
  • etc.

Here's an example: https://www.aacounty.org/departments/police-department/rules-regs/sectio...

So I think SBC could develop a database that distinguishes between accusations of failure to report vs. accusation of sexual misconduct... and also how an internal investigation ended, including what was reported to police in the case of criminal behavior.

About when to contact police in general...

I think there's a lot of unhelpful advice/policy out there on this. Ministries should not view getting the police involved as a "if we have to" kind of thing or only when some evidentiary threshold has been met.

What should happen is that church leaders should meet somewhat regularly with local police representatives to build and maintain a strong working relationship with them. That done, when there is any accusation of something with even the smallest chance of illegality, church leaders should have a conversation with their friend at the PD.  There is nothing at all wrong with talking with a cop and saying "Hypothetically if someone at my church accused someone else of X, would that be a crime? Would I need to report that? Do you have any suggestions about how to handle that situation?"

I'm biased by my personal experiences in this area: I could literally talk with the local police Chief about absolutely anything on my mind during my days as a pastor (and did!). It helped that he was a believer. :-) 

But most local PD's view churches as important community partners and that's a resource that we should be quick to use.

(Edit to add: If you talk with your lawyer about these things, you'll have to pay him. If you consult the local PD, they won't give you "legal advice," but they'll often give you expert opinion... for free.)

T Howard's picture

Quote:
T Howard your policy is with the Church in mind not into proving the allegation is true or not.  The initial Supervisor should immediately contact the Police and Parents period.  Letting the whole Elder Board in on what’s going on only hurts the Investigation short of the witness seeing what’s going on Johnny on the spot and removing the child to safety.  If the child tells someone what’s happening then that person should talk to ONE other person and the Police and family should be contacted ONLY.

Yes, our elders should be "in on what's going on" if/when there is "reasonable cause to suspect" child abuse has taken place at the church. But, we are not the investigative body responsible to prove whether the allegation is true or not. Therefore, we shouldn't be interviewing the victim or the suspected perp. Once we receive the report and allegation of child abuse, and we have "reasonable cause to suspect" (which is the standard provided in the Ohio revised code) that child abuse has occurred, we immediately call in child protective services and the county sheriff.

Much of our child protection policy is based on the guidance given in On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church, by Deepak Reju. I would recommend this resource to you.

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