The Ostrich Chronicles: Is the Church Protecting the Wrong People?

We’ve all heard the jokes, maybe laughed at them, or maybe even told a few. We’ve watched the monologues on the late-night comedy shows. We scoff and shake our heads at Penn State, or at the various Catholic sex scandals that run across the CNN ticker. We often look at them haughtily and say, “Well I’m glad MY church isn’t that way!”

Are you sure about that?

At a Nominating Team meeting last week (yes, I’m stubbornly sticking to “team” instead of “committee”), a couple of members mentioned that they heard of churches requiring background checks for volunteers. One said, “We’d never do that, would we?”

I looked at them and said, “We already are.”

They were stunned, much as I was when I first heard of this concept some years ago. A children’s minister at a former church suggested in staff meeting that we should perform background checks on both staff and volunteers. I couldn’t imagine insulting our membership in such a way.

We know these people, don’t we? And they know us. We trust each other! Why would a CHURCH ask its long-time members who volunteers their time to degrade themselves with a criminal background check?

Then I started hearing about the scandals. Not the ones you’re thinking of, in the Catholic church. I woke up and pulled my head out of the sand to realize that this is happening at Baptist churches. Yes, Our Baptist churches, among others. I’d say it’s worth the risk of offending someone to make sure that our children and our people are protected.

We need to start by acknowledging that this is a huge problem for ALL churches, big enough to be the subject of an entire blog series by prominent writer, Rachel Held Evans. Perhaps it doesn’t happen frequently, but any is too much.

It also extends well beyond the borders of the United States, as human trafficking and slavery within the sex trade continues to be huge around the world. And the details of this should absolutely make us sick. (Thank you to Jamie “The Very Worst Missionary” for your articles on this).

But most of all, we have to be sickened enough to do something about it in our own back yard, and to do everything that we can to prevent it.

Baptist leaders have called out Penn State for their transgressions. They have critiqued the Catholic system and its sordid history, while also calling out numerous other groups and organizations for various “blasphemies” in their views on sexuality. While doing all this, they have failed to take any definitive steps to deal with sexual abuse in the Baptist church.

It is gut-wrenching to write a blog on this subject, but it’s almost more than I can take to read about the cover-ups, the hiding, the “head in the sand” attitude of people who claim to be voices and “leaders” in the Baptist church. I’ve had to stop several times because the stories just push me to the brink.

While the Boy Scouts were a major subject during their convention, Southern Baptists quietly passed a resolution on sexual abuse within the church last summer. What was never addressed is the support that some Baptist leaders offered to pastors and ministers at churches accused of covering abuse scandals. This would include Sovereign Grace Ministries and Prestonwood Baptist.

The cover-up at Prestonwood dates back to the 1980s, as minister John Langworthy was rather quietly dismissed. He went on to take several other staff positions, and has now been convicted on several counts of child sexual abuse.

The allegation is that he was dismissed from Prestonwood for the same reason, and the church chose not to share that information.

Yes, I’d say it’s time to get our heads out of the sand, or wherever else they might be, and deal with this. How do we get honest about this as a local church?

We perform background checks on staff and volunteers; and we willingly submit to them.

We make sure that two adults are in the room at all times. This protects the student and the adults.

We know both the ethical and legal obligations that we have.

We know who is a mandatory reporter of abuse allegations.

We talk about these things with our deacons, committees, ministry teams and church leaders.

We make sure that we are ethical and fair to anyone accused of wrongdoing.

We push our denominational or ecclesiastical organizations to do everything possible to put a stop to this.

Most importantly, we show absolute concern for the safety, well-being, mental health and physical health of anyone who is abused (both past and present).

It may be fun to laugh at Leno jokes about Catholic priests, but there really is nothing funny about any of this. Pointing the finger at others just allows us to stick our head further into the dirt, and people are getting hurt while we do that.

Maybe we can’t stop all sexual abuse in the church. But we are absolutely obligated to do everything within our power to stop it. It’s more than time to pull the plank out of our own eye before pointing at any of our neighbors.

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4 thoughts on “The Ostrich Chronicles: Is the Church Protecting the Wrong People?

  1. Mandated background checks of volunteers in the Catholic Church is a farce. First of all, it is a smokescreen. The “crisis” in the Catholic Church, according to numerous districts attorneys and many others is not the abuse of minors, but the systemic cover-up. I know of not one priest who has freely revealed his involvement in any cover-up.

    The system for background checks is that the pastor requires all staff and volunteers to go through a background check. However, it is only the pastor who knows who passed and who flunked a background check. Why would anyone trust this information with a man who is part of an organization that still hides and protects known predators. For background checks to be effective, the pastor must release the names of every parishioner who has passed the background check. Only then will the community be safer.

    For example, how would anyone know if the CYO basketball coach passed the background check? Are we to trust the pastor? Besides, in a large parish the pastor simply does not have the ability to personally monitor all parish activities. If the list is made public, then each parishioner/parent can also be a monitor.

    • What’s to say that they wouldn’t simply lie on the list? Background checks are certainly not the “solution” to this problem, but it’s one place to begin. There are multiple things that need to happen, but it begins with awareness and remaining diligent. I can’t speak to the practice of other churches, but others are involved in this process at our church. The policies are set by groups of people (not that they are immune to cover-ups); and it should be understood that if someone is around children, they passed the background check. If they hope to maintain any kind of liability insurance, they’d better tell the truth on this.

      As a member of the congregation, you have every right to ask if background checks were performed, and what the results were.

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