The Southern Baptist Convention has launched thefirst hearing of what is expected to be a yearlong investigation intothe problem of sexual abuse by Baptist clergy.
OnMonday, victims of alleged clergy abuse met in front of Baptistheadquarters in downtown Nashville to request a seat at the tableduring that discussion.
"Every mom and dad who sits in a Southern Baptistchurch pew should want the same thing I want — a substantial reportabout this problem, and public accountability," said Christa Brown ofAustin, Texas, who wore a photo around her neck of a pretty 16-year-oldgirl with a bow in her hair and a smile on her face. It's a picture ofher, taken shortly before she says she was molested by a trustedminister.
"The kids who become victims of thesesex crimes, it's the kids who are the most devout. They're the onesvulnerable to a minister who uses faith as a weapon," she said.
Report expected by June
In an almost unanimous vote this summer, 8,600members of the Tennessee Baptist Convention called for a yearlong studyinto the problem of sex abuse by the clergy.
Amongthe proposals up for debate is the possibility of creating a databasethat would track ministers who have been convicted, confessed to, orcredibly accused of sexual abuse. The study group is expected todeliver its report by next June.
Monday's meeting was the first of what is expected to be several closed-door hearings on the issue.
Brown was invited in to view the meeting from the gallery but she and other advocates are hoping for more.
Ahand-delivered message to the convention requested private hearingswhere survivors of abuse could share their stories, as well as publichearings about the problem.
Convention spokesmanSing Oldham said the church has taken a strong stand against abuse byits ministers, but the individual churches — not the nationalorganization — are responsible for policing their ministers.
The national convention can condemn behavior, but only local churches can defrock a minister or remove them from their posting.
"Clearly, a database alone would be insufficient," Oldham said.
"It'sclosing the barn door after the cows are already out. We need todevelop recommendations, set up guidelines…We renounce any individualwho commits heinous acts against children. Jesus Christ who is lord ofthe church said that we are not to allow harm to come to God's littleones."