A seminary president says Southern Baptists have faced a learning curve about how to properly handle the reporting of child sexual abuse.
A Southern Baptist leader criticized for supporting a ministry colleague accused of covering up child sex abuse advised pastors June 10 to immediately dial 911 at the first report of any abuse.
“Know beforehand that if you get any report of any kind of sexual abuse — certainly involving a minor — you be committed before that ever happens, that before you leave that room you are going to dial 911 and you’re going to call for help,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said during a panel discussion between sessions of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Baltimore.
“We’re not in the position of being able to be investigative agents,” Mohler said. “That’s not our job at that level. There are young people, the vulnerable, to be protected, and you need to call.”
“If you’re not doing that, you’re not only putting those children at risk, you’re putting your entire ministry at risk,” Mohler continued. “Call. Let the authorities start to sort it out.”
“That doesn’t mean that you don’t exercise pastoral ministry and church discipline, but those are your responsibility after you have called 911, and they are a big responsibility,” he said. “One of the things we need to do is create safe places where people can come and report this kind of thing knowing that we’re going to respond in the right way.”
“This is something that churches have had to learn,” Mohler continued. “You go back 30 years, 20 years, churches didn’t know what to do in this kind of situation. We’re in a different situation now. There’s no excuse right now for not knowing what you’re going to do before you have to do it. It is a gospel ministry stewardship imperative. Be ready to dial 911, and do so before you leave the room.”
Mohler’s comments came near the end of a wide-ranging discussion of issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored by Baptist 21, an unofficial group formed in 2008 in hopes of affirming and re-energizing Baptist convictions among recent seminary graduates.
Panel moderator Jon Akin, one of the founding members of B21, asked Mohler what advice he would give pastors in light of a recent criminal trial involving a church formerly associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Nathaniel “Nate” Morales was convicted May 15 of sexually abusing three boys between 1983 and 1991 while volunteering as a youth group leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.
A separate civil lawsuit currently under appeal alleges a conspiracy to cover up ongoing sexual abuse of children by leaders in Sovereign Grace Ministries. A plaintiff in the lawsuit was among a half-dozen protestors gathered outside the Baltimore Convention Center June 11 calling for an independent review of clergy abuse and cover-ups in Southern Baptist churches.
“Major leaders within the SBC have publicly supported C.J. Mahaney, my former senior pastor, now in the midst of what has been called by some in the media as the largest sex abuse scandal in the evangelical church,” plaintiff Pam Palmer said in a statement. “My daughter is just one of the many sex abuse victims from SGM under Mahaney’s watch.”
“In recent years Southern Baptist seminaries and related conferences, such as T4G [Together for the Gospel], have invited Mahaney to come and teach, while his denomination [SGM] has become embroiled in multiple court cases related to cover-up of sex abuse,” Palmer said.
Palmer said she believes that Southern Baptist leaders who continue to identify with Mahaney are in “direct violation” of a resolution passed at last year’s SBC annual meeting in Houston encouraging “all denominational leaders and employees of the Southern Baptist Convention to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
Susan Burke, the attorney representing 11 plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit said on the “Janet Mefferd Show” June 6 that pastors of Covenant Life Church “knew of various instances of sexual abuse” reported by alleged victims.
“They knew they had a duty to report it to the police,” Burke said. “They discussed with each other whether or not to do so, and they reached an agreement. They collectively decided that they were going to cover it up rather than bring it forward to the secular authorities. They took steps to encourage anyone who learned of it to do the same.”
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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press