Paige Patterson was just the tip of the iceberg.
A disturbing new six-month-long investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News finds that, over the past decade, more than 250 staffers or volunteers with Southern Baptist churches have been “charged with sex crimes” against more than 700 victims.
And those are just the ones we know about.
Imagine the Catholic Church but with even less oversight, and you start to get a sense of just how rampant the problem is. While many of the accused leaders took plea deals and “nearly 100” are in prison, many served no time at all and some still work in churches to this day.
Look at what happened to a woman name Debbie Vasquez, a victim of that abuse who implored religious leaders to institute change from the inside:
She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.
In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.
Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.
Unlike the Catholic Church, Southern Baptists have autonomous churches that act independently in many ways. It’s much harder to control what each one does. It’s especially hard to force them to report problematic staffers to some central office. Not only does that make predator pastors harder to track, it makes those churches magnets for predators who realize they’ll be able to get away with their crimes.
“It’s a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he’s been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister,” said [activist Christa] Brown, who lives in Colorado. “Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church.
“It’s a porous sieve of a denomination.”
Sadly, that story sounds all too familiar, like Catholic priests who shuffle from one place to another despite a host of allegations against them. The SBC keeps saying it takes these problems seriously without ever taking any of the serious actions required to remedy the problem. They’re slow to fire pastors and publicize their allegations. They routinely chalk the problems up to bad individuals instead of a systemic flaw. And they continue spreading theology that often pressures victims to keep quiet and take the blame for their own abuse.
It’s horrific. The only way any of this will change is if people who attend Southern Baptist churches stop going and giving money. Criticism from the outside isn’t enough if the people on the inside don’t take any of it seriously. That means more victims and more predators.
This is only the first of a three-part investigation, by the way. There are many more stories to tell.
(Image via Shutterstock)