Guarding against sexual abuse

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)--Several days ago, I was interviewed by ABC's "20/20" news for an upcoming program tentatively titled, "Preacher Predators." At the request of several, I agreed to this invitation so as to provide some kind of balance to a program which may well be overwhelmingly negative.

There has been a great deal of attention given to this subject in recent days. As I said to the reporter, we are willing and able to discuss this issue because even one instance of sexual abuse by a minister is too much. While I do not believe the problem is systemic and large-scale, there have been several reported cases of abuse by trusted members of staff in our churches. Let me help set a few matters clear for you.

Some persons have accused Southern Baptists of ignoring the issue and hiding behind our polity. Let me clearly state that we believe in the autonomy of the local church as a biblical mandate. We are not hiding behind anything, except the Bible. In fact, the local church is where accountability must be enforced. I call upon every local church to develop written policy guidelines for the care of children and youth. I call upon every church to have a system or policy in place to deal with any accusations made. We must protect children and youth, and the integrity of staff members.

I ask that all of our churches require background checks (on national and state levels) as well as thorough reference checks for all staff. The local church is where accountability must be enforced. As I said to one person, for years the press has complained that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has enabled the hiding of sexual predators. Now, they are stating that the lack of our hierarchy is helping hide sexual predators. The truth is that people can abuse any system. There are people who seek out positions in the church where the trust level can be so high that they can then be involved in horrible actions.

I also call upon all local churches to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who would take advantage of the trust and love of precious children and students. Simply put, there is no place in the church for persons who would take advantage of these relationships.

I urge local churches to take advantage of the multiple numbers of resources that are available on the SBC website, as well as through LifeWay Christian Resources, to help safeguard our children and youth through appropriate policies and educational resources. There are many items available to help. Please use them.

As stated earlier, even one instance of sexual molestation is one too many. Let us be people of integrity. Let us be people of such a trustworthy nature as to bring glory to God. Let us be men and women of the Gospel who provide an atmosphere where trust will not be abused. Let us provide churches where there is an environment of encouragement, instruction and spiritual enlightenment. Our Lord Jesus set the example in His deep love and care for the innocent, the young and the hurting. Let our churches be an example of Jesus' ministry.


Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. Visit his website at www.sbc.net/PresidentsPag