‘It’s a Perfect Profession for a Con Artist’

Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines preaches at the convention's annual meeting in 2018 in Dallas. On the agenda was a resolution calling on the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. to repudiate any rhetoric or behavior that dishonors women. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

As the Catholic Church sags further and further under the weight of sexual abuse stories, an in-depth investigation in the Houston Chronicle, by Robert DownenLise Olsen, and John Tedesco, shows us that it’s not the only denomination in trouble: abuses within the Southern Baptist Convention have left hundreds of victims in their wakes. Unlike the Catholic Church, which has centralized management that can move priests around to hide or minimize abuse, the SBC has a diffuse administrative system — but one that makes it equally easy for predators to continue working in the church.

SBC churches and organizations share resources and materials, and together they fund missionary trips and seminaries. Most pastors are ordained locally after they’ve convinced a small group of church elders that they’ve been called to service by God. There is no central database that tracks ordinations, or sexual abuse convictions or allegations.

All of that makes Southern Baptist churches highly susceptible to predators, says Christa Brown, an activist who wrote a book about being molested as a child by a pastor at her SBC church in Farmers Branch, a Dallas suburb.

“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 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.”

The abuse breeding ground is vast: the Southern Baptist Convention has over 47,000 churches.

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