By Bob Allen
Associated Baptist Press — A victim support group held signs outside a Houston megachurch Jan. 9 calling for greater transparency about the reporting of child sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
Representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said they are worried there may be more victims of two former ministers at Second Baptist Church in Houston accused of crimes.
A former youth pastor at the church, Chad Foster, was sentenced to five years in prison in April after pleading guilty to raping a 16-year-old girl in 2011 and soliciting another teen online. A former music minister was named in police reports for allegedly stalking a minor but was never charged. That individual no longer lives in Houston but is reportedly helping with the music ministry at another prominent Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth, TX.
SNAP representatives urged victims of either man or any other sexual predator to come forward, and anyone who has witnessed or suspected crimes to call the police.
“Child predators rarely ever have one victim,” SNAP Midwest Associate Director Judy Block Jones told Fox-26 News KRIV in Houston. “Some have hundreds.”
The group also called on current and former officials at Second Baptist, one of the largest and most respected churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, to use pulpit announcements and website to encourage anyone with knowledge or suspicions about either minister to speak up.
Amy Smith, Houston SNAP representative and a former member of the church, said Second Baptist and other churches where clergy have been accused of child sexual abuse are not doing enough to address the problem.
“The response has not been as public as the Catholic Church,” Smith said. Smith said she believes kids might be in even more danger in Baptist churches because it is not being addressed publicly.
“The Catholic Church at least has tried to do that, and we have not seen that same kind of active response from the leadership of Baptist churches as well as other evangelical churches,” she said.
Officials at the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, say that because of the denomination’s congregational polity, state and national bodies lack authority to intervene in local-church affairs such as the conduct of a minister.
The SBC website lists resources for preventing sexual abuse. Messengers to the most recent SBC annual meeting passed a resolution reminding Southern Baptists “of their legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities” and urging full cooperation with law enforcement “in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators, sexual or otherwise, who criminally harm children placed in our trust.”
Miguel Prats, former Texas SNAP director who says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest shortly after he turned 18, said no large institution is good at policing itself, whether the military, the Catholic Church or Protestants.
“The Baptist church says each church is its own little kingdom,” Prats told Houston Public Radio station KUHF 88.7. “They’re autonomous. We can’t tell them anything.”
“Yet, if a Baptist church tried to ordain a woman or marry a same-sex couple, you better believe the Southern Baptist Convention would let them know about that,” Prats said.
Other media reporting on the event promoted as a “sidewalk press conference” included the Spanish-language Univision 45 in Houston.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.