Saturday, October 30, 2010

No background checks
Background checks show 600 felony offenses in 900 churches
During the past two years, about 900 churches and organizations conducted background checks using the discounted service offered through LifeWay, which is the publishing and research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Those background checks turned up "more than 600" felony offenses. This data was reported by the Associated Press yesterday.

Let me give you those numbers again. When LifeWay-sponsored background checks were run on staff and volunteers in about 900 churches and organizations, they showed more than 600 felony offenses.

Now do the math.

The Southern Baptist Convention has about 45,000 churches. If you extrapolate the numbers, they would project to about 30,000 felony offenses in the 45,000 churches.

Are you horrified yet? I sure am.

The fact that the 900 churches aren’t a statistically representative sample doesn’t comfort me any. Sampling errors in data can cut both ways. This means that, if we could compile the data from each and every one of the SBC’s 45,000 churches, the actual number of felonies could be either less or more than the projected 30,000.

LifeWay markets its services primarily to Southern Baptist churches, but the reported data doesn’t indicate whether the 900 churches were exclusively Southern Baptist churches. Conceivably, there could have been some other types of churches who also used LifeWay’s discounted background check service. But this caveat doesn’t comfort me any, either.

I just can’t find any way to look at the numbers without being horrified.

And, of course, the danger is actually far worse than what these background checks reflect. As the Associated Press article reports, “only about 3 percent of sex offenders have criminal backgrounds.” This means that about 97 percent of sex offenders won’t be discovered when churches conduct criminal background checks.

This is one of the reasons why other major faith groups make use of denominational accountability systems for assessing and tracking clergy sex abuse reports. They make this effort to try to assure that those who carry the highest level of trust in their churches -- ministers -- will not be able to slip through the cracks so easily if they have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

But the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t bother with such safety systems for its churches. In 2008, the SBC decided that “it should not create its own database to help churches identify predators or establish an office to field abuse claims.”

That’s right. The largest Protestant denomination in the land decided that it wouldn’t institute basic safety precautions similar to what other major faith groups do. It would leave churches to handle things on their own without any denominational assistance in assessing or tracking credibly-accused Baptist clergy. It would simply encourage churches to conduct background checks.

Why aren’t Southern Baptist leaders more worried about the 97 percent of sex offenders who won’t show up in background checks?

And why aren’t Southern Baptist leaders expressing a great deal more concern about the high number of felony convictions that showed up in even the small number of churches that they can point to as having actually done background checks?

The news of 600 felony convictions in 900 churches should be news of grave concern for Baptist leaders. But I’m sure not seeing much sign of any concern. To the contrary, it seems like just another day in Baptistland.

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