EDITOR’S NOTE: On May 24, 2022, Baptist Press recommitted to Southern Baptists that we will be a better Baptist Press in the days ahead. On June 10, 2022, the editors of Baptist Press are adding this note to say we do not believe this story accurately represents the events surrounding the meeting between Executive Committee officials and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and Clergy (SNAP) and does not meet our current journalistic standards. We acknowledge and apologize for the hurt this has caused Mrs. Brown and the other members of SNAP over the past 15 years since it was first published.
A child sexual molestation victims’ group apologized to Southern Baptist leaders February 22 for making false accusations that leaders had not responded to the group’s letters. The apology by SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and other Clergy — came after the group made statements in recent weeks charging that Southern Baptist leaders had been unresponsive to SNAP’s letters.
On February 20, the Southern Baptist Executive Committee’s Bylaws Workgroup discussed SNAP’s concerns about child sexual abuse in churches, with most workgroup members expressing frustration that SNAP had made the charges, which were repeated at times in the media.
Workgroup members were shown two letters from Executive Committee members to SNAP from last year. SNAP official Christa Brown, who was at the meeting, expressed surprise and said she never received them.
“I’m chagrined that I was unaware of these letters,” Brown said in the February 22 statement. “I’m very sorry about this and extend my apology to Mr. [D. August] Boto [an EC attorney] and other Southern Baptist officials.”
David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director, also apologized.
“We said the SBC hadn’t replied to us, and we were wrong,” Clohessy said in the statement. “I have no idea how this happened, and I’m terribly, terribly sorry. I’m very upset and embarrassed by this and deeply apologize to the Convention for our mistake and for our erroneous comments to the press about the lack of reply.”
But Clohessy said SNAP would “keep helping Baptist victims and keep prodding Baptist officials until every wounded adult is recovering and every vulnerable kid is safe.” Brown said she was “grateful” she was allowed to speak to the workgroup and that SNAP’s requests were discussed, but she added: “At the end of the day, no child is any safer now than they were before.”
However, Boto’s February 22 statement had noted, “The SBC has made resources available to assist churches in performing background research, and we will continue to encourage every SBC church to make full use of those resources in their hiring processes.”
He cited, for example, a number of SBC-related resources available on the Internet. “Our earnest prayer is that every Southern Baptist church will take the necessary steps to prevent such abuse — it is a stewardship the Lord has placed before them and one which we pray they will embrace prayerfully and diligently,” Boto said in his statement.
SNAP twice held protests outside the SBC Building in Nashville, Tennessee, the first attended by two SNAP members and a press representative, the second attended by fewer than five people. At the second, on February 19, a press release was handed out stating they had delivered a letter five months ago to SBC President Frank Page, Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman, and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land.
“Our letter was met with silence,” the press release stated. “We received no response.”
Brown and another SNAP official, Mike Coode, attended the workgroup meeting. One workgroup member, pointing to the letters sent to SNAP, told Brown and Coode that the group’s press releases had been inaccurate and unjustifiably accusatory. The Executive Committee had responded to every letter, the workgroup member said. (Rules prevent the identification of any members and direct quotation.) A second member turned toward Brown — who was sitting with other onlookers — and told her: I’m not your enemy; you’re not my enemy; we’re in the same boat; we take offense that you’ve made us your enemy; we’re on your side; if you work with us, we’ll work with you.
Page, who spoke twice during the workgroup session, said it would help the situation if SNAP apologized to the people the group said had not responded. (He had responded to SNAP in an August letter.) Page said an untrue picture was being painted of SBC leaders, whom he said had made every effort to communicate with SNAP.
Page also spoke to the issue of child sexual abuse, saying the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention will continue to do whatever they can to address the situation. He said it is extremely important to protect children’s lives. Other workgroup members agreed. Of the workgroup members who spoke, nearly every one said more attention can be drawn to the need for better protective measures to be taken by churches within the denomination.
One member said the two sides should start with a clean slate and be prayerful, because it is a very important issue. Another member said the issue isn’t being swept under the rug. A third member said there is a moral and ethical imperative that Southern Baptist churches address the issue. A fourth member said his church does background checks on staff and volunteers, and he said other churches need to do the same.
Brown addressed the committee and gave her story, saying she had been raped as a minor and that the man continued working at a Southern Baptist church. Choking back tears, she said it wasn’t until she took her story to a newspaper that the man was dismissed. The other SNAP representative, Coode, agreed with Brown’s point, saying that the church is not solving the problem — the press is solving the problem.
Following Brown’s and Coode’s comments, however, a member of the workgroup directed their attention to the Florida newspaper article Brown had referenced, asserting that the article had not caused the perpetrator’s termination, but had reported on the man’s resignation when a lawsuit drew attention to his actions.
SNAP supports the establishment of an independent review board that would work as an auxiliary to the SBC, be funded by the SBC, and would investigate reports of child sexual abuse. One workgroup member expressed doubt that such a national board would work because it would add a layer of authority over the local churches — something foreign to Baptist governance.
The workgroup meeting concluded thirty minutes beyond schedule after its members and the SNAP representatives had opportunity to express their various concerns, with the workgroup members expressing the intention of seeking ways to better equip churches to prevent instances of child sexual abuse.