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Clergy Child Molesters Should Not Be Kept Secret: Are We Clear?

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Last Sunday, I stood in the cold with three other women outside the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. It's a flagship Baptist church with pastor Charles Stanley at the helm. He's a two-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

We were there to distribute a flyer as people left the morning service. It told about the church's prior children's minister who was reported to have sexually abused a kid in a Dallas church. He then worked at FBC-Atlanta for 19 years, up until about five years ago.

Two things we know by now: Clergy child molesters often have multiple victims, and the victims often stay silent for many years.

In SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and other Clergy, we have seen this pattern many times. So whenever we know about a perpetrator, we also know the importance of reaching out to other possible victims. We always hope this effort may allow some abuse survivors to get help sooner rather than later.

Despite our good intentions, we were not hospitably received at FBC-Atlanta.

We had scarcely handed out a dozen flyers before several church leaders came out posse-style to direct us off the premises.

They saw the flyer. They saw what it said. But apparently, they didn't want others to see it.

So, the four of us trekked across this mega-church's mega-parking lot and planted ourselves on a public sidewalk at the exit.

Only a few minutes went by before another guy came striding toward us.

Something about his black bomber, shaved head, and tough-guy stance made me wonder whether he might be part of a church goon-squad. But of course, in any other context, he would surely have been a nice enough guy. The mood had already been set by the prior encounter.

"Are we clear?" he asked.

I wasn't entirely sure what he meant, but I pointed out that we were on a public sidewalk.

He reiterated with a slow emphasis on each word. "Are - we - clear - that you are not to be on church property?"

For a moment, I just looked at him and pondered whether he might be a seventh-grade detention hall monitor in his weekday job.

"Oh yes, we're very clear on that," I eventually replied. It was, after all, more than apparent that we weren't welcome.

So the four of us stayed on the sidewalk and handed flyers to the few cars we could whenever the light was red.

Before long, two police officers came along. They were actually there to direct traffic, but they knew who we were because the church had called in a report. It didn't matter. The cops had no problem with our presence.

I wish the church leaders could have been as cordial as the cops.

What was it about four middle-aged women handing out a flyer that so offended them?

And why didn't they want church-members to receive our flyer?

In fact, the news in the flyer shouldn't have been any surprise to anyone. FBC-Atlanta's leadership was previously informed about this minister.

Eighteen months ago, church leadership received a certified letter, telling that the Baptist General Convention of Texas had put the minister's name in its confidential file of clergy sex abusers. The letter explained that a minister's name gets in that file only if he is reported by a church (not merely by a victim), and only if there is a confession, a conviction, or "substantial evidence that the abuse took place." That's published policy, and FBC-Atlanta could have readily confirmed it.

A year ago, the Dallas church made a written, court-filed apology for "the very serious sexual abuse" inflicted by this minister before he went on to Atlanta. The apology expressly acknowledged that another minister had known about the abuse and could substantiate it. The Dallas church sent a copy of the apology letter, by return-receipt certified mail, to First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

So, FBC-Atlanta's leadership was twice informed about the substantiated child-molestation report against its prior minister. The church has over 14,000 members. What about all the people in the pews? Were they told?

If your own kids had been at FBC-Atlanta during that minister's tenure, wouldn't you want to know about this?

Secrecy serves only the predators. Are we clear?
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Christa Brown is the national outreach director for SNAP-Baptist and maintains the StopBaptistPredators.org website. She is a wife, mother, attorney, jazz-lover, slow-runner, and a Southern Baptist abuse survivor.
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