At the SBC’s annual convention in June, delegates—known as messengers—will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to identify neglect in the area of sexual abuse as a cause for the SBC to expel a church from the denomination.
(The SBC constitution requires voting on any proposed amendment at two conventions, so the amendment’s earliest passage would be in 2020.)
An even more vexing question: How can the SBC work to prevent abuse now? A closer look at examples of abuse on local levels offers key areas to consider.
In Texas, where the Chronicle found more offenders than in any other state, the report focused on a handful of churches, including Second Baptist Church in Houston. The church is one of the largest in the denomination, and its longtime pastor, Ed Young, once served as president of the SBC.
Chad Foster had a much shorter tenure at the church.
According to the Chronicle, Foster moved to Houston soon after a divorce, a history of hard drinking, and a recent conversion to Christianity. Second Baptist hired him and later ordained him as a youth pastor. The paper reports Foster later said, “When I took the job, I didn’t know anything about it.”
He told a judge he had no training on how to teach or counsel youth.
The church fired him in 2010 after receiving complaints about lying and other inappropriate behavior, according to court documents examined by the Chronicle. (Second Baptist officials said they had not received reports of sexual abuse during his employment.) By 2011, Foster found another job as a youth pastor at Community of Faith Church. The pastor of that congregation later testified that Second Baptist gave Foster “a great reference.”
By November 2011, authorities had arrested Foster, and he later pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault of a child and two counts of online solicitation of a minor. He had met two of his teenage victims at Second Baptist.
One of the girls told the court: “My innocence is gone. I no longer have a relationship with God, and that was something that was very special to me. I don’t trust anyone in churches anymore.”
Second Baptist underscored to the Chronicle that it did not learn of the sexual assault allegations until after it fired Foster. The church declined a request from WORLD for comment. Members of the SBC committee included Second Baptist in its list of seven churches they didn’t believe warranted further inquiry. But Foster’s reported ordination to the ministry as an untrained man with a rocky personal history and a recent conversion raises concerns.
Quick ordinations aren’t uncommon, according to some in the SBC. Indeed, SBC president Greear singled out examining the ordination process as one of the 10 steps Southern Baptists should take in seeking to prevent abuse.
But this remains a local issue: Each Southern Baptist church sets its own process and requirements for ordination. The process may be rigorous depending on the congregation, but Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Florida and executive director of Founders Ministries, says it’s not uncommon for a church committee to examine a man with a few simple questions in the afternoon and perhaps ordain him that evening.
That includes youth pastors, and the Chronicle reported that more than 100 Southern Baptists described as former youth pastors or youth ministers are “in prison, are registered sex offenders, or have been charged with sex crimes.” The most common targets were teenage girls and boys.
Even if a man is ordained hastily, a church still has the power to revoke his ordination if it finds him unfit for ministry.
Given that some employment laws can punish employers for information they share in a reference, churches may worry about whether they should reveal concerns about an employee to another church, if asked.