The third and concluding article in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News investigative series into the Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse scandal has been posted. And today's article centers on perhaps the most difficult part of the scandal. The sexual abuse of children in the church.
The article focuses on the abuses perpetrated by youth pastors and youth ministers. And the statistics are staggering.
More than 100 former youth pastors or youth ministers are now in prison, are registered as sex offenders or have been charged with sex crimes, the newspaper found. To put that in context from the first article in the series, former youth pastors and ministers account for nearly half of the convicted abusers identified through the investigation. And, as discussed previously, we can assume that number represents a small portion of the total number of perpetrators, both reported and unreported.
While the most common targets were teenagers, smaller children were also molested, sometimes in pastor's studies and in Sunday school rooms.
That's a horrifying sentence to type.
"You can't let your guard down," said Amanda Griffith, a federal prosecutor in San Diego who has handled dozens of sex crime cases, including those involving predatory youth pastors. "There's the belief that church is sacrosanct, but this can happen anywhere."
This is the part that falls on us. The part that's hard and uncomfortable. The reminder to start having conversations about appropriate touching and "swimsuit areas" with children as soon as you can understand them and they can understand you. And it's way earlier than we might like to think. The reason we don't keep "secrets" with Avalyn, we keep "surprises." Because secrets hurt and are intended to stay hidden. Surprises are supposed to bring joy and are designed to be revealed at some point. The reason Avalyn knows correct names for her anatomy, so she can appropriately discuss it. The part where we trust her instincts when she is uncomfortable around people. And why we'll do all of the above with Jude as well.
Why we're appreciative of the background check process our church and Avalyn's daycare goes through for anyone who is connected with the children.
And while we're appreciative, why we're also not completely reliant on it, because we know what can slip through the cracks. Because of how often these are covered up and passed on.
One of the key offenders discussed in the article is Chad Foster, a former youth pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston. His career as a youth pastor ended in 2013 with guilty pleas to three counts of sexual assault of a child and two of online solicitation of a minor. Not yet 30, he was a fairly new Christian when hired with a history of hard drinking. He lacked any formal training in how to teach or counsel adolescents in his youth group, but had been given the advice to "become friends" and "become popular" and let the parents know if children were actively suicidal.
Foster is just one example. There are many others like him across the country. Youth pastors who have little oversight or formal training and who use their position to groom and sexually abuse the children of their flock.
Second Baptist quietly fired him in 2010 after receiving complaints about lying and other inappropriate behavior. Church leaders did not inform youth group members or parents that Foster had been fired or why. Nor did they tell leaders of another church, the Community of Faith Church in Cypress, a non-SBC church that hired Foster to run its youth group. Instead, they gave Foster a "great reference." Second Baptist's statement remains that Foster was fired for other reasons and that they did not know of the sexual allegations until after he was fired.
This is the pattern we've seen in the articles and in the individual cases. Southern Baptist churches are the nation's largest Protestant group, but they lack common hiring protocols or standard pastor training programs. They do not have uniform policies for sharing information about pastors fired or convicted of inappropriate sexual behavior, sexual abuse or assault — the kind of transparency that could protect churches and their congregants from sexual predators.
So parents, be vigilant. Prepare your children. Talk to them, early and often. Seek out resources on how to discuss and approach these hard topics. And listen when they say they are uncomfortable. Look to get to the bottom of the reason.
Until there are better measures in place, and until long after they are established and routine.
And then even beyond that.