Southern Baptist minister list included sex offenders

The Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Photo courtesy of Baptist Press

(RNS) — An online directory of Southern Baptist ministers included at least five names that are also included in a new database of convicted sex offenders with Southern Baptist ties compiled in an investigation by two Texas newspapers.

Religion News Service compared the two lists and found the apparent matches.

According to the database of about 220 Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers created by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, the five men included one who is in prison, one who is on probation and three who have been released.

Asked about the findings, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said Wednesday (Feb. 13) that his agency would look into the matter. The names, which were listed in the Minister Search database on Wednesday, had been removed by early Thursday.

The information in the database is provided by churches, said the spokesman, Roger “Sing” Oldham. The website for the list includes a disclaimer that SBC churches choose their own pastors and that pastors on the list are not approved by the convention.

Oldham expressed concerns that sex offenders were on the list.

“We grieve over any victim of sexual abuse,” Oldham said in an emailed response to questions on Wednesday. “We have assigned a member of our staff to review the two lists and will remove those names from Minister Search under the presumption it will not increase or compound the harm or grief of victims and is, in fact, something that victims desire.”

He added: “Names can be removed from a list, but the hurt victims deal with is more indelible.”

Oldham said the directory of ministers is based on the Annual Church Profile that the SBC requests from affiliated churches.

“If a church does not update its information in a given period of time, the information remains static until updated by the church where the minister served,” he said. “We are looking to initiate a mechanism to review the directory periodically to see if any (ministers) are there who have been convicted of a crime as we become aware of their conviction.”

The information was long published in the denomination’s Annual. It was included in each one from 1898 through 1976; from 1978 to 2000, it was published in the even-numbered years. In the last couple of decades, it was transferred online, Oldham said.

Oldham added that he was not aware of how often the list is used.

Although the link does not seem to be featured widely on Southern Baptist-related websites, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary — one of six SBC seminaries — includes the Minister Search on its website’s list of “Helpful Links.”

Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma, who has called for more than a decade for the Southern Baptists to have a database specifically of offenders, said he’s used the Minister Search site to check the location of a pastor who has written him.

Burleson said he was shocked to learn that five names listed on the SBC search site were also on the Texas papers’ database.

“It just shows you how out of date we are,” he said of Southern Baptists. “Even the databases we have — we’re not keeping them clean.”

He’s also concerned about what the mere existence of the site can mean to outsiders.

“You’re communicating a message, whether you intend to or not, that you are reaffirming these men as Southern Baptist pastors even though they have a criminal record,” he said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. went further.

He argued that the convention should get rid of its ministers directory — at least in its present form.

“I do not believe the existence of such a site is plausible in light of these developments,” Mohler told RNS. “I do not believe that we can simply allow a bulletin board of available pastors and ministers without scrutiny.”

Cheryl Summers, a domestic violence survivor and former Southern Baptist, said she considered the inclusion of former ministers who have been convicted on an SBC list an example of how the network of churches only chooses to act like it’s a connected group of congregations some of the time.

“They act like a denomination when it’s convenient for them to do so,” said Summers, who helped organize a “For Such a Time As This Rally” outside the SBC’s 2018 annual meeting in Dallas to urge training and a database to prevent future abuse by SBC members.

“And they need to act like a denomination as it relates to protecting the most vulnerable among us.”

Benjamin Cole, who writes under The Baptist Blogger, wrote on Monday about a pastor who, almost nine years after resigning from a pulpit and reaching a plea agreement about indecent sexual conduct with a child, was still listed as the church’s minister on the SBC’s website.

“If the Southern Baptist Convention cannot maintain a database of churches with current information about the ministry leaders,” he wrote, “and if the convention’s database reports that a registered sex offender from a decade ago is still a member church’s pastor, then how can we reasonably expect the SBC to maintain another database.”

RELATED: Southern Baptist leaders vow to improve addressing sex abuse after papers’ report

As the SBC grapples with next steps after the Texas newspapers’ investigation, some are calling for an independent registry run by a third party that could include names of sex offenders.

Mohler, who told RNS Tuesday that he supports such a registry, said he thinks the SBC’s Executive Committee was mistaken in 2008 when it turned down a proposal to create a database that would track clergy accused or convicted of sexual abuse.

“I don’t think that was the right way for the SBC to respond then,” he said. “It is certainly not the right way for the SBC to respond now.”

Mohler broke ties in early 2018 with Sovereign Grace Churches after continuing cover-up accusations made it clear to him “that no adequate independent investigation had been done” into abuse allegations related to that ministry and its founder C.J. Mahaney, who he had previously supported.

Later that year, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson was terminated after allegations arose of his mishandling rape allegations by students. In response, Mohler said “any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation.”

Burleson and Summers also said an independent approach to a database is necessary for Southern Baptists.

“My desire would be that the Southern Baptist Convention fund the establishment of a nonprofit corporation with a board of independent experts who take over the creation and sustenance of a database,” Burleson said, adding that it should help ensure that anyone who wants to work with children or youth in a church “has not had either a conviction or credible accusation of sexual predatory behavior.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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    A summarizing subtitle consistent with the rest of the news, would’ve been nice (if, of course, the writer is as nice a person as her pre-targeted readers supposedly are, too, in The 6-More-Years-to-Go Trump Era), something like:

    (1) “Southern Baptist minister list included sex offenders”: Because, well & duh, “a church does not update its information”!

    (2) “Southern Baptist minister list included sex offenders”: Because, well & duh, “the information was long published in the denomination’s Annual … from 1898”!

    (3) “Southern Baptist minister list included sex offenders”: Because, well & duh, of “how out of date we are”!

    “Ba-dee, a dee, th-th-th-that’s all folks!”
    – Porky Pig.

  • I saw serious, careful, and honest reporting, not bias or snark. The Baptists have a major and inherent institutional problem in that they are decentralized and not hierarchal, but they often try to act as if they were. That creates problems, in this case very serious ones, because they lack the necessary large institutional control mechanisms. Dr. Mohler quite reasonably suggests that the SBC ought not to do what it is ill-suited to do, i.e. be a central repository of data on Baptist ministers or a credentialing office. Alternatively, the Baptists could reorganize as a hierarchal denomination, but that would be a huge doctrinal and institutional change.

  • “They act like a denomination when it’s convenient for them to do so,” said Summers….”

    Article after article analyzing the horror show of abuse in the Catholic church claims that that church is not really centralized, that its bureaucratic structure is loose and disorganized.

    This is the same excuse apoologists are now offering to defend Southern Baptist churches in face of reports of horrendous covered-over abuse.

    But in both churches, let a church leader or congregation make a staatement proposing ordination of women or acceptance and respect of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ people, and watch how quickly the supposedly “loose” and “disorganized” church structures act.

    Don’t believe the con that they cannot act to deal with sexual abuse of vulnerable people. They act with alacrity when they want to do so.

  • Get your local White Pages and Yellow Pages right now. Guesstimate how many sexual predators are currently listed there. Tell me when you’re ready to go after your local government for colluding in sex crime on account of letting these listings of criminals be for whatever practical reason. Do that first, then you & I go after SBC next. Deal?

    You don’t get it, I know, I know.

  • All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Leo Tolstoy).

    Catholicism is hierarchal. In the US, see the Dallas Charter. See the Vatican’s sexual abuse meeting this month, which has been much discussed by RNS. Particularly under Pope Francis, however, there is increasing ambiguity. Pope Francis is famous for saying “Who am I to judge.” Liberal Father James Martin SJ is clearly a striking counterexample to your claim that the Catholic Church has closed ranks on LGBT issues.

    Baptists are not hierarchal. See

    Quotes therefrom

    “No denominational hierarchy exists that can force local congregations into conformity. The SBC ecclesial structure directly contrasts with the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church.”

    So if a local Baptist congregation wants to support same-sex marriage, there is no way the SBC can force them to change their views. See, for example, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the National Baptist Convention USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Alliance of Baptists, and other liberal Baptist organizations. The SBC has no power over them, and they all favor same-sex marriage.

    Similarly see on the ordination of women in Baptist congregations. Baptist groups in the United States that ordain women include American Baptist Churches USA, North American Baptist Conference, Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the The General Association of Baptists. The SBC has no power over them.

    Nor can the SBC license pastors.

    Again from Dr. Mohler:

    “How does one even become an ordained minister in the SBC? To start, one does not become an ordained minister through the SBC. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the SBC credentials no one; it licenses no preacher. Ordination as a Southern Baptist minister, rather, flows from the local church—a local congregation assumes the responsibility of ordination.”

    That said, Dr. Mohler admits there are some things the SBC can and should do. That is a problem the SBC needs to address.

  • You really do hate both the Catholic Church which failed to endorse what you wanted it to approve and the Southern Baptist Church in which you were raised.

    In the case of both churches the non-ordination of women, the acceptance of same-sex marriage in which you are a participant, and the approval of same sex physical congress (NOT LGBT people) is firmly bound into their theological framework, scripturally based, and has been for many many years.

    Since your current position after finding both of these did not meet your standards is that Christ never founded a church

    It is somewhat surprising you don’t just let go of it and join the Episcopal Church, which would provide everything you want. Since they’re all man-made institutions in your book, what more could you ask for?

  • “The Baptists have a major and inherent institutional problem in that they are decentralized and not hierarchal, but they often try to act as if they were.”

    If you’ve read the “resolutions” of the UCC (United Church of Christ) you’ll see this is not unique to the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Congregations don’t particularly join because they give a flying fig about hoopla at the national level, but because being a member gives them access to news media, books, publications, training, and fellowship outside their own congregation.

    If the central organization becomes obnoxious enough, they finally exit.

    That’s what’s led to a 50% drop in membership in the UCC.

  • Once again:

    standard response across the board with the “walking with god
    clerics” now forever walking with the common man–

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not
    assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of
    pedophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g.
    Billy “I did not have sex with that girl” Clinton, John “Marilyn
    Monroe” Kennedy” and now womanizing “Trumper”

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g.
    Tiger “I am so sorry for getting caught” Woods.

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan or football
    coach since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of
    “neithers” they should or should have been penalized as the law
    dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals,
    boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for adultery
    (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Paterno et al
    Clinton, Cardinal Law) or child endangerment (Paterno in abstentia, Sandusky et
    al, Lynn) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder (“Kings David
    and Henry VIII).

  • I agree. I thought this was a positive article, showing movement and thought within the Convention and giving me hope that things will change. The Convention has the resources to study this and come up with policy and procedures it can then share with state conventions and associations and abroad. The Convention does not need to be protected from bad press. The Convention needs to be taking care of its people and institutions by listening and acting. The Convention was wrong in 2008 to turn a deaf ear to Debbie Vasquez. “Local church autonomy” is no excuse for inaction from the body formed to serve as a resource and empowering agent for the local church. There are many intelligent, talented, thoughtful, committed, faithful people in the SBC. They can do this work.

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only good Southern Baptist is a DEAD Southern Baptist…

  • I agree. It has not been important to them -to any of them- to deal with this issue until it received media coverage. It still remains to be seen whether they will actually deal with it appropriately or just say the right words. Aside from the idea of a database, the practice of sweeping sexual assaults under the rug while sending offenders quietly on their way to offend at another church needs to stop.

  • “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.” quoted from a typical Baptist church statement of faith.

    They never believe they are fully forgiven. They see themselves as still struggling, have to work hard, perform to deserve, earn their blessing. Those terms “beginning, progress, Growth…continue…..” betray their belief that they are very far from Jesus. They are the Martha and not Mary.

    Because of their denominational limiting faith and cessationism, they believe Jesus our Savior for eternal next life but may not be abundant life now. They are blessed according to their belief. Therefore not much signs, miracles and wonders are shown on them. And in fact, that is why their chief priests and scribes are not blessed as the example of “lawful” church of Galatia. While all they have to do is lift Jesus high so all will draw near. Amen.

  • LB (from yesterday to “2 years ago”): “The Baptists could reorganize as a hierarchal denomination, but that would be a huge doctrinal and institutional change. … I [for one, however] would not change the highest [Latter-day Saints] LDS leaders for any other church’s leaders. … Those wishing to free … their souls from the world’s prevailing cynicism and nihilism would be well advised to join with the Latter-day Saints.”

    HpO: So you vouch for LDS’ own “hierarchical denomination”?! But look at its “hierarchy” closely as it dealt with sex crimes Mormon-style! For instance:

    (1) “McKenna Denson … attend[ing] a Mormon Church service in Chandler, Ariz. … didn’t waste time telling the congregation why. … [She] strode up to the pulpit … introduced herself … then … accused a former church leader of raping her more than 30 years ago. … ‘The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are covering a sexual predator that lives in your ward,’ she told the congregation … ‘His name is Joseph Bishop. He was the [Missionary Training Center] president in 1984 when he raped me in the basement of the MTC.’ Denson, 55, had previously sued Bishop and the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April, claiming the church failed to protect her from a known ‘sexual predator.’ Bishop has denied raping her.”

    (2) “Michael Jensen preyed on children in the close-knit Mormon community around Martinsburg, West Virginia. … Five years ago, Jensen went to jail for abusing two children. But a group of parents say now that it’s not just Jensen who should be held responsible; it’s the much larger Mormon hierarchy in West Virginia that they believe failed to respond appropriately to complaints about Jensen. The six families, who all say their children were abused by Jensen, are suing local Mormon leaders and the global church.”

    Source: (1) Meagan Flynn, “Woman crashed Mormon Church service and accused former leader of raping her in 1984”, Washington Post, September 6, 2018. (2) Julie Zauzmer, “Sexual abuse case against Mormon church begins in West Virginia”, The Washington Post, January 19, 2018.

  • Liar, what you said was;

    “Kevin Young 2 years ago … The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist”.

    What’s puzzling, though, is, Your “dead … great-nephew”: A “good … great-nephew”?

    “Kevin Young 5 months ago”: “I appreciate this devotional so much, Rev. Daniel, having lost a great-nephew to suicide two years ago who was on the verge of graduating from the same college his two older brothers attended, as well as an older brother many years earlier…”

  • “The TACT Test:Taste-Attractiveness-Clarity-Truth (Ask these questions of each headline): 1. Is it in good taste? Anything offensive in any way? Can anything be taken a wrong way? 2. Does it attract the reader’s attention? How can it be improved without sacrificing accuracy? 3. Does it communicate clearly, quickly? Any confusion? Any odd words, double meanings? 4. Is it accurate, true? Proper words used? Is the thrust of subject-verb true? 5. A single ‘NO’ above is a veto. One ‘No’ vote represents thousands of readers. Start over: rethink the headline from the beginning. … Some do’s & don’ts … Don’t mislead reader. Don’t exaggerate; maintain neutrality. … Verify accuracy — and avoid any word that can carry a double meaning.”

    Source: Merlin R. Mann, “Headlines”, Columbia University, Columbia School of Journalism.

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