By Bob Allen
As the Oscar-nominated movie Spotlight shares the story of the Boston Globe’s 2001 expose of child molestation and cover up in the Catholic Church, a new book by a Baptist author makes the case that clergy sexual abuse isn’t just a Catholic problem.
Author Jeri Massi says abuse victims have been written off, discarded and even vilified in the pulpits of both Independent Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention. Her The Big Book of Bad Baptist Preachers catalogues 100 cases of preachers and churches involved in child molestation scandals in the last 20 years.
“The sexual abuse of children is part and parcel of the cultures of the Independent Baptists and Southern Baptists,” Massi says in the book’s introduction.
When confronted by the scale of the problem, she says, Baptist leadership has “at best turned a deaf ear and at worst has countered with threats and intimidation.”
Massi says abuse victims and their advocates are routinely accused of “painting with a broad brush.” In her own Independent Fundamental Baptist tradition, she says she has been depicted as sexually promiscuous, a drug addict and a witch and had her life threatened three times.
Whistleblowers don’t fare much better in the Southern Baptist Convention, she says, quoting SBC leaders denouncing the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests as “opportunists motivated by personal gain” and “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”
Contrary to claims by many church leaders, Massi says the problem of clergy sex abuse of children in conservative Baptist churches is indeed large scale, and it isn’t going to go away. Yet Baptist leaders have been reluctant to take steps to safeguard congregations like receiving and compiling abuse reports so offenders cannot remain in or re-enter the ministry.
Massi says many churches embrace a dangerous fallacy that simply firing a pastor is a remedy for sin. Instead of relying on the legal system to weed out criminals, Massi suggests Baptist leaders have a moral responsibility to eradicate sexual predators who are never prosecuted and free to roam from church to church.
Massi says readers will be surprised by the number of churches that rally around the perpetrator. “Most of these churches, in fact, ignore the victim,” she says. “Some harass the victims and their families. It is not unusual for a church to rally around an accused pastor right in front of the victim and victim’s family.”
She also suggests watching out for the words “former pastor” or “former youth minister” in news stories about sex crimes. “A pastor who gets fired on Tuesday is a former pastor on Wednesday,” she says. “Usually when the media describes a suspect as a former church officer, it’s because he was fired or resigned in the last 24 hours.”
Massi says the book is sadly a work in progress. She is only about a third of the way through her notes and plans to release a second volume in December adding another 60 cases she knows about, with the list growing every week.
“Sex abuse is rampant in Baptist churches,” Massi says in a page at the end of the book that includes a form for individuals who have information about a case to fill out and submit for future volumes.
“I suppose if the SBC and IFB refuse to track dangerous preachers, it is up to us to provide the record, so that children in Christianity remain safe,” she addresses readers.
Massi, a contract technical writer and evangelical Christian novelist, has been tracking child sex abuse in fundamentalist churches since 2001, focusing on numerous cases involving Hyles-Anderson College and teaching of Jack Hyles, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., accused of improper sexual behavior in the 1990s.
Her previous book on the subject, Schizophrenic Christianity: How Christian Fundamentalism Attracts and Protects Sociopaths, Abusive Pastors, and Child Molesters, was published in 2008.