By Bob Allen
A resolution submitted for consideration at next month’s Southern Baptist Convention in Houston claims that failure by influential leaders to confront the sexual abuse of children by clergy is giving the denomination a bad name.
Peter Lumpkins, a blogger and minister in Carrollton, Ga., said May 16 he submitted his first-ever SBC resolution the day after reading through a second amended class-action lawsuit just filed in a Maryland court.
It claims C.J. Mahaney, former leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries and popular speaker with a strong following in the SBC, colluded to cover up sexual and physical abuse of numerous children in SGM churches from 1982 until the present.
Lumpkins’ resolution urges “denominational servants, entity leaders and our trustee boards to sever all ties, whether official or unofficial, with any evangelical organization, fellowship of ministers, and/or celebrity leader who, presently or in the past, is facing criminal and/or civil litigation for neglecting moral or legal obligations to protect the little children whom Jesus said suffer to follow Him.”
Last year Sovereign Grace Ministries moved its headquarters from Maryland to Louisville, Ky., in part to strengthen ties with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seminary President Albert Mohler and Mahaney are among a small group of scholars and preachers — also including 9Marks Ministries founder Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington – identified as leaders in a Neo-Calvinist movement that goes by the nickname “young, restless and Reformed.”
Lumpkins says such relational ties are “indirectly tarnishing the name of Southern Baptists everywhere and branding Southern Baptists as morally complicit in protecting probable sexual perpetrators against helpless children.”
The proposed resolution does not mention Mahaney or anyone else by name. It refers in general to groups and individuals that “have lately come under the closest moral and legal scrutiny, many facing criminal and/or civil litigation for neglect of civic duty in reporting probable criminal activity against little children, harboring and protecting probable sexual perpetrators against helpless children and other heinous neglect of moral and civil responsibility.”
Lumpkins said he recognizes his resolution may not make it out of committee, but it “raises the question which Southern Baptists must sooner or later officially address.”
Victims’ advocate Amy Smith, Houston representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Lumpkins’ concern applies not only to organizations with informal SBC ties, but also to “celebrity leaders” within the denomination.
Smith has been talking publicly for two years about former SBC President Jack Graham’s handling of a credibly accused sexual predator at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas in 1989. Smith, at the time a student intern at the church, claims that Prestonwood fired John Langworthy for inappropriate sexual contact with youth, but did not call the police as the law required.
Langworthy went on to serve two decades as a music minister at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss. After resigning as associate pastor of music and ministries, Langworthy confessed to the congregation on Aug. 7, 2011, of “sexual indiscretions with younger males” while serving churches in Mississippi and Texas in the 1980s.
After video of Langworthy’s confession appeared on the Internet and in TV news reports, six men went to police claiming they were sexually abused by Langworthy when he babysat for families he met through serving in Baptist churches while a student at Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College between 1980 and 1984.
Langworthy pleaded guilty Jan. 22 to five felony counts of gratification of lust, but avoided prison time in a plea bargain offered in part because prosecutors feared they might lose the case on a technicality due to ambiguity in Mississippi’s statute of limitations for sex crimes.
A blog that monitors reports of sexual abuse by Baptist clergy recently posted a photo of Langworthy dining with his family at a local restaurant.
Smith says since Langworthy’s conviction in Mississippi, other alleged victims have come forward in Texas, including one who never told anyone about the abuse for 24 years. She believes that since Langworthy fled Texas to avoid arrest and never returned that he could still be charged with crimes there.
Smith said she disagreed with Lumpkins on one point — that the damage being done to Southern Baptists’ reputation is “indirect.”
“From the numerous survivors of child sexual abuse by Baptist ministers that I have had contact with, the tarnishing is direct,” she said.
Lumpkins linked to the second amended lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, warning in all-capital letters: “THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENT SHOULD ONLY BE READ BY MATURE ADULTS. THE CONTENTS ARE BOTH DISTURBING AND GRAPHIC.”