There’s another clergy sexual abuse scandal developing. No, it doesn’t have to do with the Roman Catholic Church this time. We’ve heard about their trials and tribulations in this matter. They have had to endure a lot of scrutiny from angry church members and the public in general. Stories of priests molesting altar boys have become all to common. But, this isn’t the case this time. Baptists have taken some consolation that the Catholics appeared to the ones with this kind of moral failure. Perceptions are deceiving, as the Catholics don’t have a corner on this darkside of church life. Clergy sexual abuse is terrible reallity and often a dark secret in the church. Victims do not go public with their experiences until years after it happens. Sadly, the victims are the ones who are overlooked while prayers are being offered for the ministers who commit these terrible acts.
If Bellevue Baptist Church didn’t have enough to deal with already, now they have learned that long-time staff member Paul Williams molested a member of his family 17 years ago. The church is learning about this six months later than their pastor, Dr. Steve Gaines. Williams confessed to Gaines back in June and Gaines chose to keep the matter quiet. Williams’ assurances that he had received counseling and hadn’t had a recurring problem seemed to convince the pastor”I made the decision to honor the confidentiality I had with Paul” says Gaines. Gaines is receiving criticism for not taking additional precautions during the six months he knew about it. His inaction has gained a perception that he protected a pedophile on his staff. This rebuke comes from Christa Adams, advocate of victims of clergy sexual abuse: “Whatever the reasons for why Gaines chose to protect Williams instead of protecting kids, they aren’t good enough.” “She angrily concluded, “Clergy child molesters persist precisely because ministers like Steve Gaines turn a blind eye” (see Bellevue Investigates at ethicsdaily.com).
It’s true this incident happened almost two decades ago. I can appreciate Gaines’ desire to not want to escalate a situation when there has been that much time elapsed. There are many variables that come into play, not the least of which concerns how the church would be impacted by revealing a moral failure of a church staff member. The rumors could go rampant, and other staffers could fall suspect. There might be questions about what other kinds of actions have been covered up by the staff. No doubt it is an awful situation for a pastor to be in. This is why the church has deacons and other leaders. They are to help give counsel to the pastor in making difficult decisions.
I’m curious why Williams confessed to Gaines rather than Adrian Rogers. After all, Gaines has only been there a year. Williams had all that time to get this guilt off his chest but chose this time to do so. It may have been that Williams feared Rogers or didn’t feel comfortable making this revelation to the larger than life pastor. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the church placed Williams on administrative leave until an investigation can be completed. This act comes six months too late, and it isn’t anyone’s fault except the pastor’s. For the personnel committee to move in this direction suggests a lack of discretion on Gaines’ part. He should have gone to the committee right away for guidance. They had a right to know about a moral failure, no matter when it happened at the church.
There are times that the pastor needs to keep certain information confidential. There’s no need to alarm the church on some matters, and church members need to feel secure about talking to the pastor. There are exceptions to confidentiality in counseling, and one of them has to do with the safety and security of children. This situation at BBC isn’t about a church member, but a staff person. Yes, this is a local church matter but BBC is no ordinary local church. It has a national influence and is almost like “The White House” in the Southern Baptist Convention. Gaines and BBC have a responsibility to lead the way in showing their seriousness when it comes to protecting the children. Other churches look to them and even look up to them. It’s important to keep the ethical bar high for ministerial staff, especially as it concerns protecting children and young people.
There is a lesson to be learned, and that is that pastors should have a small group of spiritual advisors in the church to go to for guidance with matters like this. Gaines doesn’t have the tenure to make a unilateral decision concerning a weighty issue like this one without being criticized for it. His predecessor might have earned the trust of the people enough to pull it off. However, I doubt if Rogers would have kept Williams around once he got wind of this kind of moral failure. Yes, this is a local church matter for Bellevue but it has ramifications on the SBC and the church in general. Let’s hope they get it right.