When I settled into my seat at Tuesday's meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention work group—convened to discuss its study on the feasibility of a database to warn churches of known sexual predators among SBC clergy—I figured most of the members had read last week's cover story. And those who hadn't certainly had an opportunity to do so when the chairman of the committee gave the crew a good 15 minutes to read it in the middle of the meeting. The sideways glares that followed were an indication of the hellfire and condemnation to soon come the way of this reporter.
For the entirety of this post, you won't read any direct quotes. And you certainly won't find any of the indirect quotes attributed to SBC officials. When it comes to reporting on meetings of the executive committee, those are just the rules. We can't report exactly what was said by whom. But you can check out the entire roster of the SBC executive committee and guess. A handful of these folks are a part of the work group that met Tuesday.
But it's just as well that we can't report on this meeting in the way we're accustomed to because there wasn't much news to report anyway.
The whole meeting was a lot of talk about why the SBC's hands are tied: polity, the autonomous nature of Southern Baptist churches, the potential legal ramifications of creating a database that fingers credibly accused sex offenders—most of which was covered in last week's story. Several on the committee even raised concerns about whether most Southern Baptist church officials were computer savvy enough to navigate an Internet database in the first place. One member said many of the denomination's constituents either don't have a computer or wouldn't know what to do with one if they did.
Some committee members did have suggestions for alternatives, providing more adequate counseling to victims and starting a campaign to raise awareness about clergy abuse, namely by setting up a booth at the denomination's annual meeting and passing out pamphlets, to name a few. But the committee didn't make any concrete recommendations or vote to take any specific actions to protect the people in the pews. They're saving that divine knowledge for when they report back to SBC churchgoers at the annual convention in June, and they say they won't reveal their findings until then.
But the members of the committee certainly didn't shy away from expressing their distaste for the Scene cover story. And there was plenty of that to go around.
Many members of the committee (and some other SBC higher-ups who are not members of the committee, but must still remain nameless) said the Scene didn't give them a fair shake. One member had this warning: If the media actually wanted to help victims of sexual abuse, they wouldn't hurt the friends of the victims by writing about said friends. No telling exactly which friends the man was referring to, but we're hoping that is wasn't these guys, who made their way into the cover story because both have been accused of covering up cases of abuse.
Or perhaps he was referring to SBC officials like president Frank Page and legal counsel Augie Boto, whose email correspondence with abuse victim Debbie Vasquez left something to be desired in the way of caring compassion. Vasquez shared the emails with the Scene because she felt they were indicative of how church officials have treated her all along when she reached out for help. One official speculated that the Scene printed emails to make fun of him.
An official also said that the Scene acted with deliberate deceit to portray SBC officials as uncaring, even though every abuse victim this reporter interviewed said as much all on their own. The man also said that we had ignored basic journalistic ethics.
Here's the thing, guys (there was only one woman sitting at that boardroom table Tuesday), you can't say we didn't try to give you that “fair shake.” We asked Page for an interview. He said he was traveling. We replied with assurances that we still had plenty of time before the story went to press and were willing to accommodate his travel schedule. Page never wrote back.
SBC spokesman Sing Oldham said he couldn't answer our questions about the specific things the SBC committee studying the database was doing to actually, well, study the feasibility of the database. So the Scene turned to Boto, who is a member of the study committee. Boto would not agree to an interview, but he did send an email, which the Scene excerpted for the story.
For a group so hell bent on the notion that they are doing all they can to address how the SBC deals with clergy abuse, they certainly aren't doing much to get the word out about what changes are in the works. One committee member explained that reluctance to me after the meeting. And, though I can't quote him, he said something to this effect, presumably about reporters like me: When a dog bites your hand, you never stick it in front of his face again.
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