April 2010

Pay attention to church security

April 21 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Churches once were sacred spaces which even thieves were reluctant to break into although there is often valuable equipment inside.

The unthreatened sanctuary of a sanctuary once was a space apart from the world. No worldly threats or violence intruded. Now we remember mass killings in churches and too many individual deaths and threats to be innocent anymore.

Acid from the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals has burned through our own lead shields to reveal that abusers do not target Catholic churches only. All churches which are relatively open and trusting and are gathering places for large numbers of children are targets for abusers and thieves.

This issue of the Biblical Recorder carries an emphasis on church security. Most stories were written for us by Ken Walker, who covered the broad bases to warn that the days of innocence and of simple trust are gone. As a church you owe it to every member to offer a safe place for their children and a safe place to worship.

Churches need to conduct background checks on every person who works with anyone under 18. Make it a standard operating procedure. And when you implement the rule, you’ll need to include your current workers, even if they’ve been doing the work a dozen years.

To those workers who take offense at being asked to undergo screening I say this: You know you’re innocent. The church knows you’re innocent. But you also know this policy is good for the church so just go through it and set a positive example.

There have been extremely rare instances of an armed security guard at a church limiting the destruction caused by an armed intruder. Should your church have armed security? Only you can decide that, but it would seem unlikely unless you are a large, high profile urban church.

A new thing I learned from Walker’s stories is that churches sometimes understate the value of their property when buying insurance, so that they pay a smaller premium. The effect is that such a church is underinsured and if a tragedy like a fire or storm occurs and destroys their facility, they may end up being only partially covered.

For instance, if your church would cost a million dollars to replace and you insure it only for a half million, the insurance company will pay you a half million. Your people are stuck at a very difficult time in your church life coming up with the other money.

Don’t scrimp on insurance. Consider parking lot security; lock the choir room doors; stop someone who looks out of place in your halls. It’s the times we live in.

Related stories
How do you keep people safe in church?
Editorial: Pay attention to church security
Background checks help avoid being sitting ducks
Safety: responsibility to take seriously
Network tracks crime in churches
Protection from liabilities
Current insurance can take sting from disaster
Crime prevention tips to detect, deter crime
For churches, how much risk is too much?   
4/21/2010 10:11:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Hungry beggars Find It Here

April 19 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

One of the effects of the Find It Here evangelistic emphasis over Easter has been to show us that people will respond to an invitation. Read the story to see testimonies from churches of how people responded when they were invited.

Many churches that took seriously the challenge to be evangelistic this Easter, and who visited in their neighborhoods, and who distributed materials and utilized advertising and prayer walked enjoyed record attendance, saw people come to Christ and baptized new believers in a refreshing wave not seen in their congregations in some time.

If you’ve huddled around “outreach” meetings in your church wondering why people are not walking through your door anymore, guess what. They’re not going to. “Going to church” is no longer a condition for cultural acceptance. People no longer wait until noon on Sunday to mow their grass or slink out to the golf course.

In our society even if a person is feeling a tug of the Holy Spirit to take a spiritual step, there is no guarantee that person will take a step in the direction of a Christian church. While church attendance is down, by all counts spiritual awareness is up. People consider themselves spiritual beings, but they do not see where a church will help them define or clarify that spiritual yearning.

That’s where you can find encouragement from those who took seriously the Find It Here challenge. It wasn’t a “challenge” so much as a process to encourage us to get out of our sanctuaries and into the wild with a simple, positive message: If you’re hungry for spiritual fulfillment; if you are looking for a relationship that matters, you can find it here.

This year’s emphasis emphasized evangelistic outreach. Next year the emphasis will be on discipleship and the following year on missions mobilization. But read the testimonies with an open heart and realize the principle of mobilizing your people to invite others to a relationship to Jesus is not a calendar emphasis. See how those who were thrilled by the response are saying such an outreach effort will become a part of their ongoing emphasis.

We simply must get back to engaging friends, family and neighbors where we live, work and play with the gospel. No amount of tinkering with Convention structure will make a bit of difference in the world unless we humble ourselves as beggars and tell other hungry beggars looking for bread that they can Find It Here.
4/19/2010 9:51:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Cecil Sherman was consistent

April 19 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Cecil Sherman never changed.

A Bible scholar and pastor, he wrote Sunday School lessons for the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) for years used by thousands of laymen to understand the Bible better.

Although his scholarship and biblical insights and expertise did not change, the world around him did and he ended up doing his same fine work for a new publishing house.

A highly regarded North Carolina pastor for 20 years in Asheville and president of the Baptist State Convention 1980-82, he did not like the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and spoke against it. Suddenly he was like egg shells in your omelet.

When he was called as pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where many Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty and students attended, a strong element in the church feared he was too conservative and would be divisive.

Instead, he loved the people and led them to significant growth. He never changed.

When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed in May 1991 he agreed to be its first coordinator and North Carolina Baptists had the organization in their budget until this year. 

Circumstances around him changed which made people who shifted with the circumstances see him in a different light, but he didn’t change.

He died April 17 at age 82 leaving behind a list of contributions few can match, including the example of consistency.
4/19/2010 9:28:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Catholic sex abuse cases share window in Baptist house

April 5 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

It can be too easy and self-satisfying for non-Catholic Christians to smugly observe from a distance the clergy sex abuse controversies that torment the Catholic church.

We are naively thankful the debauched, deviant behavior of sick “celibate” priests did not occur within the confines of our churches, our schools, our education classes, our youth groups.

Knowledge of blatant perversions by priests has come to light now far beyond Boston and other American dioceses. The news is full of similar debauchery in Germany and Ireland and now Italy. European Catholics are calling for church law similar to the zero tolerance standard that Catholics enacted in the United States following the lawsuits that brought to light hundreds of damaged lives and cost $3 billion to settle.

The backlash has reached the Vatican where a beleaguered Pope Benedict XVI is trying to fend off charges that he mishandled cases of clerical sex abuse before becoming pope — when he was merely Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the mantle of infallibility had not yet settled over his frail shoulders.

Catholic travails are recited here first as a lesson that their aftermath spreads far beyond Catholic walls. They besmirch and defile the reputation of all Christians in leadership roles — ordained or not — and betray the trust built over centuries by those who profess to love Jesus above all else and to purely love and serve those whom Jesus loved.

Second, sex abuse cases also rock Baptist churches. Individually they are just as bad, and collectively we are doing a lot less about resolution than are the Catholics.

Sex abuse in the church is not a Catholic crisis alone. Don’t you think a skeptical public repulsed at news of a priest abusing 200 deaf boys lumps local church leaders into the same putrid pot?

All Christians are being stained in the sweep of the same broad brush. According to a Baylor University School of Social Work study released last fall the tainting is not without foundation. The study found just over three percent — or seven women in a typical congregation with 400 adult members — have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct since they turned 18.

“We knew anecdotally that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a huge problem, but we were surprised it is so prevalent across all denominations, all religions, all faith groups, all across the country,” said lead researcher Diana Garland, dean of the school. “Clergy sexual misconduct is no respecter of denominations.”

At least American Catholics have instituted rules that immediately and forever remove a man from the priesthood who is shown to be guilty of abuse.

Pope Benedict XVI has apologized for the sexual abuse of minors and pledged that pedophiles would not be allowed to become priests in the Catholic church.

The Vatican has even instituted reforms to prevent future United States abuse by requiring background checks for church employees and has issued new rules disallowing ordination of men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

Southern Baptists as a national entity still have nothing in place to prevent abusers from carrying their satchels of pain to another church or to yank credentials from an abusive clergyman. A motion to institute a national registry of abusers was rejected by the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in 2008 on the basis of church autonomy. The Executive Committee recommended instead that churches run background checks through an already available U.S. Department of Justice system.

But that system contains names only of those “convicted” of a crime. How many times does a church force a minister to leave and keep the reasons unstated to avoid lawsuits or embarrassment? We want to forgive and redeem so we too easily accept apologies and promises of the offender never to do it again.

Web sites such as www.reformation.com/CSA/baptistabuse.html and http://tinyurl.com/ye7zwxv list Christians charged with sex abuses and crimes and a shocking number of them are Baptists. The list of stories related to the arrest of Baptist church staff across the country for crimes against members of their flocks stretches on and on.

As hard as it is to say, I come to the awful realization that parents should no longer unreservedly trust unproven church staff or volunteers with their children. Wise churches exercise stringent care to be sure those who work with children and youth are of impeccable character.

Writing recently about churches and sexual abuse, Christian ethicist David Gushee said, “The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view. This situation demands reform, immediately, for the sake of the vulnerable and abused children among us — not to mention for the sake of the gospel witness, so desecrated by the abuse behind our stained glass windows.”

Stories of abuse in the Orlando Sentinel are listed under a headline “The Last Refuge of Scoundrels.” How is it that reprobates end up “serving” in the Church?

I don’t remember who to credit with this idea, but it struck and stuck when I first heard it: that some Christians who are struggling with sexual and emotional demons seek refuge in seminary or the church, thinking the devil cannot follow them past the entry gate or the front door. Instead they are tormented with renewed vigor because now they are in a position where personal failure will cause even greater harm to the Name and those who bear it.

Journalism professor Paul Moses wrote on the blog of Commonweal, a Catholic magazine, “this story still calls out to be covered because some of those who failed to stop repeat abusers remain in positions of authority.”

In Baptist life the “authority” in such matters always has been and remains in the local church.

Your church has a responsibility and spiritual obligation — even a legal obligation in the case of minors — to knock the legs out from a person who abuses power, trust or authority so that person once discovered in your body, cannot move to the next victim pool.

You may feel you owe compassion to the predator, but what is your obligation to the innocent?

If your antennae say something is not right, don’t let it slide. Catholics in America took specific steps. We can do the same.
4/5/2010 7:17:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 10 comments