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Abuses should move churches to take action

The news reports out of Texas describing hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct yet allowed to work at churches is disturbing at the very least.

That some churches knowingly let people with a background of sexual misconduct teach children or youth is unbelievable. Yet it happened in churches throughout the country.

It shows that sexual abuse is a problem for all faiths and all denominations. No church is immune to sin. But some of the instances described in the reports by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News can’t be chalked up to ignorance.

Some churches may have unknowingly employed predators. Others did so with full knowledge of their backgrounds.

The Southern Baptist Convention was the subject of the newspapers’ investigation, but the problem is not constrained only to that denomination. But SBC leaders could have — and should have — done more to prevent these horrors.

Going back at least a decade, SBC leaders were asked to track sexual predators so they could not move from church to church. The convention was also asked to act against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers.

Those policies were not put into place. And the result is what was reported by the newspapers.

The Rev. J.D. Greear, who was elected as the SBC’s president last year, said the abuses described in the news report “are pure evil.”

“I am broken over what was revealed today,” Greear wrote in a series of posts on Twitter. “The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent.”

“We leaders in the SBC should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this,” Greear tweeted. “I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”

SBC churches are autonomous, meaning the convention has little authority over them. But the SBC has the authority to “disassociate” with churches that knowingly hire or protect abusers. The convention can also create a database of abusers to give churches more information about the people they hire or allow to volunteer.

The two newspapers in Texas were able to create an offender database with limited resources. Surely the largest Protestant denomination in the country can do the same. Churches — of any denomination or faith — should be places where people are safe and protected, not victimized and shamed.