Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Full Circle: Why the SBC Child Predator Database Is Needed Now, Not Later

This television report on Dallas superstation WFAA about Southern Baptist music minister John Langworthy's admitted sexual crimes against boys in Texas has broken my heart.

It's broken my heart for the victims of the crimes.

It's broken my heart for the parents of the victims of the crimes.

And it has broken my heart because a number of wonderful people--friends of mine--now find themselves in an exploding minefield that is not of their own making.

The people, staff and leaders of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi are the ones for whom I feel the most sorrow next to the victims and their families.

John Langworthy was their worship pastor until he was forced to resign May 29, 2011 (Update: After reading a transcript provided by BBC, it looks like John may have not been forced to resign from Morrison Heights) . The church was not informed at the time as to why he was forced to resign, and John only told them the reason was "mental and emotional anguish." A reception was given for John and Kathy Langworthy recognizing their years of faithful service at the church.

Unfortunately, Morrison Heights' members began learning of the sordid details of the crimes of their worship pastor on a blog that holds church leaders accountable for their actions. The information on the blog came from a former staff member at Prestonwood who worked with John at the time he sexually abused the boys in Texas. This staff member, a female, had already performed her due diligence in contacting all the leaders responsible for reporting John Lanworthy's actions to law enforcement. Feeling as if nothing was being done to hold John accountable for his actions, this former staff member went public.

Thus, the WFAA television report.

This past Sunday, August 7, 2011, ex-worship pastor John Langworthy stood before Morrison Heights Baptist Church and confessed to his past "mistakes." The WFAA television report was broadcast in Dallas the next day, Monday, August 8, 2011.

The crimes of John Langworthy in Dallas, Texas were never prosecuted because charges were never filed.  John, at the time of his predatorial sexual abuse of boys, was on staff at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Leadership at Prestonwood, for reasons not yet clear, chose not report to report John Langworthy's sexual crimes to law enforcement. Worse, leadership at Prestonwood did not publicly reveal to church members why John Langworthy was being released from staff. As a result, another Southern Baptist Church, Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi eventually hired John Langworthy as their worship pastor and immediately put their entire church into a minefield of another's making.

The unknown and unseen mines surrounded parents of teenage boys in Clinton, Mississippi.

The unknown and unseen mines surrounded administrators of the Clinton Public School System.

The unknown and unseen mines surrounded the people, staff and leadership of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississsippi.

The mines are now exploding.

A Data Base for Sexual Predators Is Needed in the SBC

In June 2007  at the Southern Baptist Convention, I stepped to a microphone and said:

"I move that the Southern Baptist Convention requests the Executive Committee to conduct a feasibility study concerning the development of a database of Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harrassment or abuse, and that such a database be accessible to Southern Baptist churches in order to assist in preventing any future sexual abuse or harrassment."

The next year, in 2008, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention rejected the establishment of any proposed database to track sexual abusers or predators in the SBC.

Time Magazine ranked this decision of the Executive Committee as one of the top 10 of most under-reported stories in the United States for 2008.

It's time for the Executive Committee of the SBC to reconsider.

I know the people of Morrison Heights. They are some of the finest, kindest, warm-hearted individuals on earth. I have had the pleasure of preaching there in 2004 when I served as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. John Langworthy was their worship pastor at that time.

Philip Gunn is now John Langworthy's attorney. I consider Phillip Gunn one of the finest Christian men I've ever met. He is a member of Morrison Heights and served as chairman of the Pulpit Committee when they called their current pastor. I am sure Philip Gunn would much rather be working at the state capital of Mississippi, or volunteering his services at Morrison Heights, or going out to dinner with his wife Lisa rather than being called upon to publicly defend his former worship pastor. I am also positive he would much prefer that his pastor not have to deal with the pain and heartache taking place all over their church because of the actions of John Langworthy in Texas.

Philip would much rather have had a worship pastor who had never molested boys. Morrison Heights Church would much rather have called a worship pastor who had never molested boys. The people of Morrison Heights would much rather have preferred to never pick up the phone and call now grown children and ask them if anything inappropriate ever happened on Morrison Heights choir trips with their worship leader.

Everything about this is painful.

But it all could have been stopped had forced reporting been instituted in the SBC,  had a SBC sexual abuse  data base been in existence, and had Morrison Heights made one phone call to the SBC headquarters in Nashville and asked the question of the date base employee, "Has John Langworthy ever been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harrassment or abuse?"

In a perfect world, the answer would have been "Yes."

When the world of Southern Baptist Convention church work is imperfect, as it is today, it is important to take steps to make it better.

It is high time for a sexual abuse data base in the SBC.


Christiane said...

Oh, Wade, if only people could have learned from what happened in my own Church and made some safety-net so that children in all Churches could be cared for as THE priority . . . if the children are not protected, then we all suffer.

News like this hurts all Christian people and all people who want that children should be safe from this evil.

Don't stop calling for action. You do God's work.

Eileen Carroll said...

You call for "forced reporting"? How would that work?

How does a national denominational agency with no authority over autonomous congregations "force" reporting?

If a church's leaders cover up such atrocities now, what would "force" them to report them under your proposed system?

What would this database do that current law enforcement databases do not already do?

What if a search committee actually did its own due diligence and did a background check on prospective staff members?

And if a background check and consulting law enforcement databases would not uncover unreported misdeeds, how would a denominational database succeed where they failed?

Bob Cleveland said...



Word Verification: "lumin". Sounds like light .. the sort needed so desperately on this matter.. said...


"Forced reporting" is already in effect when their are violations of the law (but, unfortunately, not all report). The only way it works is if there are severe consequences for those churches, leaders and individuals who refuse to report.

Ramesh said...

NEW BBC Open Forum > Wolves in the Music Ministry - Part 2 > Transcript

Ron said...

Serious question, how would you "force" a church to report? Refuse to seat messengers? Disfellowship? Beyond that what could be done? said...


Good question.

And one with which I do not have an answer.

Personally, I think one lawsuit from a victim of a perp after a non-reporting incident makes "forced" reporting obsolete.

It would become voluntary immediately.

Christa Brown said...

Reporting by churches may be one possibility for such a denominational database, but I think the more frequent scenario would be reporting by clergy abuse survivors and by those with knowledge of clergy abuse. For example, look at what happened in this case. Amy Smith, the former Prestonwood staff member who is quoted in the WFAA report, had been trying for over a year to get someone to do something. Trying hard. That’s over a year in which still more kids were left at risk, and parents unwarned (that’s in addition to the 21 years’ worth of additional risk that Prestonwood had already allowed by its original inaction). If there had been a denominational office to which Amy could have provided her information – an office with trained professionals -- kids could have been better protected much sooner. That office could have responsibly assessed the allegations, reported on its assessment to Morrison Heights, and then kept a record in the database if the allegations were found credible. (And if a church chose to keep a convicted, admitted or credibly accused minister in the pulpit, the SBC could conceivably choose to disfellowship.)

Such denominational review processes are common for clergy abuse allegations in other major faith groups. If Southern Baptists provided such a process (and if it were truly a safe and welcoming place staffed by trained professionals), there would likely be many more clergy abuse survivors who would bring forward reports of abuse. But as things now stand, there is nowhere within the faith community for them to turn, and typically, the faith community betrays them yet again if they attempt to report a minister. Go to the police, you say? Of course . . . but typically, most cases are too old for criminal prosecution. This is why background checks aren’t nearly enough. Over 90 percent of all active child molesters have never been criminally convicted of anything. By the time a sexual abuse survivor grows up and is capable of understanding and speaking about it, it is typically too late for criminal prosecution. Other safeguards are desperately needed. Even if denominational assessments can’t put a predatory preacher in prison, they can at least assure that he will not be able to use the power and trust of his ministerial position as a weapon.

In October 2006, there was a huge discussion of this on the BaptistLife forums, and I compiled a FAQS page based on the questions asked at that time. For those interested, it’s here.

Anonymous said...

Wade said ....
"Philip Gunn is now John Langworthy's attorney. I consider Phillip Gunn one of the finest Christian men I've ever met. He is a member of Morrison Heights and served as chairman of the Pulpit Committee when they called their current pastor. I am sure Philip Gunn would much rather be working at the state capital of Mississippi, or volunteering his services at Morrison Heights, or going out to dinner with his wife Lisa rather than being called upon to publicly defend his former worship pastor."

And how do you know this? In that case he would be a ineffective Lawyer for the defendant.
His Job, if he continues with this case , is to get the defendant off, with what ever means in his power, including intimidating witnesses (in this case victims) so no one will come forward. How much better a lawyer for the defendant, than a highly regarded Christian and member of the church. Lets see if someone dare come forward now. This is the good old boys circling the wagons.

John already has the sympathy of the bleeding hearts:

"I have been under a large amount of stress, and it has taken its toll on my physical and emotional condition. The revelation of this information has been a large part of this stress. "

"My heart is very broken." said...

Thanks Christa,

Well stated!

I appreciate your perseverance. said...

I personally believe you can be an effective lawyer, even though you do not like the actions of your defendent.

It's not easy, but it can be done.

Anonymous said... said...

" I personally believe you can be an effective lawyer, even though you do not like the actions of your defendant.

It's not easy, but it can be done."

My point exactly, If this lawyer was a Good Christian Lawyer he would be more concerned for the victims and assisting them in prosecuting John , not defending him (except by doing so, limiting monetary damage to the church).
But then who in the Southern Baptist Establishment listens to Jesus when he said :

"but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better
for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Doesn't sound like someone who would need a "Christian" defense attorney.

Anonymous said...

I applaud this woman for coming forward and declaring what happened.

I cannot believe that neither Prestonwoood nor the parents of the abused children did not go to the authorities. I cannot figure that out.

But this incident simply shows why a database is ineffectual. I have many other objections to it as well.

But if this church and these parents won't go to the legal authorities, I don't have any confidence that they would go to the SBC.

And if individuals and churches won't report, you have to punish them for not reporting. And the SBC doesn't have nor will it ever have that authority. The SBC is only a big place to contribute to missions and related causes. It has no ecclesiastical powers nor should it. Our church would withdraw forthwith if the SBC ever tried to have power like that. I suspect 75% of the convention churches would also withdraw. Such powers are completely contrary to Baptist doctrine and why the SBC was created.

And we haven't even gotten to the other issues. One commenter brought up lawsuits. Fortunately, the SBC will never be a defendant in a sexaul abuse lawsuit. Let's keep it that way. I want our churches to give to missions and to continue to know that their contributions can't be diverted to pay plaintiff's lawyers.

The churches that refuse to deal with this stuff should be responsible. That's where the responsibility and liability should lay.

Finally, this incident shows the beneficial use of blogs. That's why I applaud the use of blogs to catalogue and report abuse. Look at what happened in this case.


greg.w.h said...


On the other hand, the IMB has been threatened with a lawsuit over on-the-field behavior by a missionary who sexually molested missionary kids. That specific action likely would not have been successful, but the larger point is that the IMB failed to manage the situation while the missionary molested at least 9 children and stayed on the field for 20 years.

I honestly don't believe that the legal schemes used to protect the SBC from the churches and from the entities would overcome rogue juries that ruled against the SBC especially if this were a wide-spread problem. I'll also note that Great Hills Baptist in Austin--another SBT flagship like Prestonwood--has not had one but two ministers involved in underage molestation or sex.

In the first case the church stood behind the youth minister during the time he went to trial. In the second case they summarily dismissed and dissociated from the minister of education.

I realize the purpose of lawyers is to advise with respect to human law. But one wonders who in the churches will stand up and advise with respect to God's Law with respect to these kinds of repeating situations? Yes we take a great risk by admitting we did wrong, but is the greater risk that it would be better that we had a millstone tied around our necks and be thrown into the sea?

Greg Harvey

Anonymous said...

The difference between the IMB situation and a church one is that a missionary is a direct employee of the IMB, while pastors of churches are employees only of the churches.

Where you'll eventually get the whole SBC into this is when a church that has hired a perpetrator produces a document that shows they did all available background checks but found nothing. Then, if the paper trail shows that an employed leader of the SBC, be it Executive Committee or Seminary, knew the facts but said nothing, then the whole house comes down. For example, if a seminary president assured a church that there was no reason to call a candidate and then you could document that he knew the guy was a pedophile but said nothing, that lawsuit would have a chance.

But the odds against getting your hands on that kind of documentation are pretty long. I'd say you'd have to get every reference check to agree to a taped phone call and hope you got the information straight.

It could happen.

As to what the SBC could do, disfellowship a church is it, but that would make a statement. It would also publicize the church's actions which might cause them to correct those actions. At the very least, if I were attending a church being disfellowshipped over this kind of thing, I'd know to get out and get my kids out, sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...


If the IMB dropped the ball, the IMB is responsible. No problem there.

If Green Hills, Prestonwood or whatever church dropped the ball, they are responsible.

Each of these entities is responsible to vet their own employees, do background searches, check references etc.

The problem seems to be the failure to report or the failure to investigate or the failure to act.

My point is that as of now, the SBC does not track the indiscretions of ministers in SBC churches. If it takes that job on and makes a mistake, it becomes a target - of the minister (false positives), or a future molested person (false negatives).

$300,000,000 or so dollars are sent to the SBC every year under the plea for missions money. It makes sense to me not to make that subject to damages lawsuits. That's not what missions money is for, so why subject the gifts to the Lord for His work to that?

I hope I am making sense to you here.

Also, I think that the most tragic thing in all of this is holding out a database as a solution, when it clearly is not. A database would not have had any affect on the Prestonwood situation. If church officials and parents won't even go to the law, they can't be counted on to go to the SBC.

The database would then become a false hope type of thing.

Of course, the SBC could trumpet that "We did something" in a press coup, but what we did would not really solve the problem.

Sounds more like Congress these days if you ask me, or Pharisees. Quick, let's do something for show - to show we care.


Doug Pittman said...

Now you know why I stood for the church and exposed several ministers for viewing PORNOGRAPHY on the churches computer system.

The possibilities existed that it could have moved to issues just like this.

Yes, I was shunned and treated horrifically by the church, its membership, and leadership - but it sure was worth exposing these men for what I saw within those computers and doing whatever it took at all cost in protecting our members children and stopping those ministers from victimizing the churches youth.

You never know.

Anonymous said...

I am from Mississippi. The Texas news sources must be reporting something different than what's being reported in the Clinton area. Local news reports Langworthy confessed at Morrison Heights past "indiscretions" which in my mind may or may not rise to the level of sexual abuse. If he fondled, groped or otherwise molested a kid 20 something years ago then someone at Prestonwood ought to be accountable for not reporting it then (it's required by law these days; may not have been back then). But if he rubbed a kid's shoulders or stomach... That was stupid and may well have been the prelude to something worse and is I think good grounds for dismissal... But that probably shouldn't be called molestation and he probably shouldn't be labeled a sex offender, maybe a registered idiot. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

The day that churches, pastors, and staff realize that there is going to be a DIRECT line back to them is the day they will begin to take this seriously and report every ALLEGATION. They do not have to "prove" anything. If an allegation is made then report it and let the authorities investigate it. The probelm is that too many feel like they have to have absolute proof before they have any firm ground to stand on. This thinking is what allows perpetrators/abusers to continue to work freely and victims to go through life in pain. Just do it.

Anonymous said...

Georgia Baptist Convention to the resue here in Ga now though. When all else fails in Georgia, they now have Mike Everson to resolving church conflicts.

Oh my, now let's imagine that.

Better get those Sand trucks rolling to Ga for all those Baptist that put their Heads in quite often!

Ramesh said...

The Wartburg Watch > Does the SBC Fear Women Pastors More Than The Molestation of Children?

Tom Kelley said...

Hi, Wade,
Thanks for opening up comments on this post.

Any thoughts on how one might go about re-introducing the idea of a predator database at the next annual SBC meeting, in such a way as to be more likely to get action?

I think one of the problems with the last try (thank you for doing that, by the way) was that it left too much up to the Exec Committee as to what resources and effort they would put into conducting a feasibility study and what would be done with the information collected from the study.

My understanding is that they basically had some discussions but didn't budget anything for a feasibility study, consult with external experts, or put a lot of time and effort into it. But I'm not sure because I don't recall a public disclosure of what the study entailed. I only recall the final outcome, which was to recommend against a database.

Perhaps it would get further if the next motion were that such a database be established, rather than merely studying it. Or, if that motion did not or could not pass, perhaps a motion for a feasibility study with a specified budget, involvement of unbiased, external, recognized experts, full disclosure of the time, effort, dollars, and discussions and information related to the study – plus bringing a recommendation back to the floor of the next annual convention for a vote for or against the database by the messengers (rather than the Exec Committe themselves making the final decision).

I don't know; these are just some thoughts. Wondering what yours are and if you might be willing to pursue this further at the next convention?


Anonymous said...

"But one wonders who in the churches will stand up and advise with respect to God's Law with respect to these kinds of repeating situations? Yes we take a great risk by admitting we did wrong, but is the greater risk that it would be better that we had a millstone tied around our necks and be thrown into the sea?"

Greg, And there is the true underlying problem.

But Louis does not get it. His pragmatism sounds all balanced but it is pragmatism which has nothing to do with Christ who was not "pragmatic" at all.

One reason parents do not call the authorities is because they are immersed in these authoritarian churches they are taught trust to handle things "in a Christian way".

The problem goes deeper. The SBC is no longer about growing people in spiritual maturity but now about following the "authority" that is "specially anointed" and "God's man".

These "pastoral authorities" don't want the bad PR that would come from the civil authorities being called. They have an image to protect so they do all they can to handle things in house.

Ironically, the outsiders in the civil system get it. Our churches, don't. So, our children are many times safer in the hands of the pagans!

It would take the pastor announcing from the pulpit that people should call a number to report anything. That is not going to happen when such people are more concerned with image and building their "brand". Did I mention making merchandise of the Gospel?

So future victims are sacrificed on the altar of pastoral authority, image and seeking followers after themselves.


Why are we so quick to think they are "the Body of Christ" when little children are so easily sacrificed? When known predators are sent off to another location with nary a word of warning?

I saw the tweets by the pastor of Prestonwood concerning this. If you have not, then you should look them up. I rest my case with those self serving tweets twisting scripture to defend himself.

If you dare critisize then they are persecuted and that proves they are right. Such cultic drivel works for many. Never mind the little kids.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for noticing and commenting on my post.

I note in your comment that you and I agree that the major stumbling block to having an efficacious "database" is the independence and lack of cooperation among churches and parents.

We don't agree on other points, but as evidenced by your comment, we do agree on that one. That is one reason why I think the SBC database thing is a bad idea.

Of course, my other reasons for opposition are based on Christ and His teachings, as well.

I think that Christ wants us to address this matter wisely. It is Christian, in my view, to be careful with the resources that God has given us to carry out his work.

That's why I have advocated for the use of existing databases that are run by true pros, and not a group of pastors in Nashville.

I have also advocated, for those who are interested, for the starting of a database by a group of members of SBC churches as a private venture. Churches could subscribe etc. and the subcriptions could pay for the service.

That would eliminate many of my objections. (Of course, we still have the problem of churches and parents being willing to report, but I don't know of a way to fix that).

I have never had anyone who is a proponent of an SBC owned and operated database demonstrate why a database that is owned and operated by concerned persons in the SBC, as opposed to the SBC itself, would not work.

There are lots of facets to this problem. I think that it will take some creativity to come up with a good solution, but I am afraid that the thing is so mired in SBC politics, that no one is willing to try something different.

The only thing that has been tried so far after initial obstacles is arguing and shaming etc. to try and advance respective viewpoints.

That clearly is not moving this forward in any productive way.

It is good to hear from you.

Louis said...


Your questions are good ones, and I have a few thoughts, but they are scattered and not focused. I do feel that I would like to ensure a recommendation comes before the 2012 SBC in New Orleans, not to "investigate" a proposed data base, but to "start" a data base immediately.

Anonymous said...

I am an older Pastor who years ago attended Prestonwood while Jack Graham was there. To me the main point is being missed. This is a question of sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible has clearly told Prestonwood what to do. Their training in church growth, psychology, sociology gave them human wisdom to think they knew better. Now they refuse to admit this sin. They should have immediately followed Scripture and announced from the Prestonwood pulpit, “John Langworthy has admitted to sexually abusing children in this congregation. H e has been fired and we have contacted the police and CPS to thoroughly investigate this matter as to possible criminal charges.”
I would encourage readers to listen to or read the following sermon which is case on point. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite-Excerpts from last half of Restoring Biblical Eldership, Part 2 by Pastor John MacArthur
I Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
We need to be supportive of our Pastor and not entertain or even listen to gossip, slander, hearsay accusing him of any wrongdoing. The evident exception to this is when there is corroborating testimony from another witness or two. At that point the church and Christians are obligated Scripturally to investigate and see whether or not it is true. If untrue stand with him and defend him. If true, go to verse 20. (I would personally add-If the sin involves criminal activity such as sexual abuse of children the obligation is increased. We are to consider government as God’s ministry of justice. We are to obey all laws. The only exception is a law that forces you to disobey God’s Word. Are laws regarding abuse of defenseless children good laws? You should go immediately to the police and if they are negligent get the media involved to force them to do their duty. Further the church doing the defrocking has an obligation to follow the abuser and warn other churches and communities.)

I Timothy 5:20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Them here in verse 20 refers to an elder in verse 19. A Pastor or Associate who is found to be in sin loses protection. There are no steps listed as a process. Once it is ascertained that sin has occurred that Pastor is to be immediately fired and publicly rebuked (exposed, reproved, brought to conviction) before all-the whole church, nothing here confines this to a board of the church. The sin of one in that position is more serious and to be punished more severely because its implications are greater. If you're the model of spiritual life, if you're the model of godliness, if you're supposed to be the example and you do not live the example that pleases God,.. 99.9 chances out of a hundred the man would instantly repent, say, "I'll never do it again," if he thought that would let him stay where he is and nobody would ever find out publicly. But that serves no good at all. If the man has been found to be in a pattern of sin, then he is disqualified by 1 Timothy chapter 3, he's no longer blameless so he's out of the ministry anyway and he is to be publicly rebuked for his sin because there has to be some explanation about why he's out. … you put a man of dubious character in a continuing ministry because you're afraid to say the truth about the man because you're more concerned to protect the man than you are to protect the name of the Lord God whom he says he serves.