More Churches Are Checking the National Sex Offender Registry Before Hiring

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention and guests lift their hands in prayer during the SBC’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., on June 11, 2019. RNS Photo by Butch Dill

Since they were first offered  an opportunity to pool their resources and buy background checks on volunteers and employees at a discount 11 years ago, about a third of Southern Baptist churches have signed up for the OneSource program from LifeWay Christian Resources. 

Earlier this year, LifeWay reported that 16,000 congregations and other church organizations ran background checks on men and women it hired through a service called backgroundchecks.com. (The Southern Baptist Convention has so far resisted calls to set up a database of its own, saying the national registry was more dependable.)

Other denominations are also increasingly using searchable databases on prospective employees as the #churchtoo movement begins to shift church attitudes toward sexual abuse and prevention.

Most background checks sift through more than 600 million felony, misdemeanor and traffic records. Perhaps most importantly, they also check the nationwide sex offender registry.

But that may give churches and other religious groups a false sense of security about preventing abuse, experts say.

“We make it clear to folks you will have to do a more in-depth search,” said Josh Weis, executive vice president of Ministry Brands, a provider of church management software that also sells screening products for some 30,000 congregations, mostly Protestant. “Not all background checks are created equal.”

Federal law requires all 50 states to implement sex offender registries. But the law does not address lower-level sex abuse convictions and state laws regarding sex abuse vary from state to state.

That means some sex offenders can slip through the cracks.

Jeffrey Epstein, the New York financier charged with sex trafficking underage girls, is a good example.  Epstein was registered as a sex offender in Florida. But in New York, where he owns a residence, he was not required to show up for periodic check-ins required by law after he changed his address to the Virgin Islands, The New York Times reported.

And in New Mexico, where Epstein owned a 26,700-square-foot mansion south of Santa Fe, he was able to avoid inclusion in the state’s registry altogether because his conviction involved a 17-year-old. That is the age of consent in New Mexico.

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Source: Religion News Service