Christa Brown on Why Southern Baptist Action on a Sex Abuser Database is Still Needed

A woman holds signs about abuse during a rally outside the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill

Christa Brown is the author of “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang” and serves on the board of directors for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChristaBrown777.


For more than a decade, abuse survivor advocates have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to establish a clergy predator database, and for just as long they’ve been confronted with a denomination determined to do nothing.

Now Megan and Dominique Benninger, who brought to light their former pastor’s record as a convicted child molester after the leadership of their Pennsylvania church failed to disclose it, have launched a new Baptist sex abuser database at BaptistAccountability.org.

Their work builds on the StopBaptistPredators database that I started and maintained from 2006 to 2012, containing 170 entries of convicted, admitted and credibly accused Southern Baptist clergy sex abusers and on the “Abuse of Faith” database that the Houston Chronicle published in 2019, documenting 263 criminally convicted and plea-bargained Southern Baptist sex offenders over the prior 20 years.

BaptistAccountability has incorporated the information from these prior databases and is continuing to expand through crowdsourcing. You can submit an entry here.

In explaining the purpose of their database, the Benningers focus not only on protecting kids and congregants but also on their stated desire that the site serve as “a testimony” to the fact that “it’s just not that hard” and that the SBC could do this if it wanted. “Again and again,” they say, “we’ve been told that the Southern Baptist Convention takes this issue seriously. But if you take something seriously, it causes you to ACT.”

If only Southern Baptist clergy report people who are a danger, the Benningers’ action will go far to help stop known sex abusers from occupying pulpits and serving as youth ministers in the convention. A recent study has indicated that 70% of Southern Baptist ministers have known of other ministers who have engaged in sexual misconduct with a congregant.

Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 18, 2019. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

But action is still urgently needed from the SBC’s leadership. The BaptistAccountability database does not obviate the need for a denominationally sanctioned database. Instead it makes the need all the more apparent. Here’s why.

Entries into the BaptistAccountability database rightly require supportive documentation. So far, the database contains 333 entries of criminally convicted clergy and 36 of credibly accused clergy. So most of the entries are documented by media reports about criminal convictions.

However, the vast majority of sexual assaults and child molestations are never criminally prosecuted. Therefore, if media reports of criminal convictions are the primary means of documenting sexually abusive clergy, the majority of cases will never make it into a database and the perpetrators will continue to church-hop.

In other faith groups, ecclesiastical review is a significant means for documenting abusive clergy who have been credibly accused but not criminally convicted. In the Catholic Church, diocesan processes have documented 6,754 credibly accused abusive priests, and those 6,754 priests have been compiled into a publicly accessible database.

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Source: Religion News Service