NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman on moral concerns, says the Penn State sexual abuse scandal is symptomatic of a larger “anti-child culture” in the United States, and that churches are not immune.
During the Nov. 19 broadcast of Richard Land Live, the head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said reporting of suspected child abuse is a moral imperative.
“The law requires you, if you have any reason to believe a child is being abused or a child is being molested, you have a legal obligation to report it to the police,” he said. “It’s their job to investigate to see if it’s true or not, and I believe that you have a moral obligation — a moral obligation as a Christian — to protect innocent children, to report any idea that there might be sexual abuse going on.”
Land said if the allegations involve a church, that cannot be allowed to make any difference. “If you do, then these places become havens for abusers,” he said. “There should be safe places for children, and a safe place for children should be any church.”
Land said the Penn State scandal, where officials apparently put protecting the reputation of an institution ahead of safety for children, shows that internal reporting is not enough.
“The church is not immune to this,” Land said. “People have mistaken loyalties.” He recalled one interview with a woman who had come out of a life of prostitution and drug abuse who was a Baptist preacher’s daughter molested by the youth minister when she was 13.
“The parents didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “They dismissed the youth minister, but they didn’t do anything other than that. And so she felt like she had been betrayed, and this started the downward slide.”
Land heard from callers who told stories of trying to report sexual abuse to church leaders only to be disbelieved and shunned.
“This situation, I believe, is epidemic, and too often we don’t listen to the children,” Land said. “We don’t take what they say seriously, and when we do we cover it up. We sweep it under the rug, and it allows more children to be victimized.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.