NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Discounted criminal-background checks offered by LifeWay Christian Resources
found more than 600 felony offenses in checks for the 900-plus churches and
organizations that have purchased the service in its first two years.
Since contracting with
backgroundchecks.com in 2008, the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm
has sold 11,277 background checks that start at $10 for base-level check of a
national criminal and sex-offender search.
About 40 percent returned a “hit”
for criminal activity, but most of those were for minor traffic and non-traffic
infractions such as jaywalking. One in five, however, returned records of a
misdemeanor or felony (2,320 searches) and one-fourth of those were felonies.
“Churches need to exercise
due diligence by running background checks,” said Jennie Taylor, marketing
coordinator in LifeWay’s direct-marketing department.
While necessary in today’s
world, Taylor said, background checks have limits.
“Background checks do not
predict the future or expose harmful behaviors from individuals who have never
been caught,” Taylor said. “But checks can help organizations learn of
volunteers or employees who have documented criminal pasts.”
A document on preventing child
sexual abuse from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls criminal
background checks “an important tool in screening and selection” of employees
and volunteers, but says they are only one component in creating a safe
environment for organizations working with youth.
The CDC suggests written
applications, personal interviews and reference checks for adults seeking
access to young people. They also recommend letting applicants know up-front
that the organization is serious about protecting youth in order to deter
individuals at risk of abusing youth from applying for staff or volunteer
Other CDC safeguards include
establishing guidelines to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behaviors
and maintaining proper ratios of employees and volunteers to youth to minimize
one-on-one interaction, such as having at least two adults present at all
Policies should address not
only interactions between adults and youth, but also situations where
unsupervised youth can physically or sexually abuse one another. They should
include supervision and monitoring of activity and account for safe
environments by using spaces that are open and visible to people and controlling
access to know who is present at all times.
Monitoring devices can include
cameras, but there must be staff infrastructure to monitor them.
While the ultimate goal is
to prevent abuse from occurring, the CDC said organizations should also communicate
clearly what it and its employees/volunteers should do if policies are violated
or if child sexual abuse occurs. The government also recommends training about
sexual-abuse prevention to give people information and skills to help them
prevent and respond to reports of abuse.
Taylor told the Associated Press
LifeWay’s partnership with backgroundchecks.com grew partly out of a call three
years ago for more protections against child sex abuse in the Southern Baptist
Wade Burleson, pastor of
Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., brought a motion at the convention’s annual meeting in 2007
asking the SBC Executive Committee to study the establishment of a national
registry of “clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally
confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.”
After studying the matter,
the Executive Committee recommended against establishing a database, saying the convention lacked the authority to require
churches to report incidents of abuse.
The Executive Committee
delivered a report saying that “churches
are strongly encouraged to recognize the threat of harm as real, to avail
themselves of such information and to aggressively undertake adequate steps at
the local level to prevent harm and protect victims.”
Officials also added links to the Executive Committee website directed to
resources for prevention of sexual abuse, including a link to a national database of sex offenders maintained
by the U.S. Justice Department.
LifeWay said in an editor’s
note that the statistics reported in the press release are not derived from a
representative sample, but reflect more than 900 clients who purchased
background checks without regard to organizational type, denomination, region,
demographic make-up or other determining factors.
That means all the customers
are not SBC churches. But if they were, that number would account for about 2
percent of the most recent count of 45,010 Southern Baptist churches with a
combined membership totaling 16.1 million.