Background-check service finds felonies
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
October 12, 2010

Background-check service finds felonies

Background-check service finds felonies
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
October 12, 2010


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.