SBC Agency Says 1 in 8 Church Background Checks Finds Criminal Record

The Christian Century, September 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

SBC Agency Says 1 in 8 Church Background Checks Finds Criminal Record


One in eight background checks conducted on volunteers or prospective employees through LifeWay Christian Resources found a criminal history that might have kept an individual from working or volunteering at a church, the Southern Baptist Convention publishing house reported in August.

Last year, LifeWay negotiated a discount for screening services for churches with Backgroundchecks.com, a ten-year-old company with 4,500 clients. Since then, according to officials, about 450 churches have requested more than 5,000 background checks on volunteers and prospective employees.

While most screenings returned clean records or only minor traffic offenses, said LifeWay officials, 80 found serious felony offenses, and more than 600 people had some type of criminal history that may have disqualified them from volunteering or working at a church.

While not a statistically representative sample, the 450 churches represent 1 percent of the 44,848 Southern Baptist congregations claimed in LifeWay's most recent Annual Church Profile. If the numbers held true for the other 99 percent of Southern Baptist churches, that would add up to 8,000 serious felony offenses and more than 60,000 people with some sort of checkered past among those volunteering or applying for staff roles in churches across the convention.

"It is so important in this day and time to run these checks," Barbara Strong, church secretary at Jubilee Worship Center in Westmoreland, Tennessee, said in a press release.

Since Southern Baptist churches are self-governing, the SBC Executive Committee cannot require congregations to conduct background checks, but it "strongly advises" them to be diligent in choosing leaders and volunteers. It also provides an online link to a Department of Justice sex-offender list.

While sex-offender registries are vital, experts say, they alone aren't very effective in spotting sexual predators. They list only those convicted of a crime. Because victims typically are reluctant to come forward and because molestation laws have statutes of limitations in many states, only an estimated 10 percent of sexual predators are brought to justice. …

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SBC Agency Says 1 in 8 Church Background Checks Finds Criminal Record
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