USA Today Reports on a Dark Story That Highlights the Issue of Sexual Abuse at a Southern Baptist Church Outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

A very dark story that details why sexual abuse is a problem inside the Southern Baptist Convention emerges outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A Baptist Church in Camp Hill employs a convicted molester and the church keeps the information from the congregation. This is a hard read but a necessary one. 

“The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.”

Robert Anthony 

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[f] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you.

John 14: 15-17 ESV

Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

This evening I was eating at Chipotle enjoying dinner and working through social media when I saw something that was dark. It took my breath away when I read it. It concerned a Southern Baptist Church outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who employed a pastor with a history of molestation. The pastor who couldn’t drive a school bus in Pennsylvania could pastor a Southern Baptist Church and have access to children. The story detailed how one married couple struggled to go forward to the congregation of 100 and break the news about their pastor. 


The Difficulty of Being a Whistle Blower When Children are Threatened

The article hit a nerve in me and flooded me with memories. Why? A married couple discussed learning the information about their pastor and the difficulty in going forward. It hit home because in 2014 I stood in similar shoes in a mega church in the Washington, D.C. area. Rod Stafford’s Fairfax Community Church employed a violent sex offender and then concealed it from the congregation. This story triggered anger in me and reminded me of what I once dealt with in my life. You can read about that in, “The Stress of Being a Whistle Blower in a Washington, D.C. Mega Church. Plus How Did Fairfax Community Church Bully a TV Station Not to Report a Scandal? Was Loretta Rogers Cooper Responsible for that Action?” I would encourage people to read this USA Today article. I am hoping that the EFCA Eastern District will read this as Camp Hill is the Eastern District Headquarters for the EFCA. The article is called, “‘The tongue is a fire’: Southern Baptist church fractures over secrets and spiritual abuse.” 

3 thoughts on “USA Today Reports on a Dark Story That Highlights the Issue of Sexual Abuse at a Southern Baptist Church Outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

  1. This is a very well-written article and strikes close to home for me, both figuratively and literally. It echoes experiences I have seen in church where a quick call for forgiveness was used as a cover for ignoring the issues that had occurred, and instead immediately moving forward without addressing the issues or resolving them. People who wanted to properly address the issues so that they could be more fully resolved were told that they were dwelling on the past and being unforgiving, and then they were made out to be the “bad guys” in the situation.

    This part of the story really resonated with me: “Bollten didn’t elaborate, appearing impatient with questions that dwelled on the past. He was firm about the need to move forward.” This was describing the leadership’s approach at meeting where the congregation was first permitted to ask questions about the situation, only a few weeks after the situation coming to light. The congregation was only at that point learning the details, and *already* they were being told that they needed to move forward and forget the past. That is not how you achieve a healing and lasting resolution, that is how you try to bury things as a leader who doesn’t want to have to answer questions about what took place.

    I was also interested in some of the details of the story as the couple featured had met at the college where I have worked, and in particular about the bad situation they had experienced with the student Bible study leader in the early 1990’s. Knowing the campus and its particular theological bent (Anabaptism, Pietism and Wesleyanism), I am certain that student was acting on his own outside the official auspices of the college, but it is a cautionary reminder how abusive leaders can manifest themselves in any setting and situation.

    Liked by 1 person

      • In the southcentral PA church we attended for years, there was a situation with a volunteer youth leader who sexually abused several young boys. This did not take place in any church-sponsored event or outing, but he had clearly used his position to cultivate relationships and trust with the kids which he then took advantage of in personal interactions outside the church. To our best knowledge the church and its leaders first became aware of the situation only when the individual was arrested and charged by police who had investigated complaints made directly to them by a family.

        As I’ve remarked here and elsewhere, my church was one that tended to try to move past issues without resolving them. In this one particular instance, I think the leaders handled the situation fairly well once things became known. They kept the congregation well-informed of everything they were learning, they had the police come to speak to the church and provide whatever details could be shared by law enforcement, they made the church premises available for parents and families to come and speak individually to police investigators, and they substantially tightened up the clearance requirements for any leaders who interacted with children. (This all took place pre-Sandusky, which of course was the catalyst event in this region prompting clearance requirements to rise to the forefront of many organizations both church and secular.)


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