For all the talk about churches and religious hierarchies doing everything they can to sweep cases of clergy sexual abuse under the rug, it's refreshing to see a church handle an incident in precisely the proper manner.
Follow me below the Big Orange Colophon for details...
Courtesy of Baptist Press, here's what happened in Muscle Shoals, Alabama:
MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (BP) -- A Baptist children's pastor in Alabama has been charged with two counts of child pornography, 31 counts of second-degree sodomy and three counts of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, according to media reports compiled by The Alabama Baptist newspaper.The church has, of course, released a statement, but here's where things diverge from "the usual":
Jeffrey Dale Eddie, the children's pastor and administrator of Highland Park Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, was arrested Feb. 4. Eddie, who has been released from his duties, had served on the Highland Park staff for 16 years.
For years, Highland Park Baptist Church has invested in the Shoals community and we are committed to helping our entire community cope with this situation. Anyone with any information about this case should immediately contact the Muscle Shoals Police Department.None of this "internal review," "peer counseling", or "outside consultants" are to be found; instead, it's "if you know something, GO TO THE POLICE."
Here's how this whole thing went down:
The Muscle Shoals Police Department picked Eddie up for questioning on Feb. 2 after the church's worship arts pastor, Jeff Beech, found two pornographic images of young males among Eddie's laptop files.So, a church member went to the church leadership in "late January", they did a spot check of his electronics AND WENT STRAIGHT TO THE POLICE. With Eddie being questioned by police on February 2nd and arrested on February 4th, this whole process was completed in...a week? 10 days? Wow.
Beech and Pastor Brett Pitman had asked to see Eddie's electronic devices after a church member walked into Eddie's office in late January and witnessed a child sitting on his lap with Eddie's hands up the child's shirt.
When questioned by police Eddie, 41, said he was addicted to pornography and the images on his computer were downloaded from the Internet. The investigation was originally focused on child pornography but evidence pointed authorities to additional charges, the police said.
It seems that the quick action and public awareness of police involvement led other victims to come forward:
Eddie reportedly admitted to sexually abusing multiple members of Highland Park's children's ministry and was unable to recall all of the victims. One victim said Eddie engaged in sexual acts with him at least once a month beginning in 2011 when the child was 11 years old.We're really quick to blast churches for their failures in this area, so let's give credit to a church that acted swiftly and properly when concerns were raised. From the reports I've seen, this was the first time that anyone informed church leadership of concerns about Eddie; perhaps their response will serve as an example to other churches. The police chief cited the church's quick action in his press conference:
Evans praised church officials, whom he said contacted authorities as soon as they became aware of a potential problem.Oh, and here's the tag line:
"They responded in a way they should have and they responded promptly," he said. "As soon as they became aware of what they perceived to be a problem, they notified police. The pastor, staff, everyone connected with the church has been as supportive as they could be. They are hurting. This is a trying time for them."
Eddie was being held in the Colbert County Jail on a $1,030,000 bond, according to media reports.A million-dollar bond? They aren't messing around in Muscle Shoals...
This is the kind of partnership we need to see between churches and law enforcement where the safety of children is concerned.