Closing the Barn Door

September 25, 2007

Recently I critiqued a comment by Roger "Sing" Oldham, vice president of convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention, that seemed to communicate the wrong priorities when it comes to trying to stop child predators. Since then I read a metaphor that Oldham used that is also quite problematic. A proposal has been made that Southern Baptists create a database of offenders so that churches could easily check out potential ministers before hiring them. Oldham, however, has argued against the creation of such a database. Oldham stated about the database:

It's closing the barn door after the cows are already out. We need to develop recommendations, set up guidelines…We renounce any individual who commits heinous acts against children. Jesus Christ who is lord of the church said that we are not to allow harm to come to God's little ones.
Oldham is wrong about the barn door metaphor. It is true that the registry would be tragically after the fact for some kids. However, most abusers continue to abuse. The biggest problem in the Catholic churches was not the first-time abusers but the fact that they did not stop the abusers who would then go on and abuse more kids in several more congregations. To augment Oldham's metaphor, the database would close the barn door after only a few cows are out but thankfully save many of the cows still in the barn. It is one thing to renounce. But we need more than words. The actions must support that renouncing.

Metaphors offer important insights into how one thinks and will act (I've written more about metaphors in my book and a couple columns). This metaphor suggests that Oldham does not understand the issue. The database will not stop all abuse, but it could help throw up enough flags to ensure that a predator is never hired again. It is time to do everything we can to shut the barn door as early as we can.