15 Oct 2008

N.Y. Baptist group says to defrock pastor facing child-porn charge

Associated Baptist Press - October 14, 2008

by Bob Allen

OSWEGATCHIE, N.Y. (ABP) -- A statewide fellowship of independent Baptist churches in New York is recommending defrocking one of its pastors arrested on child-pornography charges.

Leaders of First Baptist Church in the Upstate New York town of Oswegatchie demanded and received the resignation of Pastor Merton Parks after local media reported their pastor was part of a federal investigation. Parks, 60, was arraigned Oct. 9 and charged with possessing child pornography, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

Craig Golden, state representative for the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches, said his group’s polity means it would be up to the local church that ordained Parks to withdraw its ordination.

"When a guy does something like Mr. Parks did, we surely don't condone it," Golden said.

Golden said he doesn't yet know where Parks was ordained -- or even if he is ordained at all -- but that when the ordaining church is identified, "We would suggest or recommend to them or advise them that they follow through, and if the charges are true, that they would revoke his ordination certificate."

Golden acknowledged that the Baptist focus on autonomy of the local church creates a special challenge for preventing or addressing pastoral misconduct among Baptists. But, he added, the task is easier today because of the Internet and other technological means that enable rapid communication.

"If [Parks] goes to Utah and some little church gets his name, if they even go on the Internet and check it out, they'll see the whole story," Golden said. "There's no guarantee that he will never get another church," Golden said, but the chances are slim.

The Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches is not formally affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches , but it partners voluntarily as a regional association with the GARBC in ministry endeavors. Local churches may affiliate with either or both groups.

The GARBC separated from what is today called the American Baptist Churches USA over doctrinal differences in 1933. They strongly emphasize local-church autonomy and reject denominational structures like the Southern Baptist Convention as too connectional.

"We are more disconnected than Southern Baptists," Golden said, "but we still recognize [that] this disqualifies a man" for the ministry.

Last year the Southern Baptist Convention considered establishing a national database of clergy sex abusers, but the SBC Executive Committee rejected the idea as impractical due to local-church autonomy.

That has caused some activists against clergy sex abuse to criticize the SBC. The fact that an independent Baptist group is recommending that a local church defrock a pastor in this case may only sharpen such criticism.

"It's interesting that a Baptist group that claims to be even 'more disconnected' than Southern Baptists can nevertheless take the initiative to research an accused minister's ordination and to publicly urge the revocation of his ordination," said Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is more action than we've seen from Southern Baptist groups, state or national."

According to media reports, Parks was snared in a federal investigation that identified thousands of people in the United States who have subscribed to various child-porn websites.

The Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Unit said it tracked credit-card purchases of child pornography on Parks’ church computer since July. Parks reportedly said in a statement to investigators that he used the images as a way to self-treat his erectile dysfunction, and he claimed he didn't know they were illegal.

Parks told the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times "it was some indiscretion on my part," but "there was no malicious intent." He said he regretted involving the church in the ordeal, but he didn't believe the images on his computer were pornographic.

News10Now, a 24-hour local news channel owned and operated by Time Warner Cable, reported that, upon learning of Parks' involvement in the case prior to his arrest, church trustees sent a clear message that they didn't approve of such behavior.

"We called a special meeting and told him we wanted his resignation and his stuff out of the church by Sunday and not to ever step back into the church," said Glenn Fuller, a First Baptist Church trustee.

Parks had reportedly been at the church about three years. He worked previously for about five years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Hermon, N.Y. He also taught about 17 years in private schools in New York and Pennsylvania before entering the ministry.

If convicted, he would have to register as a sex offender.

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