Scientific investigation of crime incidents among the spiritual and supernatural provides substantial methodological challenges. Not only is data inconsistently gathered about crime at churches, but church staff and church members likely have a vested interest in not reporting church crime as they seek to manage the appearance and reputation of their evangelistic enterprise. Crime can disrupt the degree to which prospects feel attracted toward a congregation. Regardless, only 50% of all crimes are ever reported through the Uniform Crime Reports (now NIBRS), and this is known by the results of the National Crime Victimization Survey which served as a validity comparison to the UCR. It stands to reason then that church crime is much higher than what official reports can reveal.
There too is a secretive nature surrounding certain aspects of the Church. There are secret societies associated with many Christian religious sects and even secret rituals (most of them among the upper echelons); some of them with covert, or overt violent tendencies. While books and films such as Angels and Demons, or The Da Vinci Code sensationalize these groups, there is an undercurrent of truth about them. Members of Opus Dei, Knights Templar, Freemasonry and other societies have sometimes exhibited well-documented and violent behaviors, though these organizations repeatedly deny any organized criminality. Much of that sort of ritual crime occurs in or around the papal city of Rome, Italy; however, fervent beliefs can also foment the fervent acts of a true believer wherever they are. Only occasionally do such ritual atrocities occur in far-away lands such as the United States, and yet they do sometimes occur. It is a social fact that they occur, regardless of the authenticity of their actors’ intent.
ChurchCrime.info is focused more on the “normal” types of corruption. Most crime related to churches evolves out of our basic human instincts of lust, greed, and revenge, not religious ritual. This site, ChurchCrime.info, documents the lust of sex-crimes or drugs, the greed of fraud, embezzlement & swindles, and the revenge of assault, punishment, and even murder. It is on these pages that appears the normality (or profane if you wish) of crime in and around the American Church.
Pastors, chaplains, ministers and priests (and even evangelists and street preachers) have proven incredibly human in their behaviors, belying the claim of being holy, or ordained by God. Much of this crime occurs on church grounds, but it also extends outward toward distant locations, via these church leaders, ambassadors of the church.
Perhaps not explored in this collection of criminal events are the numerous instances of religious followers who engage in crime, with minor exceptions. One case is that of Juanita Gomez who was convicted of killing her daughter during an home exorcism. The mother believed the girl to be “possessed by the devil.” She was punched many times and a crucifix shoved “down her throat until blood came out of her daughter’s mouth.”
One could consider church personnel and staff to be followers, which I would. The amount of misbehavior committed by Christian followers in the pursuit of moral religious belief is large, though not always readily apparent. Most offenders do not situate their explanations of crime motives within an explicitly religious context. They may not be entirely self-aware.
Underpinning a scientific phenomenological exploration of church crime is the question about the role of religion in modern society. Is religion the engineer and enforcer of moral communities? Do moral communities even really exist? This begs the question of whether churches are in fact of higher moral composition than that of secular communities. A-theistic beings can live good and selfless lives with altruistic values without associating with an organized religion.
I expect the value of displaying the criminal extent of Christian churches will be the amassing of cases and resources, with which additional research and writings will be made more easily possible. Church crime is predominantly an understudied topic in criminological and sociological circles. This site is promoting of more study. Many of church crime’s observers are biased in their assessments, biased in their perceptions of the extent to which religious crime exists, and biased about the impact and purpose that crime data should serve. Church crime data should be used to keep all people safe, regardless of their beliefs.