This morning Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby is in custody of San Joaquin county authorities under suspicion of the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy, California. She's presumed innocent until proven guilty (something folks on the right often forget), but her arrest raises some questions that it's not too early to examine. Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to! (A great and searing tragedy has occurred.)
My first question is very simple: Will people now warn parents about letting their children associate with Sunday school teachers? Somehow I suspect that Sunday school teachers are unlikely to be stigmatized as a group because of the alleged crimes of one of their number. Narrow-minded folks are quick to blame entire segments of society (atheists, gays, immigrants, blacks, liberals) for the real or imagined failings of a few. I'll bet that Sunday school teachers will not suffer the same fate.
It's fair to bring up the case of Catholic priests, who were painted with a broad brush because of the child-molestation scandals of the past few years. Only a small percentage of their brethren were involved, but in so large a group that meant hundreds of cases. I think, however, that the real trigger in that case was the decades-long involvement of the Church hierarchy in covering up the problem and concealing rather than addressing the compulsive criminal behavior of certain clerics. It is a grave but self-inflicted wound.
As for Sunday school teachers, they undoubtedly have the same foibles and shortcomings of the population at large. Assuming, however, that they're probably more religious than the general populace (a safe assumption, no?), we might examine some of the possible consequences of their enhanced religiosity. In particular, is Melissa Huckaby a believer in the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” (OSAS, pronounced “oh-sass”)? That's the dangerous notion that one is guaranteed salvation and eternal life in heaven as soon as one accepts Jesus as one's personal savior. No subsequent crime, however heinous, can strip you of that get-into-heaven-free card.
So is Sandra Cantu's accused killer an OSAS Christian? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Huckaby's grandfather is the pastor of the Clover Road Baptist Church in Tracy, which says it embraces the New Hampshire Baptist Confession as its articles of faith. While individual Baptist churches are largely independent of each other, creeds such as the New Hampshire confession provide some commonality within the aggregate of the Baptist religion(s). The New Hampshire formulation says,
We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare; and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.As with most religious texts, this can be read in multiple ways. The “special Providence” suggests that God will keep you out of trouble, so if you get in trouble you weren't really a sincere Christian. It's a useful escape clause that brings New Hampshire Baptist Confession churches closer to the mainstream of Catholic and high-church Protestant doctrine, where the sinner can cast away salvation by sinful acts. Congregants of the Clover Road Baptist Church need not be OSAS Christians (although they might, of their own volition, choose to interpret their doctrine so).
The New Hampshire Baptist Confession also contains the statement (unremarkable among Christian churches) that “nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth but his own inherent depravity and voluntary rejection of the gospel.” I wonder how Huckaby interpreted that declaration when teaching her Sunday school classes. Did she see it as the perfect excuse for any excess she might commit? We don't know and there's no guarantee we will ever find out, even in the event that she is convicted of the murder charge.
In the meantime, don't expect anyone to warn parents that they should keep their children away from Sunday school teachers, a group inherently dangerous because of their belief that they can be forgiven anything. Religion has yet to lose all of its special privileges in our society.