I saw a disturbing edition of Dateline on NBC tonight.
I'll get to that later, but first let me tell you about Adam.
I met Adam in college. He was going into the ministry and so was I -- so immediately we had two things in common. We met at the Presbyterian student's organization, but we didn't hit it off for some reason. I didn't see much of him for another year or two.
The year that Nixon resigned, I was in summer school taking my toughest classes. I'd found summer was the best time to tackle the hard courses. Adam was also enrolled in the summer term and we found ourselves sitting at a table together in the dining hall with several other students.
"This food is awful," someone said -- to which the rest of us agreed and headed toward Shoneys.
Going to Shoneys was a routine that summer, and Adam was often part of the group. He seemed like a nice guy -- shy and a bit socially awkward, but other than that, a nice guy.
When summer ended and the Fall term began, Adam went his way and I went mine. We'd say "hi" when we ran into each other, but that was about it.
One day, he disappeared. He showed up several days later packing his room to move out. He'd been arrested for skinny dipping, so he said. That didn't fit -- we'd all done that. This was, after all, a school in the South.
We later learned he'd been skinny dipping with children. Or at least those were the rumors.
Years later I was on the alumni committee tracking down lost classmates. Adam was not on the list of the lost or found. He was not listed in the classes ahead or behind mine. I mentioned this to someone on staff of the school, who looked up his transcript. Nope. No Adam had ever been a student here.
I showed the staff member a year book photo. "I know he went to school here. He may not have graduated, but his father was a Marine general and was on the Board of Trustees."
"Oh yes," said the staff member. "I know who you are talking about now. Leave it alone. He's been erased from the earth."
The story was that Adam had molested a professor's 11 year old son. He'd been kicked out of school and quietly arrested. He was now serving a prison term in the Caribbean.
I'd like to say Adam was the only predator I'd ever met, but I can't.
Bob was a member of my third pastorate. He gave me the creeps, but I was never sure why. Bob would give candy to the children and the kids loved him. My oldest son was around 5 or 6 at the time, and he would not go near Bob. I figured it was because my son was picking up on my feelings. Then again, perhaps not.
I walked into the sanctuary one day to see Bob all alone. A little girl was sitting in his lap enjoying some of his candy, while he rocked her back and forth -- and it was obvious to me what he was doing. The girl was oblivious to what Bob was up to, so I told her to go to Sunday School. I talked with the parents and we talked with the police -- but that was in the 1980's and even the police didn't know quite what to do with folks like Bob -- It was a different world back then and perhaps my evidence was a bit flimsy. The police caught him later with a 12 year old girl in his home -- both Bob and that girl were naked when the police went into the home. I remember the police told me his excuse -- "The air conditioner is broken and we got hot." When Bob died a few years ago, they named the church's playground after him.
Charlie was already a convicted sexual predators when I met him. He was on what was then the "new" internet. His mug shot was online with the State of Florida's web page.
David was the administrator of a nursing home. He was arrested for molesting a resident, and they later found he'd molested children. David was one of my elders.
Imagine my frustration last year when two of my elders balked when I suggested to the Session (or governing body of our church) that we should do background checks on all volunteer youth workers. The policy passed, and I sleep a little bit better these days.
But not much.
It is a dangerous world out there, as tonight's Dateline on NBC revealed.
The story involved reporters and investigators going online, pretending to be boys and girls age 12 , 13 or 14. In chat rooms, adult men made sexual advances toward them. I find so many things disgusting and incredible about this story.
I'm not naive -- I knew this existed. But what stunned me was the audacity and boldness of these predators.
They were invited to a private home, and they actually showed up and walked right in, expecting to find a young child to have sex with. That could be your home, or mine!
Once confronted by the Dateline reporter, some ran out the door while others sat down and had a conversation with the reporter. Only when the cameras came out did these run out the door.
Two things hit me hard -- one was a man who was asked online to arrive at the home and strip naked in the garage before coming in. He not only did this, but the next day he was caught online trying to meet yet another child.
The other was a rabbi.
Man of God.
None of these men have been arrested, but they are all under investigation.
For parents, Dateline's web page has a good list of things parents can do to keep their children safe.
The most important point: "it’s important for all of us parents to make certain computers are in open areas of our homes— not in kids bedrooms. We should know who their children are talking to online and Web cams."