Monday, January 29, 2007

Bellevue shows need for change

The report from Bellevue shows that what pastor Steve Gaines called “moral failure” was really minister Paul Williams’ “egregious, perverse sexual activity with his adolescent son over a period of 12 to 18 months.”

PW apparently never sought counseling for his son. That is still another form of parental neglect and abuse. If there had been any true repentance on PW's part, he would have sought counseling for his son so as to try to minimize the damage and lessen the long-lasting harm of sexual abuse. It's as though he ruptured his son's spleen with violence and then left him to slowly bleed out internally rather than taking him for help.

The report notes the staff's practice of keeping sensitive matters secret "to protect the church from embarrassment" and says: "This feeling is not only found in Bellevue Baptist Church but also is prevalent across churches in general." This is true. What happened at Bellevue has happened at churches across the country - and most have greatly fewer resources for dealing with it. It's why SBC leadership MUST step up to the plate and provide congregations with the resources they need to appropriately deal with clergy abuse and to better protect kids. As the report states: "The events relating to the PW issue have vividly brought to light the need for change."

Baptists profess congregational autonomy. Yet, the reality is that, when it comes to clergy sex abuse, congregations are not being given the information they need to make responsible decisions. As at Bellevue, the information is too often kept secret by small groups of ministers and deacons. What's happening in actual practice is not a reflection of congregational autonomy but of the autonomy of small groups of men in positions of power. People in the pews need a resource for obtaining objective independent investigatory assistance when these kinds of allegations are brought forward.

If a church with the sort of human and financial resources that Bellevue has still did such an awful job of handling this, why would anyone imagine that churches with much lesser resources would be capable of handling it any better? They aren't. It's usually even worse. This is why the need for change is so great. National leadership must step up to the plate and establish an office for receiving clergy abuse reports, for independently and professionally investigating clergy abuse reports, and for providing congregations with the information they need to make responsible decisions. [See SNAP’s requests.]

Friday, January 26, 2007

Baptist ministers and misplaced priorities

Lots of Baptist ministers email me. Mostly, their messages are chiding. They tell me that I need to be “nicer,” that I have too much of a “hard edge,” that I need to not be so “judgmental,” that I would “get more flies with honey,” that I need to “listen more,” that I could accomplish more if only I wouldn’t “put people on the defensive,” etc. etc. etc. etc. I also get lots of mini-sermons on forgiveness. At first, some of the messages gave me pause – I’m pathologically prone to self-doubt. But lately, Baptist ministers have so overloaded me with criticism that I was finally able to see the cartoonish quality of it. Thanks guys. You’ve done me a favor.

When so many Baptist ministers choose to focus on instructing an outspoken woman in “niceness” rather than on doing something about clergy child molesters, there are some seriously misplaced priorities in this denomination’s leaders.

Along the same lines, another emailer chose to tell me about the “satanic nature of labyrinths” and praised my childhood church for refusing my request for a labyrinth and meditation garden. Of course, I also proposed a small millstone sculpture as a symbolic gesture of support for clergy abuse victims, and that’s very Biblical, but it was rejected as well. So I don’t think the satanic or Biblical quality of my request had anything to do with the church’s rejection. In any event, whatever one may think of labyrinths, surely the far greater evil rests in the reality of clergy child molesters and of those who turn a blind eye.

Though most Baptist ministers have been critical, a few – including Spiritual Samurai David Montoya - have been genuinely kind and helpful. My heartfelt thanks to them.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Last week, a prominent Texas Baptist chastised me, saying “you seem to enjoy gunny-sacking every time a new episode emerges.” He said other arrogant, foolish things, but that one stuck with me.

There is absolutely nothing at all that I “enjoy” in hearing about new “episodes” of clergy child molestation. I felt that reality in the pit of my stomach today in reading about the Missouri case. Thirteen children were horribly wounded by a minister they trusted, and the man likely could have been stopped so much sooner if only other Baptist leaders had taken action.

I grieve when I read reports like that. I anguish over them. For the love of God, I do not understand how so many religious leaders can seem to care so little.

New "episodes" like this may be repugnant to hear about, but I will continue to talk about them and to try to shine light on the problem. It's a shame that a Baptist leader would call that “gunny-sacking.” I call it “working to try to make kids safer.”

[Read more : the Missouri case shows many of the common patterns in how Baptists leave kids at risk by failing to adequately address clergy sex abuse.]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Joe Trull, Southmont & "Overlooked Issues"

In the most recent issue of Christian Ethics Today, editor Joe Trull writes about "overlooked issues" in connection with "clergy sexual misconduct." What extraordinary irony!

Even as Trull was putting this article to press, his own church, Southmont Baptist in Denton, TX, was covering up for a pastor reported to have sexually abused a 14-year old girl. Other leaders knew about the allegations at least as early as last June. Yet the pastor remained in the pulpit. In mid-November, EthicsDaily reported that the pastor had paid hush money to end a sex-abuse lawsuit. Yet the pastor remained in the pulpit. At a Thanksgiving church banquet on Nov. 19, the pastor discussed the lawsuit’s end, and said he "made a terrible mistake" and a "lapse in judgment" that caused "one of our parishioners great harm." He also said, "I confess that proper boundaries were not kept," and that he was "apologizing." Yet, the pastor remained in the pulpit.

Even if only a few church leaders knew of it earlier, after that Thanksgiving apology in front of numerous church-members, why was there no one who insisted on knowing exactly what the "terrible mistake" was? Why did no one insist on more information about the "boundaries" that were crossed by their beloved pastor? Why weren’t Southmont parents told that the "boundaries" involved a 14-year old? Why was it all just "overlooked"?

Not until there was full-scale media exposure did that pastor finally leave the pulpit. And even up to the last minute, Southmont's administrative minister, James Crittenden, tried to keep the child molestation report hushed-up by telling the newspaper it would be destructive to "the cause of Christ" to publish the article.

Why is no one calling for accountability for minister James Crittenden and the other church leaders who knew about it earlier and kept quiet?

Joe Trull describes himself as having extensive "experience, training and focus of study" on "clergy sexual misconduct." He speaks on this topic at seminars. If someone like Trull can’t see the cover-up going on in his own church until it’s published in the newspaper, there is little reason to think that an ordinary victim will ever be able to get the real facts about a clergy perpetrator put in front of a congregation. Church leaders often won’t allow the facts to reach the congregation, and congregants often don’t want to see such ugly facts about a beloved pastor.

This is why there must be some sort of independent, objective denominational review board to which reports of clergy sex abuse can be made and from which congregations could then obtain the unbiased information they need to make responsible decisions.

And let’s not forget: Documents show that the Baptist General Convention of Texas knew for at least six months about this pastor and the child molestation allegations against him. Why didn’t the BGCT tell Trull about the reported child molester in his own church? After all, Trull is the BGCT’s go-to guru on this subject. In fact, the BGCT is the organization for whom Trull wrote "Broken Trust," the much-lauded BGCT booklet of guidelines for handling clergy sex abuse.

Broken Trust” is broken....and probably was from the beginning. It's just words on paper. Those of us who have tried to report clergy to the BGCT know that, and the Southmont scandal demonstrates it once again. If Joe Trull still thinks the BGCT is serious about ridding the ranks of clergy predators, isn't Trull himself "overlooking" some serious issues?

Update 2/19/11: After noting some recent interest in this posting, I plugged in some updated links and noticed this statement in Joe Trull's Christian Ethics Today article: "Major denominations vet clergy credentials and have elaborate systems of guidelines, policies, and procedures that, to a large degree, protect parishioners and discipline errant ministers." This is true of most major denominations EXCEPT the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest of the Protestant denominations. This failure is exactly why Baptists are so far behind the curve in protecting against predatory preachers.

More info on the Southmont case >

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Hush-it-up and Cover-it-up

Reports show hush-it-up and cover-it-up pattern among Baptist churches. Bellevue is just the most visible tip of the Baptist clergy abuse iceberg. Comments?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

New Year

Just came in from the best run I've had in ages. That doesn't say a whole lot since I'm really more plodder than runner, but I keep at it. For 2007, I hope to not only get psychologically stronger, but also physically stronger.

I also hope to meet more of you in person. The 2006 year evolved in ways I never could have imagined and so many of you touched my life along the way. Thank you.