Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Churches need help handling clergy sex abuse reports

I’ve gotten one too many missives from this guy, Brian Robertson ( When someone repeatedly sends this sort of bile-spewing...and then has the authoritarian arrogance to say “this is between you and me”...well...I don’t think so.

I just love how you put pictures of people on your website and almost guarantee their destruction. "Credible allegations" are not truth. I could probably find someone to "credibly" accuse you of murder....I think any real predators should be destroyed, and I equally think that anyone that would falsely accuse or label an innocent person a predator is just as bad as the predator. In fact, the person that does this is just a predator of a different type. You need to be stopped. I’m afraid any good you might be doing is being overshadowed by the harm to innocents. Your treatment of a good and innocent friend of mine is shameful. You have destroyed his career and reputation and continue to pound on him. I bet you do not sleep well at night, Trust me, it is not because of what happened to you or other victims, it is the incredible guilt that even your small conscience must feel by knowing that you will destroy a person's life with no facts at all....This is between you and me. Do not publish this….
Based on his prior comments, I think this guy's upset that I recently posted on my website a photo of Larry Reynolds with a Denton Record-Chronicle news link. Reynolds was pastor of Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, TX. Katherine Roush sued Reynolds, alleging he had molested her when she was a 14-year old girl. Reportedly, the suit was settled with a confidentiality agreement (a secrecy tactic that Catholic bishops formally disapproved in 2002 but Baptists still use) and with Reynolds making an apology before the church. He said “I made a terrible mistake” and confessed that “proper boundaries were not kept.”

Ordinarily, that might have quietly brought an end to the matter, but when EthicsDaily and the Chronicle began looking into it, things got messy. Another Southmont minister, James Crittenden, told the Chronicle it would be destructive to “the cause of Christ” to publish the news. Thank God for courageous and conscientious journalists. Reynolds resigned after the press coverage.

The Southmont story provides a good example of why it’s so delusional for Southern Baptist officials to think churches can handle clergy abuse reports on their own. We’re supposed to imagine that someone like Katherine Roush could have simply gone to a church like Southmont and said, “I need to tell you about what your beloved pastor Reynolds did to me when I was a kid,” and that the church would have been receptive even though she is now an outsider to them, and that it would have compassionately and conscientiously considered her report with open minds.

Given that ministerial staff apparently didn’t inform the congregation even after a lawsuit was filed, and even after EthicsDaily published news of it, why should anyone assume the staff would have attempted to bring the truth to light based on Roush’s mere report? Given that minister Crittenden tried to convince the Chronicle not to run the story, why should we assume he would have shown any concern for ferreting out the truth of a report from Roush? Given the sort of hostility shown by Brian Robertson, why should we assume that congregants would have been able to objectively consider Roush's allegations (assuming staff had ever told the congregants)? Given that this church had a resource most don’t – a member who professes to be an expert on clergy sex abuse, Joe Trull – and yet church leaders apparently didn’t bother to consult with their expert, why should anyone assume that any other church would handle it any better than Southmont did? And given that, even after all that happened, Southmont gave Reynolds a $50,000 "love offering" upon his departure and still keeps one of its buildings named after Reynolds, why should we assume that, on its own, such a congregation would be capable of seeing such a possibly dark and ugly thing about a minister whom they so revered?

A person trying to report clergy sex abuse is often doing so many years after the abuse occurred. That’s what is normal because the nature of the crime causes victims to stay silent. (Cases that get reported sooner are atypical and are usually cases in which the victims’ parents found out.) It is unrealistic to imagine that, years later, a clergy abuse victim can go before a church as an outsider and tell them something so awful about their leader, and expect to be heard. Yet, victims need to be heard, because it’s the only way clergy-perpetrators can be exposed. This is why an independent objective review board is needed.

Such a board could also be a resource for congregations. It’s a shame the people of Southmont weren’t allowed to know every bit of available information. What was in the alleged letters from Reynolds to Roush? And what was in the medical records at Roush’s rehab center where witnesses say Reynolds made an appearance? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I think the members at Southmont were entitled to know, and that’s information a denominational review board could have possibly given them. As it is, many at Southmont are left to wonder about what was true and what wasn’t, and about who was being straight with them and who wasn’t. Better to have the truth made transparent than to be left wondering.


Anonymous said...

Good for you...publish them all.


Kaye said...

You did not destroy this man's career. The minister did it himself.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine a church handling a case any poorer than Southmont. The leadership of Southmont Baptist must take responsibility for that. How long will the SBC allow the autonomy of the individual churches to be the reason they fail to take responsible steps in halting clergy sexual abuse? How many more lives must be destroyed? THE SBC NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT INVESTGATIVE REVIEW BOARD. SBC, are you listening?

Pattie said...

Hang them out to dry. I sure didnt like what I heard but the truth hurts! SBC should be dismantled--and never be allowed to gather again in the name of Christ!! Accountability is the name of the game--SBC did not claim accountability nor will they ever. SBC thinks they are above all the other news for them...God is above everyone and they are going to have to answer God at the gates..I sure wouldn't wany that responsibility!

Debbie said...

Christa - I thank you for all you do

As for the man that wrote such a negative e-mail -- Shame on you

Why would you assume that this man did nothing wrong

Do you really think he would tell you about molesting a young girl

Preachers are good talkers and good at conviencing people

Try putting yourself in the shoes of a victim or the parents of a victim

At least Christa is trying to make things better and is trying to protect these children that are at risk

The Baptist leaders have had a number of opportunities to do something and have NOT

Just as a doctor will not operate on their own family member
Why would anyone think it is appropriate to think that a church family can truly investigate their beloved preacher

It is way past time for action to be taken

Thanks Christa

Anonymous said...

What do these Pastor's wives have to say about the allegations? What if the same fear tactics are being used as silencing techniques in the pastor's home - how could the pastor's wife find a CONFIDENTIAL safe house to share her concerns and alert the appropriate individual(s)?

Anonymous said...

what do you do if you know for a fact that a man in church did something to someone else but it was covered up, and this man is working in a nother church now? How do you labl, him, stop him, if it has been covered up. I know where he is, and I feel guilty that he is getting away with it.

David Lanham said...

Do you ever investigate muslims? Or jews? Or do you only investigate the christians?

Christa Brown said...

David, Investigating clergy is not what we do. We try to shine light on the problem; we post published accounts; we reach out to the wounded. StopBaptistPredators works in conjunction with SNAP, an organization that reaches out to people abused by ALL manner of religious authority figures.

Anonymous said...

Publish, and let the chips fall where they may.

I am not an official of the SBC, just the pastor of a small-medium sized church on the SBC rolls (I am also a former police detective who took a few confessions from child abusers). We require a criminal records check of all paid personnel AND of all volunteers who work with children and youth; and if a more thorough and yet fair checking proceedure were available, we would utilize it also.

I agree there must be a way to prevent a person who is innocent from being falsely accused and placed on some sort of "black-list". In fact, my father, a career police officer, was once accused of a crime of which he was innocent (not related to sex abuse in any way), but the legal system, though slow, worked as it should have and cleared him. And one of my great-grandfather's, a bivocational Baptist minister, was "blacklisted" 100+ years ago from cotton mills in the Alabama-Georgia Chatahochee Valley (for refusing to work on a Sunday). I also know that with sex-abuse, victims may not come foreward until long after a statute of limitations has expired, making criminal investigation and prosecution impossible. I believe it is "do-able" for us as Baptists to be more vigilant and pro-active without violating our autonomy. On several blogs operated by Baptist pastors, I have suggested that if the Southern Baptist Convention can say "We will not accept contributions from churches which support/encourage the practice of homosexuality, and we will not seat their messengers at any convention," and "We will not accept as missionaries any candidates who do not affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, and will not accept for national offices anyone from a church that does not affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000," then we could also say "We will not accept contributions from any churches that do not require a criminal records check (with especial attention to sex offenders) or other SBC sanctioned proceedures and checks, for their staff, and we will not seat their messengers at any convention." So far, no one has picked up on this, although there are some others ideas at play.

God help us if we fail even one more child.

John Fariss