Friday, April 27, 2007

The dynamics of denial

When Southern Baptist president Frank Page was interviewed by 20/20, they told him the SBC’s website had at least 6 convicted child molesters listed on the ministerial registry. How did he and other Baptist leaders respond to that information?

Ironically, they responded in much the same way that Baptist churches respond when confronted with information about clergy sex abuse. Those of you who have tried to report abuse will recognize the patterns.

Did Page immediately ask 20/20 who those convicted molesters were? As best I can tell, he didn’t. And he certainly didn’t go straight to Nashville and take care of the problem. The first response appears to have been “do nothing.” Sound familiar?

Then, when that segment of the interview actually aired on national TV, and it looked unseemly, people started scrambling. Were they scrambling to effectively address the problem or were they scrambling to protect appearances? Looks like the latter. Sound familiar?

SBC official Augie Boto immediately put out a press statement defending the inclusion of those names on the SBC’s ministerial registry. It’s a brash tactic. Just blindly insist that you’re in the right. Religious leaders carry the mantel of spiritual authority, and so they’re better at pulling this off than us ordinary folk. We’ve seen similar tactics in churches where ministerial colleagues circle the wagons and simply proclaim that Pastor John could not possibly have done anything wrong. Sound familiar?

Next, Frank Page starts pointing fingers. Instead of doing something about the problem, he blames 20/20 for “yellow journalism” and accuses the victims’ support group of being “opportunists...seeking personal gain.” It’s similar to how church leaders so often look for ways to blame the victim. “She always was a troublemaker....she wore her skirts too short...she didn’t come from a good family anyway...he got arrested on drug charges and so why should we believe him...she should learn to forgive...etc. etc.” Sound familiar?

Finally, even the faithful loyalists start finding the pettiest of ways to try to discredit the messenger who brings this unwanted news. A Baptist blogger tells people that I sent him a “flood” of unsolicited, negative email....even though I didn’t. A blogger attacks SNAP and me for “building walls,” even though it was actually the SBC who wrote SNAP that “continued discourse will not be positive or fruitful.” (Talk about a wall!) Then the blogger blames me because I personally didn’t somehow see to it that the SBC got those names off the list...as though the SBC’s website was somehow my task....and even though Boto had already defended the SBC’s inclusion of the names. (And rather than blaming me, why didn’t this Baptist man himself see to it that the names were taken off the list?) None of it makes any sense, but it’s part of the usual pattern. However contrived they may be, the more reasons the faithful loyalists and congregants can find for discrediting the outsider, the less they have to consider the much more uncomfortable question of whether their much-trusted leaders let them down. Sound familiar?

How can SBC leaders imagine that churches can appropriately handle abuse reports when they themselves demonstrate the same dynamics of denial in handling the much-easier-remedied news of perp-names on their website? If clergy sex abuse is such a difficult topic that SBC officials can’t even do a good job of handling names on a list, why do they imagine that churches can do a good job of handling reported perpetrators in the pulpit?

6 comments:

Pauline said...

Yep. Sounds familiar.

Anonymous said...

I read the new survivor stories you added on your website. I hope as many ministers as possible will read the real life stories of what victims and their families go through. I hope more victims will tell their stories because in the telling, more light is shone on the evil allowed to permeate the church.

Brady said...

Thanks for putting Paul Williams picture on your website. I wanted to know what the guy looked like since I have read so much about him on the anti-Bellevue websites. Perhaps you should go on their sites and help those who obviously haven't gotten over something that happened in their pasts.

Christa Brown said...

brady,
I don't know which Bellevue sites you're referring to. I have previously posted comments on the BBC Open Forum site. My heart goes out to the people of Bellevue as they still struggle to confront the full reality of what happened there.

And as best I can tell looking from afar, it really isn't part of the past yet. Pastor Steve Gaines is still in the pulpit, and I think many people at Bellevue still rightly ponder how and why a person who betrayed the trust of the congregation by staying silent in the face of another minister's admitted child molestation should remain as their leader. Forgiveness is fine, but such actions should nevertheless entail serious consequences. Accountability of spiritual leadership is important. I believe that the Bellevue people who are struggling are people engaged in an honorable and worthy struggle.

Brady said...

You should go to the Southern Baptists of Texas website to see their response to your suggestions. I doubt if you will like it...

Christa Brown said...

brady,
I saw the article. I think it's sad that someone who has never spoken with me and never had any personal exchange at all with me would publicly characterize me as being filled with rage. It's just one more way of trying to discredit the messenger so as to avoid the message. But Southern Baptists have a well-funded press arm in virtually every state, plus the Baptist Press and SBC Life. They have resources the likes of which I can't even imagine. If I worry about every negative article they put out about SNAP and me, then it will weigh on me too much and I won't get anything done.

The saddest statement of all in Mr. Ledbetter's article is this one: "No doubt her case is typical of victims her suffer abuse..." My case is indeed typical, both in the nature of the abuse and in the manner in which it was covered up and in the pattern of silent complicity by so many who turned a blind eye even in the present day. "The world is too dangerous to live in - not because of the people who do evil but because of the people who sit and let it happen." (Albert Einstein)