Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day and Baptist clergy sex abuse

My father had chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms from his service in World War II. He was wounded in the liberation of Luzon and survived by playing dead while they bayonetted bodies around him. When night fell, he crawled through the darkness and over bodies and back to allied troops.

As a kid, I didn't understand, and sometimes my father seemed terrifying. As an adult, I know that we were probably like a great many families of those stoic men who never spoke of their ordeals. Families simply coped as best they could with the psychological wounds so many of those men had.

After one particularly bad incident, the police were called to our house. They just talked a bit and then called our pastor, who came to the house and prayed. He said we should think about others in the church and how upsetting it would be if people found out that a good Christian family like ours had such problems. He told us not to talk about it.

A week or two later, the youth and education minister approached me. He said he knew what had happened in my family and that he’d like to talk with me about it. He asked me to come to his office.

I guess the pastor’s “don’t talk about it” message didn’t apply to him. He obviously breached our trust and told the youth and education minister about the trouble in my family. But I didn’t see that hypocrisy at the time. I saw only that the youth and education minister seemed to care about me. In hindsight, I now see that this was when the grooming for abuse really began. He used my family’s difficulties to move in on his prey.....me.

Years later, when I again tried to report that clergy child molester, I mentioned that the abuse began shortly after this incident of family violence. Naively, I thought this information would help to educate church and denominational leaders on how predatory clergy work. Instead, long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Stephen Wakefield, tried to use that information against me. He wrote back that because I had “suffered from abuse at home” this would have been what caused my distress. Then he threatened to seek recourse against me if I pursued the reporting of my perpetrator.

Wakefield brought it up when he spoke with me in person too. In effect, he tried to use my dead father’s mental illness against me to say that I was emotionally damaged anyway, as though no greater harm was done by the sexual abuse of the church’s minister. This attitude offended me beyond all words. And this Memorial Day, I’m still angry about it.

In yesterday’s sermons, I imagine lots of Baptist ministers paid tribute to servicemen and said some nice words. But when it comes to deeds, the reality of what I encountered, both as a kid and as an adult, were Baptist leaders who used my father’s war wound to exploit his family, savage his adolescent daughter, and intimidate her once again as an adult.

Stephen Wakefield isn’t just some rogue attorney. He has been attorney for the largest statewide Southern Baptist organization in the country for over a decade. And this is how he treats those who attempt to report clergy child molestation (even when another minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid substantiated the report). And the Baptist General Convention of Texas just keeps on hiring him. I think you have to assume that they approve of his tactics.

My father was a hero, both at war and at home. He worked double and triple shifts his whole life to put Big Chief tablets in his kids’ hands and shoes on their feet. He literally wore his body out trying to provide for his family.

That a know-nothing like Stephen Wakefield would suggest that my father’s psychological war wound was a form of “abuse” in any way akin to the devastating sexual savagery of a Southern Baptist minister is something I will not forget anytime soon. That he would use my family's difficulties to try to minimize the great harm done by a Baptist minister’s sexual abuse is unconscionable.

Over the past couple years, as I have worked at trying to bring the Baptist clergy sex abuse problem to light, I have been kicked countless times by Southern Baptist men. In person, in emails, in letters, on blogs, and even in the Baptist Press, they have said outrageous things, mean things and even hateful things. On a good day, I could probably find it within myself to forgive almost all of it. But for the likes of Stephen Wakefield to degrade my father and try to use his war wound against me is something I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive.

My father was far from perfect, but he was more honest, hard-working, courageous and decent than any Southern Baptist leader I have yet encountered. I honor the memory of my father in continuing to speak truth about Baptist clergy sex abuse and about the horror in how this denomination handles it.

3 comments:

David said...

Thank you Christa,

I am sorry you have had to deal with the Stephen Wakefields of this world who assume that they will never have to answer for what they have done because the are "saved".

Even though I believe God does not operate through the tool of karma, I cannot help but feel he will get the attention of the Wakefields and that they will be held accountable in some way.

Di said...

Christa,

Thank you for speaking up. I too have a blog about my own abuse. I was 17 and it was also a youth minister.

I reported my abuse 5 years ago, after almost 30 years had passed. I am very grateful that I was believed and supported. Because so much time had elapsed and no one else could be found who had suffered similar abuse, Bob did not face any legal consequences.

His wife was told my story. it was actually read to both of them. The elders of the church were informed and I believe the whole congregation was informed though I am not sure. My report was placed permanently on his file and would have gone with him to any church looking for a minister if he had not retired.

Though I am convinced I was not the first he molested, I may be the only one he molested to such a degree.

I recently attended a SNAP support meeting in ATlanta.

My blog address is: http://prodigaldaughter-di.blogspot.com

I hope you will visit. I will return to yours.

Di

Christa Brown said...

Di,
SNAP's mission is two-fold: help the wounded and protect the vulnerable. I'm not sure what faith group your abuse occurred in, but I can't help but wonder whether others may have eventually come forward if his abuse of you had been made known in every church he worked in. Even among abuse survivors whose perpetrators have died, they often find it very helpful to have the truth fully acknowledged and disseminated within the faith community, and of course others who may still be silent often find their paths toward healing and understanding begin when they learn about someone else who was abused. Sadly, as I have worked toward prodding Southern Baptists to institute accountability measures similar to those of other faith groups, I sometimes wonder if the reason they don't is in part because of their fear of how many people might actually speak up and make known their abuse....and begin to work toward healing.

Welcome to SNAP, and I hope you'll continue to work with SNAP in its mission to make others safer. Give my best to Denise there in Atlanta.