Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Baptists can't wait for government

“We can’t wait until everything is figured out by the government,” said Suzii Paynter of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, in explaining the BGCT’s new ministry initiative for undocumented immigrants.

How I wish the BGCT would adopt a similar attitude toward ministering to clergy sex abuse victims!

Instead, the BGCT and other Southern Baptists insist that they can’t do anything to get abuse victims’ perpetrators out of their pulpits unless and until the minister is criminally convicted. Since less than 10 percent of child molestation incidents are ever even disclosed, much less prosecuted or convicted, this sort of attitude means that most clergy perpetrators will remain in their pulpits with the kids of trusting congregants as potential prey.

Over and over again, Baptist abuse victims have attempted to report clergy child molesters to Baptist officials, only to be turned away. By the time a child-victim grows up and tries to report the abuse as an adult, it’s usually too late for the government to do anything through criminal prosecution, and Baptist officials wash their hands of it. So nothing happens.

Yet, Southern Baptist official D. August Boto says that "the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials."

Imagine if a bishop in this country were to tell the press and Catholic churchgoers that, even though he had received reports of abuse against a priest, "the proper investigatory panel should be law enforcement" and that he couldn't do anything unless and until the priest was criminally convicted. Such an attitude is no longer even thinkable in the Catholic context. It is, however, the essence of how Southern Baptist officials are handling clergy sex abuse.

The best thing that Baptist officials could do to help clergy abuse victims would be to provide an independent review board to which victims could report abuse with a reasonable expectation of being heard. Without that possibility, victims endure the continued nightmare of seeing their rapists still standing in pulpits and constantly wondering who else he’s going to hurt.

Other faith groups take clergy abuse allegations seriously and don't wait for government. Just today, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas released news that additional abuse allegations had been lodged against a Houston priest who had previously been accused of molesting students in Austin. The priest is retired and no longer in the pulpit. He's never been charged with any crime. Yet, the Episcopals had a process for considering the allegations, and denominational leaders sent out letters to people who had been affiliated with the church and school where this man worked. They also informed people that the abuse claims "had substance" and specifically asked anyone with any information to contact them. All of these steps would sound reasonable and good to most ordinary people...but nothing akin to this happens among Southern Baptists.

Why are Baptists so capable of organizing themselves to help so many other people, but they can’t seem to organize to help those who were sexually savaged by Baptist ministers?

Because we are the outcasts whose wounds are so ugly that they make Baptist leaders too uncomfortable, and imagining that one of their own colleagues inflicted such savagery makes it all the more uncomfortable. So Baptist leaders choose to simply leave us in the dirt by the side of the road.

1 comment:

John Harrison said...

Christa,
Again you are right on the money. The SBC is motivated to change only when it is financially and publically beneficial. It will take someone in the power system to be affected by this before they will see the seriousness of the problem.
Much like the Good Samaritan story, organized religion will pass by if it looks like it might cost them somthing or that their position might get hurt.
The secret is to NOT GIVE UP. Even the Scriptures teach us that "we shall reap if we faint not."
May you experience the blessings of God for youe efforts.
John