Friday, June 15, 2007

Battered wife syndrome and the BGCT

I was resting on a San Antonio bench, when a person from the Baptist General Convention of Texas recognized me, introduced himself, and extended a hand. He was warm and genuine, and I was glad to meet him. He asked if he could introduce me to a high-honcho BGCT person, and I said fine.

He brought the man over, and we stood and talked. I looked at the face, but didn’t see anything compassionate in the eyes. What I saw looked more like annoyance. I listened to the words, but they sounded rote and meaningless.

I wrote this man several years ago, asking for help, and I almost met him once when I was leafletting the BGCT at the Dallas Convention Center. I had stepped in for some water and saw him coming down the corridor. I approached, extended a hand, and said “Mr. X, I’m Christa Brown.” He glanced at me, but walked on. I don’t fault him for that, but at the same time, I don’t expect our recent chat in San Antonio will carry much more meaning for him than that passing glance did.

At the end of our San Antonio chat, he told me to get his number from his assistant and call him if I had thoughts on how they could help. It’s a way of putting the ball in my court. I try to imagine Jesus telling a wounded person, “Call me.” In my head, the whole conversation becomes comical.

It’s as though a bloody wounded sheep finally found it’s way back, collapses at the shepherd’s doorstep, and the shepherd says, “Oh...there you are...I was just starting to think about going to look for you. But that you’re here...why don’t you go back out and round up the rest of those bloody sheep and bring them into the corral. They’re so unaesthetic out there in the field and they detract from the pastoral scenery...and besides...all that blood on the ground isn’t good for the crops.”

Back in 2004 and 2005, I repeatedly told BGCT officials how they could help. I asked for the sort of help they described in their booklet, Broken Trust, and I asked them to provide victims with counseling referral lists. I flew at my own expense to meet with them in Dallas. I asked for some symbolic gesture as a way of showing the denomination's care for clergy abuse victims, and I gave them pictures of a simple labyrinth buffered by a small garden. They said they would do it, and we talked about locations. It seemed like such a positive meeting that, as I walked out the door, I literally turned back because I could hardly believe it. I looked straight at the BGCT director and said, “I need to know that this wasn’t just a bunch of talk. Are you really going to do this? Are you going to make this dedicated labyrinth?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Over the next weeks and months, we talked by phone and email, and they continued to say they were working on it. “Making progress,” they said. But as I struggled with the church’s recalcitrance, I asked BGCT officials if one of them would go to a church business meeting there in Dallas and speak on my behalf. Not only did they refuse, they cut off communication. They told me to direct any further requests to their lawyer, who just happened to also be the lawyer for the church. The appearance was that the BGCT cared more about supporting the church, which was still trying to keep the abuse under wraps, than it did about supporting me in my efforts to bring the abuse to light. And after having personally committed to the labyrinth, no one even had the decency to personally explain why they were no longer going forward with it. The Dallas meeting was nothing but a bunch of talk after all.

After talking with the BGCT honcho in San Antonio, I got on the highway to drive home, and I had to pull off the road a couple times because I was shaking and crying so much. The futility and pain of the conversation weighed on me. The voices of others who vainly sought help from the BGCT rang in my head...victims from a decade ago to a few weeks ago. I feel like a battered wife who, over and over again, keeps wanting to believe her husband when he says, “I promise it won't happen again - things will be different.”

I can’t keep hoping that BGCT officials will actually care about abuse victims, will help them, will do what they say they’ll do, or will even honor what they say in their own booklet. It’s not healthy for me. It’s a psychological mistake.

At some point, the battered wife must look at the long pattern, must stop believing the promises of change, and must say “no more.” That’s how I feel about the BGCT.

I finally made it home, and I curled up on my bed and cried and cried. I woke up the next morning and cried some more. I can’t be that person again... that person who, once upon a time, still held some belief that the BGCT stood for something...that it would care about the wounded...that it would act in accordance with its published words. I wish I could.

The ball is in the BGCT’s court. If they really want to help clergy abuse victims, they need to just do it. And anyway….where’s that labyrinth?


Anonymous said...

My family is still stuck on third base crying out is this game called religious baseball. They told me over 10 years ago "we'll get right back to you". By the bishop's office not rushing in to speak to my four daughters as promised,the predator was allowed to completely destroy my family of 6 victims, with five of them being female. Then the children's mother was given a personality test in a adult bible study class and then shortly afterwards, ran away and married the predator in a secret service. The predator then moved into the family unit, need I say more. This is what happened briefly to my family on second base, the reporting phase. We have drifted off over the years to third base still waiting for help. Our United Methodist Church has the best published rules and regulations on clergy misconduct on the internet! The church never came to ask my four beautiful daughters what was happening to them with the predator, ever. Then their mother moved out with the predator to a farm property, and left the children behind, you see they were afraid to go with her. Remember if you do get the rules Christa for the SBC, they will never come to speak with the victim's. I was told by a United Methodist administrator over the phone, that the bishops office would wish that I would just go away!!! I am today a proud father that I has survived after 10 years to co-author a book to raise awareness, of clergy misconduct. And to educate families of what your up against. Christa , I have cried for 6 loving souls for many, many, years also. Let the truth, set us free!! Keep up the great healing faith work your doing. Curt Szajnecki!!For more traumatic details check out our book's web site at

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to understand the poer of the propaganda machine of the SBC. If they decide to discredit you they can do so with just a few well placed mis-statements. Once you have been "blackballed" you will forever have to live with their ability to ruin your good name.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Texan nor have I ever ministered there; in fact I'm not a "big huncho" anywhere, just the pastor of a small church. But Christa, my heart is with you, as are my prayers. And if there is ever anything I can do, please let me know. I feel so helpless in this issue, as I expect you do. Just let me know what I can do (besides screening employees and volunteers, etc., which we do).

John Fariss
Trinity Baptist Church
Waldorf, MD.

Christa Brown said...

John Fariss,
Thanks for your kind words. Ultimately, I believe that this horrific problem will be effectively addressed among Southern Baptists only when good non-honcho people such as yourself rise up and demand that Southern Baptist leadership do something. There must be some place to which victims can report abuse with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard. That doesn't exist right now. The SBC Executive Committee has been instructed by Baptist messengers to consider the feasibility of creating a database of convicted, confessed and credibly accused ministers. As part of that process, I hope they will consider that the only way to determine whether a report is credible or not is to allow reports to be reviewed by objective professionals in the field and by people outside the accused's circle of influence. I hope you'll consider writing to the chairman of the bylaws workgroup of the SBC Executive Committee, which is the group that is charged with considering this issue. An email address is here.