Thursday, July 5, 2007

Denial and the BGCT (part 2)

The Baptist General Convention of Texas likes to brag that it does more than any other statewide Baptist organization to fight clergy sex abuse. So what does it do? It keeps a confidential registry of ministers who are reported by churches for sexual abuse. The hitch is that it accepts reports only from churches (not from mere victims), and churches don’t report abuse, and everyone knows it.

Joe Trull, a former seminary professor who helped the BGCT set up the registry, recently confirmed this reality: “Churches don’t have to report abuse cases to the registry and aren’t likely to. In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret.”

So...the BGCT knows that, “in the normal scenario,” churches just try to keep it secret. Yet, when a victim tries to report abuse, what does the BGCT say to the victim? “Go to the church.”

This is an example of DENIAL in action. The BGCT knows the truth, but it refuses to act based on that truth and instead acts based on a fantasy world in which churches behave as the BGCT wishes they would...all the while knowing that, “in the normal scenario,” they don’t.

This sort of DENIAL is hurtful. When the BGCT tells victims to “go to the church”, while knowing that, in reality, most churches try to keep it secret, the BGCT is effectively setting up the victim to be bullied, shamed, intimidated, and silenced by the church all over again. This is what happens in “the normal scenario” because churches “just try to keep it secret.”

Why does the BGCT tell the victim to do something that, “in the normal scenario,” it knows will serve only to revictimize them and cause them greater pain? Because the BGCT is steeped in DENIAL, and rather than acting based on the reality it knows, it acts based on a fantasy that it continues to hope for despite all evidence to the contrary of how churches actually behave “in the normal scenario.”

Not only does this oblivion to reality cause victims of abuse to be revictimized, but it also keeps predators in the pulpit. Clergy predators are made known only when victims speak up. Yet, when victims muster all their courage to speak, only to be bullied back into silence by churches who “just try to keep it secret,” the victims often sink further into despair and further back into their quiet corners of shame. And then they have learned their lesson....and they often don’t try again.

If clergy predators are going to be exposed, then victims’ reports of abuse must be received by people who have the appropriate education, training and experience...and who are outside the accused minister's circle of influence. That’s not happening in Baptist churches, and the BGCT needs to deal with that reality.

Consider this example. Eighteen months ago, a victim tried to report her abuse to the BGCT. Courageously, she spilled forth an account of horrific child sex abuse committed by a Baptist minister. In response, a BGCT honcho sent her a terse email saying essentially that “Baptist churches are all autonomous.” She wrote back, pleading for help because her perpetrator was still in the pulpit and she was afraid he might hurt someone else, but this time, she got no reply at all. The BGCT just ignored her. I guess she was supposed to accept the BGCT's single perfunctory email and go quietly back to her corner.

But she didn’t do that. She has desperately tried to protect others by persisting in her efforts, and she finally filed a civil lawsuit. Yet, still clinging to her hope that the BGCT might someday put deeds with its words, she wrote to the BGCT again just a month ago, pleading once more for help in protecting others.

This time, a BGCT person wrote back that, if she would call their office, a staff member could explain to her “the process of talking to your church so they can file a report.”

Huh? Why tell a victim this when the BGCT already knows that “in the normal scenario,” a church isn’t likely to file any report?

The victim called me up and asked essentially the same question. “How can they be so dense? After all that I’ve been through...after all that I’ve told can the BGCT still imagine that the church is going to do anything? It’s crazy!”

What it DENIAL. Rather than acting based on what it knows to be true, the BGCT acts based on a fantasy. So long as the BGCT continues to engage the fantasy instead of the reality, kids in Baptist churches will not be made any safer from clergy predators.

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