Friday, September 28, 2007

Baptist guidelines leave kids "by the wayside"

Last week, SBC spokesman Roger “Sing” Oldham told the Tennessean that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to “develop recommendations and set up guidelines” to combat clergy sex abuse.

That’s nice talk, but we’ve heard it before.

Back in 1994, a terrible case of clergy child molestation got a lot of press in Florida. It involved Southern Baptist minister Keith Geren, who eventually admitted to abusing at least 17 boys at three different churches: Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, First Baptist Church of Lakeland, and Park Avenue Baptist Church in Titusville. Even after Geren admitted to Wayside’s senior pastor that he had abused 10 boys, Geren wasn’t fired. And even though he told a minister at Park Avenue about his “temptation” to abuse teen boys, no one stopped him from working with boys. In fact, he was cleared to be a guardian at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, a residential center for troubled teens.

When this story came to light, the Southern Baptist Convention said in 1994 that it was “working on guidelines for just such situations.”

Fast forward to 1998, when the press covered abuse allegations against several prominent Southern Baptist pastors in Texas. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said “it’s clearly a widespread and growing problem.” He told the press that his commission “will formulate suggestions for a possible denomination-wide response.”

And the Baptist General Convention of Texas reacted to those 1998 headlines by having a task force develop “guidelines” for churches and “suggested procedures for hiring and screening clergy.”

Now fast forward to 2007. The Southern Baptist Convention tells ABC’s 20/20 that the problem is “neither widespread nor systemic.” Southern Baptist president Frank Page says he doesn’t believe it’s a “large and systemic” problem.

So does this mean that the admitted “widespread” problem of 1998 has been addressed? No. It just means that Southern Baptist officials have stuck their heads in the sand even deeper.

In the intervening years, countless more kids have been molested, raped and sodomized by Southern Baptist ministers. Countless more congregants have been betrayed and countless more families torn asunder. There have been many, many more headlines, and there have also been many traumatized victims who barely whispered the abuse and didn't make headlines.

Richard Land was right back in 1998 when he said “it’s clearly a widespread and growing problem.” It’s a problem that clearly hasn’t gotten any better.

What good did the SBC’s so-called “guidelines” from 1994 do?

What became of that “denomination-wide response” that Richard Land talked about in 1998?

And why should we think that the SBC’s current plan for “guidelines” is going to be any more effective than their 1994 and 1998 plans were? Are more brochures on “screening procedures” going to have any greater impact now than they did back in 1998? Is all of this just still more talk from denominational leaders who have already shown themselves to be big on talk and small on action when it comes to clergy sex abuse?

It is long-past the time when Southern Baptist leaders should have realized that, to rid their ranks of clergy predators, it will take a lot more than a few brochures with “recommendations and guidelines.”

There is no better place to start than by warning parents about ministers who are proven, admitted, or credibly accused child molesters.

If Southern Baptist officials won’t even warn people about the clergy child molesters they’ve been told about, why should anyone imagine that they’ll be able to stop the clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about?

They can issue “guidelines” from now to kingdom-come, but if they fail to warn people about identified clergy child molesters, all the guidelines in the world will amount to mere window-dressing.

Fast forward to a decade in the future. Will Southern Baptist officials still be talking about “guidelines”? How many more kids will have been horribly hurt while this denomination’s leaders bragged about a few brochures?


Phyllis Gregory said...

I am beginning to wonder if it will ever change. I do think, though, if every victim, not just a few, sued the pastor, the church, the association, and the convention, and spread it in all the newspapers, the SBC would at least have to look at it day after day after day.

Also, there need to be support groups all over for SBC victims to get together and talk and share, to give each other comfort and strength, and to be there emotionally for each other should any person decide to take the entire SBC to court.

You, Dee Miller, and others have been very brave and courageous in taking them on. Others might be if they knew they were supported fully by a group of people who had been there and who would be there for them.

If the SBC and its members continue to deny the truth of what is going in their churches behind closed doors, maybe the rest of us just need to say to heck with them, we will do something about it whether they like it or not.

You have "played" nice; maybe it is time to consider how to play ugly! You can count me in to help in any way -- I am sure there are others all over the country who would also be most willing.

Take care.

John Harrison said...


Please do not feel the necessity to resort to "dirty" play. I have no way of understanding how deeply you and the other victims of such godless crime feel, but I am really trying. As a result of the vote by the SBC last year I believe that when the rank-in-file church member is confronted by the magnitude of the problem there will be a move to start doing something about this problem.
You mentioned a support group in your comments. Please consider letting those of us who sincerely want somthing done to be a part. All of you are so brave to share your stories that we must hear in order to respond.
To get "dirty" would only serve to hinder the message that must be shared. Please know that you are not alone and that we agree that this must be stopped.
John Harrison

gmommy said...

How would it "hinder the message that must be shared" if SBC ministers and their CEOs were to be held accountable for crimes against the weak, the wounded, and the innocent?

Shouldn't there be justice and safety in our churches?

You are probably sincere about your compassion... but read Christa's post is getting worse!

Christa Brown said...

I too often wonder whether things will ever change. I know that, even as I write this, there is probably a kid somewhere in a Southern Baptist church who is being abused, and somewhere else, there is a wounded adult trying to figure out who to tell and finding nowhere to turn. It grieves me. But for myself, I simply believe that this is what I am called to do at this moment in time. I am called to try to shine light on the problem. I am called to try to help others. I am called to advocate and to urgently urge change and accountability. But I try constantly to remind myself that I cannot control the outcome. If I allow myself to go down that mental path, it becomes way too depressing for me.

On a personal level, I have sadly come to the belief that Southern Baptist officials are not likely to ever do what is right on this for the sake of what is right or for the sake of protecting kids. I believe they will do what is right when enough media pressure is brought to bear. So...I do intend to keep doing everything within my power to keep it in the newspapers and to archive the stories on the website. And every day, I ask myself, how many more is it going to take before they will open their eyes and really see it. How many more will be savagely wounded before these men open their eyes?

Lawsuits are something that journalists can write about. That is what I see as perhaps the MOST valuable function of clergy abuse lawsuits. They allow truth to see the light of day. However, with the exception of just a few states (most notably California and Delaware), clergy abuse lawsuits are far more difficult to bring than most people imagine. Far too often, the statute of limitations is simply insurmountable, and attorneys can readily see that and so they won't take the cases. (SNAP also advocates for changes in state laws.)

Support groups are much needed, and I always encourage people to look on the SNAP site to see if there is a SNAP support group in your area. I myself went to SNAP support group meetings and found them VERY helpful, even though everyone else in my support group was a Catholic abuse survivor. But the patterns, the effect, the was all the same. (Except it appears to me that SBC officials are actually WORSE than most Catholic bishops in the sense of being more recalcitrant. I hear from Baptist abuse survivors who express ENVY of Catholic abuse survivors, because they see that most dioceses now provide immediate counseling stipends and have a system for reporting, etc.) Support groups also help people reach the point of realizing that they may be able to talk about it publicly - or that they can imagine themselves suing and talking to a reporter, or whatever. I think outreach to abuse survivors is so important, not only for their healing, but also so that others can begin to see how many of us there are.

Many thanks to John Harrison, a Southern Baptist minister who has worked to be part of the solution. He put his name on the clergy letter to SBC president Frank Page, essentially rebuking him for his harsh comments about clergy abuse survivors.

I believe this will be a very long road. Denial in this denomination runs very, very deep. I hope that, someday, there will rise up among Southern Baptist lay people a group akin to the Voice of the Faithful among Catholics -- a group that will help to carry the load of trying to advocate for change among Southern Baptist officials.

I have no bond to this faith community any longer, other than in the fact that it necessarily remains a part of me because of how I was raised. In fact, I think I'm a sort of mission-oriented person in part because of my Southern Baptist upbringing. Funny, huh?

If ANYONE else has any ideas on how else to get attention or what else to do or how else to reach out to more survivors, please let me know and/or please go forward with it.

Phyllis, John, gmommy - I have met none of you personally and yet I count you all three as friends and allies.

Phyllis Gregory said...

I live in Memphis and I attend another support group. I just found out that David Brown,whom I do not know, was a member of Bellevue, so I assume there is a SNAP group in Memphis. I am going to look into in and maybe check it out.

I have no clear memories of abuse by a minister. Most of my abuse was by my mother, father, and grandfather. I do have memories of seeing my father and a minister together in a sexually compromising situation -- I guess that is the way you would put it.

I think some of my abuse was by church people in church settings, but I have no clear memories of that. I do know though, that I have terrible over-reactions and extreme feelings of fright and sometimes terror when I am in church.

I used to think it was just the Baptist church, but, at different times, all churches give me the creeps.

Anyway, all that to say, I think I need to be involved in a SNAP support group and I hope I can find one here in Memphis.

Thanks to all of you -- except for Eric Stephens of course -- for all your encouraging words.

Take care.

John Harrison said...


I never ment to imply that lawsuits or any other legal action is dirty. we live in a country where this right is given to us to protect us from all types of bad people. If you have a cause or complaint worth fighting for, then go for it anyway that is legal.
Getting dirty to me is trying to destroy someone's character just because we do not like them or are mad at them. Ministers face the situation almost everyday on a varity of levels.
I want these people out of the church and into a cell and never be allowed to gwet near a child again the rest of their natural life. This behavior is sinnful, illegal, deadly, and has absolutely NO place in the church.
Thank you for letting me clear up any misunderstanding.

gmommy said...

Thank you John for the clarification.
I understood what Phyllis meant and I appreciated that Christa tagged you as a good guy!!

The man I trusted most at my fact,the one I trusted to spend time with my son....made the statement to me that the _____ (he used the name of the staff sexual predator at my church) didn't amount to a hill of beans to him.

I just knew something must be wrong with my ears and not the words coming from this godly man.

His wife was upset and told me he didn't mean it like I was hearing it....
I am still trying to figure out how those words meant something other than what they said.

So it is refreshing to hear a man express passion against sexual abuse.
Church SHOULD be a place where there is safety. We should be confident that "God's people" will be protective of the innocent and call sin SIN!!!

I found unchurched people more outraged by the sexual abuse committed by the minister at my church.
Many of the staff, deacons, ministers, and long time members had more compassion for the predator than they did for his victims.

It takes SO long to come to grips with why God allows children to be abused at all.
Years of crying, praying, and searching for answers....
then the very ones we trusted with our own children
(and we wounded mommy bears don't trust our baby bears to many)....betray that trust.

Phyllis Gregory said...

My goodness Mr. Harrison!

I was not suggesting slandering someone's good name and destroying their character. I am talking about all the ones who have no character and I am not talking slander; I am simply saying let the truth be known.

Listen, I know how ministers and their families can suffer. My husband is an ordained SBC preacher. He entered the ministry when he was 40, when we were living in Houston, and when we were still very involved Southern Baptists.

He was a bi-vocational minister -- he had a full-time job, he pastored a church, and he went to seminary part time. He was at one church almost three years and at another one a couple of years, I guess.

We suffered major burn out. We realized that CHURCH people could be some of the meanest, most vindictive, most controlling people there are.

I could go on and on, but this story is very long. He has not pastored since we have been back in Memphis. Now we do not even go to church that much.

I agree with everything Christa said and she said it much better than me. Keep it in the news. Don't let people forget what happened to her, to Ruth, to the people at Bellevue. Don't let people forget and make sure people know what is going on,how bad it is, and how the powers that be at the top of the SBC refuse to accept that there is a problem and refuse to do anything about it.

I am sorry if I confused you. I hope I have made my self quite clear this time.


Christa Brown said...

"Don't let people forget and make sure people know what is going on,how bad it is, and how the powers that be at the top of the SBC refuse to accept that there is a problem and refuse to do anything about it."

Phyllis: I could not possibly have said it any better!