Monday, September 24, 2007

Kudos to Baptist abuse survivor Debbie Vasquez!

In a Bible drill, Debbie Vasquez would definitely beat me. She’s a woman who loves the word of God and loves her faith.

She’s also a Southern Baptist clergy abuse survivor who finally got fed up.

Debbie’s story is especially close to my heart because she first contacted SNAP after seeing TV news coverage about my own case. When I see how strong and outspoken Debbie has become, it allows me to think that perhaps the pain of going public with my own case was worthwhile.

I’m embarrassed now to admit how impatient I once felt with Debbie. Like so many other clergy abuse survivors, she wanted desperately to believe that her experience could be used to make other kids safer. And for such a long time, she persisted in believing that the Baptist General Convention of Texas would want to help her. She tried and tried to communicate with the BGCT, and she couldn’t believe they wouldn’t do anything to warn people about her perpetrator, who was still in the pulpit.

Of course, part of why I felt so frustrated with Debbie was because the persistence of her belief in the BGCT was so similar to what I myself had once felt. Watching how things unfolded with Debbie was like watching my own history re-enacted. The Baptist General Convention of Texas was just as big on talk and short on action as it had always been. People there weren’t any better educated than before, and kids in Baptist churches were still being left at risk. Nothing had changed.

But as time went on, something did change. Debbie changed.

She grew weary of the easy talk of Baptist leaders.

Debbie stood with me at a press conference in Dallas during last year’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She carried a print-out of pertinent Bible verses in her hand.

She then stood by my side as we talked with a BGCT leader who rambled on about how most ministers who commit “sexual misconduct” are mere “wanderers” and not “predators.” When I pointed out that Debbie and I were abused as kids, such that there could be no doubt about the predatory nature of it, his eyes simply glazed over. I guess we didn’t fit his abstract theory, and so he just continued his monologue.

Months later, when Debbie saw press statements of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, proudly saying how they were “cracking down” on sex abuse, Debbie called it what it was – “a publicity stunt.” She knew it was just talk and that kids were still just as much at risk.

She wrote to Frank Page and Augie Boto at the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, and for a long time, she kept their responses confidential. But again, she ultimately grew weary with the lack of action.

When Debbie realized that Boto was the SBC staff person assigned to assist the committee on the clergy sex abuse study, she wondered how Boto could possibly be the right person for the job, given the things he had said. Last week, she turned his emails over to the press. Bravo Debbie!

Shouldn’t that committee have assistance from someone who doesn’t have such a negative attitude? That was Debbie’s essential question, and it’s a good one.

Given that 8600 Southern Baptist messengers voted for the predator database study, shouldn’t the committee be getting advice from people who aren’t already biased against it? Doesn’t the vote of 8600 Baptist believers deserve at least that much respect?

You can read more about Debbie’s story in the Denton Record-Chronicle and in her own words. Be sure to notice Dickie Amyx’s quote at the bottom of the Chronicle story: “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

It’s a sad day for Southern Baptists when that’s the sort of excuse their ministers put up…and nobody does anything.

Debbie says the abuse began when she was 14, and I know for sure which person I believe. But even if you take Dickie Amyx at his own word, if you’re a parent with kids in a Southern Baptist church, wouldn’t you like to think that someone in leadership would DO something about this? Yes? Well that’s what we want too.

19 comments:

Eric Stephens said...

I am sorry to say that I agree completely with the emails you received from the SBC representatives.

Accusatory websites, blogs, etc. are not helpful and should be avoided. Your passion is understood, but your methods are counterproductive.

Phyllis Gregoory said...

Oh, take a hike! You sound like a
typical SBC member. If these methods are counterproductive, what would you suggest.

Eric Stephens said...

Regardless of your dissatisfaction with the system - as a Christian it does not give you the right to falsely accuse. Period.

How easy would it be for me to "accuse" you of something similar. No real proof, just an accusation. That's all you need to get written about on this site. That's why you are not taken seriously.

Christa Brown said...

Debbie Vasquez has a paternity judgment against her clergy-perpetrator. She has DNA evidence. That's a good deal more than "just an accusation."

You slander me when you accuse ME of "falsely" accusing people. You don't have that right. Period. I post comment on news articles that have already been published and on public documents. Professional journalists rely on established standards and typically have multiple sources. A reporter's story is typically reviewed by at least one editor and often several before the story makes print.

I have repeatedly and endlessly asked this denomination to create a professional objective independent review board to consider reports of clergy abuse and to warn and inform people in the pews. The denomination itself SHOULD be posting this kind of information and informing people.

As Christians, NONE of you have the right to ignore clergy child molesters or even accusations of clergy child molestation. Any such allegations should be looked into in a responsible manner. And that's true regardless of what your "system" is. The safety and sanctity of children are a great deal more important than your precious "system."

Eric Stephens said...

I am now publicly accusing you of molesting me when I was in 3rd grade....It will hit the papers tomorrow.


Obviously, not really. The point I am trying to make is that anyone can accuse. If the person is proven guilty - publish all you (anyone, not just you specifically) want. Until then, you are wrong. Very wrong.

Christa Brown said...

Good luck with that. Most reporters would never write such a story if it was nothing more than your accusation. And even if you found some new young reporter willing to write it, their editor would almost certainly refuse to print it.

The FBI estimates that only 1 to 10 percent of child molesters are ever criminally prosecuted. Just this past July, the National District Attorneys Association passed a resolution expressly recognizing that most child molesting "offenders escape responsibility for their criminal actions." This is why the other major religious denominations in this country have recognized that the religious community itself must assume some responsibility for looking into abuse allegations when they are brought forward and for assuring that people who stand in a position of spiritual trust are beyond doubt. If Southern Baptists insist that a minister can remain in the pulpit for so long as he can avoid criminal conviction, then that's going to leave a lot of child molesters in positions of trust and a lot of kids at risk. As a matter of principle, it also seems like a pathetically low standard for a Christian faith community.

David Brown said...

Dear Eric I feel so sorry for you and if you have children I fear for them. Your comments show very little understanding of this horrible crime.

I too am a victim. I was repeatedly raped and abused by a Catholic priest in 1961-62. I was never able to confront my prep, he died in 1979. I was silent for over 35 years, yet in 1996 when I told the Bishop of the Nashville Diocese about him, he did not hesitate to believe me.

You think this stuff is made up? Please visit www.darkness2light.org or www.snapnetwork.org and look at their stats.

I am also a long time SBC member. I was a member at Bellevue Baptist Church/Memphis for over 24 years and I was the one that reported PW to the authorities when I became aware of his abuse.

How dare you to imply we are lying. My dear brother you are wrong and I am calling on you to apologize NOW. If you think you can come on here and bully people it won’t work. Nothing worse can be done to us than what our pedophile ministers/priests have done to us. We are not intimidated so please get your head out of the sand. I pray this evil never visits your family yet if it does I seriously doubt you would know what to do to help the victim. And that is the real shame, your ignorance and refusal to recognize what so many of us have suffered. You are in my prayers.

David Brown
SNAP director of Memphis/West Tennessee
901/569-4500
davidbrown@bigriver.net

Eric Stephens said...

You guys are funny. The only difference I have with you is that I would never publicly accuse someone until I knew they were guilty. That is a biblical principle and one that I intend to keep.

Anyone can be accused. Some are guilty and some are not. Let's make sure we get the ones who are and do not destroy the ones who are not.

Honestly, to disagree with that - is something beyond my comprehension.

Christa Brown said...

eric stephens says: "Some are guilty...Let's make sure we get the ones who are..."

And exactly how do you imagine that's going to happen, Mr. Stephens, when there is no one in this denomination who will objectively and independently review a clergy child molestation report? How do you imagine that's going to happen when victims who muster all their courage to try to report abuse get back a 2-sentence email saying "churches are autonomous"? When the leaders of this denomination start caring just as much about protecting children against abuse as they do about protecting their colleagues against false-accusation (a risk that professionals in the field say is less than 4 percent of all accusations), then Southern Baptist kids will be a great deal safer.

And you think those of us trying to protect kids against this horror are "funny." Attitudes like yours are "something beyond my comprehension."

Phyllis Gregory said...

Mr. Stephens, you are pathetic. You are such a typical hide-your-head-in-the-sand Southern Baptist who believes that preachers do no wrong.

I hope you are never faced with the things that Christa, David, Ruth, myself, and others have had to face -- preachers and church people are not always what they appear to be.

I believe, though, on some level you must believe all this or you would not continue to read Christa's blogs and feel the need to respond to what she has to say.

I really do feel sorry for you.

Phyllis Gregory

John Harrison said...

People! People!

As a former pastor I can tell you that churches seem to have an over abundance of "Eric's"! They want to pretend to hold to the high road and not get involved in anything controversial. Yet when the proof is right in front of them they cry, "But shouln't we forgive them?" They know nothing about divine justice and individual Christian responsibilty. My answer to him is the prayer of Paul; "Lord deliver me from wicked and unreasonable people!"

Thank all of you for standing up for righteousness in the face of such religious cowardice.
John

Eric Stephens said...

John. Apparantly you are blind as well.

We are on the same team. I just do not agree with trying people in the media. If someone is molested - call the police. You do not need the SBC to administer things. They have no authority.

If accusations are made - allow the authorities to do their job. If they are proven guilty - throw the book at them. If they are not - leave them alone.

That's it. If you can't agree with that...

Christa Brown said...

Wrong, Mr. Stephens. Southern Baptist kids all across this country DO need for SBC leadership to become a great deal more proactive about protecting them against predators. But the timid leadership of this denomination seems determined that Southern Baptists should be the very last to institute the sorts of protective review measures that virtually every other major faith group in this country has already done in some form or fashion. SBC leaders wash their hands of it and leave kids at risk. In so doing, they effectively allow child molesters to remain in their pulpits unless and until they're criminally convicted (and even then they sometimes don't seem to care - e.g. Romeoville), all the while knowing that over 90 percent of active child molesters have never been criminally convicted of anything, and most CAN'T be prosecuted by the time they're brought to the attention of law enforcement. There are men who have had literally dozens of child molestation allegations brought against them who have still never, ever been convicted of anything. This is why most other major faith groups have stepped up to the plate and started DOING SOMETHING to make sure predators aren't in positions of trust. But meanwhile, Southern Baptist leaders are still doing a little soft-shoe side-step and pretending like it's not their problem. Every parent in a Southern Baptist pew should be outraged by such a lack of leadership. Oh...wait a minute...maybe they were a bit upset. Maybe that's why 8600 messengers voted for a predator database study at the last annual meeting. Baptist believers HAVE spoken, Mr. Stephens. And apparently they didn't like your "do nothing" viewpoint. Now if only Southern Baptist leadership would actually act on the expressed will of those 8600 messengers and give some real meaning to the notion that Southern Baptists are a "bottom-up" organization.

Eric Stephens said...

The problem with your logic is that the SBC has zero authority over any individual church. I think that is what you do not understand about the convention.

Other denominations actually control local church activity, the SBC does not. Your idea can't work within the context of the SBC. Let's try and think of a different way to accomplish your goal. Like it or not, plan B needs to begin.

Christa Brown said...

Apparently 8600 Southern Baptist messengers didn't buy your argument that the SBC can't do anything about it. For far too long, that cowardly head-in-the-sand approach has been the SBC's plan A. We've heard the "zero authority" argument a gazillion times - so often that I put up pages related to it here and here.

With or without "authority," the SBC manages all manner of other endeavors through a cooperative effort, and so I don't buy the argument that they can't make a cooperative effort to better protect kids. Even with "zero authority" over local churches, the SBC could still undertake to review abuse reports, to warn and inform people in the pews, and to keep a database of convicted, admitted, and credibly accused clergy.

And if it's really true that Southern Baptists just aren't able to rid their ranks of clergy child molesters in the same way that "other denominations" are doing (through review boards and informing people in the pews), then maybe Southern Baptist leaders just need to go ahead and make a press release to that effect - something like this: "Sorry moms and dads - we just can't do anything about these clergy child molesters because our denomination is different and we have zero authority. Too bad about so many kids. I hope the wolves don't get one of yours."

John Harrison said...

Eric,

To think that the SBC has NO authority over SBC churches is a head in the sand mentallity. They refuse money from churches that are pro-homopsexuality therby making them non-SBC churches. The same could be done with churches who show no sence of responsibility towards protecting children from godless men in their pulpits. As you SHOULD know churches benefit from having the SBC label on their signs. They would also not only suffer from not being an SBC church materially but it would send a public warning to all interested parties not to send your children there as they have proven that they are not interested in protecting children and adults from abuse.
No system is going to be perfect but a lack of a system guraentees imperfection.
It is all about MONEY. Belevue Baptist Church should face some type of public reprimand and censor for their failure to do as you said,"call the police."
It is about power and influence. Look at Cxharles Standley. In spite of many negative statements by him about divorced pastors, and our own SBC following in line with him, since HE has been divorced he still is in demand in almost ALL major SBC areas.
Eric, I am a believer in autonomy. A church can choose to be a part of the SBC if it wants to. If it does, there is nothing wrong with a level of value expectations to be a part of that membership. It can be done,, it has been done, and IT MUST BE DONE!
Enough is enough already. We are suffering a serious blow to our compassion and credibility by backing off from this issue rather than seeing the seriousness of the problem and attempting to do something other than cry,"But we can't do anything!"
When I pastored, I was very involved on the state and national level. My position is based on the things I saw "the powers that be" do in the name of God and missions. It is time to be a part of the solution not a bystander crying "FOUL" because the problem takes you out of your comfort zone.
Come on. Get involved.

Eric Stephens said...

When someone disagrees with the editor of this blog - it will be deleted.

Do not waste your time with this site. You hate the fact that people ignore you - yet you choose to do the same to anyone with a differing opinion.

Hypocrite?

Christa Brown said...

Mr. Stephens:
I allow anonymous comments on my blog and comments from people who don't make their profile visible because I want to allow clergy abuse survivors to comment freely. It's not for the purpose of allowing people to slander me. You don't get to slander me on my own blog. If you want to slander me, there are plenty of other blogs on which you can do that.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Mr. Stephens,

Will you please just go away. I think you must have your own issues and problems. Maybe you need to find a therapist.

Phyllis Gregory