Friday, September 14, 2007

Retraumatizing horror of Baptist leaders' complicity

In Ruth’s new Survivor Story, she tells about how she got lost going home from church, even though she lived just a few blocks and even though she had been going to that church for 25 years. She couldn’t believe how horribly her church had handled a clergy abuse report, how church leaders had covered things up, and how they had minimized such serious offenses.

I could really identify with Ruth’s disorientation.

When I finally started coming unraveled, I managed one day to back into my own car in my own driveway. The car at the end of the driveway was parked exactly where it was always parked, and yet somehow, I forgot it was there, and when I looked in the rearview mirror (which I swear I did), I somehow didn’t see it. I backed the car in the garage straight into that car in the driveway.

It was pretty humbling.

This stuff really messes with your head, and my brain just wasn’t holding it all together during that time.

It had been eight months since I reported my perpetrator to church and denominational leaders, and then I found him still working in children’s ministry in Florida. Despite the SBC’s letter saying they had no record of him, he had actually been in ministry all along, and at very prominent Southern Baptist churches. Despite another minister’s confirmation of my abuse and despite the BGCT’s determination that there was “substantial evidence,” no one did anything to stop that man from working with kids. That realization pretty much unglued me.

Then when I actually heard his voice, recorded in the pulpit of still another Florida church and telling them how blessed he was to be working with them in their children’s ministry, I threw up on the spot. I was sick for weeks.

About that time was when I started seeing fear in my husband’s eyes, and I knew I had put it there. I hated that. He was doing everything he could, but the fear was still there. He knew I was too close to the edge, and he wasn’t sure whether I would keep my grip or let go. I wasn’t sure either.

The reason I came unraveled during that time wasn’t only because of what the perpetrator did to me when I was a kid. I came unraveled because I then realized how many other Southern Baptist leaders had ignored me, misled me, and threatened me….when all the while he was still working in children’s ministry and no one ….NO ONE….thought it mattered.

It was bad enough when it was just a matter of church and denominational leaders treating ME awful. But when I realized that he had actually been in children’s ministry all along, and that no one was going to protect those kids either….I could hardly handle it....

I was retraumatized by it. The original trauma was re-triggered and enlarged by the horror of realizing that no one even thought it mattered enough to do anything. It wasn’t just about the perpetrator. It was about all the other Baptist leaders.

The silent complicity of the many. The cowardly cover-ups. The blind-eyed do-nothing response of so many leaders. THAT is what keeps kids from being safe in Southern Baptist churches. And THAT is what inflicts such greater wounds on so many abuse survivors.

It is so much easier for Southern Baptist leaders to simply blame the perpetrators and never look beyond. But if this problem is going to be effectively addressed, Southern Baptist leaders must also look in the mirror and see their own part in this pattern of horror.

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