Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tough talk without action

No one wants to be viewed as coddling clergy child molesters. But religious leaders often do exactly that, without realizing it and without admitting it to themselves. They do it by inaction.

That’s what makes this such a difficult problem. Denial runs deep, and inaction is by far the easiest response.

Anna Salter is a widely recognized expert on pedophiles and sex offenders. In her book, “Predators,” she explains this denial phenomenon this way:

“Mention ‘child molesters’ to the average audience, or even to most professional audiences, and they will immediately suggest ‘Colt .45 therapy’ or castration….It is a strangely comfortable answer for those who give it, and it absolves them of the harder work….The strangest part of this answer is that those who see child molesters as monsters seem the quickest -- when their neighbor, friend, or family member is accused -- to say that it is definitely a false report. After all, child molesters are perverts, creeps, and monsters, and their nice neighbor/minister/father/uncle/friend/priest is not a monster. Ergo, he is not a child molester. Once this kind of denial locks in, no amount of evidence will change their minds.”

I saw this phenomenon in my own case. When church leaders finally agreed to meet with me in person, one of the deacons bragged about how he’d “like to take a baseball bat and teach that man a lesson.” It was tough talk, and the other church leaders all nodded and said how much they cared about kids. I suppose it made them feel good about themselves, but I wasn’t impressed.

I had reported my perpetrator to church and denominational leaders over a year earlier, and no one did anything even though my report was readily substantiated by another minister in that very church, who knew about the abuse when I was a kid. In fact, rather than trying to stop the perpetrator or warn people in the pews, the church chose to threaten ME with a lawsuit. So the tough talk about “taking a baseball bat” to the perpetrator seemed a bit silly when the actual intimidation tactics had been inflicted on ME for trying to report him.

And even while that deacon was sitting there talking tough, my perpetrator was still working in children’s ministry.

And despite the deacon’s tough talk about “taking a baseball bat,” in actuality, he didn’t even have the courage to send a simple letter to the church where my perpetrator was currently working.

In 3 different states, associational and state Baptist leaders also chose inaction, as did national Baptist leaders in Nashville.

I didn’t want a baseball bat, and I sure wasn’t interested in their braggadocio or their self-congratulatory words on how much they cared about kids. I wanted a warning to people in the pews. But it took 18 months and filing a lawsuit myself to finally get the church that knew about the abuse to send a simple letter to the man’s current church. Even then, I don’t think the news would have made it to people in the pews without my own additional efforts.

It’s a lot easier for Southern Baptist leaders to talk tough than it is for them to actually take tough action to deal with reported perpetrators. That do-nothing road is the road that gets taken over and over again in Southern Baptist circles. It’s a deeply entrenched road of institutionalized denial.

I feel certain that every Southern Baptist leader would tell you how much they loathe clergy child molesters and how much they care about kids. But without effective action, all that talk only makes them feel better about themselves. It doesn’t serve to actually make kids safer.


gmommy said...

As I used to say when I was a Baptist....Amen!

With the SAME breath the SBC leaders say how horrible a child sexual predator is...they also say it was a mistake of the mind not the heart! OR that their "moral failure" is Under the Blood!

And the worse one....that we should forgive if that is the issue!

Keep covering up for the perverted ministers...let them leave quietly and go molest children in another SBC church!

I'm grateful the minister from Walnut Grove Baptist in Memphis has been arrested and charged.

Cheering for the courageous young man that blew his cover!!!

Christa Brown said...

Me too, gmommy! I'm cheering for the courageous young man who blew Steve Haney's cover, and I'm also wondering how the boy who tried to report Haney back in the mid-90s is now feeling. That's what makes it all the more tragic - Haney could have been stopped sooner.

Want to know more about the Steve Haney/Walnut Grove case? Read here and here . He was arrested last summer and indicted last week.