Friday, November 30, 2007

Prevention and compassion

For faith groups that proactively try to address clergy sex abuse, prevention and compassion go hand in hand.

After all, how will people find out about clergy child molesters if victims are turned away and intimidated when they try to report their abuse?

For Southern Baptists, their leaders are still way behind the curve compared to the leaders of other faith groups.

Southern Baptists don’t even provide a safe place to which victims may report abuse. So most victims don’t try.

Why should they?

Why should Southern Baptist abuse survivors risk being re-traumatized by the process of reporting clergy abuse when there is no denominational system for responsibly handling their reports?

Why should they risk the horrible hurtfulness of hearing Southern Baptist leaders shoo them away with that “all churches are autonomous” line while their reported perpetrators stand smiling in their pulpits?

Why should they even attempt to speak of something so profoundly painful with church leaders, who typically have neither the training nor experience to properly hear it, and who are almost always predisposed to circle the wagons around the accused minister?

Why should they risk being threatened with lawsuits by church attorneys, and shamed and vilified by pastor-loving congregants?

Why should they try to report their abuse when they can barely speak about the pain of what was done to them in the past and when reporting it will almost certainly mean having additional pain heaped on by still more religious leaders?

Why should they try to report their abuse when they know that, more than likely, nothing will come of it, they will receive no help, and their perpetrators will remain in their pulpits anyway?

The answer is this: They shouldn’t. Rationality would dictate against it.

Yet, extraordinarily courageous victims defy rationality and try to report their perpetrators anyway. Even in the face of so much heaped-on hurtfulness, they cling to a tiny thread of hope that their action might make someone else safer.

Usually, their efforts are futile. Church and denominational leaders still do nothing.

Why should anyone believe that Southern Baptist leaders will be able to prevent abuse by clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about when, day in and day out, they do nothing about the clergy child molesters they’re specifically told about?

Until the victims themselves are received with compassion and until there is some system for hearing their reports and assessing them, other steps will never be adequate. No amount of Lifeway brochures or subsidized background checks can substitute for the need to treat the victims with compassion and to hear what they have to say.

If there were a system for receiving clergy abuse victims with compassion and for responsibly hearing their accounts of abuse, many more would take the risk of reporting their perpetrators. Then we might eventually learn who many more of the clergy-perpetrators are.

Perhaps that is exactly what some Southern Baptist leaders don’t want people to find out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good Samaritan holds lesson for treatment of clergy abuse victims

Many Southern Baptist leaders, including president Frank Page, have indicated they don’t think a predator database would help prevent clergy child molestation. Though Page’s own expressed logic belies that conclusion, let’s just assume for now that he’s right.

Let’s just assume that other major faith groups, who have seen the need for record-keeping on “credibly accused” clergy, are all wrong, and that Southern Baptist leaders are right in believing this wouldn’t help with preventing abuse in the future.

Would that be the end of the matter?

What about the people who have already been wounded? How should they be treated?

What is the moral and Christian response that religious leaders should make to individuals who report having been sexually abused as kids by Southern Baptist clergy?

These are people who often bear grievous psychological and spiritual wounds. As kids, they were stripped of humanity and dignity by men they were raised to trust unconditionally. They were violated in unspeakable ways by men of God, with words of God, and often in the house of God.

The trauma from this sort of abuse is so devastating that many victims never speak of it at all, and those who do, often wait many, many years.

When clergy abuse victims are finally able to report their perpetrators, is it enough for religious leaders to shrug off their reports by telling them “all churches are autonomous”?

Is it moral for religious leaders to simply ignore such wounded people even while knowing that accused perpetrators remain in their pulpits?

Is it Christian for religious leaders to sermonize such wounded people on forgiveness while doing nothing to help them?

Through no fault of their own, clergy abuse victims are stripped of everything dear and then left wounded, naked, and bleeding in the dirt of a spiritual desert. Years later, when they have finally crawled to the edge of the desert road, they will sometimes still muster a breath of hope to reach out to the faith community from which they came and seek help. Tragically, for Southern Baptist victims, their experience usually winds up being similar to that of the wounded traveler in Luke 10.

Southern Baptist leaders look down from their high donkeys and pass right on by. The wounds of clergy abuse victims are too ugly, and so they avert their eyes. If Southern Baptist leaders allowed themselves to actually see those grievous wounds, they would have to face truths that do not flatter them, and this is something they apparently lack the intestinal fortitude to do.

After all, these are not just any wounds. These are wounds that were inflicted by Southern Baptist clergy themselves. These are wounds that transform the victims into untouchables within the faith community.

So Southern Baptist abuse victims experience the reality of the good Samaritan parable. We thought religious leaders would surely help us, but they wind up being the people who almost never do. Instead, they run their donkeys right past us and sometimes right over us. They leave us bleeding in the dirt, and do nothing to bind our wounds.

If help arrives, it almost invariably comes from unexpected people.

Southern Baptist leaders are so focused on the letter of their religious law of church autonomy that they neglect the spiritual components of compassion and care.

Yet Jesus Himself rejected the letter of the religious law of his day and called people to a life of the spirit. He called people to the sort of life exemplified by the action of the good Samaritan -- a life of compassion put into deeds.

Though the good Samaritan owed no obligation to the wounded stranger in the desert, he still got down off that donkey and did something. He went to the wounded person. He heard his moans and saw the wounds up close. He bound those wounds and he cared for the person.

It’s time for Southern Baptist leaders to get down off their donkeys and grapple with the question of how to make a Christian response to people who have been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy.

At a minimum, shouldn’t there be some place within the faith community where the cries of the wounded can at least be heard?

Jesus would point Southern Baptist leaders to the story of the good Samaritan and tell them, “Go and do likewise.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

SBC president gives reason FOR predator database

Just before Thanksgiving, reporter Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal interviewed Southern Baptist president Frank Page and asked him about sexual abuse and whether the Southern Baptist Convention should adopt a registry. He was talking about the sort of registry that 8600 Southern Baptist messengers supported when they voted to have the SBC Executive Committee study the feasibility of creating a database of credibly accused clergy sex abusers.

Page’s answer was revealing. Take a look:

Q. You've had to deal with the issue of sexual abuse (with advocates for victims seeking stricter policies against abusers in the ministry). Can you tell me your feelings about whether the convention should adopt a registry or a policy on sexual abuse?

A. I can only tell you that the Executive Committee is dealing with this. I have met with them on more than one occasion. I have met with our general counsel, the attorney who's in charge of the subcommittee that's dealing with this. We continue to look for ways to empower churches to deal with these issues. The issue of a registry is still under consideration, but (we have been told) that a national registry is not the way to best protect children. For example, if we were to have a national registry, what we know happens with true abusers, they just switch to another denomination that doesn't access a denominational database. We have stated over and over that a local church is where abuse occurs, and the local church is where protection must be strongest….

Though Page indicates his view that a registry is "not the way," he then proceeds unwittingly to give the reason for why there SHOULD be a registry.

If perps switch to denominations that don’t have a database, and if Southern Baptists persist in not having a database, then perps will gravitate to Southern Baptist churches.

By refusing to keep records, the largest Protestant denomination in the land is essentially opening its doors to clergy child molesters.

Over 700 Catholic priests have been removed from ministry based on "credible accusations" but have never been convicted of anything. What’s to prevent them from switching to the Southern Baptist faith and working as ministers in Southern Baptist churches? Conceivably, if they could get a foot-hold as a volunteer youth minister in a small church, they could start the process of moving from church to church and there would be no denominational database to track them.

And if Page is so concerned about the possibility that Southern Baptist perps might simply switch to denominations that don’t have registries, why couldn’t Southern Baptists make their database available to people in Bible churches, or in independent Baptist churches or in other groups?

Does Page’s answer make any sense? Does anyone really believe that the reason Southern Baptist leaders don’t want to establish a predator database is because they’re worried that Southern Baptist clergy-perps may simply switch to other denominations that lack a database?

When Southern Baptist leaders give such nonsensical excuses, it’s obvious something more is going on. I think Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, may have been on to them when he said that if the SBC “acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits.”

Is this the real reason why Southern Baptist leaders don’t implement oversight measures similar to what other faith groups have done?

Are they simply choosing to protect themselves against the risk of lawsuits rather than protecting kids against clergy child molesters?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Coping with Baptist slurs

Some of you have asked me how I manage to keep my equilibrium when Southern Baptist leaders sling so much mud my way. I thought about that question again a few days ago when it was reported that “media staff at a large, moderate Baptist state convention” referred to me as “that woman” while criticizing clergy sex abuse news coverage.

It’s not hard to guess which state convention that was. I figure it’s probably the same one that likes to brag so much about how enlightened it is on clergy abuse. Laughable, huh?

Their “that woman” slur is a stupid one. It reflects poorly on them, shows them for who they really are, and makes them seem like cartoons.

But of course, plenty of other Baptist leaders have said plenty of worse things. Mean things. Hateful things. Hurtful things. Ignorant things.

So here’s the truth about how I cope with it.

I put on my headphones, plug in the Bruce Springsteen playlist, and crank up the volume about as loud as I think my eardrums can stand. Then I head out for a run.

By the end of the run, I’m usually feeling pretty good. And I’m starting to get stronger on the hills. Guess I ought to say thanks to Southern Baptist leaders for that. Turns out their insults are a motivational force.

“No retreat, Baby, no surrender.” (Bruce Springsteen on Born in the USA)

Thursday, November 22, 2007


We call ourselves “survivors.” It’s more than a word. It’s an ever-present reality for which I am grateful. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

There are far too many who do not survive the profound wounding that is inflicted by the sexual abuse of a trusted religious leader. Often, it is the collusion of still more religious leaders that seals off the dark tunnel, leaving victims trapped within and void of hope.

Every clergy sex abuse story is tragic, but the stories of those who successfully commit suicide are among the most heart-wrenching of all.

Many other clergy abuse victims survive in body, but are lost down a myriad of dark chasms. Lost to alcohol. Lost to drug addiction. Lost to rage. Lost to self-mutilating behaviors. Lost to chronic depression and mental illness. Lost to anything that might dull the pain.

I am grateful to have come out on the other side of that dreadful darkness, still alive and sane. But I have never forgotten the power of that darkness. I once woke up in my own vomit and felt only surprise at being alive and disgust at my ineptness.

Today I give thanks for my ineptness and for the goodness of this life that is mine. Whatever pain I may feel when I speak of this trauma, I am grateful for the capacity to feel that pain, and for the ability to speak.

I also give thanks for all of you. I am grateful for your lives, your goodness and your courage.

Sexual abuse is the most underreported crime in the nation because of the severity and duration of the trauma. Most victims never seek help or make their experience public in any way.

Wherever you are in your journey, if you are looking at this blog, you have probably at least stepped past that “no turning back” milestone of seeing the reality of the abuse in your own head. That alone is an act of enormous courage.

Godspeed in your journeys!

Shine on!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oprah sends clear message

A dorm matron was charged with sexually abusing 13 to 15 year-old girls at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg.

Oprah’s response was swift. The accused dorm matron was immediately suspended.

The headmistress at the school claimed she had no knowledge of the girls’ allegations, but the headmistress was also suspended. Oprah has now announced that the headmistress’ contract will not be renewed, reportedly indicating that complaints from the girls were ignored.

When the allegations first arose, Oprah immediately went to the school in person. She took her own investigators and counselors. She set out to get to the bottom of it, and she assured the girls of her unwavering commitment. She apologized to the girls and their families.

Though Oprah herself was not responsible for hiring at the school, she still took responsibility and she took action. After all, the school bore her name.

“I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls becomes a safe and nurturing and enriched setting,” she said.

With such strong and immediate action, Oprah sent a clear message.

To the girls, her message says that what was done to them is a matter of consequence, and that their humanity and dignity are precious.

To perpetrators and those who turn a blind eye, her message says that they will indeed be held accountable if they work at an institution that carries the Oprah Winfrey name.

What would it be like if the actions of Southern Baptist leaders sent the same sort of message? It’s hard to even imagine because, so far, they simply don’t choose to take action.

But by their inaction, they also send a message. It is a very different sort of message and one that makes a heresy of the Southern Baptist name.

By their inaction, Southern Baptist leaders tell clergy-perpetrators who carry that name that, even when their horrific deeds are brought to light, they will not be held accountable. By their inaction, they tell other Baptist leaders who turn a blind eye that they will not be held accountable either.

By their inaction, Southern Baptist leaders tell clergy abuse victims that what was done to them is a matter of no consequence, and that their humanity and dignity carry no worth.

These are tragic messages that are being communicated daily by the inaction of Southern Baptist leaders.

Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders provide churches with a professional investigatory body that would responsibly look into clergy abuse allegations?

Why don’t they reach out to those who report clergy abuse and treat them with dignity, compassion, and care?

Why aren’t they just as committed as Oprah to assuring that Southern Baptist churches are safe and nurturing settings?

Why don’t they care as much about the Southern Baptist name as Oprah cares about her name?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Good stewardship

Several times now, in conversations with leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I’ve listened to the same phrase: “Good stewardship.”

The second time I heard it, I realized I was probably hearing the official party line from the Baptist building in Dallas. I think this is what they’ve come up with to rationalize their horrific handling of my clergy abuse report. They’ve wrapped up their ugly complicity in a tidy biblical phrase and redefined it as “good stewardship.”

“Once lawyers get involved, all holds are off and we have to leave it up to them,” they say. “It’s just good stewardship…we have to protect our resources.”

Of course, the BGCT has lawyers involved from the get-go. And the BGCT refers churches to legal counsel and even provides counsel to churches faced with clergy abuse.

Numerous publications from Nashville and state conventions tell churches that the first thing they should do on receiving a clergy abuse report is to consult with legal counsel.

So lawyers are involved. Make no mistake about that. The state convention, the church, and the SBC will all see to it.

Clearly, they aren’t opposed to consulting with lawyers. They keep their own lawyers at the beck ‘n ready. Their complaint about lawyers is only if the victim consults with one.

Here’s why I figure they’re dishing out their silly “good stewardship” rationalization to me.

When I first started dealing with this, I did what I usually do when confronted with a problem: I started reading a lot of stuff. In my research, I ran across the name of a woman who had testified to the BGCT’s clergy abuse task force back in 1999. Deborah Dail had met with the committee-members and talked with them when they were putting together the BGCT’s policy booklet, “Broken Trust.”

I was thrilled when I found her. I figured she would know exactly who I should contact at the BGCT for making a clergy abuse report. And I figured she would know exactly how I should present it so as to be consistent with BGCT policy.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much I cared about trying to be inoffensive and nice.

Of course, first of all, I contacted the music minister at the church I grew up in -- i.e., the minister who knew about the other minister’s abuse of me as a kid. I felt certain he would be happy to hear from me and would want to help. “People are better educated nowadays,” I thought.

How wrong I was. He didn’t want to help. He wanted to talk with an attorney. And even in a second conversation, after he had time to talk to an attorney and to think about it, he still insisted that there was no good reason for me to bring it up.

After that, I got Dail to help me make my clergy abuse report to the BGCT. I wanted to do it right.

Between the time of her 1999 testimony to the BGCT and the time I came along, Dail had become a lawyer. But she was happy to help me make my abuse report, and she didn’t make any sort of legal demand. She acted more in the role of a Christian conciliator than a lawyer.

My abuse report didn’t threaten any lawsuit. It didn’t ask for money. I simply asked for the same amount of counseling that, by published policy, the BGCT provides to clergy perpetrators to restore them to ministry -- i.e., two years’ worth. (It seemed reasonable to me to think that, if they were going to provide counseling to perpetrators, they should also provide counseling to victims.) I also asked for some public symbolic gesture, such as a small sculpture or meditation garden, dedicated in prayer for the healing of clergy abuse victims. And I asked that the BGCT warn people in the communities where my perpetrator worked.

Despite my effort to make my report fit their policies, and even though I asked for so little, the BGCT’s long-time attorney responded by threatening to sue me on behalf of the church. And then they put me through a long-continuing hell because of my request that they take action to warn people about my perpetrator.

And now…presumably because Dail happened to have been an attorney….BGCT leaders have come up with a post-hoc rationalization for their abysmal conduct. They spin it into a package called “good stewardship.”

But here’s what’s really in their “good stewardship” package: bullying and intimidation of those who report clergy abuse, leaving perpetrators in their pulpits without warning people in the pews, and leaving kids at risk of harm from known clergy child molesters.

It’s obvious the BGCT’s “good stewardship” song-and-dance is just a rationalization, because it’s not as if they do any better for victims who don’t have a lawyer. Oh…they may dish out a pastoral pat on the head, but if the victim actually wants them to DO something -- i.e., to warn people about a clergy child molester -- it ain’t gonna happen.

If the BGCT wants to talk about “good stewardship,” why don’t they concern themselves with “good stewardship” of the next generation of kids? Why don’t they do everything possible to warn people in the pews and to protect kids against reported clergy child molesters? That’s what would really be “good stewardship.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It ain't moral just cuz it's legal

Many think the law is all black and white. It’s not. There are huge areas of grey. If there weren’t so much grey, lawyers wouldn’t have so much to argue about.

One of those grey areas is the area in between zealous advocacy and overstepping the bounds.

Some lawyers will use the threat of a lawsuit as an intimidation tactic. It’s a way to shut someone up. It forces them to spend a lot more money and it lets them know that they’re going to be in for a whole heckuva lot more headaches if they don’t back off and shut up. So that’s exactly what a lot of people do.

Recently, such a tactic was used against bloggers who wrote about the religious violence of the “Left Behind” video games.

Personally, I consider such intimidation tactics as overstepping the bounds. But some lawyers might shrug and call it zealous advocacy.

I got to experience similar intimidation tactics when I tried to report a Baptist clergy child molester. Much like a doctor who gains a new perspective on hospital policy when he himself becomes a patient, I felt the full brunt of it, not with the professional detachment of a lawyer, but as an ordinary wounded person trying to protect others and trying to get some denominational help.

Worse than a body blow, it felt like an evisceration. I curled up on my bed in a ball, and tried to make myself small, as though if only I curled tightly enough, I might be able to disappear.

I could not believe that the faith community I grew up in would do such a thing. Why would they threaten to sue me when the music minister had already admitted his knowledge of the other minister’s abuse of me as a kid?

I could think of only one reason: to shut me up.

What finally brought me out of my fetal ball was the knowledge that this lawyer had been working for the Baptist General Convention of Texas for over a decade and the realization that, if he used such intimidation tactics on me, he had probably used them on a whole lot of other clergy abuse victims as well. I figured his tactics probably worked exceptionally well with clergy abuse victims, given how reluctant most are to talk about it anyway.

Ultimately, I couldn’t let go of wondering how many other clergy abuse victims had been shoved right back into silence by such bald Baptist bullying tactics, and how many perpetrators had been left in their pulpits as a result.

I expect the BGCT’s long-time lawyer thought he was engaging in zealous advocacy. But I would say he was treading a very dark grey area. Some might even call it witness intimidation.

Whatever you call it, the real question is why the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country seems to condone such tactics. He’s THEIR lawyer, and he’s also the lawyer to whom the BGCT often refers churches when they're confronted with clergy abuse.

Just because such tactics may be legal doesn’t mean they’re moral.

The same is true of Baptist leaders’ use of confidentiality agreements to silence clergy abuse victims. Not long ago, the BGCT’s lawyer publicly described such agreements as being “standard.”

You got that? He was essentially justifying the practice of throwing a few thousand dollars at clergy abuse victims in exchange for their signature on a contract saying they’ll never again speak of it. It’s an abhorrent practice that perpetuates the secrecy of sex abuse and leaves predators in their pulpits.

Back in 2002, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted an express policy against the use of confidentiality agreements with clergy abuse victims. But Baptist leaders are still using them.

Even if such agreements are legal, they sure as heck seem mighty immoral when they silence the wounded, keep predators in pulpits, and leave other kids at risk.

Just because something may be within the bounds of the law doesn’t mean it’s within the bounds of morality. The two are not one and the same. If anyone should realize that, it should be religious leaders. But apparently not.

And don’t just blame the lawyer. He may indeed be treading the grey on the very dark side, but Baptist leaders are the ones who insist on the wrong question.

Instead of asking “Is it legal?” Baptist leaders should be asking “Is it moral?”

They should be asking whether such silencing tactics reflect what Jesus would do if confronted with a clergy abuse victim. They should be asking whether such tactics are consistent with the mission of their organization.

By comforting themselves with the easy balm of a grey legality, Baptist leaders abdicate their OWN moral obligation.

[Incidentally, the BGCT’s lawyer on clergy abuse issues is the same one who advised the BGCT on the Valleygate mess. See a pattern? Looks like the BGCT may feel right at home in shadowy grey terrain.]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Body Issues

Some of you have noticed my running notes.

No, I’m not trying to turn any of you into runners, but I do hope you’ll do something good for your bodies.

So many of us who were sexually abused as kids wind up with “body issues,” don’t we?

Beloveds, I can already hear some of you out there chuckling at that. I know what you’re thinking.

“Body issues” is a bit of a euphemism and a laughable understatement, isn’t it?

Lots of sexual abuse victims wind up as anorexics, bulimics, and cutters. Or they try to detach by numbing themselves with alcohol and drugs. Many try the ultimate means of physical detachment -- suicide. Far too many succeed.

One way or another, we’re pretty good at detachment, aren’t we?

So that’s part of why I’m running more. I want to reconnect physically.

I’ve also been thinking about how something so physically horrible caused such awful consequences for us mentally. So I’m thinking the same body-mind connection may work with good things.

Maybe if we do things that are physically good for our bodies, it will wind up having good consequences for us mentally.

So here’s my mom-style advice for the day: Do something good for your body.

Take a walk, schedule a check-up, stretch to the sky, eat more vegetables, or my personal favorite (the one that always makes my daughter roll her eyes)….drink more water.

Whatever you choose, at least for today, do something good for your body.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Kudos to the Alabama CBF!

The Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has adopted a new policy for reviewing reports of clergy sex abuse. It's a policy that is light-years ahead of any policy in any statewide Southern Baptist group, including the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It sets an example for how faith groups with a congregationalist polity can nevertheless make a moral, Christian, compassionate and effective response to individuals attempting to report clergy abuse.

Here are some of the noteworthy features of the Alabama CBF policy:
  1. It allows individuals to report abuse, not merely churches. (Since the well-known pattern is that churches are too often unable to lift the blinders of denial, this is a critically important policy advancement.)
  2. It establishes a 5-person review committee at the Alabama CBF.
  3. The committee will have 2 non-Baptists, with strong consideration given to people with psychological or counseling experience so as to bring both outsiders and people with expertise to the committee.
  4. It requires at least 2 people of the same gender as the accuser on the committee.
  5. The committee will engage in good-faith investigatory action. (In other words, it doesn't leave the entire investigatory burden on the shoulders of the individual to substantiate his or her own report.)
  6. The committee will allow the accused to respond and to appear personally.
  7. The committee will determine whether the allegations of abuse are credible.
  8. The committee will provide information about its decision in writing to the individual making the report, the accused, and 2 church officers.
  9. The Alabama CBF will keep a file with the names of those for whom there has been a determination of a credible abuse allegation.

I was very honored and very grateful that Brent McDougal and the Alabama CBF afforded me the opportunity of consulting with them in their policy-making process.

Is it a perfect policy? No. And ultimately, policies are only as effective as the individuals who implement them. But policies are a starting place, and this is a good one. For the sake of preventing abuse in the future and reaching out to those wounded in the past, I hope other Baptist groups will adopt similar policies.

The Alabama CBF is a small group, but this policy carries the potential to be a seed that bears good fruit. The American Baptists also have a system of review boards for clergy abuse. As review board policies are adopted by smaller Baptist groups, and perhaps eventually by the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, it may become more difficult for the Southern Baptist Convention leadership to keep standing on the sidelines spouting “autonomy.”

To each and every one of you who have shared your story or supported StopBaptistPredators in any way, I hope you will give yourselves a huge pat on the back. Your stories, your work, and your care have helped to raise awareness of Baptist clergy abuse, to keep the issue in the news, to reach out to still more victims, and to educate others. YOU are the people who have made this bit of daylight possible.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What would accountability look like?

Last week, an Episcopal bishop was suspended from ministry for failing to report the 1973 abuse of a 14-year old girl by a lay-minister.

The bishop, who was a rector at the time, is not accused of having committed any abuse himself. Nevertheless, the Episcopals are taking action because he kept quiet about another minister’s abuse.

They’re holding him accountable.

What would THAT be like in Southern Baptist circles? Can you even imagine it?

Southern Baptist leaders typically don’t take any action even against reported perpetrators, and they sure aren’t doing anything to hold accountable all the ministers who have kept quiet about clergy sex abuse.

Here are the allegations against the Episcopal bishop: (1) He didn’t provide pastoral care to the 14-year old; (2) He didn’t inform the girl’s parents (until several years later); (3) He didn’t report the abuse to anyone else; (4) He didn’t investigate whether there might be other victims. He is accused of having reacted “passively and self-protectively.”

If Southern Baptists held their leaders accountable for this kind of “passive, self-protective” conduct, a whole lot of church and denominational leaders would face consequences.

For starters, the most obvious one would be Steve Gaines. He kept quiet about a known, confessed clergy child-molester, and to this day, Gaines stands in the pulpit at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. He has NOT been held accountable.

Then there’s Jim Moore, the music minister who kept quiet about my own clergy perpetrator, even after the perpetrator himself talked about the abuse, and even after I talked about it. Moore allowed that man to go right on working in children’s ministry at other churches. And like the Episcopal minister, he didn’t provide any pastoral care, didn’t inform my parents, didn’t report the abuse, and didn’t investigate whether there might be other victims. Yet, Moore is still the music minister at FBC-Farmers Branch. He has NOT been held accountable.

And remember James Crittenden? He’s the Denton minister who knew about Pastor Larry Reynolds’ reported abuse of a kid and tried to keep it quiet. Crittenden has NOT been held accountable. Of course, Crittenden’s congregation is about as blind as they get. After extensive media coverage prompted Reynold’s resignation, the congregation gave him a $50,000 “love-offering” as a send-off and named a building after him.

And let’s not forget that leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas knew there was “substantial evidence” a minister had abused a kid, and yet they didn’t bother to tell people in the pews where the minister was currently working. They kept that information quiet…along with the names of all the other ministers who are in their secret file of clergy sex abusers. Accountability? I don’t think the BGCT knows the meaning of the word.

Accountability isn’t exactly Southern Baptists’ strong suit, is it?

In fact, “passive and self-protective” seems to be the generally accepted norm of behavior for Southern Baptist leaders when it comes to clergy sex abuse. Compare the Episcopals’ action with the typical Baptist “hush-it-up” pattern.

What would it be like if Southern Baptist president Frank Page showed the same sort of moral courage and commitment that was shown by the Episcopals’ highest leader?

Even if Page can’t actually discipline ministers, what would it be like if he used the Baptist Press to publicly denounce ministers for their conduct of keeping quiet about sexual abuse?

Don’t Southern Baptist kids deserve the same kind of protection that Episcopal kids have? It’s the sort of protection that’s provided by a faith community that actually holds its leaders accountable when they turn a blind eye to sexual abuse.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Do Not Be Ashamed"

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before…

Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them…

Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

-- Wendell Berry