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.”

2 comments:

John Harrison said...

Christa,

Once again you have hit the nail on the head. When I was active in the SBC I found out that the meaning of "good stewardship" was to not do or say anything that might rock the financial ship. There are too many convention leaders making salaries and benefits that are not in line with the concept of ministry. When I would raise a question of concern I would be told that we have to pay high salaries in order to attract "the best professional people possible". Needless to say I was sadened to learn that we were being led by professionals instead of those who really wanted to minister.
When a sin like a molester is made public immediately the cry is to be careful less people loose confidence in us. My experience taught me that standing on the side of truth, commpassion, and responsibility increases confidence not the reverse. "Good stewardship" should mean good decisions and responses. Material matters are promised to be taken care of when we act like Christians, not loke some big corporation.
Stay the course. You are closer to the truth than you may realize.
John

Christa Brown said...

Thanks for your insights, John. They are indeed acting much like a big corporation. I am hard-pressed to see much difference between how the BGCT acts and how a tobacco company acts. From what I've seen, both are a lot more focused on protecting their financial resources than on protecting the young and vulnerable against serious risk of harm. And hey...even tobacco companies dish out a few dollars for charitable endeavors. It's good public relations.