Saturday, June 30, 2007

Good old boy network in action

This comment was on the New BBC Open Forum blog, and it's well worth a reprint. It parallels my own posting about Leonard's quote, but says it better.

"Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina and longtime observer of Southern Baptist life, said the convention is in a precarious position because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits."

"'I think that's the whole issue,' said Leonard, a critic of the convention's conservative leadership. 'All you have to do is look at the Catholic Church and the bankrupt dioceses to see that's the fear.'"

Does this not illustrate what the problem has been all along? If we admit this atrocity has been going on within churches in the SBC, we might be... sued! So let's just continue to pretend there's not a problem and leave it up to the individual churches to police themselves. Then when pastors like Steve Gaines defend and cover for these perverts, we can say, "It's not our responsibility. Each church is responsible for the actions of its own staff." Leave it up to the individual churches to "out" the perverts when they move on to greener pastures. Does anyone really believe this is going to happen?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the "good old boy network" in action. Grab broom. Assume the position. Lift rug... now sweep! Attaboy! Heh heh heh. "It's not our problem anymore." Out of sight; out of mind, ad nauseum. Amen.

New BBC Open Forum, 3:26 pm, 6/12/07

Friday, June 29, 2007

Denial and the BGCT (part 1)

DENIAL is a defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and rejects it instead….The subject may deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether, admit the fact but deny its seriousness (minimization), or admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility.”
Mr. X, a long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, recently posted some online comments that, I believe, illustrate denial on the subject of clergy sex abuse. (His comments were originally posted on the Spiritual Samurai blog, and I reposted them here.)

Why should anyone care what Mr. X says? Because Mr. X has been advising the BGCT about clergy sex abuse for over a decade. He’s one of their main go-to-guys.

So imagine this….if these are the sorts of things he writes publicly, what does he say when he talks about clergy abuse behind closed doors?

Consider just one example: Mr. X pointed out that Christa Brown sued “the church and an individual within the church whose only involvement was to receive limited information from Ms. Brown about the minister’s conduct.”

Did you get that? “Limited information.”

Here’s what that so-called “limited information” actually was. In court-filed documents, the church expressly stated that its “music minister” had “knowledge about Gilmore’s sexual contact with Brown as a minor” (¶ 16) and that a “church leader” was able “to substantiate that sexual contact with Brown as a minor occurred.” The music minister also swore that Gilmore himself had told him “that some other member of the congregation may have seen him in a compromising position with Christa Brown.”

Knowledge about a minister’s “sexual contact with a minor” cannot rightly be characterized as “limited information.” That’s minimization. That’s DENIAL.

No wonder the BGCT seems to have such a moral disconnect on this issue. The BGCT is institutionally steeped in denial because its long-time adviser is steeped in denial.

Mr. X is also the person to whom the BGCT often refers churches when they are confronted with clergy abuse allegations. How can anyone imagine that church leaders will be assisted in getting past their own typical denial if the person sent to help is someone who discounts “knowledge about a minister’s sexual contact with a minor” as mere “limited information”? It looks like the blind leading the blind.

Isn’t it more than enough information when a minister knows about another minister’s “sexual contact with a minor”? Does Mr. X imagine that a kid should have to spell out specific details about the “sexual contact”?

Why isn’t Mr. X plainly and clearly stating that this sort of information should have been reported to the police, reported to the parents, and reported to the people in the pews of every church where the minister worked? Why? Because Mr. X STILL considers this to be nothing more than “limited information.” That’s DENIAL.

In that same single sentence, Mr. X manages to engage in denial in a couple other ways: (1) by saying that it was merely “an individual within the church” when it was actually another minister who knew about the abuse; and (2) by saying that he “only” received “limited information from Ms. Brown” when the minister squarely admitted that the perpetrator himself had spoken of it. These additional minimizations are just further illustration of the DENIAL.

When I look at the rest of Mr. X’s online comments, I count at least 16 instances of minimization and denial. Try it for yourself. Maybe we could combine Mr. X’s comments with those of SBC and BGCT officials and make a board game out of it: “Find the DENIAL!”

Of course, I doubt that it would really be much fun.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

BGCT's pretty package doesn't protect kids

“It’s a publicity stunt!”

The phone call came late at night. She’s shrieking, and I’m tired. But I think she’s right and I understand her frustration.

She’s seen news about how the Baptist General Convention of Texas claims to be “cracking down” on clergy sex abuse. Her perpetrator is still in the pulpit – the BGCT did nothing to help her - and she wants to know why the newspaper is printing this “cracking down” story when it’s so obvious that it’s “just a dad-gum publicity stunt.”

I can’t really answer her question. The BGCT has lots of money, and it hires public relations people who are very good at promoting the BGCT with the press. What they aren’t good at is protecting kids against clergy child molesters.

Supposedly, the BGCT is “cracking down” on clergy sex abuse because it will now accept whatever churches tell them about a minister and will no longer review churches’ reports to decide whether there is “substantial evidence” of abuse. The BGCT packaged this change by saying it was making things easier for churches.

Of course, what everyone really knows is this: Most churches don’t report abuse. “In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret.” So why did the BGCT give so much attention to whether it should review church reports when everyone knows that churches don’t usually even make reports?

Rather than addressing the real problem, which is that churches don’t report abuse, the BGCT chose to address the very rare instance of what the BGCT should do when a church actually does report something. Why did the BGCT address the rare issue instead of the real problem?

The lawyers I talk to think the answer is obvious.

“It’s a no-brainer,” they say. “They’re trying to limit their exposure to liability.”

That’s exactly the way it looks to me as well. Rather than doing more to protect kids, the BGCT chose to do more to protect itself. (I guess the BGCT didn’t like getting named as a defendant in the recent case of Roush v. Reynolds.)

Bill Leonard’s recent remarks reminded me of all this. He’s dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and a long-time observer of Southern Baptist life. He said that Baptist leadership “is in a precarious position because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits.”

“That’s the whole issue,” said Leonard. “That’s the fear.”

I agree with Leonard. The fear that the BGCT seems to be addressing is a fear of liability; it’s not addressing the horror of clergy sex abuse.

Of course, the BGCT could have addressed the fear of liability in other ways. It could have chosen to institute abuse-curbing mechanisms similar to those of other faith groups and then purchased insurance for the liability risk. But instead the BGCT simply chose to wash its hands of abuse reports – apparently to minimize the appearance of having any oversight role.

Then the BGCT wrapped up this maneuver in a pretty package with a lovely little bow. The BGCT got itself some great press and patted itself on the back. But for those of us who have been around the block with the BGCT on its handling of clergy abuse, we know that what’s underneath the wrapping isn’t pretty at all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Baptists can't wait for government

“We can’t wait until everything is figured out by the government,” said Suzii Paynter of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, in explaining the BGCT’s new ministry initiative for undocumented immigrants.

How I wish the BGCT would adopt a similar attitude toward ministering to clergy sex abuse victims!

Instead, the BGCT and other Southern Baptists insist that they can’t do anything to get abuse victims’ perpetrators out of their pulpits unless and until the minister is criminally convicted. Since less than 10 percent of child molestation incidents are ever even disclosed, much less prosecuted or convicted, this sort of attitude means that most clergy perpetrators will remain in their pulpits with the kids of trusting congregants as potential prey.

Over and over again, Baptist abuse victims have attempted to report clergy child molesters to Baptist officials, only to be turned away. By the time a child-victim grows up and tries to report the abuse as an adult, it’s usually too late for the government to do anything through criminal prosecution, and Baptist officials wash their hands of it. So nothing happens.

Yet, Southern Baptist official D. August Boto says that "the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials."

Imagine if a bishop in this country were to tell the press and Catholic churchgoers that, even though he had received reports of abuse against a priest, "the proper investigatory panel should be law enforcement" and that he couldn't do anything unless and until the priest was criminally convicted. Such an attitude is no longer even thinkable in the Catholic context. It is, however, the essence of how Southern Baptist officials are handling clergy sex abuse.

The best thing that Baptist officials could do to help clergy abuse victims would be to provide an independent review board to which victims could report abuse with a reasonable expectation of being heard. Without that possibility, victims endure the continued nightmare of seeing their rapists still standing in pulpits and constantly wondering who else he’s going to hurt.

Other faith groups take clergy abuse allegations seriously and don't wait for government. Just today, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas released news that additional abuse allegations had been lodged against a Houston priest who had previously been accused of molesting students in Austin. The priest is retired and no longer in the pulpit. He's never been charged with any crime. Yet, the Episcopals had a process for considering the allegations, and denominational leaders sent out letters to people who had been affiliated with the church and school where this man worked. They also informed people that the abuse claims "had substance" and specifically asked anyone with any information to contact them. All of these steps would sound reasonable and good to most ordinary people...but nothing akin to this happens among Southern Baptists.

Why are Baptists so capable of organizing themselves to help so many other people, but they can’t seem to organize to help those who were sexually savaged by Baptist ministers?

Because we are the outcasts whose wounds are so ugly that they make Baptist leaders too uncomfortable, and imagining that one of their own colleagues inflicted such savagery makes it all the more uncomfortable. So Baptist leaders choose to simply leave us in the dirt by the side of the road.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Coming full circle in San Antonio

With SNAP at the Southern Baptist Convention, I had that feeling of having come full circle. SNAP’s San Antonio leader is Barbara Garcia Boehland, a mom whose son didn’t survive the trauma of clergy sex abuse. He committed suicide.

Barbara works tirelessly with SNAP so that what happened to her son will be less likely to happen to other people’s kids. She is a person of extraordinary commitment, and I felt so honored to stand with her.

Barbara was at the very first SNAP meeting I ever attended back in 2004. It was a meeting I nearly didn’t go to, and even when I went to the building, I nearly didn’t walk in the room. After peeking in, I turned away. But Rob stepped out and called to me. So, I went in and sat in the circle of chairs.

Rob started talking, and told a bit of his story. And then the circle went to Miguel. And then it went to Barbara. She told about her son, Eduardo.

That was when the dam quietly broke inside my head, and the murky waters started flooding in. I just couldn’t hold it all back anymore.

The circle continued around. In every person’s story, I heard little pieces of my own life, and I knew we shared something terrible.

When the circle came around to me, I managed to choke out 8 words: "I was sexually abused by a Baptist minister." That was it. After that, my whole throat clamped shut. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I could scarcely breathe, much less speak.

Rob quietly said, "Thanks for sharing, Christa," and he moved on around the circle.

In San Antonio last week, I felt as though the circle had come around again when I saw Barbara. And I thought about how far I had come in being able to speak of the unspeakable.

It’s a journey for all of us, folks. Now I speak. But it was only a few years ago that I was literally voiceless.

To every survivor out there, I bid you Godspeed for your own journey. Keep on healing, and raise heck when you can.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Behind the scenes with Southern Baptists

In public statements, Baptist officials say they care about clergy sex abuse victims. But do they really? Let me tell you just a few behind the scenes stories.

Shooed from shade into sun
Outside the San Antonio convention center was a huge plaza area, where we handed out flyers, inviting Baptist delegates to a prayer vigil for abuse victims and urging them to support Rev. Burleson’s predator database motion. It was 95 degrees. I was drenched and dripping. Another SNAP member was feeling the heat and sitting under a tree with water. Those trees in the plaza were precious. We all tried to stay in the shade as much as we could.

Two street cops had already told us we were fine, but a non-uniformed guy showed up and told us we had to get off the plaza and move to the sidewalk – in the full sun. Another SNAP person insisted on seeing his badge, and I asked him about why we couldn't stand in what was clearly a wide-open public-access area. He explained that the SBC had rented the entire convention center and that included the entrance plaza area, and so they were entitled to have us removed from the premises. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so small and mean-spirited.

You might imagine that good Christians would have been sending out water bottles to a group of clergy abuse survivors leafletting about a prayer vigil. But no.... they chose to push us from the shade into the sun.....and it was a very, very hot day. [For an interesting perspective, read the view of a San Antonio columnist – “Southern Baptists are convening: will any Christians be with them?”]

A TV camera crew stuck around, and I was grateful. I couldn’t help but wonder....if the camera crew hadn’t been there, would Southern Baptist officials have had us handcuffed and hauled off in a paddy wagon?

A threat
Just a couple weeks ago, a man who has long worked as an attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas contacted an attorney friend of mine to suggest that, if I didn’t rein it in, I might find myself facing a lawsuit or a state bar disciplinary proceeding. It was a chickensh** threat delivered in a chickensh** manner.

No one who heard about it could figure out what possible grounds he could even conceivably have, but of course, if you’ve got money and power, who needs grounds? Most of the time, a threat will silence someone...and the mission will be accomplished regardless of whether there are any realistic grounds.

I don’t know whether this man was acting at the behest of someone at the BGCT or whether he was acting simply at his own behest. But I think the conduct is par for the course. There have been too many attempts to silence clergy abuse victims. And I couldn’t help but notice the timing of it.... But it’s enough just to see the ugliness of these kinds of deeds, without having to also ponder the possible ugliness of the thought processes that lead up to them.

Ugly response to abuse survivor
A clergy abuse survivor poured her heart out in an email to SBC president Frank Page. She told, not only about the horror of her abuse by a pastor still in ministry, but also about the anguish of trying to get someone in the denomination to protect others. She ended by asking Page to please talk with some of the people who are trying to get things changed so that other kids won’t be hurt like she was.

In his short response, Page said this: “There are people who are trying to paint a picture of me and our Convention which is patently untrue. In fact, some of the groups who are doing this are nothing more than lawyer groups, looking to raise their caseload level. They are not truly trying to help people in any way other than raise lawsuit possibilities.”

Well....isn’t that just lovely? Page effectively bad-mouths the survivor groups who offer peer support for clergy abuse victims, but he doesn’t offer any alternative form of ministry or any referral for any other sort of counseling. He makes a perfunctory “deeply saddened” comment, but his message doesn’t show any real grief for the victim...and doesn’t offer any help. (Another SBC official also responded and castigated SNAP and StopBaptistPredators by name.)

Page’s little rant shows his ignorance of the survivor support groups. SNAP has over 8000 members, and if SNAP wasn’t “trying to help people in any way,” then why would SNAP bother with having more than 50 support groups across the country where clergy abuse victims gather to share with one another in person?

Here’s the real truth. With countless hours of volunteer labor, SNAP members work hard to bring clergy sex abuse into the light of day because most of us would do almost anything to try to spare some other kid the horror of what was done to us...and of the traumatic impact of it....and of the continuing deep hurt that is inflicted by a faith group that so completely turns its back on the wounded rather than seeking to bring in the lost sheep. That's what motivates virtually every SNAP person I know.

This victim kept Page’s email confidential for months, because Page asked her not to share it without his permission. But ultimately, she was able to see for herself what was and wasn’t true, and she forwarded the emails to SNAP. She didn’t need anyone else...including Frank paint a picture for her. She had her own personal experience at trying to report clergy sex abuse within the Southern Baptist denomination and she saw for herself the horror in how it’s handled.

The warmth of a few individuals
A handful of Southern Baptists made a genuine, personal effort to reach out behind the scenes and to talk with SNAP members who were at the convention in San Antonio. It’s sad that their warmth seemed so exceptional. And in fairness, that handful of caring Baptists was like the hand of a carpenter - missing a digit or two. But though they were few in number, to those few, I say a heart-felt thank-you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Battered wife syndrome and the BGCT

I was resting on a San Antonio bench, when a person from the Baptist General Convention of Texas recognized me, introduced himself, and extended a hand. He was warm and genuine, and I was glad to meet him. He asked if he could introduce me to a high-honcho BGCT person, and I said fine.

He brought the man over, and we stood and talked. I looked at the face, but didn’t see anything compassionate in the eyes. What I saw looked more like annoyance. I listened to the words, but they sounded rote and meaningless.

I wrote this man several years ago, asking for help, and I almost met him once when I was leafletting the BGCT at the Dallas Convention Center. I had stepped in for some water and saw him coming down the corridor. I approached, extended a hand, and said “Mr. X, I’m Christa Brown.” He glanced at me, but walked on. I don’t fault him for that, but at the same time, I don’t expect our recent chat in San Antonio will carry much more meaning for him than that passing glance did.

At the end of our San Antonio chat, he told me to get his number from his assistant and call him if I had thoughts on how they could help. It’s a way of putting the ball in my court. I try to imagine Jesus telling a wounded person, “Call me.” In my head, the whole conversation becomes comical.

It’s as though a bloody wounded sheep finally found it’s way back, collapses at the shepherd’s doorstep, and the shepherd says, “Oh...there you are...I was just starting to think about going to look for you. But that you’re here...why don’t you go back out and round up the rest of those bloody sheep and bring them into the corral. They’re so unaesthetic out there in the field and they detract from the pastoral scenery...and besides...all that blood on the ground isn’t good for the crops.”

Back in 2004 and 2005, I repeatedly told BGCT officials how they could help. I asked for the sort of help they described in their booklet, Broken Trust, and I asked them to provide victims with counseling referral lists. I flew at my own expense to meet with them in Dallas. I asked for some symbolic gesture as a way of showing the denomination's care for clergy abuse victims, and I gave them pictures of a simple labyrinth buffered by a small garden. They said they would do it, and we talked about locations. It seemed like such a positive meeting that, as I walked out the door, I literally turned back because I could hardly believe it. I looked straight at the BGCT director and said, “I need to know that this wasn’t just a bunch of talk. Are you really going to do this? Are you going to make this dedicated labyrinth?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Over the next weeks and months, we talked by phone and email, and they continued to say they were working on it. “Making progress,” they said. But as I struggled with the church’s recalcitrance, I asked BGCT officials if one of them would go to a church business meeting there in Dallas and speak on my behalf. Not only did they refuse, they cut off communication. They told me to direct any further requests to their lawyer, who just happened to also be the lawyer for the church. The appearance was that the BGCT cared more about supporting the church, which was still trying to keep the abuse under wraps, than it did about supporting me in my efforts to bring the abuse to light. And after having personally committed to the labyrinth, no one even had the decency to personally explain why they were no longer going forward with it. The Dallas meeting was nothing but a bunch of talk after all.

After talking with the BGCT honcho in San Antonio, I got on the highway to drive home, and I had to pull off the road a couple times because I was shaking and crying so much. The futility and pain of the conversation weighed on me. The voices of others who vainly sought help from the BGCT rang in my head...victims from a decade ago to a few weeks ago. I feel like a battered wife who, over and over again, keeps wanting to believe her husband when he says, “I promise it won't happen again - things will be different.”

I can’t keep hoping that BGCT officials will actually care about abuse victims, will help them, will do what they say they’ll do, or will even honor what they say in their own booklet. It’s not healthy for me. It’s a psychological mistake.

At some point, the battered wife must look at the long pattern, must stop believing the promises of change, and must say “no more.” That’s how I feel about the BGCT.

I finally made it home, and I curled up on my bed and cried and cried. I woke up the next morning and cried some more. I can’t be that person again... that person who, once upon a time, still held some belief that the BGCT stood for something...that it would care about the wounded...that it would act in accordance with its published words. I wish I could.

The ball is in the BGCT’s court. If they really want to help clergy abuse victims, they need to just do it. And anyway….where’s that labyrinth?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Alamo thoughts on Baptist clergy sex abuse

With a nearly unanimous vote, Southern Baptist delegates (“messengers”) instructed the SBC Executive Committee to study the feasibility of creating a database of convicted, confessed and credibly accused clergy sex abusers. It’s just a study, and it’s only a small step, but here’s the way I see it.

Until the passage of Wade Burleson’s motion, SBC officials were putting on a public face of pretending that clergy abuse wasn’t a serious problem. In fact, as recently as a couple weeks ago, an SBC spokesperson suggested there had been only 40 incidents of Baptist clergy abuse in the past 15 years. And SBC president Frank Page was trying to discount the 20/20 report as “yellow journalism” and denying the existence of any widespread problem.

If 8000 messengers from all across the country had believed all that public relations spin, they wouldn’t have voted for that motion. But they did. Baptist believers have spoken. Will the powerbrokers and bureaucrats finally listen? (Already, Page has described it as a “moot point,” which doesn’t seem to afford much respect to the concern of 8000 messengers.)

Up until now, SBC powerbrokers weren’t even willing to venture onto the battlefield. They had well-funded press arms in Nashville and in almost every state. They could spin things however they wanted, say whatever they wanted, ignore SNAP, ignore abuse survivors, and publicly make light of the problem. But finally, their own constituency - Baptist believers - grew weary of their recalcitrance and publicly placed SBC officials onto the battlefield. They MUST engage the battle.

Now we will watch to see what they actually do. A year from now in Indianapolis, others will be watching as well.

I wish I could say that we were all battling on the same side, but what I really think is that we will have to fight tooth and nail for every tiny step forward. It shouldn’t be that way, and I hope it won’t be, but by now, I’m a realist.

The predator database motion was passed in San Antonio, just a block from the Alamo. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of battlefields. With all the resources that SBC officials have at their disposal, I sometimes feel as though we are a small band who are up against an army of 10,000. But however difficult the odds, we carry the truth of our stories as our banner, and truth will carry this fight forward.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On a sunny sidewalk at the SBC

by David Clohessy, SNAP National Director

This time of year, some people come home with a great tan, thanks to a few days on a coast at the beach. This week, I came home with one, thanks to a few days on a sunny sidewalk at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio.

Many return reinvigorated by a few days communing with Nature. I returned reinvigorated by a few days communing with clergy sex abuse victims.

Over two days, brave men and women who were raped, sodomized and molested by clergy (like I was) handed out almost 2,000 fliers to the faithful attending the nation’s largest gathering of Southern Baptists.

We invited them to pray with us at a vigil.

We urged them to ask their friends and families “Were you ever molested when you were young?”

We encouraged them to prod abuse victims they know to get professional help.

We begged them to report anything they know about child sex crimes – no matter how small or old the information – to law enforcement.

And we asked them to vote YES on a motion that could someday lead to a nationwide, public, accessible data base of dangerous and potentially dangerous individuals – proven, confessed, and credibly accused Baptist clergy.

And, we were heard.

We were heard first by a brave handful of strangers, who read our fliers, paused, then took a courageous risk: they disclosed to us they too had been molested as kids. . . by ministers, teachers, relatives. They hugged us, we hugged them, and we all felt a tad less lonely knowing that others struggle with the same life-long, debilitating effects of horrific, unjustified childhood sexual betrayal.

We were heard again, however, by an even larger group: the full body of delegates (or "messengers" as Southern Baptists call them). That motion – to study the creation of a database of predators – passed by a nearly unanimous margin.

And in the process, our skin grew darker and our hearts grew warmer.

Lest anyone think I’m a Pollyanna, I’ll be the first to admit we experienced some overt hostility. (Someone, presumably one or more Baptist officials, called the local police and had them shoo us out of the shade and onto the public sidewalk, making it harder to hand out fliers to convention attendees. Some passers-by were, shall we say, less than Christ-like.)

We also experienced some cold shoulders.

But that’s not important. Action, not words, is what protects the vulnerable and heals the wounded. And the delegates/messengers took action. They said “let’s look at warning parents, neighbors, employers, congregants, and (most important) parents about dangerous and potentially dangerous clergy, so that kids will be safer from horrific sex crimes.”

Within hours of this historic vote, we began hearing from skeptics. They’re skeptical for good reason: they’ve been sexually violated by trusted, charismatic, powerful ministers, and (usually) shunned or ignored or rebuffed by callous or cowardly church and denominational bureaucrats.

“This should have been done ages ago.” “This is a no-brainer.” “This is a tiny, tiny step.” “This is just a ‘study;’ it guarantees nothing.” “Because of recent media attention and the Catholic sex scandal, the Baptists HAD to do something.”

All of these statements are, of course, true. All of these sentiments are, of course, valid. All of this skepticism is, of course, understandable.

Yet, there’s more to this story.

Days before the Convention opened, some top Southern Baptist officials essentially said “Few Baptist preachers molest kids.... Besides we’re powerless to do much about it.” But on Tuesday, thousands of Baptist believers essentially said “That’s either not true or not relevant. We’ve got to do more to protect kids.”

Anyway you look at it, this is encouraging. . . . . .

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Time for Patience

Countless Baptist clergy and Baptist high-honchos have told me I'm too impatient. They say that Baptist clergy sex abuse is a difficult issue and that institutional change takes time.

But I worry a great deal more about being not impatient enough than I do about being too impatient.

If I am too impatient, then I merely reap the wrath and criticism of Southern Baptist men (many of whom have shown themselves able, ready and willing to heap wrath and criticism anyway, regardless of what I do).

If I am not impatient enough, then I must answer to God and to the voices of children now and in the future whose souls and psyches will be savaged by clergy sex abuse if nothing is done. Even now, there is a kid in a Baptist church somewhere who is being groomed for abuse. I hear the cries and weeping of those kids, and they haunt me. It's time for Southern Baptists to start hearing those cries as well.

When what's at stake is the protection of kids against clergy predators, it's not a time for patience.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No bragging rights for BGCT

The Baptist General Convention of Texas claims to be “cracking down” on clergy sex abuse. Rev. Ben Cole praised them and ethicist Joe Trull described the changes as a “giant step.” So what exactly did the BGCT do?

They say they’re making it easier to report “sexual misconduct.” Easier for whom? Easier for churches. But for a clergy abuse victim to try to report abuse, he or she must still get past the very high hurdle of convincing the church to report its own minister. Most of the time that just doesn’t happen. Churches typically stand by their much-trusted minister, no matter what, and reject the outsider who brings unwelcome news.

The BGCT says that, in the future, it will simply accept whatever churches tell them about a minister, and that the BGCT will no longer review the churches’ reports to assure that there is “substantial evidence.” Who does this help? As best I can tell, it’s the sort of change that appears designed to attempt protection for the BGCT against potential legal liability rather than to provide protection for kids against clergy molesters. In effect, the BGCT is now trying to simply wash its hands of what goes on the list. Perhaps this makes for a nice public relations ploy, but I don’t see how it will have much impact on making kids safer, particularly since what the churches tell the BGCT still stays in a confidential file (unless there’s an actual conviction).

The BGCT has released the names of 8 convicted perps who were previously ministers in BGCT-affiliated churches (and it says it will release new convictions as it finds out about them). Typically, convicted perps already appear on sex-offender registries, and so most of the time, this information was already in the public light. While listing convicted perps on the BGCT's site may be helpful, it doesn’t address the biggest part of the problem, and to act as though it does may serve only to lull people into a false sense of security. Most active sex offenders have never been convicted of anything, and they typically have numerous victims, and by the time a victim speaks up, it is often too late for criminal prosecution. So, if the denomination tells congregations only about perps who have been criminally convicted, most clergy child molesters will stay in their pulpits.

The BGCT now says that there are about 100 names on its confidential list. It has given the public 8 names of convicted perps, and those names were already in the public arena anyway. There are approximately 92 other names on that list. The BGCT might want people to believe that these other 92 are ministers who have committed merely “sexually inappropriate” behavior such as adultery...or engaged in “consensual adult relationships”." But WE KNOW IT'S MORE THAN THIS.

I have written confirmation from a BGCT director that my perp’s name is on that list. I was abused as a kid. My perp is not one of the 8 revealed names, and so he’s one of the 92 remaining names. How many other names on that list are men who abused kids?

The BGCT’s previously published standard was that a minister’s name went on the list only if information was submitted BY A CHURCH (i.e., not by a mere victim), and only if there was a conviction, a confession, or “substantial evidence that the abuse took place” as determined by the BGCT itself.

How many more of the approximate 92 names on that list are ministers for whom there is a confession or “substantial evidence” of having sexually abused a kid? Why aren’t parents in Baptist pews entitled to know who those ministers are? If you learned that the children’s minister at your church was in that file at the BGCT based on “substantial evidence” of having sexually abused a kid, wouldn’t you want to know about it?

And as for the BGCT's characterization of the others as involving "consensual adult relationships"? Who tags that label on it? Who decides whether or not it should be called "consensual"? Just because the sexual contact involved an adult doesn't make it "consensual." In Texas, it is a felony for a clergyman to use his position of spiritual trust to sexually exploit another -- even another adult. Felony conduct should certainly be considered abusive conduct. And for anyone who doubts how horrific a minister's spiritual exploitation and sexual abuse of an adult congregant can be, you need only look at the reports made about pentecostal Rev. Sherman Allen in Fort Worth.

And what about all the individual victims who, through the years, have attempted to report abuse to the BGCT? What became of their letters, emails, phone calls and reports? Were they just trashed? Those 100 names are only ministers reported by CHURCHES, not victims. How do people imagine that they will ever find out about clergy child molesters if there is no one to hear the victims when they try to report the molesters and no one to determine anything or tell other congregations about it? The BGCT hasn’t remedied that problem at all, and it's why so many Baptist clergy child molesters are still able to move from church to church.

It’s troubling that a Baptist ethicist would characterize the BGCT’s small move as a “giant step.” It’s more like a foot into the mud of their own swampy, mosquito-infested yard. As long as that yard still has so much mud and vermin, the BGCT doesn’t deserve any bragging rights.

Monday, June 4, 2007

BGCT's counsel works for the BGCT

I want to be very, very clear about something. I’m no fan of long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Stephen Wakefield. But WAKEFIELD WORKS FOR THE BGCT. He does their bidding. He has for over a decade. Presumably, he handles Baptist clergy sex abuse matters exactly as the BGCT wants and directs. Therefore, I believe responsibility for the horror and harm in how the BGCT handles clergy abuse belongs right at the BGCT’s own doorstep.

On another site, Wakefield recently commented on my blog postings, including my Memorial Day posting. I want to give you a chance to see Wakefield’s side of it, and besides, I found his comments revealing. So, I’m reposting them here, along with my replies. Keep in mind that this is what the BGCT’s counsel says when he’s writing for a public forum. I don’t think there’s much reason to imagine he would show greater sensitivity or enlightenment when speaking privately. (I’ve shortened the comments only slightly. If you want to see the entirety, just go to Spiritual Samurai.)

W: Ms. Brown refers to one matter where recourse was threatened against her and that a child molester was “left in the pulpit.” The “recourse” was mentioned only in very early correspondence after receipt by the client church of a threatening letter from Ms. Brown some 35 years after the fact. The minister “left in the pulpit,” was not working in a BGCT affiliated church and had not lived in Texas in many years and, until Ms. Brown’s complaint, there was no history of any complaint against this minister. The BGCT was not even a party to this case. Ms. Brown, who is a practicing attorney, should understand all of this.

Me: There was no “threatening letter” from me to the church. I made a report of clergy child molestation that followed the guidelines set forth in the BGCT’s own booklet, “Broken Trust.” (Any wonder I have so little regard for the words of that booklet, given the misery that followed after I was fool enough to take that booklet at face value? If I had intended a lawsuit, I would not have started out by voluntarily providing as much information as I did, and most lawyers would recognize that.) The first threat of legal recourse was made BY THE CHURCH. That was how it responded to my report, even though another minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid was still on staff. For Mr. Wakefield to say there was “no history of any complaint against this minister” is not quite accurate, unless you completely dismiss the fact that I myself told the music minister about the abuse when I was a kid – a fact that has been expressly acknowledged in court documents - and unless you completely dismiss the harassment complaint of a church secretary. Besides, how would anyone know how many complaints may have been made since no one seems to be keeping good records and since Baptist churches still use secrecy agreements?

Mr. Wakefield is correct that the perpetrator was no longer working in a BGCT affiliated church. That’s because a BGCT affiliated church allowed the perpetrator to move on to work with other kids in Georgia and Florida. Doesn’t anyone care about the safety of THOSE kids? Mr. Wakefield is also correct that I never sued the BGCT. That made it all the more puzzling when the BGCT, via email, shut off communication with me and told me to direct any further communication to their lawyer, Stephen Wakefield, who was also attorney for the church.

W: The BGCT, after consultation with me, included the individual against whom Ms. Brown brought her complaints in its file of persons who engaged in inappropriate conduct. This was done even though the perpetrator declined to admit misconduct in court documents.

Me: Isn’t it interesting how a complaint about clergy child molestation and rape can be referred to as simply “inappropriate conduct”? To me, it seems a great deal more serious than something merely “inappropriate.” By the BGCT’s own published policy, it puts a minister’s name in that file only if he is reported BY A CHURCH (i.e., not merely by a victim) and only if there is a conviction, a confession, or “substantial evidence that the abuse took place.” Once the BGCT decided there was “substantial evidence”, shouldn’t they have done something to warn people in the pews of the church where the man was working?

Contrary to Mr. Wakefield's statement, the BGCT put the perpetrator's name in its file over six months before I filed a lawsuit - I know because the BGCT gave me written confirmation of that. So the BGCT's decision to put the perpetrator's name in the file could not possibly have had anything to do with court documents. And note....even Mr. Wakefield refers to him as “the perpetrator.” This makes me wonder...did the perpetrator confess wrongdoing to the BGCT or the church? Since the BGCT keeps its file confidential, how would anyone know?

W: Ms. Brown dismissed (non-suited) her case against this individual when he sought to take her deposition, but she maintained her case against the church and an individual within the church whose only involvement was to receive limited information from Ms. Brown about the minister’s conduct. Ms. Brown was treated with respect and courtesy throughout the process. Even though the BGCT was not a party to the lawsuit, representatives of the BGCT met with Ms. Brown and, as noted, added the name of her former minister to its records.

Me: By written, court-filed apology and in a court-filed settlement agreement (paragraph 16), the church expressly acknowledged that its music minister knew that its education minister had "sexual contact with Brown as a minor." Information about a minister’s “sexual contact with a minor" should not be lightly dismissed as mere “limited information” and it’s troubling that the BGCT’s counsel would view it in such a minimizing manner. It is information that should have been reported to the police long ago, that should have been reported to my parents, that should have been reported to other parents so they could talk with their kids, and that should have been reported to people in the pews in every church in which the man subsequently worked.

As for Mr. Wakefield’s notion of “respect and courtesy,” that’s not how I would describe it. I flew at my own expense to Dallas to meet with church officials, and not a single deacon or minister of the church even deigned to show up and sit down with me face-to-face. They wouldn’t bother to even meet with me until AFTER I finally filed a lawsuit and over a year after I made my written report. The BGCT met with me once, four and a half months after my report, and subsequently shut off communication (I guess because I didn’t simply accept my pastoral pat on the head and walk away) and wrote me that I should direct any further communication to their lawyer, Stephen Wakefield, who was also representing the church. To give you an idea of the chasm between our two differing perspectives, consider this: In meeting with BGCT officials, as I struggled to keep composure while speaking of something so profoundly painful, one man across the table looked at me and said, “It’s not personal.” I suspect Mr. Wakefield might view such a remark as an indication of “courtesy.” But I was simply dumbfounded that anyone could be so oblivious as to even imagine that speaking about a person’s childhood molestation and rape could be anything other than “personal.”

In any event, as part of its court-filed apology, the church expressly acknowledged that its response to my abuse report was “less than compassionate.” That’s a gross understatement, but it does at least indicate that Mr. Wakefield's notion of "respect" may be a bit bizarre.

Mr. Wakefield doesn’t look like any of those 3 men in the picture above, but I do think that picture conveys the feeling of what it’s like to try to report clergy sex abuse to Baptist officials. If you saw The Matrix, you know that even those guys had a veneer of civility.

Mr. Wakefield is correct that I nonsuited my case against the perpetrator as an individual, but I continued in my suit against the church as the employer of the perpetrator and as the employer of another minister who knew about the abuse. (A “nonsuit” does not mean that the perpetrator was cleared in any way.) Most clergy abuse victims lack the money, resources, time, and emotional energy to pursue lawsuits and to take on multiple opposing attorneys at the same time, which is what I would have had to do. It’s all too easy for church and denominational officials to simply wear down most clergy abuse victims...and then they go away and shut up.

W: The confidentiality (“secrecy”) provision she refers to is a standard provision of most settlement agreements. Ms. Brown, as an attorney, should know this. It was not part of the agreement reached with Ms. Brown. No one demanded that she agree to it. It was part of an initial draft and deleted.

Me: Confidentiality or secrecy clauses are indeed a standard part of many settlement agreements, but they should NOT be when what is at stake is the protection of kids against clergy child molesters. That is information that should NOT be kept secret, and neither the BGCT nor any church should even attempt to keep it secret. Back in 2002, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adopted an express policy that no diocese or parish in the country should use confidentiality agreements in clergy abuse cases. (See Article 3) If Catholics were able to see how morally repugnant such secrecy agreements are in clergy abuse cases, why are Baptists still using them? Mr. Wakefield is correct that the secrecy clause was NOT part of the settlement agreement in my case. Why? Because I myself refused to sign it.

W: Ms. Brown suggests that her father or her relationship with her father was besmirched in some way. This has never been the case. Ms. Brown, from the very first communication with my client, described her family life as less than ideal. Neither my client nor I ever played “hardball” with Ms. Brown….

Me: I am not the only clergy abuse survivor who has been deeply disappointed in their dealings with the BGCT and in the horror of how the BGCT handled their attempt to report clergy abuse. (I know of a couple who had painful experiences with the BGCT over a decade ago, and I don’t have the sense that anything has changed for the better since then.) But of course, Mr. Wakefield is a fine attorney, and as I said above, he’s doing the bidding of his client, the BGCT, which also refers churches to him. The most reasonable assumption is that Wakefield is doing exactly what the BGCT wants.

The difficulties of my family had to do with the fact that my father had post-traumatic stress symptoms derived from his service in World War II. If anyone is interested, you can read more about it here.

W: The “other” clergy child molestation case to which Ms. Brown refers is one in which the BGCT was only briefly a party. The BGCT was dismissed from this case and was not a party to the settlement agreement. The victim was represented by counsel and that counsel agreed to the terms of the settlement. Again, the BGCT did not negotiate, propose, or otherwise have anything to do with the terms of the Settlement Agreement in that case.

Me: The BGCT was indeed a party in the particular case we’re talking about, and so it was served with notice of the child molestation allegations against the minister. The Dallas court’s online docket shows that the BGCT was a party in DC-06-05674 from 6/8/06 until the nonsuit of 11/30/06. Ultimately, that minister confessed that “proper boundaries were not kept.” If you had kids in that church, wouldn’t you have wanted to know that the “boundaries” involved a 14-year old? Wouldn’t you have wanted to know about those allegations?

W: As a Christian and an attorney, I’m sure I have fallen short in many ways and that I can be criticized for many things. I can accept that Ms. Brown is bitter and angry; and that I cannot fully appreciate how a victim of ministerial misconduct might be affected. My client and I are working to do all we can to address such misconduct. Ministerial abuse is a subject that deserves to be discussed and dealt with effectively, but I do not see how anything positive will occur if someone who purports to be a spokesperson, such as Ms. Brown, gives false and misleading accounts of what has happened.

Me: Once again, I am concerned when I see clergy child molestation and rape being lumped under a minimizing term like “ministerial misconduct.” It sounds like little more than running a yellow light. Clergy sex abuse does indeed deserve to be dealt with effectively, but I do not see how anything positive is likely to occur when the BGCT continues to treat the issue in a minimizing manner. Maybe when the BGCT can honestly own up to the horror in how it has handled things in the past, and to the enormous pain it has inflicted on abuse survivors by its uncompassionate blindness, then perhaps there will begin to be positive improvements.

I don’t give much credence to it when someone tags themselves with the “Christian” label, because that label doesn’t excuse anything. In fact, if I thought the BGCT’s conduct toward clergy abuse survivors exemplified the conduct of a “Christian,” then I would tell people to “RUN” whenever they hear the word. (I’m thinking of Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” movie…)

“Bitter and angry”? I don’t think so. But I am profoundly concerned about the safety of kids in Southern Baptist churches and about the failure of this denomination to hold accountable clergy child molesters and those who turn a blind eye. And I will not be quiet. Numerous court documents and letters are posted on my website. People can evaluate for themselves the question of who's misleading whom.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Talks with God

My talks with God are sometimes a bit one-sided, and perhaps not as respectful as some might think they should be. It's just that I get pretty tired of all the Baptist excuses and blindness about clergy sex abuse. So lately, my talks with God seem sort of like this.

"Look God..this just isn’t working, OK? I mean...this makes no sense. For starters, well - geewhiz God - I’m female. These Southern Baptist guys are NOT going to hear anything I’ve got to say. I mean...duhhh...I’m just not the right gender."

"It’s not about them, Christa."

"God...these guys are hostile...really really hostile. Haven’t you noticed? Did you see what Page said about us? Did you see the junk they spewed out in the Baptist Press? And have you seen some of the hateful emails I’ve gotten? This stuff hurts, God, and there’s just no point. You can’t talk to men who are determined not to hear."

"It’s not about them, Christa."

"Look God, this just isn’t the kind of thing I do, OK? I’m not suited for it. I mean, think about it...You need someone who’s extroverted, ultra-assertive, and super-eloquent. That’s not me, and you know it."

"It’s not about you, Christa."

"Well that’s great, God, but whatever this is about, I don’t know what to do or how to do it. It would be really nice if I could have a few more clues. Maybe something specific? How about an instruction manual? Would that be too much to ask? Pardon my sarcasm, OK?"

"Try to get some sleep, Christa."

"Did I mention that I’m not exactly having fun with this?"

"So you say you’re tired and you just wanna close your eyes and follow your dreams now?"

"Very funny, God. So now you’re quoting Springstein? Ha ha ha."

"Try to get some sleep, Christa. There’s more work that needs doing in the morning."

"OK - g’night God....Oh hey...the jasmine blooms are SO profuse this year...the smell is wonderful...thanks a bunch."

"Goodnight, Christa."