Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Cult" or "church": It's still abuse

Remember David Koresh? He was the leader of the Branch Davidians who were put to siege by the U.S. government back in 1993. Dwayne Walker, who blogs about the sex-abuse and cover-up scandal at Trinity Baptist in Jacksonville, recently visited the ruins of the Branch Davidian site. His reflections on it are interesting and insightful, and so I’ve reposted an excerpt below. You can read the entirety of Dwayne’s posting here.

Incidentally, Dwayne will be hosting a discussion on “Child Molestation and the Clergy” at Fuels Coffee House in Jacksonville on February 9th. He’ll also be showing a couple of his films there. You can see his 2-minute film, "Don't Go in the Church," here on YouTube.

"I took a walk through the ruins of the church and residence of David Koresh, aka Vernon Howell, today….

As I looked at the memorial, and read the names and ages of those who lost their lives in the fire, I could not help but remember the original reason for the inferno. The raid was not just for weapons, but to 'protect children'. Children who had allegedly been abused by VH. Yet, as heinous an action as that was, I can't help but wax a bit sarcastic.

It just shows how unprepared we are to deal with the issue of child abuse and molestation. It seems that the only methods we have of dealing with victims of child abuse is to either ignore 'em, blame 'em, or incinerate 'em.

The ruins of the so-called compound actually seemed to be the size of my grandmother's house! The property of Trinity Baptist Church at 800 Hammond Blvd in Jacksonville, Florida, is far more of a compound than the ranch where Vernon Howell lived with his friends, followers, and family.

If it sounds like I'm going easy on Vernon, let's get a few things straight. After the inferno at Waco, we saw both mainstream religious periodicals, and evangelical periodicals, address this in articles that emphasized the beliefs over child molestation.

After Bob Gray was arrested in May of 2006, I could not help but notice the loud silence from Jacksonville's evangelical community, let alone the nation at large, over the problem of pedophiles in our nation's pulpits. Only Evangelist Don Boys seemed willing to broach the subject regarding Bob Gray.

If a victim from the Branch Davidians, or any other group commonly referred to as a 'cult', were to appear at Trinity, or any other evangelical church, you know their testimony of abuse would be embraced! People would throw their arms around those victims, coddle them, listen, and do all the right things, simply because they make the opposition look bad!

What happens when evangelical leaders are caught doing the same things VH was accused of? Silence. Certainly no tanks or infernos. I am not advocating that, by the way.

What I am saying is there is a double standard regarding how we deal with ministers who abuse children. If they come from a group that established leaders have labeled a 'cult', they'll roll out the red carpet for them. And possibly even dedicate a Sunday evening service to the 'threats posed by un-Christian cults'.

Where is this concern when it's one of their own?

The word 'cult' has no relevance to me anymore. I cannot, in good conscience, use that word anymore to describe any group with unique, strange, or odd views. It's all about abuse. Period. Not beliefs.

....The monument at the top of this tells us eighteen children died at the siege…. Fundamentalists seized upon the moment to savage the Clintons and Janet Reno, and claimed to shed tears for the children who died.

Where are the tears for those abused by the late Bob Gray? For those who had suicidal thoughts? Did any of BG's victims commit suicide? If they did, how would we know? Did they suffer in silence?"

Monday, January 28, 2008

WANTED: Courageous Baptist pastors!

Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines will be speaking at the annual Pastors’ Conference in Jacksonville, Florida on February 2nd. I wish the pastors in attendance would ask Patterson and Vines some tough questions, but I expect most will be inclined to treat them like celebrities.

There will probably be a lot more pastors lining up to get their books signed than pastors posing questions about accountability.

For those of you who haven’t followed this story, Patterson and Vines are former Southern Baptist presidents, and both of them had significant information about pastor Darrell Gilyard, who is now accused of sending obscene text messages to underage teens in Florida.

Gilyard had a past in Texas, and they knew it. Why didn’t they try harder to protect people?

Gilyard left 4 churches in 4 years after allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault surfaced in each of them. There were 25 allegations reported in his first church alone.

Many college students and church women said that they tried to tell Paige Patterson about Gilyard. One said Gilyard raped her, and another described Gilyard pushing her to the floor. You can read the tragic history of how Patterson reportedly responded in the Dallas Morning News. A couple other ministers and a pastoral counselor also tried to get through to Patterson.

Read the Dallas Morning News articles for yourself.

The hurtfulness of Patterson’s reported responses should haunt every decent Southern Baptist pastor in the country. They show a sad pattern of victim-blaming and victim-bullying.

We do not have as many published details about exactly what Jerry Vines knew, but we know that Vines “agreed to forgive” Gilyard for his Texas troubles. Also, a woman who says she resisted Gilyard’s unwanted advances when she was 18 says that she told her pastor, Jerry Vines, about it at the time. Nevertheless, she reports that Vines later spoke at Gilyard’s church, thereby giving continuing credibility to Gilyard.

The recent charges against Gilyard brought a new spotlight to the stories about how Southern Baptist leaders mishandled the accusations against Gilyard years ago.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just acknowledge that they made terrible mistakes and didn’t do nearly enough, express their regret, and promise to work at trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future? But so far we haven’t seen anything resembling that.

So how about the rest of you Southern Baptist pastors out there? Will you hold your leaders’ feet to the fire, ask some tough questions of them, and insist on accountability?

WANTED: Courageous Southern Baptist pastors! Are you out there? Are you going to Jacksonville for the Pastors’ Conference?

Here are some possible questions you could ask:

  • How many women would it take before Patterson would give credence to their reports of sexual abuse and consider the reports to be substantiated? Would 50 be enough? 100?
  • Absent a minister’s confession, would Patterson require multiple eyewitnesses? Male eyewitnesses? How likely is that?
  • Was it enough that Patterson allowed Gilyard to confess to “adulterous relationships” after what many women and college students reported was actually sexual abuse and sexual assault?
  • In 1991, a woman publicly stated that “Paige Patterson asked me to refrain from speaking to anybody about this.” Now Patterson says that he “never asked anybody to remain quiet about anything.” Which story is true?
  • How was any pastoral concern shown for the many college students and women who reported abuse by Gilyard? It’s certainly not reflected in Patterson’s responses in the Dallas Morning News article.
  • Was it enough to get Gilyard out of the SBC, or should Southern Baptist leaders have also taken steps to warn congregations outside the SBC – i.e., Gilyard’s next Florida congregation?
  • Given the extent to which Patterson, Vines, and First Baptist of Dallas officials reportedly promoted Gilyard’s career, didn’t they have some obligation to be equally proactive in later warning people about this person whom they had built up?
  • Didn’t Patterson at least send a mixed message about the seriousness of Gilyard’s conduct when Patterson publicly stated his view that the complaints against Gilyard involved “culpability on the women’s part?”
  • Even after multiple accusations against Gilyard, Patterson reportedly said, “It’s amazing how jealousy, frustration and racism can be motives for making accusations.” When high-level Baptist leaders are so dismissive of clergy abuse allegations, why should anyone imagine that other churches would take such accusations seriously?
  • If someone like Paige Patterson claims that he didn’t have the resources to conduct an investigation, why should anyone imagine that ordinary churches would have the resources? Isn’t this a perfect illustration of why Southern Baptist churches need the resource of an independent objective review board to consider whether accusations against clergy are credible or not?
  • Why did officials at First Baptist of Dallas (where Patterson worked in connection with Criswell College) reportedly “continue to recommend” Gilyard despite multiple allegations against him?
  • Why did Jerry Vines lend credibility to Gilyard by speaking at Gilyard’s Florida church, even though Vines knew about Gilyard’s past in Texas and even though one of Vines’ own congregants told him about Gilyard?
  • Is it acceptable that high-level Southern Baptist leaders claim to be powerless while leaving kids and congregations at risk from serial predators?
  • What will Patterson and Vines do NOW to assure that the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Huckabee flip-flops!

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will speak at Trinity Baptist Church after all. Here’s the latest update on Trinity’s website:

"1/26/08 Update: Gov. Mike Huckabee will address the congregation of Trinity Baptist Church via live phone-in to the Worship service at 6PM on 1/27/08. There is a great worship service planned and we look forward to hearing from the Governor and Pastor Tom Messer"

So, Huckabee will “address the congregation” by live phone-in. I’m guessing Trinity will probably put him up on a giant video screen.

It’s a cold slap in the face for clergy abuse survivors.

I’m hugely disappointed.

Huckabee is choosing to speak at a Baptist church that has one of the biggest on-going clergy sex-abuse and cover-up scandals in the country. And Huckabee knows about it.

By speaking there anyway, the unmistakeable message Huckabee sends is that clergy sex-abuse and cover-ups are no big deal.

That would be a terrible message for ANY presidential candidate to send. It’s a message made even more tragic when the presidential candidate is also a Baptist preacher.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Huckabee cancels at Trinity

SNAP urged presidential candidate Mike Huckabee not to speak at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville because it’s mired in a clergy sex-abuse cover-up scandal.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee changed his plans.

It’s about as simple as that. But if you want, you can read more about it in the news links at the bottom of this posting.

The church had Huckabee’s picture plastered on its website. It announced that Huckabee would be delivering the evening sermon on January 27th. It welcomed the Jacksonville community and said it was maximizing the seating capacity in its 2200 seat worship center. It provided media with a contact number for coverage of the event.

But Huckabee cancelled within hours after SNAP told him about the unanswered questions surrounding Trinity’s tragic history and its trail of wounded people.

Trinity survivors: Please know beyond any doubt that your courage and your stories made a difference. Be proud of yourselves!

Other survivors and supporters – ALL of you: Please raise an arm, bend it at the elbow, and give yourself a huge pat on the back. Each and every one of you had a part in this victory whether you realize it or not.

If you have ever told your story, written a letter to the editor, posted a blog comment, sent a word of encouragement, been to a SNAP meeting, or worked toward your own healing, you played a part in this. All of you have helped to raise awareness about the seriousness of clergy sex-abuse and the extent of the problem.

With every story that gets told, another survivor is encouraged to speak up, and the power of our stories grows. With your stories, your courage, and your work, you give strength and credibility to SNAP as an organization.

And a presidential candidate paid attention.

Enjoy this victory today. Bask in it. Perhaps it can help sustain you during some other part of this long struggle.

Our battles are profoundly painful and our victories seem too few. We are small Davids in a land of giants, and it often appears hopeless.

We are greatly outnumbered and greatly outgunned. Church and denominational leaders have huge budgets for public relations people and for lawyers. They have their own press that they control. And they have the power of countless bully pulpits.

We have mere pebbles by comparison.

But our pebbles are true. For that reason alone, we will prevail in the end.

“No lie lives forever.”

News links for more on Huckabee’s cancellation:

SNAP’s letter to Governor Mike Huckabee.

Join SNAP if you haven’t already done so. There is strength in numbers, and we’d love to have you. (If you would like to see more focus on clergy abuse among Baptists, please write “Stop Baptist Predators” in the comment field of the online registration form.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Meeting with church leaders

Church leaders wouldn’t even deign to meet with me until AFTER I filed a lawsuit.

By that time, over a year had passed since I reported my childhood abuse to church and denominational leaders, and I desperately wanted something to happen. Naively, I still thought that, if they would just talk to me, they would understand and would see the need to do something.

It was a profoundly painful meeting. Clergy abuse survivors shouldn’t have to talk about their abuse with people who lack the education and experience to respond appropriately. It often winds up inflicting even greater wounds.

As soon as I saw the senior pastor walk in the room, I felt dismay. Several years earlier, he had been reported for sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult congregant. I specifically asked that he NOT be one of the church’s representatives for the meeting. Whatever the truth of his story, I just didn’t want to have to think about it while I was dealing with my own trauma. I didn’t want to feel as though this man, who himself had been accused of abuse, might be sitting there leering at me. I had hoped he might simply have the decency to respect my wishes and the sensitivity of the situation. He didn’t.

But when I saw the music minister walk in the room, my heart lifted. I immediately recognized him. He was my piano teacher as a kid, and he was the person I had told about the abuse. I went straight to him and shook his hand. I was so glad to see him that I started crying. I felt certain that he was there to try to help me. I was wrong.

As we sat around that big conference table, the music minister began talking about how my perpetrator had spoken with him about how afraid he was that someone in the congregation had seen him “in a compromising position” with me.

I listened in stunned silence. He was talking about a point in time BEFORE I broke down crying at a piano lesson and told him about the abuse myself. This meant that the music minister had known about the abuse even earlier.

He could have stopped the abuse sooner. But he didn’t.

I turned that new information over in my head. I thought about how the abuse had escalated at the end. I thought about how it wouldn’t have happened if only the music minister had taken action when he first learned about the abuse from the perpetrator himself.

I looked at the music minister, this man who had also been my piano teacher. He was bragging – BRAGGING - about how he was the person who had eventually convinced the youth minister – my perpetrator - to move on to another church. He looked all puffed up with pride, seemingly oblivious to the horror of what he allowed to happen.

I tried to keep my gaze steady and my voice modulated. I tried to hold on…and I did for a little while. But sometimes the body has a mind of its own. Within minutes, my chest clamped shut. I couldn’t breathe. Waves of grief and nausea overtook me. I stood and turned my back to the table, and then I was doubled-over and heaving.

My attorney declared a break and ushered them all out of the room to try to give me some privacy and dignity.

When I recovered, they filed back in, and one of the deacons started talking. He was bragging about what a loving church they were. His spiel went sort of like this:

“Why…just a few weeks ago, my own step-daughter came parading into the church on Sunday morning. She’s 25 and she’s been nothing but trouble her whole life. It’s just been one thing after another. So there she is, parading into the church when she hasn’t been in ages, and she’s pregnant out to here. She’s NOT married… AND… (his voice dropped to a hushed whisper) … her boyfriend’s a BLACK man. Well…she just paraded herself into that church, and made such a spectacle, and I was SO ashamed of her. But I want you to know that those good church ladies just gathered all around her and loved on her. And I KNOW they would have done the same thing for you if you had just come to us with the right attitude.”

I sat there, trying to figure out what part of his story could possibly have any relevance to what happened to me.

I tried to think of what to say, but before I could get words out, the body once again took over. I stood, turned my back, and then doubled-over, heaving.

When I recovered, they all filed back in again and I listened to still more nonsense. But I kept pondering the deacon’s story.

I suppose he thought that it was all related to “S-E-X” and so it was all the same. From his perspective, an unmarried 25 year-old getting pregnant by her boyfriend wasn’t much different from me being sexually abused as an adolescent church girl by a married 30-year old minister.

Obviously, the deacon was totally clueless.

When the meeting ended, the only thing I could think to say was to congratulate him on his upcoming grand-baby.

The church followed up the meeting by sending me a secrecy agreement to sign, saying that I would never again speak about the subject of my abuse.

As soon as I saw it, I knew the pain of that meeting had served no purpose. They were still totally oblivious.

I didn’t sign their stupid, immoral secrecy agreement.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Greasy Grace

After the much-publicized sex abuse scandal at Victory Baptist Church, pastor Darrell Gilyard resigned and started up another church just 2 weeks later. The Dallas Morning News reported that his first sermon at the new church was titled “Grace Is Really Amazing.”

These guys sure do like to call forth “grace,” don’t they? But it’s a slick and greasy sort of grace, if you ask me.

When I finally located my own perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, he was also preaching a sermon on "Grace." (That's him in the photo.) This was almost 6 months after I contacted the music minister who knew about Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid, and 3 months after I made a written report of the abuse to numerous church and denominational leaders. So I expect Gilmore had probably heard that I wasn’t keeping quiet anymore. But even though so many people knew about his abuse by then, and knew that my report was substantiated, Gilmore was standing in the pulpit of still another church and talking about his work in “children’s ministry.”

His sermon was titled “What’s So Great About Grace.”

Using Romans 3 as text, Gilmore seemed to conjure a twisted rationalization for thinking that what he does with his little “earth-suit” on this planet isn’t of much consequence because, after all, Tommy’s “not here.” “Tommy’s already in the heavenlies” with God. For Gilmore, it looks like "what's so great about grace" is that it gives predators like him a free pass.

Good morning. I – uh – it’s a joy for me to be here today. I cannot tell you how this church has already blessed – uh – my wife and I as we have come here to work with you – um – in the area of children’s ministry…. I just want to tell you thank you for the way that you have received Sue and I…..

I want us to think for a few minutes this morning about grace.

Grace, according to God’s word, is a gift that can never be earned. It can never be deserved, but is given not because of what we have done but it’s given because of who God is. It’s given from His storehouse….

So I want to ask you today: What is so great about grace?...

Number 1: Grace is free. There’s no way that I can ever earn it..,.

The second thing I want you to understand about grace is that it’s free to ALL….There’s no difference between anybody…it’s free to every person. Scripture says it is by grace are you saved through faith…

The next thing we want to talk about is that grace is the key to understanding how to live the freedom that is ours as a child of God. Grace is free. Grace is given freely to all. Grace frees us to live like who we are.

Andy Stanley became the youth minister at First Baptist in Atlanta while Sue and I were there…. God gave him this motto and it soon began to work it’s way through the entire church, and I use it so often in counseling and it means so much to me.

The little motto goes like this: ‘In light of who I am and by the gift of God’s grace, I will walk in a manor worthy of my place.’

What does it mean learning to live like who I am?

…. God wants us to live according to faith. So the struggle that I have is to take what God says has already happened to me, to take what God says about who I am in Christ Jesus and to by faith begin to act like that whether I feel like it or not.

God says that you’re a child of the King.

We’re a child of the King. He says that we’re a joint heir with Christ Jesus. I want you to just imagine what that means. Everything that God has for his beloved son Christ, we’re going to inherit equally…. I can’t even begin to describe what that is…but I believe it.

God’s word says that even though I am here with you today, I am already seated in the heavenlies.

And I tell you what, when the junk gets heavy, when the accusations from the world and when the temptations of the flesh, and just all of the junk, begins to pile up on me, I can sit back and remember – I’m not here.

I’m already with God in the heavenlies.

I have a friend in Texas…he does a lot teaching on grace…and he calls our body our earth suit.

Ladies and gentlemen, what you’re looking at today is Tommy’s earth-suit. Tommy ejected from this earth-suit when he was a senior in high school and he’s been in the heavenlies ever since.

This earth-suit, according to God’s word, is inhabited by the life of Christ Himself…. And scripture says He was tempted in ALL manner like unto us….

It changes the way I live when I understand who I am in Christ Jesus. I am TOTALLY accepted by God.

One of the greatest drives that people have in the flesh is to be accepted. When I was a child, I had rheumatic fever twice – uh – it kept me from participating in sports and in the little town I grew up, if you were not an athlete, you were not anything. And I was the waterboy. And I have struggled with an inferiority complex all of my life. It’s STILL there. Those feelings of inferiority are still there. But I’m not gonna walk by my feelings. I’m gonna walk in light of who God says I am. And he says I am accepted by God in the beloved – in Christ Jesus…. I have been purchased with a price…I have been redeemed…..

‘In light of who I am, by the gift of God’s grace, I will walk in a manor worthy of my place.’

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Patterson & Vines: Their words raise questions

Recent lewd conduct charges against Florida pastor Darrell Gilyard brought a media spotlight to sex abuse accusations made against him years ago in Texas… and to how Southern Baptist leaders reportedly turned a blind eye. The story implicates two former Southern Baptist presidents, Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson (shown at right). Now they’re both trying to do damage control, but their words raise more questions than answers.

Former Southern Baptist president Jerry Vines now says:

Let the truth be found and let justice be done.”

  • Why wasn’t he more concerned about letting “the truth be found” BEFORE all the media attention?
  • Where was his concern for “the truth” when he lent his own name and credibility to Gilyard by reportedly speaking from the pulpit of Gilyard’s Florida church?
  • Where was his concern about "justice" for Gilyard's prior victims when when he “agreed to forgive” Gilyard for his troubles in Texas?

Former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson now says:

“Mr. Gilyard is very convincing and he always denied the accusations.”

  • Will Southern Baptist leaders take action only if a clergy-perpetrator admits his deeds?
  • Will a clergyman’s denial trump even dozens of accusations?
  • How safe are kids in Baptist churches if Baptist leaders take action only if a minister actually admits to sexual abuse?

I was neither an investigator nor a judge but the president of a small Bible college. I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case…when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention.”

  • This “golly – gee whiz – I didn’t know what to do” attitude of Southern Baptist leaders is wearing thin. Then and now, Paige Patterson was a very influential Southern Baptist leader. Criswell College was connected to what was then the largest Southern Baptist church in the country, First Baptist of Dallas. When someone as powerful as Paige Patterson whines that (gee whiz) he wasn’t “an investigator,” and (gee whiz) he didn’t “have resources,” it provides a good illustration of exactly why Southern Baptists so desperately need the resource of an independent review board to objectively and professionally consider clergy abuse reports. If a high-honcho like Paige Patterson can’t do a better job of handling abuse allegations, why do Southern Baptist officials keep pretending that ordinary pastors in ordinary churches are going to be able to handle things any better when one of their staff ministers is accused?
  • Does the ordinary Baptist church have more resources than Paige Patterson and First Baptist of Dallas? [For Bellevue people, Patterson’s self-exculpatory remark must have brought back memories of pastor Steve Gaines’ “uncharted waters” excuse. That was Gaines' explanation for why he kept quiet about a staff minister’s confession to sexual abuse of a kid. Though Bellevue is a prominent church with more resources than most, Gaines apparently just didn’t know what to do. Gee whiz.]

“I never asked anybody to remain quiet about anything.”

  • In 1991, a woman publicly stated that “Paige Patterson asked me to refrain from speaking to anybody about this.” So who’s telling the truth? With troubling accounts from so many college students and church women, someone should get to the bottom of it, and that’s why SNAP called upon the seminary’s trustees to fully investigate.

The leadership of the [Shiloh] church was fully aware of the fact that all of this had gone on.”

  • Were they really “fully aware” or were they merely aware of the minimized version of events that Patterson publicly described, when he said that Gilyard confessed to “adulterous relationships?”
  • Were they really made “fully aware” that what numerous college students and church women reported was actually sexual abuse and sexual assault?
  • Were they really made “fully aware” of how many people reported Gilyard – 25 at his first church alone?
  • Didn’t it at least send a mixed message to Shiloh when a former Southern Baptist president preached from Gilyard’s pulpit and thereby lent him credibility?
  • If Southern Baptist leaders wanted to make Shiloh “fully aware” of how egregious Gilyard’s conduct was, why did Vines reportedly speak from Gilyard’s pulpit?
  • And why does Patterson now point the finger at Shiloh when, back in 1991, Patterson was making public statements blaming Gilyard’s victims? He said the complaints against Gilyard involved “culpability on the women’s part” and that “it’s amazing how jealousy, frustration and racism can be motives for making accusations.” With public statements like that from a high Baptist leader, is it any wonder why Shiloh people may have been confused?
  • No doubt the leadership of Shiloh bears some blame. But isn’t it also long past the time when Paige Patterson should take a hard look at himself and at how his own failings played a part in this?

I agree with Jerry Vines: “Let the truth be found.”

But the truth needs to be found, not only about Gilyard, but about ALL credibly accused Baptist clergy. That’s exactly why SNAP has been urging Southern Baptist leaders to create an independent review board for receiving and considering clergy abuse reports. If Vines feels any regret for his “poor choice” of speaking in Gilyard’s church, then he should turn his powerful voice toward supporting a review board.

Both Vines and Patterson now have an opportunity. If they choose, they can learn from the mistakes of the past and use those mistakes to make things better for others in the future. Will they? That may be the most important question of all.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's not about sex

Thinking that clergy sex abuse is about sex is like thinking the Bataan Death March was about marching.

Yet, over and over again, Southern Baptist leaders talk about clergy sex abuse as though it were just another form of “sexual sin.” Repeatedly, I’ve seen them list child molestation along with such things as pornography, adultery, and even lustful thoughts. They lump it all together and call it “sexual sin.”

This suggests that they think it’s about sex.

It’s not.

It’s about a predator’s need to have absolute power over another human being. It’s about control and dominance.

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are powerful tactics to dehumanize and degrade others.

When you combine the tactic of sexual assault with the authority of a pastor and the weapon of God’s word, the dehumanization of the victim is complete.

There is no weapon more powerful than the word of God in the hands of a perverse pastoral con-man who traps true-believers as prey.

If a stranger had pulled out a knife, I might have stood a chance. At least I would have seen what confronted me and would have known it was a weapon.

But how should I have known to run from the word of God? How should I have known that Bible verses could be transformed into weapons?

With the coercion of God’s word, I didn’t see it as a weapon. My every instinct was to feel safe in the word of God and safe in the house of God.

Like a fish in a barrel, there was no escape from the boundaries of my own self-identity.

How do you run from the faith that you hold in your own head? How do you run from a faith so strong that it’s the very core of who you are? How do you run from your own soul?

There’s a reason why clergy abuse victims are almost invariably the most devout of kids. It’s the strength of their own faith that renders them vulnerable. It makes them gullible and trusting of religious leaders. It makes them easy prey.

Because it’s all so incomprehensible, the ways we find to survive often seem incomprehensible as well. Survival often means pushing it as far back to the darkest corner of our brain as we possibly can. We bury our memories to save our sanity. But the pain lives on.

We are people who have been violated and degraded not only physically, emotionally, and psychologically, but also spiritually. The very essence of who we are – our very souls – are sullied, stomped, stripped and subjugated.

And how are we to heal when our primary resource for healing – our faith – is something we can no longer trust? How are we to heal when the part of our brain that held our faith is now the scorched land of the predator, and our instinct is now to run from it?

If this were all simply about sex, it would be so much easier. But it’s not.

It’s not about sex for the perpetrator, and it’s not about sex for the victim.

Most Southern Baptist leaders just don’t seem to understand this. It’s a huge disconnect in their thinking. And it’s a disconnect that degrades the survivors still more and expresses itself in the way Baptist leaders treat them.

So why don’t they get it? Why do Baptist leaders persist in acting as though clergy sex abuse is about sex?

Perhaps it’s because it makes it easier for THEM. Perhaps it allows them to think about clergy sex abuse in a way that seems to make some sense and that fits with things they know. Perhaps it makes their own world feel safer and more normal. Perhaps it’s because it allows them to perceive their clergy colleagues as men who have merely “fallen into sexual sin” instead of as predators who have wielded faith as a weapon for assault.

I can’t actually know the reason for the disconnect in Baptist leaders’ thinking. But this much I do believe: If Baptist leaders keep thinking clergy sex abuse is about sex, they will keep minimizing the horror of it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Niceness isn't enough

“I know his heart,” she said.

She was defending Jan Daehnert, the new interim executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and writing in response to my posting about how Daehnert was the BGCT’s long-time keeper of its ugliest secrets.

I winced when I saw the words. They’re the same words that countless congregants have said when their minister is accused of clergy sex abuse. They can’t believe the accusations because they “know his heart.” Sometimes, they still say this even after the pastor is criminally convicted.

The normal human reaction that drives this woman to want to defend Daehnert, whom she works with in the Baptist building, is the same normal human reaction that prevents congregants from being able to take an objective view of their beloved pastor when he’s accused of sexual abuse.

That gut-felt “I know his heart” belief is a large part of why the BGCT’s system on clergy sex abuse is a failure. The BGCT receives abuse reports only from churches, and everyone already knows that “in the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret.” Why? Because church members trust their pastor and believe they “know his heart.”

So long as the BGCT makes churches the linchpin for any record-keeping on clergy sex abuse, kids in Baptist churches won’t be safe. There must be a place to which the victims themselves can report abuse with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard by professionals who have the training and experience to do so. This is what most other faith groups now provide. It is critical, both for the prevention of future abuse, and so that those who have been wounded by clergy will not be revictimized in trying to report it. All too often, because church leaders are anxious to defend their pastor and believe they “know his heart,” they respond to abuse victims in ways that are deeply hurtful, ignorant, intimidating and awful.

For BGCT officials to keep thinking that churches are going to report their pastors is delusional. It’s like thinking that grandma can assess the truth about whether beloved Uncle Joe molested little Suzy. She can’t and she shouldn’t have to.

There are exceptional grandmas and exceptional churches, but the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t happen. That’s why the BGCT’s own go-to guru Joe Trull described the cases in the BGCT’s secret file as being just “the tip of the iceberg.” He knows that churches “aren’t likely” to report clergy abuse to the BGCT’s registry.

Yet, even for those “tip of the iceberg” cases, the BGCT still keeps the ministers’ names a secret.

This means that, even in the extraordinarily exceptional situation when a minister is reported by a church, and when there is a confession or “substantial evidence the abuse took place” (as determined by the BGCT’s own lawyer), the name STILL stays in a file cabinet in the Baptist building... and the minister can go on working with kids at another church... and people in the pews won’t be told.

This is wrong.

No amount of BGCT public relations people can make it right. No amount of spin-doctoring can make it right. And no amount of having a good heart can make it right.

For the record, I’ve met Jan Daehnert and also had several phone conversations and email exchanges with him. He seems like a genuinely nice person.

So what? Niceness will not make kids in Baptist churches any safer. Niceness won’t heal the wounds of clergy abuse survivors.

Another Texas survivor told me she once got a Christmas card from Daehnert. She laughed grimly. “So this is what the BGCT does for clergy abuse survivors?”

The card arrived several months after she had talked with Daehnert on numerous occasions, always hoping that by doing so, it might make a difference for others.

But her perpetrator was still in the pulpit… and he still is.

She told me that no one at the BGCT ever even took a stand on her behalf, spoke to the congregation, or helped her in any way. To the contrary, the BGCT’s long-time lawyer (the same Mr. Wolfe-style guy that I later encountered) eventually tried to get her to sign a confidentiality agreement, saying that she would never again speak of it. She felt insulted and greatly disillusioned.

Under the circumstances, the Christmas card didn't seem nice. It seemed like a pathetic joke.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Oh what tangled webs...

Former Southern Baptist missionary Dee Miller offered this explanation for why Southern Baptist leaders don’t choose to effectively address clergy sex abuse:

“It is not considered in their best interest -- there are just too many guys who have covered up too much, and even if they aren’t perpetrators themselves, they are running around scared of being exposed.”
With news about the link between a reported serial predator and two Southern Baptist presidents, and with Mike Massar’s recent election as vice-president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I’ve been thinking about Dee’s explanation and pondering the web of connections between my own perpetrator and Baptist high-honchos.

Look at these names. How many of these guys had a part in covering up for Tommy Gilmore or in trying to hush-up my report of his abuse?

As a 30-year-old youth and education minister at First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, Tommy Gilmore told music minister Jim Moore that he was afraid a congregant had seen him in “a compromising position” with me, a 16-yr-old girl. Moore stayed quiet. As is often the case with sex abusers who aren’t stopped, Gilmore then grew more emboldened. The abuse escalated, and I wound up being much more traumatized.

Gilmore wasn’t forced to leave until I myself broke down crying at a piano lesson and talked to Moore. (Years later, as an adult, it was devastating to learn that Moore had actually known about the abuse earlier and could have stopped it sooner.) Pastor Glenn Hayden, now deceased, probably also knew about Gilmore’s abuse of me, but apart from telling me I should rededicate my life to Christ, he too kept quiet.

Gilmore moved on to First Baptist Church of Tyler, where he worked as children’s minister for about nine years. That’s the church where newly-elected BGCT official Mike Massar is now pastor.

After FBC-Tyler, Gilmore went to First Baptist Church of Atlanta, where he worked for many years as children’s minister under the leadership of celebrity evangelist and former Southern Baptist Convention president Charles Stanley.

Next, Gilmore moved to First Baptist Church of Oviedo where he was children’s minister at the mega-church pastored by Dwayne Mercer, recent past-president of the Florida Baptist Convention and an active board member for a number of Southern Baptist agencies. While at FBC-Oviedo, Gilmore was included in a complaint alleging sexual harassment against staff ministers…but it too was hushed up.

These are only the most obvious of Gilmore’s connections. On closer inspection, the web gets even more tangled.

As a younger man, Gilmore graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where former SBC president Paige Patterson was just a year behind him. Hardin-Simmons is a small school, and was even smaller back then. So it seems likely they would have known one another. Did Patterson and Gilmore have a continuing friendship?

When I tried as an adult to report Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid, some Texas Baptists, including the BGCT's own long-time lawyer, tried hard to silence me. It was such overkill that I could never make sense of it, and so I keep looking for explanations. Why would they react so aggressively?

Maybe the simple truth is that there never was any sense to it. Hatefulness has no logic.

Or maybe the answer is in Dee Miller’s words -- “too many guys who have covered up too much” and "they are running around scared.” Fear can also produce hateful responses.

Though many more Southern Baptist leaders ultimately learned about Gilmore’s abuse, and about the fact that my report was substantiated by music minister Moore, no one helped me in trying to assure the safety of others. And Gilmore continued in ministry.

Yet, after I notified then-SBC-president Bobby Welch about the abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention wrote back that it had no record of Gilmore being in ministry. At that time, I didn’t have a clue about Gilmore’s connections to Charles Stanley and Dwayne Mercer, or about his possible connection to Paige Patterson. I didn’t even know what state he was in. Now that I know these things, it’s hard to imagine that no one in Nashville knew where he was.

Like Dwayne Mercer, Bobby Welch was also a recent past-president of the Florida Baptist Convention, and his church was just up the road from Mercer’s church. While he was Southern Baptist president, Bobby Welch appointed Mercer to the resolutions committee of the SBC. So Welch obviously knew Mercer. Was he acquainted with the other ministers at Mercer’s prominent church? Did he know Gilmore?

And even if Bobby Welch didn’t personally know Gilmore, could he have possibly still been inclined to keep things quiet in order to help protect the reputation of Dwayne Mercer’s church?

Nowadays I see even more possible connections….and wonder even more.

A 2006 Associated Press photo, shown above, reveals current Southern Baptist president Frank Page sitting next to Dwayne Mercer, the senior pastor of Gilmore’s former Florida church. Did Gilmore’s connections extend even to Page?

The BGCT’s newly-elected Mike Massar was on the board of trustees at East Texas Baptist University where music minister Jim Moore is now Director of Choral Activities and a bit of a luminary in the world of choral music for youth. (Yes, that’s the same Jim Moore who kept quiet about minister Gilmore’s sexual abuse of me as a kid.)

So there’s another possible connection in the web. Did Mike Massar have reason to want to sweep things under the rug so as to protect the reputation of Jim Moore, an ETBU professor who kept quiet about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid even while knowing that the man was continuing to work with kids? Does that explain why Mike Massar’s church completely ignored me?

The chairman of the deacons at Massar’s church, First Baptist of Tyler, received certified notice about Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid and about Jim Moore’s knowledge of it. I assume the chairman of deacons would have probably informed the pastor. Did pastor Mike Massar tell people in the pews that their prior children’s minister was a child molester? Or did he keep it secret even from his own congregants?

Before Massar’s election as an officer of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, he served on numerous BGCT committees and boards. So he must have been well-known by many BGCT officials. Surely, BGCT officials Jan Daehnert and Sonny Spurger could have called Massar and asked him where Gilmore went after he left FBC-Tyler. I told Daehnert and Spurger that Gilmore had gone to FBC-Tyler, but that I didn’t know where he had gone after that. So why didn’t Daehnert, Spurger or Massar help me in tracking Gilmore? Did they simply not want me to find him?

Though I don’t know the answer to all of these questions, I know enough of the answers to see that the big picture looks like a very tangled web of connections and collusion.

Maybe Dee got it right. Maybe Southern Baptist leaders don’t choose to effectively address clergy sex abuse because “there are just too many guys who have covered up too much.”

Update: A Florida church-woman told me that, even while Gilmore was working in Florida, he always went to the annual meeting of Texas Baptists. So apparently, Gilmore was still maintaining his Texas connections. This makes it seem all the more likely that leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas would have known that he was a children's minister in Florida, or at least that they could have found him if they had cared enough to try.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Because It Matters

"There are no words to describe how cruel, and even wicked, this insulting statement by the SBC president is."

Danni is talking about Southern Baptist president Frank Page's public statement that the abuse victim support groups are "nothing more than opportunistic persons who are seeking to raise opportunities for personal gain." Obviously, Page's statement struck a nerve.

Writing in response to the end-of-year Baptist abuse wrap-up in EthicsDaily, Danni had a lot more to say on her blog about the entrenched denial of SBC officials and their lame "nothing they can do" excuse. Because she said it all so well, I've reprinted Danni's remarks below.

First of all, for a leader in the SBC to deny there is a systemic problem is a big problem all on its own. Anyone who is willing to look at the issue without choosing deliberate denial can see there is a systemic problem. No, clergy sex abuse is not happening in every other church. But I will tell you what is happening. Because the entire denomination refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of sexual abuse in the church, abusers and pedophiles know they are generally safe to prey in churches....

Denial is denial is denial. You can’t deny it at the very most critical point - the top of the ladder - and expect the church to do anything about the rest of the monster lurking in the church.

Regarding the statement that groups and individuals are using the issue for personal gain - what kind of lame excuse is that? We’re going to let church members, mostly small children, be scarred for life and possible turned against God forever because some people might be using the issue for personal gain? This is outrageous! And by making this statement, the SBC president is implying that the issue is not only irrelevant but one created primarily for satisfaction of the greed of a few bottom-feeders. It is a classic “politicians” spin - to make an issue go away, tar it with a brush that makes it’s advocates look like quasi-criminals in their own right. I’m not just outraged - there are no words to describe how cruel, and even wicked, this insulting statement by the SBC president is.

Then there is the former SBC president’s pitiful hand-wringing. He says there is nothing they can do because local churches are autonomous. This is another patently lame excuse. Most (but not all) local churches contribute to the convention. Most (but not all) local churches benefit from the convention in some way. That is the very foundational principle of the SBC Cooperative Program. Their entire missions and other outreach programs are centered in the basic fact that all those local churches are banded together and work together. Don’t try to say there’s nothing we can do because local churches are autonomous! At the very least, churches who are in the convention can be required to list their staff for the safety and well-being of members and any church foolish and irresponsible enough to insist on employing staff who have been reported to the convention for sexual, or other, abuse can be expelled from the convention. This one possible option does not require excessive thought, and I’m sure if they even try they can come up with other options as well.

Bottom line, the SBC leadership just doesn’t care. It would cost them too much, either in time, potential loss of position or power for daring, or whatever. It is a very sad day when these “costs” could outweight the price of a life. And not just one life - the lives of all those affected by clergy sexual abuse.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jamming to "This Little Light"

On his Live in Dublin CD, Bruce Springsteen does a gospel/Dixieland rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” I just discovered it.

This is one of my all-time favorite childhood songs. In Sunday School, I was one of those 5-year-olds who always shouted out a bit too loud on the “OH NO” part. (Remember? “Hide it under a bushel, OH NO, I’m gonna let it shine.”)

Finding this song in a Springsteen package brings back that 5-year-old in me.

Start the New Year right, and try it for yourself.

Pull your high-school horn out of the closet, take out your tambourine, grab a wooden spoon, or throw some rice in a Tupperware tub. Use whatever you’ve got handy. Then rise up out of your seats, raise your voices, and sing along to “This Little Light of Mine.”

I defy you to feel any shame in your soul when you’re jamming with the Boss.

Shine on, Survivors!