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.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and so true.

WatchingHISstory said...
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texaspastor said...

I read the post that Watchinghisstory refers to, and I want to respond to it by reiterating Christa's point: the act of sexual abuse on a minor is not about sex. Further it is not about heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a calculated illegal act that is solely about control. I was the victim of clergy sexual abuse for a 3 year period, and like Christa and others who comment on this blog, I feel qualified to speak on the subject. Not only was I a victim, but I am also now a pastor, sometimes regrettably so in the SBC. The youth pastor who abused me and others in his ministry was certainly deviant in his behavior, but it was not about his sexual preference. He abused both boys and girls over a number of years. There is not much that makes me more angry than watching someone with their own agenda trying to hijack the repercussions of someone else's pain to make their own point.

If your logic cannot stand on its own, then you should consider another line of thinking. As for those of us who did suffer abuse at the hands of Baptist clergy, the last thing that we need is for you to use our difficulties to make your point about reformed theology, homosexuality or anything else that was on the list.

I have had it with people playing politics in our churches and in this convention. Exploitation on any level, whether from the SBC Executive Committee, the SBC president or the person on the pew with a bad attitude is unacceptable. My encouragement to you is that you re-read Christa's last post, let it soak in and stick to your own blog.

Christa Brown said...

Thank you for your comment texaspastor. I deleted watchinghistory's comment to which you were responding, but your comment stands well on its own. And thanks for suggesting to watchinghistory that he "stick to his own blog."

WatchingHISstory said...
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Christa Brown said...

Watchinghistory: Over the past few months, I have deleted dozens of your comments. Please get off my blog and please don't come back. Your comments are too often too offensive to be appropriate for my site.

WatchingHISstory said...
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WatchingHISstory said...
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gmommy said...

Watching,
I wish you had some healthy boundaries. I know you believe you are right about everything you say...and say and say.

Could you please be adult enough to realize that you have been offensive and confusing yet you continue to post the same thing over and over on every blog you can find.

As much as you believe you have a profound message to share, you are not making a positive impact in your efforts.
You have become a nuisance and it is not because of your intended message.
What good are the revelations you feel are so important if you don't communicate anything other than disrespect for others, unscriptural declarations, and what appears to be very unstable behavior???
If you truly believe you have something that needs to be shared, please step back and regroup.

What and how you are communicating isn't working at all.
Take a break and rethink your message and approach, please.

You come off like the young boy with pie on his face ..and I hate for you to continue this way since it is not your intent.

Please leave all the blogs alone for a while and think about the message you would like to share.
OR... continue like you have been, and never get your message across to anyone.

And remember, Christa's blog is about sexual abuse by ministers.....totally different forum from the other blogs you have been haunting.
PLEASE don't respoond to me.

Christa Brown said...

gmommy: Watching obviously didn't take your advice. He tried to post 11 more comments here overnight. Fortunately, I turned on comment moderation right before I went to bed, and that blocked all his junk. But I really don't like turning on comment moderation. If any of you more experienced bloggers have any advice on how to deal with this kind of thing, or if any of you people in Memphis have advice on how to deal with Watching, please drop me an email.

WatchingHISstory said...
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WatchingHISstory said...
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texaspastor said...

Since this one comment did make it through, I do not mind at all responding to it. To Watchinghisstory: First of all, if you have felt insulted, that was certainly not my intent. Second, I would not dare try to intimidate you. Your cause is your own and you are entitled to your views.

With that out of the way let me then say this: If you did, in fact, feel insulted, you have misunderstood the point that I was attempting to make. My point is the same one that others posting comments on this blog have stated. This is a forum for those affected by clergy sexual abuse. It is not a forum for the actual or perceived flaws in the theology of any church or minister. To that end, I was simply trying to point out that the post that you referenced on your own blog was concerned with teachings against homosexuality and SG's authority to proclaim such teachings. What I am saying to you is that the abuse that took place at Bellevue, my own abuse, and that of countless others is not about homosexual or heterosexual behavior. As I said, my abuser preyed on both boys and girls. It is, as you too acknowleged, about power and control.

Finally, let me say that while this blog concentrates on the stories of Baptist abuse, we all know that this unspeakable horror is not merely limited to the SBC (SNAP was started by those in the Roman Catholic Church). With this in mind, discussions here are about stopping abuse, raising awareness and aiding survivors. It is not about reformed theology, Calvinism, Armenianism or any other theological point of view, and it should not be used to promote one particular viewpoint. My own sympathy and empathy extends to survivors from all denominations, faiths and yes, even to those who choose not to believe in God at all. The fact is, abuse is still wrong. It is a crime.

It is theological and political endfighting within the SBC that have too long diverted attention away from protecting children from predators. Further, it has diverted attention from our primary goal of communicating the transforming power of the character of Christ to an unbelieving world.

Christa Brown said...

Watching: I will delete every comment of yours as soon as I see it. I will not even bother to read them to assess whether or not they might be appropriate. Too many of them aren't. So you are wasting your time here. Please have the decency to honor my request and do not return to my blog.

Texaspastor: I agree with you that so much of the theological and political infighting of the SBC just seems like a distraction. Compared to the urgent need to protect kids against clergy predators, all the debates about Calvinism, Armenianism, private prayer language, etc. seem like debate about how many angels are on the head of a pin. If the leaders of this denomination continue to turn a blind eye to the predators in their midst, and continue to fail so miserably at protecting kids, what meaning can all the rest of what they profess possibly hold?

WatchingHISstory said...
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WatchingHISstory said...
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Anonymous said...

Dear Christa, I am very sorry for all that you experienced. I can tell you that, I for one, think these type of acts if proven should be considered death penalty offenses. I like the idea of having a site that keeps up with offenders, but I would encourage that it not paint all Southern Baptists too broadly. I hope that your site can help provide more awareness and accountability about predators (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian, etc...) I must say that there does seem to be extra hostility towards Baptists. This is surprising to me, because as you know Baptists are autonomous, and are run like other denominations that keep files on ministers, give them their positions, and control where they go. The local churches are responsible for calling their ministers. Many times they are the ones who don't even call former churches or check references. Maybe, your site can help raise those standards, without damaging those who are doing the right things. Best wishes.

WatchingHISstory said...
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Christa Brown said...

anonymous: StopBaptistPredators is an arm of SNAP, and SNAP reaches out to those abused by religious authority figures, regardless of denomination. However, at this point in time, most other major faith groups in this country (including Methodists and Presbyterians whom you mention) are doing more to proactively combat the problem of clergy abuse than are Southern Baptists. There needs to be some independent review board to which victims can report abuse with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard. That doesn't exist for Southern Baptists. Such a board would not need to exercise actual "authority" over local congregations, but it could serve to provide them with objective information. It could also serve to minister to the wounded.

WatchingHISstory said...
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Phyllis Gregory said...

Dear Anonymous,

Christa's website and blog are about SBC predators. She was raised Southern Baptist and was abused by a Southern Baptist. Many of the people who respond can relate to what she says because they, too, had a similar childhood.

I take offense to what you said, "I like the idea of having a site that keeps up with offenders, but I would encourage that it not paint all Southern Baptists too broadly. I must say that there does seem to be extra hostility towards Baptists. This is surprising to me, because as you know Baptists are autonomous..."

You know the "autonomous" thing is a bunch of crap. They might be autonomous but they still all give to the same mission board and cooperative program. I am sure the big guys in Nashville have a list of every member of every church because they keep up with who gives the most along with how many people are baptized in a year. So, I think they could keep a list of known predators and those people who have been accused of wrong doing.

It is just a crazy, SBC cop out. They don't want to see the truth, they do not want to admit the truth, and they want to appear as perfect.

Also, concerning what you said about churches checking references. Many times it doesn't matter if they do because the church they would be contacting are so glad to get rid of that minister and "his" problems, they would not say anything bad about him anyway. I have been in churches who wanted to get rid of someone and would not say anything. And I have been in churches who got stuck with the guy whose former church did not want him. Why will no one choose to stand up and be accountable.

Christa Brown said...

Great point, Phyllis! If Nashville can keep track of how many people get baptized in Baptist churches each year, why can't they keep track of how many people get sexually abused in Baptist churches? And if they can keep track of how much money each church sends to the Cooperative Program, why can't they keep track of how many ministers have been credibly accused of sexual abuse?

WatchingHISstory said...
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WatchingHISstory said...
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Elisabeth said...

I just now read this post. I was abused by a Baptist minister when I was an adult, 23, at a vulnerable point of my life.

What you wrote, Christa, about the use of God's word as a weapon, how you can't see it as a weapon, the authority of a pastor, and how can you run from your own faith, that is all so very true. This is true whether a person was abused as an adolescent, or as an adult.

I still have problems reading God's word.

Christa Brown said...

Elisabeth: Welcome here. I hope you'll check in often. I absolutely agree with you - there is no weapon more powerful than the word of God when it's used by a predator. And that weapon has been used to inflict terrible wounds on countless vulnerable adults, just as it has on kids.

I understand completely about the "problems reading God's word." Just when I least expect it, there are sometimes passages or verses that open up trap doors that have me falling down dark tunnels to memories or feelings that are truly awful. So reading the Bible winds up being a tricky thing.

Anonymous said...

Hello Christa,

I have left the Catholic Church after thirty-fives years as a devout Catholic. The abuse of women sent me into a tear,but the evidences of child abuse caused me to have nightmares. I raised two sons who are still devout Catholics. I was abused by a relative as a child and my heart aches for those people who have suffered the same thing!

I have been attending a Southern Baptist Church for two years now,but have not been led to be baptized yet.

A Christian male

Christa Brown said...

Anon: It grieves me to say this, but there is absolutely no reason to think that the incidence of clergy child molestation is any less among Southern Baptists than among Catholics. And, at this point in time, it appears that the Catholics are at least attempting to address it (however inconsistently) while Southern Baptists are still mostly just sitting on the sidelines.

Clergy sex abuse is a problem in all faith communities, but it's how they deal with it that really matters. You might want to try the Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians or Lutherans - they still have clergy abuse also - no one is immune - but these groups are at least attempting to implement oversight systems to deal with it.