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.

10 comments:

gmommy said...

The article by Dee Miller is very disturbing. No wonder Steve Gaines was so arrogant about keeping a confessed sexual molestor on staff at Belleve Baptist.
This is more proof that sexual abuse by Baptist ministers is NOT unchartered territory as the Sr Pastor claimed before the church.

Of course BBC labeled the abuse "sexual activity" and an "incident"....the leaders of the SBC think that the innocent, vulnerable, and the wounded have some responsibility in their own abuse by these Baptist ministers! Or at least that's their lame excuse.

Of course the SBC ministers hate the blogs and the internet!!! Getting harder to keep their dirty little secrets!

As long as the good ol boy perverts don't drink or have a private prayer language, the SBC leadership will make sure they stay employed in positions of trust so they can continue their abuse!

The confessed sexual predator, Paul Williams, has been seen on the ball field when children are playing at a Baptist church right outside Memphis.
If he becomes a minister there, I will do all I can to warn the members. No chance that the ministers in this area will care.

Christa Brown said...

Well-said gmommy. They seem to think it's about S-E-X and blame the innocent for their own abuse. (How many times have we heard that stupid "two to tango" line?) But of course, thinking clergy sex abuse is about S-E-X is like thinking the Bataan Death March was about exercise.

Phyllis Gregory said...

gmommy,

I love what you said, "As long as the good ol boy perverts don't drink or have a private prayer language, the SBC leadership will make sure they stay employed in positions of trust so they can continue their abuse!" Oh my gosh! Truer words were never spoken. And don't forget -- don't dance!! That was one of the unwritten RULES in SBC churches in OK when I was growing up. We would go to Falls Creek church camp every summer and "confess" our sins. Then we would dance again. Then we would confess again. I remember really thinking that was a SIN!

What is crazy -- my parents (mainly my mother) preached the evils of drinking and the sin of premarital sex all the while they were having sex with me themselves. And I wonder why I am screwed up and have CHURCH issues! Go figure!

Phyllis

Christa Brown said...

Reminds me of that old joke... Why are Southern Baptists so afraid of S-E-X? Because it might lead to dancing!

Along with several other girls in the church, I was on my school's drill team – the Lionettes. Frequently, the Sunday evening sermon would have the pastor bellowing about the evils of dancing while he glared at us sitting in the back corner of the sanctuary. My prayer partner was also on the drill team, and we used to pray about it together, but somehow, despite all the pastor's bellowing, God never told us to get off the drill team. But after my known perpetrator left and moved on to a bigger church at a higher salary, and after the senior pastor told me I should rededicate my life to Christ, I quit the drill team. I guess I thought that was part of the cause of it all. How crazy was that?!

gmommy said...

Both your posts sound like we grew up in the same church and family!
and Phyliss...they are screwed up...we are very normal.

When you go thru the life experiences we have...it is normal to have a few issues!!

Anonymous said...

This is like a nightmare maze of ministers. There are so many prominent SBC ministers involved and not one did anything to help but they did contribute in hiding the truth or not caring. I can assure you that Bobby Welsh does know Dwayne Mercer and his staff well.

Anonymous said...

Dwayne Mercer's church of record at one time was FBC Atlanta, where Charles Stanley pastors. Dee Miller's statement may be more true than anyone realizes.

Christa Brown said...

Anonymous 1 and 2: Thanks for your pieces of information. I thought it likely that Bobby Welch would know the ministerial staff at Dwayne Mercer's church, and you've confirmed that. But I had no clue that Mercer was also connected to Charles Stanley at FBC-Atlanta. The web just gets thicker and thicker..."too many guys who have covered up too much."

Anonymous said...

From the Unknown Missionary:

When my 4 year old was in Sunday School at FBC Oviedo (long before Gilmore but during Mercer), he came into my office and proclaimed, "Daddy, I am glad there is a hell." I was a little concerned about this and asked further. He said, "I am afraid of Goliath and Goliath is in hell. If he is there and I ain't going then I don't have to be afraid."

As a good baptist, I believe that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. Jesus said it would be better to have a large stone about your neck and be cast in the sea than to offend one of His little ones. Surely, many have been offended. I would not want to be guilty before God of having allowed a pervert to run rampant in the church where I am shepherd, with my knowledge and consent, and destroyed the spiritual lives of so many. These men need to answer here and now. But they will answer again, later, as well.

Survivors, be comforted to know that the Goliaths of your life are in hell.

Anonymous said...

There are other kinds of abuse within the SBC that parallel the sexual abuse. When I was 17, our youth pastor took our youth group on a retreat and told us that Jesus was coming back within a year, and that we all needed to immediately give up all of our worldly goals. I was told that my desire to be a mother first was a sin, and that it was rooted somehow in sexual sin, even though I was a virgin and a devout Christian. The person who told me that is now pastor of a major SBC church in Texas.

A generation earlier, my father, who was an underweight boy, had been run through a belt-line at a well-known Baptist youth retreat campground.

I think the larger sexual abuse issue is partly rooted in generations of abuse perpetrated upon Southern Baptists by their elders, due to the authoritarian, insular culture. Baptists are fond of pointing to cult-like elements of other faiths, but would deny the same about their own.

Watch out for the newest SBC trend: past sex abusers are now being granted "special counseling ministries" upon professed repentance.