Monday, March 31, 2008

If they really cared

Once again, the Baptist General Convention of Texas came up with rationalizations for why it keeps secret the names of ministers who have been reported by churches for sexual abuse.

Spokesperson Emily Prevost justified keeping those names secret by mischaracterizing them as “unsubstantiated claims.” Yet, published BGCT policy reflects that those names are ministers who have confessed to abuse, ministers for whom it was determined there was “substantial evidence” of abuse, and ministers who have been reported by churches. These are all forms of “substantiation.”

Of course, Prevost isn’t dumb. She surely knows that a confession and “substantial evidence” are forms of “substantiation.” But since the secrecy of such a file is virtually impossible to credibly justify, Prevost opts to mischaracterize the file.

And after she does that slick spin-job, Prevost then has the audacity to talk about how the BGCT is “very committed to protecting not just children but members.”

Southern Baptist abuse survivor Debbie Vasquez saw right through that line, and bluntly called it “a lie.” Debbie ought to know. She tried repeatedly to get help from the BGCT in protecting other kids against the minister who abused her, but the BGCT did nothing.

True commitment is shown by deeds, not words. Those of us who have been around the block with the BGCT on clergy abuse know how huge the chasm is between its words and its deeds.

If BGCT leaders really cared, here’s what they would actually do:

  • Stop defending the indefensible.

  • Release the names of all ministers who have been reported by churches to the BGCT and for whom there was a confession or substantial evidence of sexual abuse.

  • Locate the whereabouts of ministers in that file and inform the people in the pews of every church in which a file-listed minister has worked about the reported abuse in his past.

  • Provide clergy abuse victims with a safe place to report abuse to someone who has the appropriate education and training.

  • Begin assessing and archiving sexual abuse reports received from the victims themselves and not merely reports received from church officials.

  • Stop telling victims to “go to the church” when the BGCT knows full-well that “in the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret,” with the result that victims who report to the church of the perpetrator are typically revictimized and further wounded.

  • Insist that the attorney the BGCT sends out to “help” churches will never again threaten to sue a victim reporting abuse. (Churches who seek help from the BGCT should understand that the BGCT will no longer help them to hush-up abuse via intimidation of victims. This may be less “helpful’ in solving the problem for the particular church, but it will be of service to many other churches by assisting victims with reporting abuse instead of assisting churches with covering it up.)

  • Insist that the attorney the BGCT sends out to “help” churches will never again seek a confidentiality agreement from a clergy abuse victim. That’s what is also called a “hush money” agreement and it is reprehensibly immoral in this context. (Again, churches who seek help from the BGCT should understand that the help that will be provided will not only be within the bounds of bare legality but also within the bounds of morality.)

  • Release a public statement offering to indemnify any victims who would now choose to speak out about the abuse they suffered but who previously signed confidentiality agreements that make them fear being sued if they speak. (Not only would this allow people in the pews to be better informed about clergy-perpetrators, but it would also set a strong policy against such secret agreements in the context of clergy sex abuse.)

  • Beg clergy abuse victims who have previously tried to report abuse to the BGCT to give the BGCT a second chance and report their abuse again, explaining that, this time, a professionally trained and compassionate person will receive their reports.

  • Provide immediately available counseling stipends for clergy abuse victims. For almost 2 decades, the BGCT has provided readily available counseling for clergy perpetrators. It should provide at least the same level of counseling support for the victims and it should be provided independently of any church.

  • Publicly apologize for the immoral misjudgment of having allowed clergy perpetrators to remain in pulpits and for having kept such secrets.

  • Publicly apologize for having failed to help victims seeking to report abuse and to expose their perpetrators.

  • Publicly apologize for having used a secret file to help shield churches against potential liability and to facilitate the secrecy of clergy abuse.

  • Publicly acknowledge the BGCT's moral complicity for doing too little for too long. Own up to the BGCT's share of the shame for having long chosen to protect itself, its image, and financial coffers rather than protecting kids and congregants.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country, with 5500 affiliated churches. What a powerful example it could set for the moral and compassionate handling of clergy abuse reports… if they really cared.

Friday, March 28, 2008

How would people find out?

A recent Massachusetts case illustrates how much easier it is nowadays to find out about a Catholic priest accused of abuse than about a Southern Baptist minister accused of abuse.

Allegations about the sexual abuse of a minor were made to the Fall River diocese review board in January 2008. The allegations involved retired priest Bento Fraga. An investigation was conducted, and the review board found the allegations to be credible. Fraga was removed from ministry, and in March 2008, a letter from the bishop was distributed at mass in every parish where Fraga had worked since 1956.

Thus, within just 3 months’ time, people in the pews at every church where Fraga had worked were informed about the “credible accusations” against him. And they were informed by a person of authority within the faith community so that there was little room for doubt about the seriousness of it.

Consider what this meant for people. Parents gained the possibility of talking with their kids – even their now-adult kids -- about the allegations against Fraga. The victim who reported Fraga gained the peace-of-mind of knowing that others had been warned. And any other still-silent victims saw that they would be supported if they too spoke up.

Fraga wasn’t convicted of anything. He wasn’t even charged. This is true of most clergy child molesters because, by the time a victim is psychologically capable of reporting the abuse, it is usually too late for criminal prosecution.

This reality -- that most child molesters can't be prosecuted -- is why Catholics and other major Protestant groups instituted review board processes. They took up the mantle of responsibility for oversight of their own clergy rather than relying solely on the criminal justice system.

Review board determinations also allow for the community-at-large to be informed because they provide reporters with substantiation for writing about “credibly accused” clergy. The Fraga article wasn’t about a criminal conviction or even about a civil lawsuit. Rather, it was the determination of a Catholic review board that allowed the public to hear news about Fraga.

By contrast, Southern Baptists don’t have such review boards, and so the public winds up hearing nothing about the vast majority of accused Baptist clergy child molesters.

Without any assistance from denominational leaders, even the most outspoken victims often find that their efforts are futile when they try to expose Baptist clergy perpetrators. Victims cannot alone do the job of trying to protect others.

For those of you who have been down this road and who have attempted to report Baptist clergy sex abuse, can you even imagine how much better it would have been if you could have reported your perpetrator through a review process such as the one in the Fall River diocese?

Oh sure, you’d still have the trauma of the abuse itself, all the nightmares that go with it, and all the difficulty of coming to grips with it. I’m not diminishing that in the least. But with a review process like the one in Fall River, at least you wouldn’t have the retraumatizing effect of an endless stream of Baptist leaders who turn a blind eye, who bully and shame victims, and who leave perpetrators in their pulpits. At least you wouldn’t have the constant struggle of trying to figure out on your own how to warn others and of worrying that he could be hurting someone else in exactly the same way he hurt you. And at least you wouldn’t have the maze of dark alleys and dead ends that Baptist church and denominational leaders use to misdirect victims who report abuse.

For those of you who are parents in Baptist pews, wouldn’t you like to know about Baptist clergy who are “credibly accused” of child molestation? And wouldn’t you prefer that such serious news should come from someone in leadership?

But who’s going to provide you that information?

In Southern Baptist circles, no one has taken on the mantle of responsibility for informing people in the pews about credibly accused clergy. No one.

The tragic result of such an institutionalized lack of accountability is predictable. People in Baptist pews don’t usually find out about clergy sex abuse, and credibly accused clergy simply continue in ministry.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We bear witness

Jeri is both a biblical scholar and a 4th degree black belt. These strengths give her an interesting perspective on our fight for clergy accountability.

Sometimes I simply lose track of what it is I’m doing and why. Does this work make sense? Does it make things better? Does it change anything? Constantly, I ask these questions, and my answers are often shaded by a sense of hopelessness and futility.

But in a comment under the prior posting, Jeri’s words struck a chord and so I want to share them here.

We bear witness, she explains. It is both as simple and as difficult as that. We bear witness to the reality of countless so-called religious leaders who turned a blind eye to the rape and molestation of kids by their clergy colleagues, and who continue to do so.

Our voices, our lives, our stories, our very selves – WE are the bodies they tried to bury.

With each and every one of us who serve as witness to this terrible truth, we encourage others as they too struggle to claw out of that dark spiritual and psychological pit that religious leaders dumped them in.

In Jeri’s words….

"Remember, even the Lord Jesus did not try to convert most of the Pharisees. He never EVER appealed to the High Priest to repent.

I don't know that any of us who work to make these tragedies and sins known will ever see the highest echelons of the Religious Elite repent. But we will see the wounded gain trust in Christ. We will see the Lord act on behalf of His people (His true people, not these garish pretenders).

When you make public these sins, and you reason well… you are reaching a silent group of people. Your victory is not in converting corrupt Baptist leaders, but in showing their victims that there is still a level of decency in others that is concerned about what happened to them.

This is what it is to be a witness. We do not mark the time or the effort. We simply take it a day at a time, working each day as we are able. The concept, in martial arts, is not to be trapped in time. Don't let yourself be conscious of time passing, because that is a trap. Your mindset has to be timeless. You live in the present moment, doing the very next thing to advance your fight. That way, you don't weary yourself.

In a fight, when a fighter starts watching the clock or worrying about how much longer the fight is going to go, he puts himself at a huge disadvantage. He wears himself down.

Similarly, if you take a hard blow, do not focus on the pain or worry about the damage until you are in a place to calmly assess it and repair it. You must fight "above" the pain, without fear.

Let's talk about those hard blows: These men betray themselves, and some of them will go to their graves haranguing you and calling you an evil doer. But their works will make them known to persons who want the truth. Let time work on them as their wicked deeds and wicked works accrue and weigh them down.

Understand the parameters of your war: can you make corrupt leaders non-corrupt? No. They've already sold their souls. Can you sway people at the grass roots level? Yes. Can you comfort the afflicted? Yes.

I do believe the Lord will destroy corrupt church leaders as He destroyed the Sanhedrin when the time was right. But I think our war is to call peace and restoration to the victims of the corrupt church leaders."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Who decided "false accusations"?

One of these days, I’m going to completely swear off the Baptist blogs. Eighteen months ago, I began commenting on some Baptist blogs because I thought it might be a way to raise awareness and educate Baptists about the extent of the clergy sex abuse problem.

It’s been a continuing exercise in frustration. I haven’t seen any improvement in the level of understanding during the past 18 months. To the contrary, I continue to see the same redundant arguments for why nothing can be done. Even worse, I continue to see the same entrenched resistance to effectively addressing clergy sex abuse. And though it’s obvious that many of the people on Baptist blogs are pastors, I continue to see virtually no pastoral concern for the victims.

These are the three main arguments that people on Baptist blogs make for why Baptists can’t address clergy abuse in the same way that other faith groups do: (1) Autonomy of the local church; (2) Fear that any sort of action by state and national conventions would subject their coffers to the risk of lawsuits; and (3) Fear that ministers’ reputations will be ruined by false accusations.

It was the third excuse that gave me pause this time.

“Pastor” dragged out the “false accusations” argument in comments on the Spiritual Samurai blog a couple days ago. Whenever I see this argument, it strikes me as so utterly self-absorbed that I’m stunned. It defies my comprehension to imagine that pastors can be so much more concerned with protecting their colleagues than they are with protecting their flocks.

I view the argument as demonstrating a sort of tribalism among clergy. How else could the fear of ministers being falsely accused weigh so much more heavily on them than the fear of kids being sexually molested by those they trust the most?

Perhaps because I’ve always found it incomprehensible, a critical aspect of this argument didn’t register with me until I saw “Pastor’s” recent words.

He started out with the sort of condescending tone that we see all-too-often from some of these guys. Spiritual Samurai had posted Debbie Vasquez’s story of abuse by a Baptist preacher still in the pulpit, and “Pastor” commented that this was an issue “more complex than ranting, raving, posturing, and speculating in a blog.”

So right off the bat, “Pastor” demeaned Debbie’s story by suggesting that it amounted to “ranting” and “raving.” That set my adrenaline pumping a bit right from the get-go.

But of course, “Pastor” was far from done.

“There is a lot of hyperbole,” he said, “about what the BGCT and the SBC should and should not do when it comes to child molesters.”


Given the number of people I hear from – people who have tried to report clergy perpetrators only to be ignored, bullied, shamed, and shunned -- my perception is that it would be almost impossible to overstate the urgency of the need for denominational action. If we have erred on one side or the other, we have erred on the side of understatement rather than on the side of hyperbole.

About the time I was moving on from his “hyperbole” remark, “Pastor” got in still another dig by talking about how “the abused and their champions” may “hyperventilate.” He said that “we need to calm down.”

Oh. I see. This “Pastor” guy thinks we’re just a bunch of over-emotional sorts whose views aren’t worthy of taking seriously. How very pastoral of him.

Well… you can see that I wasn’t off to a good start in considering “Pastor’s” comments.

But I continued reading, and when “Pastor” turned substantive, here’s what he said: “I realize that children have been and are being abused but we need to protect the rights, reputations, and credibility of all concerned…. In 42 years of being a pastor, I have encountered plenty of abuse victims but I have also encountered people whose lives and reputations were ruined by false accusations.”

So there it was, the standard “false accusations” excuse. But this time I realized that the excuse itself raised questions.

WHO are all these ministers who were ruined by “false accusations”?

And WHO decided that the accusations were false?

Was it just this “Pastor” guy who, with his wealth of self-confidence, decided that HE knew what was true and false? Was it just this “Pastor” guy who decided that HE knew the character of his clergy colleagues and so the accusations must surely be false?

Of course, this particular “Pastor” is just one among many. As I said, I’ve seen this “false accusations” argument countless times on Baptist blogs.

Experts say that fabricated reports of childhood sex abuse constitute only 1 to 4 percent of all reported cases. So how is it possible that so many Baptist ministers seem to know other ministers who were falsely accused?

And again…WHO decided that the accusations were false?

Maybe some of these so-called “false accusations” that so many Baptist ministers seem to know about are accusations that need to be brought forth again and looked at with some objective eyes. Maybe the existence of so many so-called “false accusations” are really an argument for why there SHOULD be a professionally-staffed review board to objectively consider Baptist clergy abuse reports.

Otherwise, who’s playing umpire? Who’s making the call on falsity or truth?

The concern for false accusations cannot be ignored, but it should be kept in its proper perspective.

It is surely a terrible thing for a minister to be falsely accused of sexual abuse. However, what is even more terrible is for a kid to be sexually molested by a minister, to be disbelieved and further shamed years later when he attempts to report it, and to continue seeing the perpetrator in a pulpit, knowing that he will likely do to some other kid the same as what he did to you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

BGCT: Stop keeping dangerous secrets!

Once again, the Baptist General Convention of Texas has publicly justified its secrecy in guarding the names of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse. It claims that the “majority don’t involve criminal acts.”

“Majority??” Even if we simply take this statement at face value, it necessarily means that a “minority” of the ministers are on that list because of criminal acts. How big is that “minority”? And what is the nature of those criminal acts?

We know for sure that some of the ministers on that list are there because churches reported them for child molestation.

How do we know this? Because the BGCT has publicly said so: “The BGCT keeps a confidential list of individuals who are reported by a church for sexual misconduct, including child molestation….”

We also know it because court-filed documents show that the BGCT placed in that file the name of the minister who abused ME as a kid, and yet the man was still able to continue working in children’s ministry in Florida.

Child molestation is a criminal act. The fact that a perpetrator is never convicted doesn’t alter the fact that the molestation is a criminal act. It’s the same as with murder. It’s still a criminal act even if the murderer gets away with it.

Like the vast majority of child molesters, my perpetrator was never prosecuted or convicted, but his name is in that file at the BGCT.

This means that his name is in the file based on a confession or “substantial evidence” or both.

How do we know this? Because the BGCT has publicly stated that its file includes the names of ministers who have confessed to sexual abuse or for whom there is “substantial evidence that the abuse took place” or who have been reported by a church as a “confirmed” case. The fact that the file includes cases with confessions and “substantial evidence” was also explained in the BGCT’s published brochure “Broken Trust,” which also referred to it as the file of “known offenders.”

BGCT director Jan Daehnert publicly stated that “the list is given to us in confidence by congregations that have had ministers confess or where substantial evidence has been uncovered.” (That's Daehnert in the photo.)

So with all these prior public statements and brochures about “substantial evidence,” what exactly did the BGCT mean a couple days ago, when it told the Star-Telegram that it wouldn’t publish the ministers’ names because they were “unsubstantiated claims”?

Here’s what I think. It was nothing more than gobbledy-gook talk for why the BGCT intends to go right on keeping those names secret. The “unsubstantiated claims” excuse doesn’t make any sense at all in light of all the BGCT’s own prior statements.

If a minister confesses, that’s a form of substantiation.

If there is “substantial evidence that the abuse took place,” that’s a form of substantiation.

If church officers “confirm” the abuse and report it to the BGCT, that too is a form of substantiation.

So the names in that file are NOT there based on “unsubstantiated claims.” This much we know.

Moreover, bear in mind that the BGCT doesn’t put ANY minister’s name in that file based on the mere report of a victim. A minister’s name gets in that file ONLY if he is reported to the BGCT by church officers.

Can you imagine a Catholic bishop publicly saying that he received a report about a priest molesting a kid, but that he’s not going to look into it, and he’s not going to tell people about it, and he’s not going to remove the priest from ministry? That would cause an uproar nowadays, wouldn’t it?

A Catholic bishop would no longer be able to get away with making that sort of a public statement. Some bishops may still keep secrets, but at least they now know that they can’t expect the people in the pews or the public to indulge their desire for secrecy.

By contrast, Baptist leaders are still so blind-eyed and over-confident that they not only believe they can keep quiet about reported clergy-child-molesters, they even believe they can publicly justify such secrecy.

In effect, BGCT leaders act as though they're ENTITLED to keep these kinds of secrets.

Are they?

If your kid was active in a church with a minister whose name was in that file based on a confession or “substantial evidence” of having sexually abused a kid, wouldn’t you want to know about it?

No amount of BGCT public relations people can take away the immoral taint of an institution that keeps these matters secret and that chooses self-protection over kid-protection. No amount of spin-doctoring can make this sort of secrecy into something that doesn’t stink.

Any fool can see that EXCEPT Jan Daehnert and other BGCT officials, who have allowed themselves to be blinded by their own complicity.

How many Baptist ministers are in that secret BGCT file based on reports of having sexually abused kids? Who are the ministers? How many kids have they hurt?

And here’s the most important question of all: How many MORE kids will they hurt before the BGCT finally lifts its blinders and takes morally responsible action to warn people in the pews?

See SNAP’s 3/18/08 letter to Dr. Jan Daehnert at the BGCT. You too can write to Daehnert at

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More talk from Mr. So-called Ethics

“I am disturbed that the cardinals don’t seem to be able to bring themselves to say, ‘One strike and you’re out,’ when it comes to the molestation of children by priests.”

That’s what Richard Land said in April 2002 after the Catholic abuse scandal broke. In essence, Land got on his high-horse and wagged his finger at Catholic leaders.

But what did Land do to protect kids in Southern Baptist churches? After all, he’s the Southern Baptist Convention’s top-dog on ethics.

So instead of wagging his finger at Catholics, why didn't Land look close to home and see the horror of clergy abuse and cover-ups in Baptist churches?

By July 2002, and after massive media pressure, Catholic leaders had amended their policy to make it a “one strike and you’re out” policy. “For even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor…the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry,” reads the policy in article 5.

So here we are, 6 years after Richard Land’s 2002 finger-wagging remarks. Catholic leaders have had a “one strike and you’re out” policy for the past 5 1/2 years, but Southern Baptist leaders don’t yet have any policy at all.

In fact, Southern Baptist leaders can’t yet come up with anyone who will even do the umpiring job of calling the strikes. Unlike Catholics and other Protestant groups, Southern Baptists haven’t implemented any sort of review board for abuse reports.

Instead, Southern Baptist leaders seem to take the view that if no one calls the strikes, the strikes don’t happen. That’s a very dangerous game of pretend and one that leaves kids in harms’ way.

Yet, Land wagged his finger at Catholics and pontificated on “the importance of proper handling of abuse reports.”

If Land thinks “proper handling of abuse reports” is so important, why isn’t he working to create a system for “proper handling of abuse reports” about Baptist clergy? That’s what we in SNAP have been begging Southern Baptist leaders to do, and Land has remained remarkably quiet on the subject.

Shouldn’t “proper handling of abuse reports” be just as important when it involves Southern Baptist clergy as when it involves the clergy of other faith groups?

But judging by his 2002 remarks, Land seemed to think Southern Baptists already had the problem solved.

While wagging his finger at Catholics, Land bragged that Southern Baptists “had a couple of high-profile, child-sex-abuse scandals with ministerial staff in some churches in the late ‘80s, and that really caused us to focus on this.”

In other words, Land claimed that Southern Baptists didn’t have the same problem as Catholics because Southern Baptists really “focused on this” after just “a couple” cases.

This 2002 brag carries a hubris that would block the sun.

Worst of all, given the extensive reports of abuse and cover-ups in Southern Baptist churches, it’s clear it was also a hubris that sacrificed the safety of kids.

There had already been more than just “a couple” cases even in 2002, and by now, there have been many, many more. This is what makes Land’s 2002 braggadocio so terribly tragic.

If instead of wagging his finger at Catholics, Land had undertaken to implement protective measures for Baptists, countless kids could have been spared from horrific harm in the years since 2002. For example, the victims of Shawn Davies may have been spared, and the victims of Doug Myers, Larry Neathery, and Steven Haney… to name just a few.

Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders “bring themselves to say ‘one strike and you’re out’ when it comes to the molestation of children by Baptist clergy”? Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders bring themselves to say ‘one strike and you’re out’ for Baptist churches that turn a blind eye to clergy predators?

Why isn’t Richard Land himself asking these questions and wagging his finger at his own home-turf?

It is time for Southern Baptist leaders to stop hiding in their dug-out of autonomy while wagging their fingers at others. It is time for Southern Baptist leaders to step up to the plate and go to bat against Baptist clergy sex abuse.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Richard Land talks on Spitzer but quiet on clergy

Richard Land went to the trouble of writing a column about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes. Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Since Land is supposedly the SBC’s top-dog on ethics-related issues, you might have thought he would have leaped into the fray to urge Southern Baptist leaders onward in addressing the clergy sex abuse problem and in ministering to the victims. But so far, he’s been remarkably quiet.

He didn’t waste any time, however, in talking about the victims of Eliot Spitzer.

Land talks about how the prostitution business “systematically and ruthlessly exploits” the women. Now, mind you, I’m not taking issue with Land on the exploitation of prostitutes. But what I can’t understand is why he’s not at least equally concerned about how so many Southern Baptist clergy “systematically and ruthlessly exploit” kids and vulnerable congregants in their churches.

And make no mistake about it. Despite some of the Baptist brochures I’ve seen, clergy abuse isn’t something that happens inadvertently when ministers “fall into sexual sin.” It happens because they “systematically and ruthlessly” exploit someone who trusts them completely, and it’s often a child.

For far too many of us, the rapist was a trusted Baptist minister, the house of horror was a Baptist church, and the instrument of torture was the “inerrant word of God.” We were degraded into nothing but sex-toys to serve perverse biblical con-men. But you don’t hear Land talking about that, do you?

Instead, Land tells us about how prostitutes often get started in order to support a drug habit. Why doesn’t he talk instead about how it gets started for kids who are abused by clergy? I’ll tell you why. Because it’s even uglier than drug addiction.

For kids abused in Southern Baptist churches, it gets started because they make the terrible mistake of trusting a minister and submitting to his view of biblical authority and divine revelation. Of course, it’s really not fair to call it a “mistake,” when in reality, trusting their ministers is the only thing they’ve ever known. Trusting their ministers is so much a part of their world-view that it would simply never occur to them to do otherwise. It would be like choosing whether or not to breathe. You don’t choose. You simply breathe.

Land takes time to talk about the “devastating psychological and physical harm” inflicted on prostitutes. But you don’t hear him talking about the devastating harm inflicted on clergy abuse victims, do you? You don’t hear him talking about their post-traumatic stress disorders, their shattered faith, or their inability to trust. You don’t hear him talking about how many clergy victims never set foot in a church again or never pray again because the dark shame of the abuse is neurologically networked with their faith. All of this seems to simply bypass Land’s attention.

Instead, he wants to talk about prostitution’s “sad and tragic parade” of additional victims – the spouse and children of Spitzer. Do you think he’s ever pondered the parade of additional victims that clergy abuse leaves in its wake?

Parents wonder why their child becomes estranged, but it’s common in the clergy abuse context. Relationships are torn asunder as victims, feeling inexplicably betrayed by all, pull away from everything connected to the past. Years later, the fall-out continues as spouses wind up on the front-line of trying to deal with their mate’s psychological and sexual trauma and of trying to save them from suicide. The next generation suffers also as children often wind up with an emotionally numb parent or one too depressed to be there for them.

But Land doesn’t talk about these victims, does he? These sorts of victims get shoved in the shadows. Why? Because the perpetrators are so-called men of God who carry the same “Southern Baptist” brand as Land.

So rather than hit too close to home, Land stays on a safe subject and talks about Eliot Spitzer.

But here’s the thing about the Spitzer case that caught my own attention. Look how quickly Spitzer was pushed to resign when his use of prostitutes came to light. Why aren’t Southern Baptist clergy forced to resign when child molestation comes to light?

Spitzer hasn’t been convicted of anything, but he’s already resigned. Typically, Southern Baptist clergy aren’t even suspended pending investigation. But of course, typically, there isn’t any investigation. No one seems to care. Allegations are ignored and victims are silenced.

So many times we’ve seen Southern Baptist men who continue as ministers even after they’ve admitted to abuse, even after there is “substantial evidence” of abuse, and even after criminal convictions.

Why isn’t Land using the Baptist Press to publish those mens’ deeds? Why isn’t he writing columns saying “get those men out of the pulpit and do it now!”?

Why isn’t Land using his top-dog ethics position to call to task all the other Southern Baptist leaders who have allowed the clergy abuse scourge to persist by turning a blind-eye?

Perhaps it’s because Land himself is right there among them. With Southern Baptists and clergy sex abuse, it’s the blind leading the blind.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is it about money?

Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of comments suggesting that money may be the root of the reason why Southern Baptist leaders don’t take action to effectively combat clergy abuse. If that’s the reason, God help them, for they have truly lost their way.

Here’s just one example. Someone named Louis talked about the fear that, if the SBC were to investigate clergy abuse reports and maintain a database, it might subject the SBC to liability for negligence. He said this:

“To date, the SBC and the money sent to it for missions… have not been subject to liability for things like this because it's not part of their job. If the SBC takes this on, and makes a mistake, the liability could be huge - in cases of false negatives (we failed to list someone or keep them on the list) or false positives (someone got on the list who should not have been put on it).

I have no idea how many people it would take to adequately staff an office that would be responsible for keeping track of 40,000 churches … but it can't be run on a shoe string. It would take really knowledgeable people, lots of them…. And even then, mistakes happen.”

So, according to Louis, rather than risk making a mistake in the DOING of something, SBC leaders choose to do nothing and risk horrific harm to kids.

And rather than DOING something and securing insurance to minimize the risk to SBC coffers from possible mistakes, SBC leaders choose to do nothing and leave clergy-predators secure in their pulpits.

If this is their reasoning, it means they are prioritizing the protection of their coffers over the protection of kids.

Of course, Louis is certainly right about one thing. They would need “knowledgeable people.” That’s the point. This is a very serious problem, and Southern Baptists need to have knowledgeable, objective, experienced people to address it.

But let’s be clear about something. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a “shoe string” organization. Last year, Southern Baptists took in more than $10.4 billion in offerings, and gave $500 million to the Cooperative Program, which not only funds missions, but also the work of the SBC people in Nashville. With those sorts of revenues on an annual basis, it’s hard to believe that SBC leaders can’t come up with the dollars to fund a professionally-staffed review board to assess clergy abuse reports and to provide objective information back to the congregations.

Mistakes happen in almost all human endeavors. But other major faith groups in this country have stepped up to the plate and taken on the risk of potential liability in order to lessen the risk of predatory clergy and to provide better protection for kids.

Why aren’t Southern Baptist kids just as worthy of protection as Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran kids?

On another blog, the many money-oriented comments caught the attention of someone named Lin, who had this response (comment 1:36 on 3/16/08):

“Not only do most churches refuse to tell other churches about sexual misconduct, they send them on their way with references to get rid of them! I have read comments from lawyers on SBC blogs telling us how smart the SBC is for refusing to do anything about this...including preaching against it at pastors conferences and conventions! Know why? Liability. If they even admit publicly that it could be a problem then they admit they know and have done nothing about it and could be liable…. So they hide behind 'autonomous' even though they are doing everything they can to dictate everything else…. Their high salaries and prestige are more important to them than victims, many of whom are young children. Can you say, 'millstone'?”

Tragically, Lin is right that most Baptist churches don’t tell other churches about clergy abuse. The reality of this fact didn’t escape the notice of Texas Monthly magazine either. In its March 2008 cover story on the murder accusation against Southern Baptist preacher Matt Baker, Texas Monthly pointed out that, according to investigators, Baker led a “secret life as a sexual predator” … and got away with it.

“To avoid defamation lawsuits,” explained the article, “leaders of a [Baptist] church have an incentive to keep their mouths shut when it comes to questionable behavior among their clergy….”

Bill Leonard, Dean of Wake Forest University and longtime observer of Southern Baptist life, expressed a similar view about how the fear of potential liability is what stops Southern Baptists from addressing abuse.

“The convention is in a precarious position,” he said, “because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits…. I think that’s the whole issue… that’s the fear.”

So, churches don’t tell other churches about clergy abuse because they fear the risk of liability. And denominational leaders don’t take action because they too fear the risk of liability.

If these are the reasons, it means it’s mostly about money. And if these are the reasons, it looks as though raped and molested kids are just the collateral consequence of SBC leaders' determination to protect their almighty dollars.

Of course, it’s not the first time leaders have countered a call for moral action with fear of financial devastation.

It was the same fear that kept the slave trade alive in England despite calls for abolition.

It was the same fear that resisted child labor laws in this country on the ground that, without child labor, the mills would shut down.

If indeed the fear of financial liability is the reason why SBC leaders don’t take action to combat clergy abuse, then they should let people in the pews know this is the reason. Debate it openly.

Let people in the pews know that their leaders are choosing the protection of dollars as being more precious than the protection of kids. Let people know that their leaders are choosing self-protection for the institution rather than protection of young and vulnerable human beings.

Do you think parents in the pews would support that if they knew? Does that reasoning reflect “family values”?

One thing for sure: People may say a lot of different things about that guy Jesus, but his life was NOT about self-protection.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Two letters in a file

Two letters sat in a file at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. In the first letter, a Southern Baptist pastor admits he sexually abused a kid, and in the second letter, he takes it back and denies any abuse.

In the letter dated September 6, 1996, pastor Emmett Hayslip resigned his position as director of missions at the Tillman Baptist Association and said this:

“I am resigning my position because I sexually molested [John Doe] over a period of years during his youth.” Hayslip then agrees that he “will not in the future accept employment or a volunteer position with any organization such as with a church…or a school, which would allow me to have contact with children.”

The subsequent letter, dated November 25, 1996, is addressed to the Tillman Baptist Association and shows that a copy was sent to Dr. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. In the letter, Hayslip says this:

“On September 5, 1996…Dr. Anthony Jordan laid out a pre-printed letter with a place for my signature wherein it was written that ‘I sexually molested [John Doe] over a period of years during his youth.’ I signed that letter under extreme duress, shocked and insulted, and so fearful that my normal faculties of reason were lost to me. No one asked me if I had done such a thing. Instead Dr. Jordan said [John Doe] has been in our office and says you have molested him, and we belive you are guilty. Categorically, with God inspired insight and forthrightness I swear to you now that I did not, ever, molest [John Doe]….”

The November 25 letter is on attorney letterhead, and underneath the portion signed by Hayslip, there is an attorney-signed portion, threatening possible legal action and saying: “Mr. Hayslip has been severely damaged. Mr. Jordan failed to apply even a pretense at a fair hearing.”

So those two letters sat in a file cabinet at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Which letter represents the truth?

Emmett Hayslip had pastored Southern Baptist churches in North Dakota and Oklahoma, but after those letters, he did not pastor another Southern Baptist church. However, it appears he has become the pastor of an independent church in Snyder, Oklahoma.

Does the BGCO have any moral obligation to do anything?

According to John Doe, he and another victim met with Dr. Jordan and several other BGCO officials back on September 5, 1996. They presented their stories of abuse and also gave to the BGCO an audio-cassette recording of Emmett Hayslip in which he allegedly made incriminating statements. This was one day before Jordan met with Emmett Hayslip and got Hayslip’s signature on that letter.

Much to John Doe’s disappointment, the BGCO didn’t give him a copy of Hayslip’s signed letter with the admission. He says the BGCO promised him they would, but afterwards changed their mind. Nevertheless, John Doe was aware of the letter’s existence.

So when he learned that Hayslip was a pastor again, he started trying to get the BGCO to do something. That was over a year ago. I’ve seen a couple of his emails to Dr. Anthony Jordan, reminding him of the letter and virtually begging him to take action for the protection of children in the Snyder community.

In February 2007, John Doe received an email back from Dr. Jordan, saying “I have reviewed the files” and that he would contact the local Tillman Baptist Association.

Nothing happened.

John Doe says that, in a phone call, Dr. Jordan claimed the BGCO was simply holding the letter in its files but that the letter actually belonged to the Tillman Baptist Association.

Months later, John Doe wrote again, telling Dr. Jordan this: “It is you and the BGCO who have documented proof that Emmett Hayslip is an admitted child molester. It is your responsibility, as a man of faith and as a leader of the Oklahoma Baptists, to step up to the plate and stop dragging your feet on this issue…. You have the evidence -- Use It!”

Nothing happened.

When John Doe learned that Emmett Hayslip had gotten an additional part-time job driving a school bus, he contacted Dr. Jordan yet again, asking him to send a copy of Hayslip’s signed letter to the superintendent of schools in Snyder.

Nothing happened.

John Doe notified the superintendent of schools and suggested that she herself should contact Dr. Jordan to get a copy of Hayslip’s signed letter. According to John Doe, the superintendent said she called Jordan twice, but no one returned her call.

Finally, after over a year of persistent effort, John Doe was contacted by an attorney for the Tillman Baptist Association, who gave him copies of the two letters. This was the first that John Doe knew of the second letter. John Doe was told that the audiotape could not be found.

John Doe immediately gave copies of the letters to the school superintendent, and according to John Doe, Emmett Hayslip did not continue as a school bus driver.

But he continues as a pastor.

And that brings me back to my original question. Does the BGCO have a moral obligation?

Recently, in connection with another accused SBC pastor who went independent, the Nashville Scene reported some religious leaders as saying that “even if pastors don’t feel they have a professional obligation to warn churches of sex abuse allegations against a new pastor, as men of God and as human beings they have the moral obligation to protect people in the pews.”

How I wish Southern Baptist leaders would act on those words from other religious leaders. I believe the right answer to the question is “yes”; Dr. Jordan and the BGCO had a moral obligation to protect people in the pews.

I don’t know what was on the audiotape that was apparently lost. But even if the two contradictory letters were the only thing the BGCO had left in its file, it still had a moral obligation to do something given the seriousness of the potential risk to others. Somebody at the BGCO should have gotten to the bottom of it, and they should have done so without foot-dragging.

Over and over again, we see this tragic pattern in Baptist circles. It is the wounded victims who struggle desperately to try to protect others while the so-called religious leaders stand on the sideline and keep their file cabinets shut.

[Note: To the best of my knowledge, Emmett Hayslip has NOT been convicted of any crime related to child molestation.]

[Additional Note: In comments, John Doe has corrected me to point out that the tape recording was not lost but that they simply refused to return it to him or to provide him with a copy.]

Friday, March 7, 2008

A determined blindness fuels hatefulness

At the end of December, I did a posting about how Austin’s Great Hills Baptist Church had a second minister convicted on child sex. The senior pastor at Great Hills is Michael Lewis, who is one of 81 members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. That’s Lewis in the photo.

Just a few days ago, an anonymous person left a comment on that posting, saying he “still believes that Rick is innocent.” He blames the victim, whom he claims “was a homosexual.”

Two things I want to make clear right here right now. (1) Great Hills’ former minister Rick Willits was CONVICTED on 9 counts of child sex abuse. (2) His victim was a 14 year old.

That’s about all anyone should need to know. Nevertheless, I’m reposting most of this guy’s comment because it illustrates why it is so unrealistic for Southern Baptist leaders to think that churches can effectively assess abuse reports that involve their own ministers. My own responses are in brackets.

After reading what you said I figured I'd try to clear up a bit of things that aren't exactly accurate.

[My blog posting was accurate. It contains links to the original published news sources, and so people can read for themselves.]

-- "Congregants and other ministers just couldn’t believe it. ‘Some stayed loyal to the end, refusing to believe their youth minister was capable of sexually assaulting boys.’"
I'm one of those who still believes that Rick is innocent. I knew him personally and I was there at GHBC when this took place back in 1999. Do I think Rick did things that would be considered inappropriate? Yes. Do I think he sexually assaulted the kid (who I also knew)? No. What I think happened (and of course, this is just my own theory) is that Rick said/did things that the kid took the wrong way. One thing the media left out was that the "victim" was a homosexual. I believe that the kid thought Rick was making passes at him, and then tried to act on those perceptions. At that point I think Rick informed him that he misunderstood what was going on, the kid got his feelings hurt, and decided to get revenge by making up the whole story.And please don't think that I'm bashing the guy for being gay. I brought it up because I believe it's important.

[The victim was 14 years old. THAT is what’s important. It is pure hatefulness to stick a label on a 14 year old child molestation victim.]

Furthermore, the kid confessed to our Sunday school teachers (married couple) that he lied about the whole thing. The couple (obviously) didn't testify at the trial.

[Obviously, if the Sunday School teachers had relevant information, they should have brought it forward and testified under oath at trial. So, perhaps they decided their information wasn’t relevant, or perhaps they exaggerated the kid’s remarks in talking with fellow-congregants and so couldn’t swear to it at trial, or perhaps they just didn’t want to bother with fulfilling their civic duty to bring forward relevant evidence. Whatever the reason, they didn’t testify.]

So yes, some of us (who were there when all this took place and had much more info than the media as to what happened) continue to remain loyal because we don't believe Rick was guilty of the crime. (Especially since there was no evidence of proof....)

[Actually, there WAS evidence. Based on evidence presented to the jury, Rick Willits was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s as high a hurdle of proof as exists in our legal system. Also, the fact that Willits received a 15 year sentence is another indication that there was significant evidence against him.]

-- "…on the same night when Austin police asked that any other victims be helped to come forward, former Great Hills pastor Harold O’Chester held a rally for Rick Willits, professing the belief of the church members that Rick was innocent and attacking Rick’s victim as a liar. After seeing the first vocal victim ostracized and harassed, guess how many other victims came forward?"
Yes, our pastor held a meeting and informed us of what was going on. I was there. I honestly don't remember our former pastor ever accusing that the kid was a liar, and I believe that no other kids came forward because there weren't any other victims.

[Oh… so according to this guy, it was a couple Sunday School teachers who labeled the kid a liar, but not Rev. Harold O’Chester. And this guy himself labels the kid a homosexual. Uh…gee… it’s not exactly rocket science to realize why other possible victims may have been reluctant to speak up. And I guess this guy just can’t imagine that Rev. O’Chester’s rally could have in any way been counter-productive to the police department’s request that other victims be assisted in coming forward. It’s sure not hard for me to imagine how an adolescent kid might zip his mouth even tighter when he sees his whole church rally to support the perpetrator. According to news reports, detectives received information related to the case from 6 other people, 3 in Austin and 3 in Denton where Willits had previously worked at Grace Temple Baptist Church with O’Chester’s son-in-law. I don’t have a clue what those 6 people said, but the very fact that there were at least 6 other “leads” suggests the possibility of other victims. In a child sex abuse case, it’s not unusual that detectives are aware of other victims whose claims are older and cannot be prosecuted. Nevertheless, the older claims can still provide information that helps in the prosecution of a more recent case. ]

-- "Another commenter said the church 'denounced the victim’ and ‘very publicly supported the accused pastor… even paying his salary through the trial.'"
Yes, the church (in majority) supported Rick because there was no evidence that the kid was telling the truth. There is a huge difference between these two cases. Rick was supported, Jerry was not.... (And as far as I know, Rick's wife is still a member there, and yes, she's still married to him.)

[The difference is that Jerry Dale Carver admitted his crime early in the process, and pled guilty. Rick Willits continued to deceive people, and apparently still does, but a jury finally saw through him. Willits was convicted. I can’t help but wonder how that kid must have felt, and I grieve for him. He was betrayed, not only by a trusted minister who sexually abused him, but also by his entire church. I imagine he must have wondered, and perhaps still does, why so many people supported the perpetrator and no one supported HIM.]

-- "Despite the certainty of the church members, a jury found Willits guilty."
And I still believe they are wrong. I know both Rick and Jerry personally. I do not believe Rick is guilty, I do, however, believe Jerry is.

[Like many congregants, it seems this guy won’t believe one of his church’s ministers can be guilty of a child sex crime unless the minister himself admits it. This is exactly why Southern Baptists need an independent objective review board to assess clergy abuse reports when they cannot be criminally prosecuted.]

-- "another Great Hills minister has pled guilty and been convicted of a child sex crime."
Rick did not plead guilty, Jerry did. So it's not "another" minister that has plead guilty.

[As I said early in the original posting (and in the title to that posting), “This is the second time Great Hills has had a minister convicted of child sex crimes.”]

-- "Do you think the people of Great Hills will have learned something from their prior experience with minister Willits?"
...The church fired Jerry and asked him to leave. Jerry did not receive the same support that Rick did because many (still) believe that Rick is innocent... not many believe the same of Jerry.

[It’s sad to see this guy saying “many (still) believe that Rick is innocent.” What would it take to persuade them of Willits’ guilt? And what would it take to motivate them to reach out to other possible victims instead of still supporting the perpetrator? Rev. O’Chester was anxious to publicly rally support for Willits when he was arrested. But even after Willits was convicted, did O’Chester ever try to rally support for the victim or to reach out to other possible victims?]

-- "With his own church having been infiltrated twice by clergy predators, will Lewis now appreciate the urgent need for action by the SBC Executive Committee?"
Pastor Lewis was not the pastor back in 1999. And if I remember correctly several years went by before Lewis was appointed the new pastor of the church.

[My posting also referred to Great Hills' prior pastor, Harold O’Chester (who is now pastor emeritus). Though Michael Lewis was not the pastor in 1999, he is the pastor now and Great Hills is his church. It is a church that has been infiltrated twice by clergy predators, and Lewis should certainly be aware of this recent history. The question is whether or not Lewis will learn from this recent history in his church? Will he take from it any greater understanding of this problem and of how easy it is for child predators to mask themselves as ministers. Michael Lewis is a member of the SBC Executive Committee, and so he has the power to make a difference if only he would choose to do so.]

[Rick Willits is eligible for parole in April. Do you think Great Hills will rehire him? Will they let him teach Sunday School? What would stop them? ]

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Convicted minister continues

In 2005, music minister Bernie Johnson was accused of committing lewd sexual acts at a Southern Baptist church in Texas. He accepted a plea bargain for a conviction on indecent exposure. (It’s case number 250991, Bernard Brett Johnson.)

Johnson moved to a church about 10 miles down the road to become music minister at First Baptist Church of Winnie, Texas.

With his new congregation, Johnson led people to believe that the charges had to do with “an adult affair and not sexual acts perpetrated by him.” This explanation of his was reported in the local paper, The Examiner, and it’s also what a couple people in the community have recently related to me. It’s an explanation that is highly offensive to his victim, and the fact that no Baptist leader does anything about it makes it all the worse.

Because “indecent exposure” can cover a wide range of conduct, I want you to see exactly what was reported about Bernie Johnson and what was captured on videotape. That means this posting is going to be quite explicit. I’m sorry for any offense, but I think this is an occasion when it’s necessary. I want you to see the kind of man that Southern Baptist leaders allow to continue in a position of trust as a minister.

What follows is taken straight from the June 2005 article in The Examiner. Links to this article and two others are at the bottom of this posting.

“Bernie Johnson allegedly exposed himself, openly masturbated and fondled a co-worker on the church property during his tenure as a staff member of First Baptist Church of Hamshire. The co-worker at the Hamshire church, Charline Hargraves, initiated the charges…. Her charges were substantiated by the evidence caught on videotape of the minister committing sexual acts on the church property."

"Hargraves…has been an active member of the church for more than a decade and a full-time employee for more than five years. She is in charge of custodial matters…. Johnson, who has a wife and son, had been on the staff approximately two years when the first incident occurred. Johnson came to the church from a position at the East Texas Baptist Encampment located in Newton…. He also served as an evangelist… and is known as charismatic, engaging and extremely talented."

"Hargraves said in a formal affidavit… ‘Bernie began making sexual comments to me… He later got bolder and bolder… I began to be fearful of being in any place in the buildings alone.’ Hargraves testifies that on one occasion, Johnson… asked her to hold some computer wires to be fed through a hole in the corner bookcase. ‘He was on the floor under the bookcase and he reached up with his hand and grabbed me on the crotch.’"

"Hargraves remembers another incident that she said is indelibly printed on her mind. ‘I was wiping down tables in the fellowship hall and Bernie came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me with his body pressed up against my rear. He began to grind on my rear and said, ‘This is what you want, isn’t it?’ He also grabbed both of my breasts through my clothes.’ According to Hargraves, Johnson grabbed her breasts and attempted to fondle them on several other occasions."

"Hargraves felt she needed her job at the church and depended on it for financial support…. ‘I had no real marketable skills and here he was a staff member, a good musician and singer, excellent with people. He even told me that if I told anyone about what had happened, they would not believe me over him…. But the main reason I did not tell anyone…is that I did not want to have any part in hurting my church… I was so frightened.’"

"The affidavit states that Hargraves was in the church secretary’s office…when Johnson entered the room and sat down… He made a noise to get her attention and when she looked over at him, Johnson had unzipped his pants and his penis was erect and exposed. ‘Another time… he got my attention and when I looked, he was standing up with his erect penis out so that anyone could see it. He was so brazen with his acts.’"

"Hargraves swore that at other times…. ‘he would either be completely undressed or his pants would be down around his knees or ankles. He would ask me to come and touch his penis or to rub it. I said no and fled as best I could….’"

"Hargraves said in the last months of Johnson’s employment… he started masturbating in various parts of the building. ‘He would just ejaculate on the countertop and leave it to be cleaned up. Several times, he got a Styrofoam cup from the coffee stand and ejaculated into it. He would sit it down and tell me that he left it for me.’"

[When Charline Hargraves finally disclosed what was happening to the pastor at First Baptist of Hamshire, he called in a retired police officer, who installed a hidden video camera. Within one week’s time, here is what happened]:

“Bernie came back to the church from a funeral… In a few minutes, Bernie went to the bathroom and disrobed. His pants were completely off and as I walked by, he opened the door exposing his erect penis. He was playing with it and he begged me to ‘come and touch it.’ I said no. He then asked me to ‘come over and perform oral sex on him.’ I said no again. Bernie reached over and picked up a cup and ejaculated into it. The cup and its contents were given to [the police officer]. All of this is on the videotape that has now been turned over to the sheriff’s department.”

In light of this history, why is Bernie Johnson able to continue as a minister in a Southern Baptist church?

The woman who sent me the articles wrote that she had contacted the Baptist General Convention of Texas to get help with trying to get Johnson out of ministry. “But I think that’s going to be a useless tool,” she said. “They just keep a confidential file and nothing else. Big deal if they won’t make it public.”

The BGCT did indeed prove itself to be “a useless tool.” Apparently no one even bothered to tell this woman that the First Baptist Church of Winnie is actually affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and not the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Couldn’t the BGCT have at least provided her with that tiny, basic bit of information?

Of course, there isn’t any reason to think it would have made any difference. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention doesn’t have any effective policies and procedures for addressing clergy sex abuse either. Nor does it have any policies and procedures for informing people in the pews about abusive ministers.

Ditto for the national Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.

So men like Bernie Johnson simply carry on as Southern Baptist ministers, and no one stops them.

These articles from The Examiner have a separate pdf file for each page:
June 9-15, 2005, “Minister charged with repeated counts of indecent exposure," first page and second page
July 21-27, 2005, "Defiance of agreement led to exposure charge"
Dec. 30, 2005-Jan. 5, 2006, "Music minister charged with deviant acts in church," first page and second page

Additional Note: A reader just sent me this. Here is Bernie Johnson's own website, "Rendered Heart."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Start with this one

The story of Debbie Vasquez, reported in the Nashville Scene, caused some Baptist leaders to voice outrage. I heard from several via email and I saw comments on Baptist blogs.

So they’re outraged. Or at least they say they are. But what will they actually do?

So far, they haven’t done anything, despite Debbie’s numerous letters and emails. Meanwhile, other kids remain at risk and Debbie continues to suffer.

So here’s what I propose for Southern Baptist leaders: “How about helping just this one person? Even if you aren’t ready to effectively address clergy abuse as a systemic problem, why can’t you help just this one Baptist abuse survivor? Perhaps if you helped just this one, it would begin to sensitize you to the anguish of all abuse survivors.”

As a teen, Debbie became pregnant with the child of pastor Dale “Dickie” Amyx, a man nearly twice her age. She obtained a paternity judgment against Amyx when the child was 8. Debbie also has a 2003 tape-recording of a conversation in which Amyx talked about high school girls who were telling him “about their sexual exploits.” He talked about a girl who was said to be “in love with him,” and when Debbie expressed concern, Amyx said, “If something happens between me and these kids, I doubt she would be telling anybody.”

With that sort of evidence, a paternity judgment and a tape recording, Debbie tried repeatedly to get help from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She was desperately worried that Amyx would abuse other kids.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas didn’t do diddly-squat.

So finally, with great reluctance, Debbie filed a lawsuit against Bolivar Baptist Church and pastor Dickie Amyx. It seemed like the only way to bring some attention to the matter. She didn’t want money. She just wanted to protect others.

In his deposition, pastor Amyx admitted to having had sex with Debbie between 20 and 40 times, but said this: “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

When Debbie was a kid, the age of consent in Texas was 17, not 18. So Amyx was defending himself by claiming that Debbie was at the age of consent. (Nowadays, it’s a felony in Texas for a clergy person to use a position of spiritual trust to sexually exploit another, regardless of age, but that’s another posting for another day.)

Debbie says the abuse began when she was 14 and that Amyx raped her when she was 15. For myself, there isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind. I believe Debbie.

But suppose Southern Baptist leaders prefer to believe Amyx. Fine. Take pastor Dickie Amyx at his own word. This is a minister who rationalizes the abuse of a church kid by saying, “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

Southern Baptist leaders, I ask you: “Is this the sort of minister you’re willing to have carry forth the ‘Southern Baptist’ brand into the world?”

Since you aren’t doing anything about it, the answer to that question appears to be “yes.”

Oh but you’re outraged, you say?


The Nashville Scene reported that Debbie’s lawsuit against the church is over because of the statute of limitations. That’s what happens in most clergy abuse cases. “By the time victims are capable of coming forward, the law lets predators escape through the statute of limitations – again and again.”

But Debbie did enormous good just by bringing that lawsuit. It allowed her to get Amyx’s sworn testimony and it afforded the opportunity for press coverage. Amyx is still a pastor, but at least some people in the community may have been able to see the truth about him.

The good that Debbie did came at a cost. She had to give her own deposition and relive the horror of what Amyx did to her under hostile questioning from the church’s lawyer. She has continued daily to worry desperately about the safety of other kids during these past two years. And she has received no counseling for herself.

Shouldn’t there have been some better way that wouldn’t have required such hell for the victim and such an extended period of leaving other kids at risk?

Now, here’s the kicker. Because her suit against the church was dismissed, Amyx’s church is claiming that it’s entitled to collect $20,000 in court costs from Debbie with 7.75 % interest. (Yes, you read that right. I’ve got a copy of the February 19th letter from the church’s attorney, Brian T. Cartwright of Alagood & Cartwright in Dallas.)

Can you possibly imagine the additional anguish and worry this causes to Debbie, especially after all that she’s already been through? Hasn’t she suffered enough?

If this is what Baptist abuse survivors have to go through to try to expose clergy-perpetrators, then most survivors will remain silent. And if abuse survivors remain silent, people in the pews will not find out who the perpetrators are. This means kids in Baptist churches will remain at risk.

So how about it, Southern Baptist leaders? Isn’t your help overdue on this? Why don’t you begin addressing the clergy abuse problem by starting with this one person? Help Debbie.

Write to the deacons of Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas, and let them know how outraged you are about the fact that Dickie Amyx is still their pastor.

Tell the deacons how egregiously immoral it is for their church to seek $20,000 from a clergy abuse survivor who tried to bring the abuse to light.

Suggest to the deacons that they might do better to take up a collection for Amyx’s kid so as to make up for the fact that he didn’t pay child support for the kid’s first 8 years.

You say you’re outraged. If you really are, how about issuing a press release, publicly expressing your outrage and publicly denouncing the church’s continued retention of Amyx? In fact, why don’t you publish your outrage in the Baptist Press and the Baptist Standard as well?

What about telling the church that it will be disfellowshipped from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention if it continues to retain Amyx?

Baptist General Convention of Texas: You had the chance almost 2 years ago to step into this situation and protect other kids. You did nothing. How about doing something now? By published policy, you have long provided counseling for clergy perpetrators. How about providing a counseling stipend for Debbie? Provide it with no strings attached so that she can choose her own independent counselor.

SBC Executive Committee: For your next meeting, why don’t all 81 of you stay at a moderate hotel instead of a luxury hotel? With the extra $100 per night in savings of SBC dollars, you could direct those dollars to instead provide a counseling stipend for Debbie. After all, do you really need that fancy lobby?

If you guys really wanted to effectively address the Baptist clergy abuse problem, surely you could find a way. Why don’t you start by helping just this one abuse survivor? Help Debbie.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mac Brunson on Gilyard & Patterson

A Southern Baptist email acquaintance directed me to this recent audio-interview in which Pastor Mac Brunson offers his thoughts on Darrell Gilyard and Paige Patterson.

Mac Brunson is the pastor who took over Jerry Vines’ Florida megachurch, First Baptist of Jacksonville. It’s one of the biggest Southern Baptist churches in the country.

For those of you who haven’t followed this story, Darrell Gilyard is the Baptist pastor who was recently charged with lewd conduct for sending sexually explicit text messages to underage teens in Florida. But Gilyard had a past in Texas, and two former Southern Baptist presidents, Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines, both knew about it.

Patterson’s connection to the Gilyard saga is particularly tragic because he was so dismissive of so many women who tried to report abuse and assaults by Gilyard. At that time, Patterson was president of Criswell College, a school that was part of First Baptist Dallas, and some who tried to talk to Patterson were students there.

In Gilyard’s first church alone, there were 25 women who reported him, but Patterson and other officials at First Baptist Dallas “continued to recommend” and promote Gilyard.

Finally, after being forced to resign from 4 churches in 4 years, Gilyard was allowed to confess to “adulterous relationships,” and he moved on to a Florida church.

All of this was reported in the Dallas Morning News account of the Gilyard/Patterson history.

As for Jerry Vines…when Gilyard moved to Florida, Vines “agreed to forgive” him for his Texas troubles.

Now Mac Brunson comes on the scene. Bear in mind that Brunson used to be pastor of First Baptist of Dallas and was chancellor of Criswell College there. His tenure was a bit after the Texas part of the Gilyard saga, but he obviously has some institutional connections to it.

In the recent interview, Brunson was asked this question (at about the 10 minute mark): “What do you believe the next SBC president needs to focus on for the next two years?”

“Saving his hide!” said Brunson, and he then brought up the Gilyard case entirely on his own. Here is what he said, with the commentary of the guy who sent me this shown in brackets:

“I’m worried about the convention… What concerns me more than anything else is the way we [he’s talking about pastors] treat each other… Guys we need to be loving each other more… I just see pastors are just hurting… they hurt… and they’ve got problems at home, they’ve got problems in their church, and they’ve got problems in their own spiritual life. You know, here's a pastor right down the street here, all over the headlines, who is being arraigned today in this city... he’s being arraigned today… and of course there are people that have tried to blame Dr. Patterson for that. Dr. Patterson didn't make that man do that [as though someone is claiming Patterson MADE him do it???]. They tried to blame Dr. Vines. [no…but they did criticize Vines for preaching at the man's church, but Brunson conveniently avoids that]. You know that man, he sinned on his own [gee, what a brilliant analysis], and I can assure you that Dr. Patterson and Dr. Vines didn't cover up anything [Patterson did]. They'd enjoy exposing it too much to cover it up ["enjoy exposing it"...that's a bizzare statement...that there would be any "enjoyment" in the matter of an abuser]. But I see men like that … they’ve got their own spiritual struggles and things like that... my concern is how we treat each other."

My email acquaintance then offered this commentary:

"So Brunson views Gilyard as an example of how pastors need to treat each other and love on each other more... TALK ABOUT A BACKWARD VIEW ON THIS!!! Brunson should be saying 'We need to hold each other accountable, instead of covering things up....we need to expose those within our midst who are casting a terrible light on the true called men of God pastors...we need to make sure that when a man is exposed to be a predator of children and women, and abusing their power, that we get the word out to everyone...this man Gilyard is … not worthy to even be called "pastor" and its a shame he was allowed to continue as pastor… preying on young women and now perhaps preying on girls.' No, Brunson is not saying that, and it’s a crying shame. Instead he uses the Gilyard story, unprovoked, to defend Patterson and example of how there is no discussion whatsoever about the victims... because they don't care about the victims, they only care how the Gilyard story might affect their own personal reputations...and it's SICK.... But a comedian couldn't have scripted it any better… Right after this portion of the interview, Brunson says:"

"The other concern I've got is the massive egos that are out there that are wanting to say ‘everything is about me’...”

My own commentary:

Well... it sure looks as though this prominent pastor has a massive pastoral ego problem when his biggest concern for the SBC is about the hurts of the pastors. He talks about poor pastor Gilyard who has “spiritual struggles,” and then he talks about poor Dr. Patterson and poor Dr. Vines, who are reaping criticism. But Brunson says nary a word about the scores of wounded victims in this saga. I guess the hurts of the pastors are way more important.