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? ]

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know first hand that a church's ministerial staff cannot objectively conduct an investigation into allegations against one of their own ministers. At best he may be asked to leave without properly and thoroughly investigating and taking appropriate actions. It is painful to even think of how a victim would feel when the church comes together for a rally to show support for the accused. When a second or third victim sees the support for the accused, one cannot imagine how hard it is to come forth against that. It is easier to hide in the safety of numbers and not stand out. Great Hills was supposed to work with the police efforts, not against them. I'm sure Micheal Lewis has been well informed about the past at his church. He should be at the forefront of getting something done ASAP on the Executive Committee, especially an independent review board to objectively review clergy abuse complaints. The S.S. couple should be ashamed if they knew information pertinent to the case and did not speak up in court. The third time is said to be a charm but definitely not if it happens again in this church.

Anonymous said...

The SBC Executive Committee has 81 members? That is an awful lot. Maybe a group of 20 or less could get something done faster. And should we really have someone on the committee that has had two convicted ministers from his church? That is not a good track record.

And what kind of evidence would the person who recently anonymously posted on the Great Hills story like to have, I wonder. There is usually never a witness because that would be foolish. But then there are cases where another minister witnesses the event and still lies and says "It never happened." I know because a minister was present in my case and I heard him with my own ears say that when questioned about it. That is called covering for one another. Oh, how I wish I had been wearing a hidden camera that day but how was I to know what would happen ahead of time.

If no other kids come forward, never assume that means there were none. It just means none came forward. Great Hills needed to open the door for victims with nonjudgmental attitudes. Harassing and ostracizing a victim and publicly endorsing support for the accused is a wonderful way to see that none will come forward.

It is surprising that when you find a church that has one abuser, the chances of there being another or others is increased. It may be because standards of behavior are lax. Great Hills has much to learn. Are they really the best to be advising the Executive Committee?

Anonymous said...

This article shows how church members have difficulty believing a pastor capable of such things. Even after a jury found the minister guilty, they still don't believe it.

A 14 y.o. needs to be safe in church, as does a child or an adult from clergy sexual abuse. What if the minister's actions were directed at a "straight" individual. Would that make it more appropriate. No! The minister's behavior and dialogue was inappropriate. Period. Good thing the jury was not made up of Great Hill's church members.

And if the church is going to label a 14 y.o., let it be "a child of God". Don't put that 14 y.o. in a verbal and emotional hole, bury him/her there with your label and put a marker on it. Have you prayed as much for the victim as you have for the convicted minister?

Christa Brown said...

"If the church is going to label a 14 y.o., let it be 'a child of God'."
Amen! We are ALL children of God, including those of us who were unfortunate enough to be molested, abused, raped and sodomized by Southern Baptist clergy.

Elisabeth said...

The church's reactions were just as bad as the perpetrator's. I feel so bad for the kid, having been vicitimized twice.

Elisabeth said...

Christa, I think that if I were you after reading the comment that prompted you to write that post, I would have a hard time keeping the post civil!

Phyllis Gregory said...

Oh my, oh my! 81 members of the SBC Executive Committee -- I certainly did not know that. How do you become a member of that committee? How long are you a member of that committee -- for life? What exactly is the purpose of that committee if every SBC church is autonomous?

Mr. Wilson, you could answer my questions. If you read this blog, like you said you do, why don't you make a comment? If you think YOUR committee should be defended, why don't you do it right here on Christa's blog? Do other members of the committee even know you read this blog? Would you be IN TROUBLE if you did?

Just thought I would ask...
PG

Christa Brown said...

Elisabeth: Sometimes I do indeed have to bite my tongue. The ignorance and hatefulness that I encounter is truly appalling. And ignorance on this issue seems to have nothing to do with level of education. Great Hills is a fairly affluent, prominent church whose congregants generally have a high level of education. Yet, look at how miserably they handled this.

Jeri said...

When push comes to shove, and SBC leaders discover that the call to be repentant and broken hearted sinners is the same for them as for Democrats and liberals, they show the darkness of their hearts by rejecting any such notion. Let's see, who does that remind you of?

Phyllis Gregory said...

The website of the SBC executive committee, for anyone who is interested and does not know, is www.sbcec.org. You can see pictures of all the members and where they are from.

Christa Brown said...

Thanks for the link Phyllis. Shown at that link is Randall James, who is president of First Orlando Foundation, which I understand is connected to the First Baptist Church of Orlando. That's the church where I'm told my own perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, currently is - the church he went to after he was at FBC-Oviedo, the church of recent past president of the Florida Baptist Convention, Dwayne Mercer, and after he was at FBC-Atlanta, the church of former SBC president Charles Stanley. (I have no reason to think he's currently on staff at FBC-Orlando, but I also don't know whether they may let him teach Sunday School or have other areas of authority. I am unaware of any time - ever - when any Southern Baptist leader informed people in the pews of any of his churches of what Gilmore did.)

Randall James was previously a member of the Bylaws Workgroup, which is the subcommittee tasked with addressing the clergy abuse issue. (Any wonder why it seemed like such a hostile group?) I think Mr. James left the workgroup sometime within the past several months. While I knew he was a member of the SBC Executive Committee, I did not know that he was the vice-chair of the entire Executive Committee. So... thanks for drawing my attention to this info.

Christa Brown said...

Still pondering this new piece of information - i.e., that the vice-chair of the SBC Exec. Committee is at FBC-Orlando where I'm told my perp now is. He has ALWAYS run with the high honcho movers and shakers of this denomination. [You can read more about all his connections here.] Now here's just one more high-level connection, which makes it all the more incredible that, way back when I first started trying to locate him, the SBC wrote me that it had no record of him being in ministry... even though he obviously was as I later learned. Now I can't help but wonder whether the fact of Randall James being vice-chair of the SBC Executive Committee had something to do with the fact that the SBC sent me that letter. But whether or not James himself had anything to do with it, it's impossible for me to believe that there weren't people in that building who knew exactly where my perp was and knew that he was still in ministry. Why should I ever again believe anything that any of these SBC honchos ever tell me ever again?

gmommy said...

There is NO reason to believe them at all.
There is NO REASON that we should support them in any way. They are liars and decievers.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Tommy Gilmore is helping the Exec. Comm. by giving Randall James any advice? After all, Tommy led the church committee in putting together the policies and procedures to prevent clergy sexual abuse at FBC Oviedo. How ironical!

Anonymous said...

Tonight I had a young person share how hurtful it was to be teased when they were growing up because he was Asian. He said that if he thinks about it, it causes flashbacks of painful memories. For those reading this other than the victims, if this young man cannot think about what happened to him, how much more so for victims of clergy sexual abuse. And the memories are vastly more intense. All it takes is the smallest thing, a word, a touch, a sound, a smell, a picture...and instantly a victim is having to deal with the painful memories, emotional and psychological and sometimes physical pain as if it is right there in front of them.

Hopefully any Christian adult would not allow a bully to tease a child or teen because of their ethnic heritage. Why are you as SBC leaders allowing clergy abuse to continue to cause pain to those who need your help? The ones who have experienced abuse in the past are the ones who most want no one else to have to experience it. One person likened it to our trying to climb a slippery wall and getting nowhere if the SBC leaders will not act.

Christa Brown said...

anon 8:16 - It's pretty sad to realize that my perp, Tommy Gilmore, led the church committee to put together policies to prevent clergy sex abuse at FBC-Oviedo in Florida. Tells you something about how some churches' policies are really more just for show. (And the same could be said of the policies at the Baptist General Convention of Texas - all for show.) I imagine that Gilmore leading that church committee was sort of like how Representative Mark Foley chaired the congressional committee on exploited children - when all the while he was exploiting young congressional pages. (Remember that story?) It's part of the mask that some perpetrators wear.

anon 8:40 - I like the "trying to climb a slippery wall" analogy. That's sure what it feels like sometimes. And I think a lot of those SBC leaders are doing nothing but standing in the shadows with hoses, making darn sure that wall STAYS slippery.

gmommy said...

Christa,
Instead of our staring at these freaks (and feeling sick)....isn't there somewhere really prominent on the internet that their pictures could be displayed???

Maybe if their faces were more recognized....we could protect some of the potential victims.

Maybe we could put them somewhere on yahoo or facebook...somewhere they would pop up rather than people having to look for them to become aware. The leadership of the SBC and these mega churches do not care.

I've seen up close and personal that most of these ministers will not risk losing their lifestyle to protect anyone but the perps.

Anonymous said...

Christa,

I wish I could keep your calm and intellect while dealing with this sort of thinking. I often worry and worry about what I say, if I'm saying it right, all of that. I need to take a Xanax before talking to most Christians about sex abuse, it upsets me so much.

I'm here, and someday, when my lawsuit is finished, I'll e-mail you and give you my name and story.

Christa Brown said...

Anon 6:01 - I may SEEM calm most of the time, but I DO understand how you feel. It was only a couple years ago, while I was dealing with my own case, that I managed to back into my own car in my own driveway. The second car was parked where it always is, at the end of the driveway, but somehow I forgot it was there and didn't see it when I looked in the rearview mirror (which I swear I did). It was pretty humbling. But I was just too distracted and too upset and my brain was just flooded by too much other junk.

Welcome to the blog, Anon, and I'll look forward to hearing more from you down-the-road. Even without knowing who you are, my thoughts will be with you as you go forward.

Jason said...

I guess I should start off by stating that the anonymous comment that this post is referring to was mine.
Since anonymous postings can be a bit confusing to reply to, I'll give a name for myself: "Jason."

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that I am no longer Baptist. I state this so no one thinks I'm standing up for the SBC. I just read the previous article and wanted to point some things out that I didn't see as completely accurate.

With that being said, I'm going to attempt to defend my previous comment here (since it was made into a whole new post).

Sorry, I don't know how to make the texts different colors, so my reply may be a bit difficult to read. Sorry if it is.

You said:
"'He blames the victim, whom he claims “was a homosexual.'"
-- Yes, I did state that the kid was a homosexual... but like I said I didn't point that out to justify what Rick was accused of doing. I stated it to help others understand my theory on what happened. Since the guy was a homosexual, it makes since to me how Rick's locker-room behavior could have been taken the wrong way and had the kid develop feelings for Rick that Rick never meant to portray. As I stated, there were things that Rick did that would've been viewed as inappropriate, but none of us took it as Rick molesting us or anything of the sort. So, I didn't state that the kid was a homosexual to "label" him, "blame him" or anything like that. I stated it to try to aid what I was saying. Apparently I didn't do such a good job. I'm sorry if that's what you and other readers may have thought I was doing. I would never blame a victim for what happened to them. But in this case, I honestly believe that the kid was lying.

You also said:
"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..."
-- The link posted showing that Rick was convicted of 9 counts of child sex abuse doesn't work for me. Maybe their server's down or something. It also didn't work when I posted my original comment... which is why I didn't say anything about it at the time. I would have to see some evidence before I could believe this claim. I know Rick was accused of child sex abuse in another church, but I don't recall him being found guilty. I think the linked article may be mistaken... but then again, I can't read it so it may not be.
Furthermore, the other linked article IS mistaken. The kid was not 14. He was at least 16 or (more probable) 17 because he was a Senior in my class when this whole thing took place. He couldn't have been 14 because he was a Senior and never skipped any grades.
I don't say this to say that it's ok for someone to sexually abuse a 16 or 17 year old (heck, I believe it's wrong to sexually abuse anyone regardless of age). I just wanted to point that out because if the article made one mistake it's quite possible that other information they stated isn't exactly accurate either.

You said:
"My blog posting was accurate. It contains links to the original published news sources"
-- Actually, not everything was accurate (even the original news articles)... which is why I made the original post in the first place. I'll hit on more of that as I continue with this reply.
Just to list a few things (again) that weren't accurate:
* The kid was a Senior in high school (and therefore, not 14, but older)
* As far as I recall, Pastor O'Chester never "attack[ed]Rick’s victim as a liar."
* "another Great Hills minister has pled guilty..." Rick never plead guilty, so that statement is inaccurate.

You said:
"[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.]"
-- As has been established, he wasn't 14. The media or whoever got that bit of information wrong. As I stated, he was a Senior in my class back in '99.
Furthermore, again I'll apologize if you think I was trying to "stick a label" on the kid. That was not my intention.

You said (in regards to the Sunday School teachers who didn't testify):
[Obviously, if the Sunday School teachers had relevant information, they should have brought it forward and testified under oath at trial...]
-- Yes, they should have, but they didn't. And if I am ever falsely convicted of a crime I didn't commit, I would hope and pray that if the accuser confessed he/she made the whole thing up that those he/she confessed to would grow a pair and testify on my behalf.

You went on to say:
"[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.]"
-- Actually, there wasn't any physical evidence. The whole thing was based on "he said, she said" testimonies. Anyone who thinks a juror can listen to a case and not make a decision based on preconceived biases is mistaken. Do a search for comments left on the media's websites in regards to Christians committing crimes. Then tell me that you honestly believe that the majority of this country wouldn't want to see any religious leader burned at the stake. With that being said, I wouldn't be surprised if a minster was found guilty for no other reason than he was a minister.
Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that all (or even most) ministers who have been convicted of sex crimes are innocent and only persecuted for their religion. I would say that most convicted are in fact guilty. However, I also believe that it's possible for a jury to find an innocent man "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." And I honestly believe that's what happened in the case of Rick.

You then said:
"[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...]
-- Now you're putting words in my mouth. I did say that I don't recall O'Chester calling the kid a liar to the public... but I never said the Sunday School teachers labeled the kid a liar. (Unless you're talking about the Sunday School teachers who never came forward to testify... in which case they never came out and called the kid a liar. If they had, they would've gone to court to testify.) Furthermore, like I've mentioned earlier in this response, I didn't "label the kid a homosexual." He was gay. How is me stating that fact any different from me stating someone has brown hair? If I state someone has brown hair would you be coming down so hard on me for "labeling" someone a "brunette?"

You went on to say:
[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...]"
-- Again, you make claims about me that aren't true. Do I believe the congregational gathering to explain what was going on could have possibly deterred other possible-victims from coming forward? Of course. However, I honestly don't believe there were any other victims. And that is why I believe none others came forward. As I've said, I believe Rick is innocent. If Rick truly is innocent, how could there be other victims?
Just as I admit that the "rally" could have possibly deterred others from coming forward, you must also admit that there's a possibility that there were no other victims.

You then said:
[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.]
-- Or perhaps Rick never admitted to it because he was innocent. Perhaps he hasn't deceived anyone because he truly is innocent. Perhaps a jury saw what they wanted to see and not what really happened.
Yes, the court found Rick guilty, and he is being punished because of it. However, I will always believe (unless Rick stated otherwise or if there was actual evidence to support otherwise) that he is innocent.
Simply because I believe him to be innocent, of course, does not make him so. The court found him guilty, and therefore, is guilty. I just won't believe it because I knew both Rick and his alleged victim... and I knew Rick to be the more honest of the two.

You continued with:
"[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.]"
-- And if the kid was in fact telling the truth then I agree with you.
However, since I do not believe the kid, I wonder what Rick is feeling now while he's behind bars. I wonder how he felt that a kid who he was ministering to came forward and falsely accused him of this crime. I wonder how he feels about all the people who didn't support him and believed him capable of such an act. If I were him, I'd rather just stay behind bars for the rest of my life than to come out and be judged by everyone that recognized me.

You then said:
"[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...]"
-- Again with the words in my mouth. Yes, I would believe someone is guilty if they admitted that they were. However, if there was actual evidence that someone was guilty, I'd believe them to be guilty based on that evidence. Since there was no actual evidence in Rick's case, I will continue to believe he is innocent.
I love how you've tried to make me out to be some evil person simply because of the experiences I had while this whole thing took place. I was there, I knew the people involved, and I've made my decision based on those experiences.

You then said:
"[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.']"
-- Yes, I know that's what you said, but the words you had quoted stated "another Great Hills minister has pled guilty..." That was the part I was pointing out. It wasn't "another" person pleading guilty. Jerry was the one to plead guilty, not Rick. I understand that you were making the point about the second to be convicted, but I was pointing out the inaccuracy of that quoted phrase.

You went on to say:
"[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?]"
-- I'm sorry that you're upset that we believe an innocent man went to prison.
I understand that it's impossible for an innocent person to be convicted of a crime, so I know that it's stupid of us to believe he didn't commit the crime.
And here I use sarcasm to try to point out that it is quite possible that we are correct in actually believing that Rick is innocent.
To answer your question, what would it take for me to realize Rick's guilt? Actual evidence or an admittance of guilt. Neither exist.

You continued with asking:
"[And what would it take to motivate them to reach out to other possible victims instead of still supporting the perpetrator?]"
-- Let me ask you something. If someone you knew fairly well and whom you trusted was accused of something by someone that you knew just as well but didn't find to be as trustworthy... who would you believe? The more trustworthy or the not-as-trustworthy person?
I ask this because this is the situation I'm in. You're asking me (and others in my position) to trust the less-trustworthy person. I hope that you are never faced with this type of situation... and if you are and you decide to believe and support your more trustworthy friend I hope that people won't climb down your throat for doing so.

I'm going to skip the part about Pastor Lewis needing to be aware of the people he hires because I believe that anyone should be aware of the people they hire... or let babysit their kids... or watch their dog... or house sit... etc...

In closing you stated:
"[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?]"
-- Rick is eligible for parole in April but he won't get out early. Rick will serve his full 15 years. Why? Because he never plead guilty. You can only be let out on parole if you admit to guilt and say that you've been rehabilitated. If you deny that you were guilty in the first place then you can't have been rehabilitated yet.
With that being said, it would be pointless to answer the following questions for another 7 years.

And I'll close by saying that I hope each of you reading this will try to look at this from my point of view as well. Granted, I was never abused in any way so I can never fully understand what you guys think/feel when you read about sex offenders. However, with that aside, I hope that you can see that it is possible for an innocent man to be found guilty.

And lastly, let me ask this. If someone you looked up to as a father figure was accused of sexually assaulting someone, and he denied doing it, and there was no evidence of him doing so... would you believe him? Or would you believe the person who accused him? Then think of how you'd feel when people talk about you as if you're some kind of monster for believing your dad was innocent.

I hope I haven't upset anyone with the things I've said. I truly did not mean to if I did. I just felt I needed to respond and give the opposite perspective of someone who knew the people involved and who was actually there when this whole thing took place.

Christa Brown said...

I think Jason's comment speaks for itself and illustrates exactly why congregations need the resource of an independent objective review board to assess clergy abuse reports when they cannot be criminally prosecuted.

The most interesting thing Jason says is this: "I know Rick was accused of child sex abuse in another church..." I was not previously aware of other accusations against Rick Willits, prior to his time at Great Hills, and so this is news to me.

At least 2 different reporters and 2 different news organizations reported that Rick Willits' victim was 14 years old - here and here.

Chris Harbison said...

I think a few things really ought to be cleared up.

Firstly, the original comment was hardly hateful. He didn't call the young man names, he didn't belittle or degrade him. Yes he did say the young man was a homosexual and I know for a fact that he is still a homosexual as I know him. That is really beside the point, I just didn't think it was fair to call the comment hateful when it was clear that "hate" wasn't the intent. Furthermore, it's no more hateful say that a homosexual is a homosexual than it is to say that a heterosexual is a heterosexual. Fact is fact.

Secondly, I was a member of GHBC at the time and a senior in Rick's youth group. I know Rick and Jerry personally and have for a long time. I know for a fact that he (Rick) touched youths inappropriately as I myself was touched inappropriately by him. I don't believe he was being a sexual deviant, I believe he was engaging in immature and inappropriate "locker room behavior". Perhaps that's my own naivety but that was my perception of the matter. I do not feel I was molested anymore than a football player is when a teammate slaps a congratulatory hand on the butt.

Thirdly, I only recall him being convicted of molesting that one child. What other 8 convictions are you talking about when you say he was convicted on "9 counts" of molestation? Perhaps I misunderstand you and if that be the case then I apologize for my misunderstanding.

Fourthly, you're correct, the young man was 14 at the time.

Well those are my points and questions. I am truly sorry that you and others have been hurt so deeply by men (or women) in positions of authority. I have long since left that church and the SBC altogether. I do truly believe though that the author of the "original comment" was not intending to be hateful in anyway (I happen to know him quite well too, and no, it wasn't me).

Respectfully,
Chris

Jason said...

Hey Christa,
When I said "I know Rick was accused of child sex abuse in another church..." that was in regards to the comment of him being convicted on 9 accounts of child sex abuse. I remember hearing something about him being accused but not convicted. That is why I said that. Also, after my last post I was thinking about the 9 convictions. If he received 15 years for this one conviction, and then let's say he received just 5 years for the other 9 convictions... then would he have still been in jail and unable to be the youth minister at GHBC back then? That's another reason I have a hard time believing that the media is accurate in stating that he has 9 previous convictions under his belt.

Also, I'd like to correct myself. Upon re-digging in information I found that I was mistaken. The allegations came out our Senior year, but the kid said that it took place back when he was 14 or 15. I got my information a bit jumbled since it all came out when we were late 16 to early 18.

Lastly I'd like to say that I agree with you that churches should look into hiring resources outside the church to do background checks on the people they hire and to investigate accusations of this nature. I hope that no one thinks I'm trying to stand up for sex offenders' rights or that I'm trying to justify criminal behavior. I just wanted to point out that I believe the court was wrong in at least this case.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Dear Jason and Chris,

You both sound like great guys. I love your honesty and straight-forwardness. I just have to address two things though.

Jason,you do not know what is going on behind closed doors -- whether in someone's home or at church. My father was always chairman of the deacons and my mother was always GA or WMU director. They both sexually abused me for years and no one ever knew. I also am quite sure church members would have defended them to the nth degree because my parents looked, acted, seemed so GOOD. Please understand those things do happen.

Chris, your statement "I know for a fact that he (Rick) touched youths inappropriately as I myself was touched inappropriately by him. I don't believe he was being a sexual deviant, I believe he was engaging in immature and inappropriate "locker room behavior". Perhaps that's my own naivety but that was my perception of the matter. I do not feel I was molested anymore than a football player is when a teammate slaps a congratulatory hand on the butt." I do think you are naive and I think at some point in time you will have to address feelings you have or had as a result of that inappropriate touching. Please do not think I am criticizing you, because I am not. Your statement spoke volumes though.

You both, I believe, made it clear that you are no longer a part of a SBC church -- nor am I or Christa or many other people who grew up Southern Baptist. I just wonder what were your reasons for leaving.

Take care to both of you. I hope you continue to read Christa's blog.

PG

Christa Brown said...

Phyllis: I think the same as you - that the statements of both Jason and Chris speak volumes.

Jason and Chris: From your statements, I can't help but think that both of you likely had information that could have been useful to the police back at that time. I'm wondering whether either of you spoke with the police back then? (Don't feel obliged to answer - I'm just expressing my wonderings out loud.) And if you didn't, I'm wondering whether that rally at Great Hills church in support of Willits may have been part of what factored into your consciousness at the time and prevented you from going to the police with what you knew or perhaps that factored into your consciousness in such a way that it would simply not have occurred to you to take your information to the police.

News reports indicated that Willits was "convicted on 9 counts" of child sex abuse. I have not seen the actual case file, but typically this would mean that he was convicted on 9 separate incidents that were proven beyond a reasonable doubt - i.e., 9 crimes - but they could have all been crimes with the same victim. The fact that he was convicted on 9 counts would refute any suggestion that it could have just been a single incident that a kid misconstrued. (Other news accounts reported that there were at least 6 other people who also provided some information to the police, and so there could have been evidence brought in from other people as well.)

And Chris, I stand by what I said. Willits' victim was a 14-year old kid who was preyed upon by an older man who was a trusted minister and an authority figure. THAT is the relevant fact and the only fact that really matters. Whether or not Willits' victim is homosexual today is completely irrlevant. At the time of the abuse, he was a 14-year old kid who was entitled to develop his sexuality at his own pace and in his own time WITHOUT the dreadful confusion, disruption, and trauma of being preyed upon by an older trusted adult.

Chris Harbison said...

"I do think you are naive and I think at some point in time you will have to address feelings you have or had as a result of that inappropriate touching."

I neither had nor currently have any feelings toward that inappropriate touching. As I said, I didn't interpret it as sexual in nature and still don't. At one point I told him to cut it out and he respectfully did so. So I, personally, have no more feelings for that than I do when getting a slap on the butt after winning a soccer match.

"You both, I believe, made it clear that you are no longer a part of a SBC church -- nor am I or Christa or many other people who grew up Southern Baptist. I just wonder what were your reasons for leaving."

My reasons for leaving are all strictly theological. It had nothing to do with Rick or Jerry. I left several years after Rick and a few years before Jerry.

"And Chris, I stand by what I said. Willits' victim was a 14-year old kid who was preyed upon by an older man who was a trusted minister and an authority figure. THAT is the relevant fact and the only fact that really matters. Whether or not Willits' victim is homosexual today is completely irrelevant."

I certainly don't disagree nor did I state or imply otherwise. My only point was that it wasn't hateful that a fact was pointed out in the original comment. And I absolutely do think that how one interprets something matters. As a heterosexual myself, I'm absolutely going to interpret certain behaviors differently when performed by a woman as opposed to a man. So I think it's important to at least take into consideration how certain behavior was interpreted by the victim in comparison to others (like myself). I'm certainly not trying to deny or justify any actions by these men, I'm just saying that points of view are always important. The fact is that the boy was touched inappropriately. Had I felt as though I had been molested or abused by Mr. Willits, I would have come forward myself; but at the time (10 years ago) I never once connected "locker room" behavior to sexual assault. That is why I never came forward. Honestly it took almost 10 years before I finally connected the dots and went "Ah ha! He really did do this!" I just never realized what he had done. I always assumed it was actual sexual intercourse (and I do not believe that occurred) which again, is why I never connected the dots. If the case was being heard today, I would testify against him; but I would also make it clear that although what he did was completely inappropriate, I honestly don't believe he was trying to molest me.

Phyllis Gregory said...

You can be sexually molested in many ways without someone actually having intercourse with you. What is your definition of inappropriate? I guess it has changed the past ten years if you would now testify against him.

"At one point I told him to cut it out and he respectfully did so." I'm sorry, but if it was something you had to tell him to stop doing he should not have been doing it in the first place. Respectfully, my eye! In some way, I feel you are trying to protect him -- maybe not protect him exactly -- but it is difficult for you to admit that possibly he was and is just as bad as the court made him out to be.

Just a thought.

Chris Harbison said...

"You can be sexually molested in many ways without someone actually having intercourse with you. What is your definition of inappropriate? I guess it has changed the past ten years if you would now testify against him."

Don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say. The reason I didn't testify then is simple. When it all came out, it was said that he was accused of sexually assaulting the boy. My (at the time 18 year old) definition of sexual assault was "rape", defined as forcible intercourse. I never connected that to walking up and "tapping" a guy in the genitals. I mean I'll talk by and hit my brother sometimes. It's a joke, I'm not sexually assaulting him. It's just typical, locker room nonsense that guys do. That's how I interpreted Mr. Willits' behavior toward me and I still interpret it that way. I believe if he wanted to molest me, he would have tried to get underneath my clothing which he never did.

"I'm sorry, but if it was something you had to tell him to stop doing he should not have been doing it in the first place. Respectfully, my eye!"

I disagree. Plenty of times in life anyone may do something that's interpreted as one person as inappropriate or just disliked by another and ask that the behavior be changed. Example, I may think a nickname's cute or funny and call my wife by that name. If she doesn't like it and asks me to stop, that doesn't automatically mean I was being disrespectful. It would be disrespect if I refused to oblige her request. Now granted somethings should just be obvious. Rick's example is a good one. A pastor should never do that, but that doesn't automatically mean he was trying to show me or anyone else disrespect.

"In some way, I feel you are trying to protect him -- maybe not protect him exactly -- but it is difficult for you to admit that possibly he was and is just as bad as the court made him out to be."

I know for a fact he's not as bad as the court made him out to be. I'm not trying to protect him at all. He made a serious very poor and very stupid choices and he got what he deserved.

Christa Brown said...

Two additional things I want to say. (1) Most child molesters start out in small ways. They test kids. They cross boundaries in small ways, and incrementally, it escalates. It's called "grooming." Just because Jason and Chris had incidents that they minimized and interpreted as "locker room" behavior doesn't mean that it was the same scenario with the victim whose case was prosecuted. After all, Willits was found guilty on 9 counts and sentenced to 15 years. I didn't sit in that courtroom and so I don't know what all the evidence was (and I doubt that Jason and Chris are aware of all the evidence either), but the length of the sentence suggests that it was more than "locker room" behavior. (2) On the off-chance that the victim whose case was prosecuted is reading this, I want to say that I hope that you will ALWAYS give yourself a huge pat on the back. You were obviously an incredibly courageous kid, and thanks to you, others were made safer. I applaud you.

Chris Harbison said...

"Just because Jason and Chris had incidents that they minimized and interpreted as "locker room" behavior doesn't mean that it was the same scenario with the victim whose case was prosecuted."

Two thing:
1) I never equated my experience with the victim's, not once. I just want to make that quite clear.

2) I'm not minimizing anything. I wasn't molested by the man, period. You can force words into my mouth or implications into my experience but that doesn't change the fact that I know what happened and I know I was not molested.

On a final note, I do not expect any of the readers to understand my point of view just I don't expect anyone to understand the points of view from people like Andrea Yate's husband who stands by his wife despite the horrible things she did to her kids. Until you live it, you cannot understand it. When someone you've known and loved for years is accused and convicted of a crime that's totally out of the character you've grown to know, then you can tell me how naive I am for not thinking he (Rick) is a monster. That being said, I do not and hope I never understand the points of view from those who have been victims of assault. I certainly won't dismiss your opinions that have been formed by your interpretations of the circumstances and I respectfully ask that you do not dismiss mine.

Christa Brown said...

"Honestly it took almost 10 years before I finally connected the dots and went 'Ah ha! He really did do this!' I just never realized what he had done."

Chris: These are the statements of yours that I was reacting to when I said that you had "minimized and interpreted" it as "locker room" behavior. I didn't intend this language to be dismissive of you in any way. To the contrary, I was trying to reflect back on what you yourself had said.

The only thing I wanted to communicate in my prior comment was to assure that the experience of Willits' victim was not in any way, impliedly or otherwise, treated in a dismissive manner. THAT was my concern.

I do, however, also feel sadness for both you and Jason because, based on your comments, it appears to me that, even 9 years later, this is still something that troubles you and that raises questions in your mind about what happened with this minister whom you loved, trusted, and respected. I think it's very typical that the ripple effect of clergy sex abuse goes far and wide. I do not in any way intend to be dismissive of you in expressing my sorrow for you. But it is simply the truth - I feel great sadness on reading yours and Jason's comments.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on this out of the blue and may be 4 months late, but I just have to say:

It seems to me that Christa and Phyllis don't know what "locker room behavior" is truly like, as it seems they feel that the other commenters have suffered sexual assault but refuse to admit it.

Guy friends will subject each other to all forms of "abuse" simply as a form of roughhousing. I can't count the number of times one of my friends has slapped, grabbed, or punched me in the crotch, but I know without a doubt that I in no way, shape, or form have ever been molested.

If Willits felt "close" enough (in a friendly manner) to the kids he worked with it's possible they engaged in this behavior - and Chris' story seems to back this up. If that's what happened, then he probably should have known better, but if the kid never spoke up until pressing charges (2-3 years after) it could have very easily happened enough times for 9 counts.

I was about 12 when this happened and not part of the youth group, so I don't know a whole lot about it and won't side one way or another, but I DO remember that the trial did come down to "he said / he said". Willits could be innocent of intentionally molesting the kid through the above process, but he could just as easily be guilty.

Christa Brown said...

Rick Willits was convicted "beyond a reasonable doubt." If the evidence had shown nothing more than an equal chance - "he said/he said" - sort of scenario, then an objective, unbiased jury likely would not have arrived at a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. The length of the sentence also suggests that the nature of the evidence was more than that. I don't doubt that Anon 12:24 remembers things as he says, but even assuming he sat in the courtroom every second, I would still expect that the jury probably followed the evidence more closely, and with less bias, than a 12-year old would have.