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.”

“Hyperbole?”

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.

14 comments:

gmommy said...

Christa,
On Easter Sunday I was sitting in a room of "Christians" mostly from the North. When it came up that I was no longer associated with an SBC church (and why).... I thought I was in relatively safe waters. One man was a Presbterian missionary...I wasn't aware that the hosts were members of a Baptist church...the General Assemblies or whatever it's called.

The man spoke up in defense of the clergy predators and about the church and Christianity being all about forgivness.
He said that with the Catholics and now with the Baptists the "victims" seemed to be more interested in CASHING IN!!!!!

In my most restrained tone of voice I explained to him how ignorant that thinking was and attempted to educate him on the reality the victims live and how their lives have been altered by these very "forgiving" Christians.

Christa....the majority of the people/ Christians...as I am sure you know...DO NOT WANT to know the truth. Plain and simple.
There is NO mercy and heartbreak for this horrible reality!
It's not just the South as I thought.
I am so discouraged...for the moment.

Never Surrender!!!!

Phyllis Gregory said...

Gmommy,

You were very brave to speak up in a room full of people. It sounds as though you handled it very well -- expressed your thoughts and feelings and did not let those people beat you down with negative words. I really admire you for that.

You are so right about "they do not want to know that truth". It is very difficult to understand why.

PG

Jeri said...

Christa,
Lord willing, the book on church abuse will be out in April (late April). The documentation of abuses may set down a coherent enough, end to end view of the problem of sex abuse in churches, that these accusations from people who want to excuse these horrible sins will come across as totally lame (and blind).

Isn't it about time you wrote a book? (hint, hint)

Christa Brown said...

gmommy: Kudos to you for speaking up! It's no wonder people have such negative views of the victims when even the president of the Southern Baptist Convention publicly described the clergy victims' support group as being "nothing more than opportunistic persons." Pretty unpastoral pastoral leadership, if you ask me.

Jeri: Hint duly noted. I thought about you while writing this post because I obviously let "Pastor" get me irritated, and I figured you would probably have some good advice on learning to simply deflect some blows. (It's something I need to work on.) For those of you who don't know, Jeri is a 4th degree black belt and has some interesting thoughts on "fighting."

Jeri said...

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, (as you do, Christa), 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.

Anonymous said...

After much thought on this, most of the problem lies in the churches bylaws where there needs to be a suspension and investigation of that elder immediately. Testing their reaction and noting any other types of inappropriate behavior will shed light on the fruit of the matter.

Christa Brown said...

Jeri: Thank you a thousand times over for such well-chosen words. They hit home, and they were exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes I simply lose track of why it is that we do this work. It seems senseless, hopeless, futile and irrational. But you have recast the reason and again made the rightness apparent.

WE - BEAR - WITNESS.

John Doe said...

Jeri says it so well..

I have got to 'Let Go, and Let God'...

It is so easy to get caught up in this mess as you have been victimized by someone in a postion of trust. Being victimitized, by anyone, is sometimes hard to overcome.

As I look back over the past 10+ years to see how I have attempted to shed light on this issue with no real effect, I see that I can make two choices:

1) Keep fighting
2) Quit fighting

I have decided to give the fight over to God. I have exhausted all I know to bring attention to this issue and, for me, it often becomes frustrating to see little results.

The vast majority of people might say they care but they don't step up to do anything about this, most important, issue. Religious leaders hide the truth for whatever reason. We have serious problems in this world today that span Satan's repertoire.. I tend to think, for most people, it is too overwhelming to to anything about.

Thus, Christa, I know how you feel. Fight, fight, fight.. For what? Those that feel our pain are those who have experienced our pain. All others don't have a clue why we fight.

Jeri said...

Because we love the brethren. Take a break. Rest. Re-organize your strategy. When love compels you, get back into it. Or God may send someone to you who needs your strength and encouragement to break free.

Anybody who fights to be an apparent victor or who fights to get a visible upper hand is actually fighting on the terms laid out by the false religious leaders who have done so much harm. Beware of that illusion. It's a mistake to fight on the terms that the enemy lays down.

Remember, the Lord Jesus came and fought against a corrupt religious hierarchy. But He did not set Himself up as the visible High Priest in the Temple. And yet He is our High Priest. And He did exercise lordship over the Temple, ultimately. But He waged His war on His own terms, by loving and comforting His people, as a true high priest would do.

If we fight to love others and to comprehend the Love of God, the real thing, that was faked by abusers in high office, we fight on the grounds that can sustain us. No, we cannot survive in constant conflict. But we can survive and even grow in the education of Love's "austere and lonely offices"

jeriwho

Anonymous said...

Jeri,

Oh, I had forgotten that poem. I want to send it to my father.

What did I know, what did I know, of love's austere and lonely offices? I cry each time I read it, I had it memorized once.

Jeri said...

That's one of my favorite poems--a far more realistic view of love thna you get in a lot of poetry, especially modern poetry:

Those Winter Sundays

By Robert E. Hayden


Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.


I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Christa Brown said...

Jeri: Thank you for sharing this poem. It reminds me of my own father.

I often think that what I will perhaps never be able to fully forgive is how the long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas tried to use my father's combat-related PTSD as still another way of shaming me, and as an implied threat of shaming my family if I continued to speak out about a clergy child molester. (I believe this guy probably knew only that there was an incident of family violence and not that it was PTSD-related, but that doesn't excuse his tactics, and it's clear he was trying to intimidate me in any way possible since he also threatened to sue me, even though the music minister acknowledged knowing about the other minister's abuse of me). Last Memorial Day, I did a blog posting about this. It still conjures such enormous anger in me everytime I think about it. How dare they?!

Of course, there has never been any apology for that. To the contrary, I have every reason to think the Baptist General Convention of Texas approves of such grotesque tactics against those who report clergy abuse. This is an attorney that they themselves send out to help churches "handle" clergy abuse reports.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Christa,

This is a part of your story I have not heard. Again I am totally and completely shocked and amazed that people can act in such a way -- especially people who claim to be Christians. Just because they claim to be does not mean they are.

Why did they have to stoop to such levels to keep you quiet. It sounds as though they really feared what you might have the ability to do.

Anyway, I am just very, very sorry for all you have endured. It's like being raped all over again just by different people.

The forgiveness thing. Speaking for myself, I had to quit hating someone and wishing for his/her imminent demise, before I could even think about forgiving them. I think it comes at different times for different people. Maybe not at all for some.

I think the main thing we have to be able to do is to forgive ourselves for whatever way we have abused ourselves because of all our negative thoughts of whore, slut, your fault, you made me do it, you are worthless, no one will ever love you. Those words are all lies but many times we take it on as truth concerning us and our character. Awful that they have had the ability to do that to us.

Take care and keep on keeping on.

PG

Anonymous said...

Christa,

Robert Hayden is amazing. I'm the girl who wrote you recently from a community college address, so you know who I am (although so many people use anonymous it must be difficult to differentiate.) I'm so sorry you were treated so awfully. I'm terrified that the church will go after my father in my own case, he wasn't perfect--but how I love him!

May I recommend Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborska, and Monologue of a Dog? I think the former is translated by Joanna Trseziack, but not sure.

Also, anything by Daniel Ladinsky, like "Love Poems from God" and "I Heard God Laughing". He believes he is Hafiz reincarnated so his stuff isn't so much translation as interpretation, but I do love his stuff, it's brimming with love. Maybe you've already read this, but poetry is how I begin to learn to heal. We've all been through so much on here, and I'm split each time I hear another story. I'm behind all of us survivors. Hugs to all of you, very, very safe ones, where we can back out at any time. It's hard sometimes to remember that you've been through so much yourself, you've been such an incredible advocate. Take care of you, Christa. I really care, and while I don't have money, and at the time I don't really have a voice I can use as you are, but I'm behind you with love, someday I can give some of the rest, the lonely offices of love giving materially in due time.

Sky by Szymborska
We should have started from this: the sky.
A window without a sill, frame, or pane.
An opening and nothing more,
but open wide.

I need not wait for a clear night
nor crane my neck
to examine the sky.
I have the sky at my back, at hand, and on my eyelids.
The sky wraps me snugly
and lifts me from below.

Even the highest mountains
are no nearer the sky than the deepest valleys.
There is no more sky in one place
than another.
A cloud is crushed by sky as ruthlessly as a grave.
A mole is as enraptured
as a wing-fluttering owl.
A object falling into a precipice
falls from the sky into sky.
Granular, liquid, craggy,
fiery and volatile
expanses of sky, crumbs of sky,
puffs and snatches of sky.
The sky is omnipresent
even in darkness under the skin.
I eat sky, I excrete sky.
I am a trap inside a trap,
an inhabited inhabitant,
an embraced embrace,
a question in answer to a question.

To divide earth and sky
is not the correct way
to consider this whole.
It merely allows survival
under a more precise address,
quicker to be found
if I were to be looked up.
My call words
are delight and despair.