Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day a year ago, I posted the column below about my dad. A few days later, the long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas phoned up an attorney friend of mine, suggesting that he might slap a lawsuit against me or drag me up before a State Bar disciplinary review board.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? However baseless his complaint, this guy had the possibility of threatening to haul me before an independent disciplinary board for lawyers. But there doesn’t even exist such a thing as a board for reviewing the conduct of Southern Baptist clergy. And of course, the complaints of clergy abuse survivors are typically far more troubling and of far greater concern to the safety of others than the complaint of a guy who doesn’t like a blog posting.

Lawyers, police, doctors, cosmetologists, other clergy, and people in all sorts of other occupations are subject to review boards. But not Southern Baptist clergy.

Though this guy’s complaint never made much sense, from what I heard, he seemed to think that, since I’m a lawyer myself, I should have realized that he was just giving legal advice and didn’t do anything out of bounds. He also complained that he didn’t know anything about my father’s military service.

So, let me be excessively clear about a few things.

One: I have no reason to think this guy knew my father was a veteran. But though he seemed to think his non-knowledge of my father’s military service was something that mattered, I can’t see how. What I consider contemptible is that he would twist what he did know to try to further shame myself and my family (presumably as another silencing tactic), and meanwhile, no one was doing anything about the child-molesting clergy-perpetrator.

Two: I believe responsibility for the horror and harm in how the Baptist General Convention of Texas mishandles clergy sex abuse reports should rest at the doorstep of BGCT leaders. The attorney works for THEM (and for churches the BGCT refers him to), and presumably he is handling clergy sex abuse reports in the manner that the BGCT wants. (But fyi…for his post-Memorial Day threat, I don’t actually know who he was purporting to represent. Though he made an earlier threat on behalf of the church, it’s possible that, on the post-Memorial Day occasion, he was simply being a jerk all on his own.)

Three: When it comes to how religious leaders handle clergy sex abuse reports, there is a big difference between acting within the bare bounds of the law and acting in a morally responsible manner. The two are not one and the same, and if anyone should realize that, it ought to be leaders of a religious organization. So what if they are within the bounds of the law? Big deal. That does NOT mean they are within the bounds of moral behavior or Christian behavior.
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MEMORIAL DAY

My father had chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms from his service in World War II. He was wounded in the liberation of Luzon and survived by playing dead while they bayoneted bodies around him. When night fell, he crawled through the darkness and over bodies and back to allied troops.

As a kid, I didn't understand, and sometimes my father seemed terrifying. As an adult, I know that we were probably like a great many families of those stoic men who never spoke of their ordeals. Families simply coped as best they could with the psychological wounds so many of those men had.

After one particularly bad incident, the police were called to our house. They just talked a bit and then called our pastor, who came to the house and prayed. He said we should think about others in the church and how upsetting it would be if people found out that a good Christian family like ours had such problems. He told us not to talk about it.

A week or two later, the youth and education minister approached me. He said he knew what had happened in my family and that he’d like to talk with me about it. He asked me to come to his office.

I guess the pastor’s “don’t talk about it” message didn’t apply to him. He obviously breached our trust and told the youth and education minister about the trouble in my family. But I didn’t see that hypocrisy at the time. I saw only that the youth and education minister seemed to care about me. In hindsight, I now see that this was when the grooming for abuse really began. He used my family’s difficulties to move in on his prey.....me.

Years later, when I again tried to report that clergy child molester, I mentioned that the abuse began shortly after this incident of family violence. Naively, I thought this information would help to educate church and denominational leaders on how predatory clergy work. Instead, long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Stephen Wakefield, tried to use that information against me. He wrote back that because I had “suffered from abuse at home” this would have been what caused my distress.

Then he threatened to seek recourse against me if I pursued the reporting of my perpetrator. (Yeah – that’s right – he threatened to sue ME.)


Wakefield brought it up when he spoke with me in person too. In effect, he tried to use my dead father’s mental illness against me to say that I was emotionally damaged anyway, as though no greater harm was done by the sexual abuse of the church’s minister. This attitude offended me beyond all words. And this Memorial Day, I’m still angry about it.

In yesterday’s sermons, I imagine lots of Baptist ministers paid tribute to servicemen and said some nice words. But when it comes to deeds, the reality of what I encountered, both as a kid and as an adult, were Baptist leaders who used my father’s war wound to exploit his family, savage his adolescent daughter, and intimidate her once again as an adult.

Stephen Wakefield isn’t just some rogue attorney. He has been attorney for the largest statewide Southern Baptist organization in the country for over a decade. And this is how he treats those who attempt to report clergy child molestation (even when another minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid substantiated the report). I think you have to assume that the BGCT approves of his tactics.

My father was a hero, both at war and at home. He worked double and triple shifts his whole life to put Big Chief tablets in his kids’ hands and shoes on their feet. He literally wore his body out trying to provide for his family.

That a know-nothing like Stephen Wakefield would effectively suggest that my father’s psychological war wound was a form of “abuse” in any way akin to the devastating sexual savagery of a Southern Baptist minister is something I will not forget anytime soon. That he would use my family's difficulties to try to minimize the great harm done by a Baptist minister’s sexual abuse is unconscionable.

Over the past couple years, as I have worked at trying to bring the Baptist clergy sex abuse problem to light, I have been kicked countless times by Southern Baptist men. In person, in emails, in letters, on blogs, and even in the Baptist Press, they have said outrageous things, mean things and even hateful things. On a good day, I could probably find it within myself to forgive almost all of it. But for the likes of Stephen Wakefield to effectively degrade my father and try to use his war wound against me is something I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive.

My father was far from perfect, but he was more honest, hard-working, courageous and decent than any Southern Baptist leader I have yet encountered. I honor the memory of my father in continuing to speak truth about Baptist clergy sex abuse and about the horror in how this denomination handles it.

4 comments:

Jeri said...

Keep at it Christa! One more sad truth about living in a sin-cursed world is that the bad guys never quit, no matter how loathsome or inappropriate their behavior. And all you can do is endure it, rebuke it, and put the matter in Christ's Hands. Then again, I'm sure the Baptist potentates never expected to be so upset and suffer so much exposure from a woman with no power base under her other than integrity and faith.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Christa,

Again I applaud you for your courage to stand up to these people. The corruption in the SBC (especially the BGCT in this instance) runs very deep. I believe, in my heart, that none of this will change in my life time. I also believe, though, that as long as you and others continue to speak the truth, no matter the cost, eventually the world will see CHURCH LEADERS for who they really are.

Phyllis

Lin said...

Christa, This is NOTHING short of spiritual abuse. That includes the way your pastor handled it, the youth minister AND the Baptist Lawyer in Texas. All of them are guilty of cultic behaviors of spiritual abuse.

A dear friend of mine has a blog dedicated to this subject. There is MUCH to learn on it about tactics used against people. I really hope your readers will go and educate themselves on this subject so they can discern the tactics. I could rattle off several tactics they used on you from this post. These tactics work. And we MUST educate people.

http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/

Peter Schott said...

Phyllis,
I think that it would be safer to say that the corruption of man runs very deep. This problem is by no means limited to Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Catholic churches, or whatever denomination you may choose. Man is sinful. I do not say this to excuse these people - what they did/do is wrong and there are consequences. However, the root of the problem is not church leaders, it is sin. I would say that the vast majority of church leaders do not fall into the category of sexual predators. Those who are should face the consequences of their actions here on earth.

And Christa, what they did was wrong - no arguments. I hope that you can move past the anger and find healing at some point, regardless of how people react to you (or have found healing if that's happened). I do not disagree that these people need to be stopped, but I also pray that they will be changed once they are stopped (or even before they need to be stopped).