Monday, June 30, 2008

Age, anger, etc.

Some of you have told me how discouraged you feel.

Me too.

Some of you have told me how angry you feel.

Me too.

When Southern Baptist leaders STILL refuse to do anything about reported clergy child molesters, it sends a message of “We don’t care.” That’s an inherently hurtful message.

It’s salt in the wounds. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a kick in the gut.

There’s no way to feel it as anything other than that, and so I’m not about to sugar-coat it and play some pretend game with you.

But I would encourage you to ponder things from a slightly different perspective, because I do believe that progress is being made.

For starters, many reporters are much savvier now than they were just a year ago. There’s a learning curve for journalists as they try to understand how Baptist structure is different and how clergy-perpetrators can hide within that structure. Many more journalists are now much further along on that learning curve. They’re beginning to see the big picture of Baptist clergy sex abuse, cover-ups, and denominational do-nothingness.

I believe that massive media pressure is what will ultimately bring about change. So with every reporter who begins to see the problem, there is reason for optimism.

Your voices help reporters as they travel their own roads of understanding.

Many of you have written letters to the editor and comments on blogs – newspaper blogs, this blog, and other blogs. All of that makes a difference. Reporters certainly look at the comments on their own news blogs, and I know for sure that some of them look at this blog. Your voices are being heard.

When reporters interview Southern Baptist officials, they sometimes put their foot in their mouth. And every time an uncaring, ignorant or revealing remark of a Southern Baptist official goes on record, it helps others to begin to see the problem. Nowadays, thanks to more media interest, Southern Baptist officials are having to talk about this stuff more often, and so there are more foot-in-the-mouth possibilities.

All we can hope to do is to try to show that the Emperor has no clothes.

Ideally, it would be nice to imagine that the Emperor would be embarrassed and would put on some clothes when his nakedness is pointed out to him.

But we can’t make him do that. We can’t control the Emperor.

All we can do is work to help as many people as possible to see the truth.

Many more people now see that, when it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse, the illustrious SBC is an Emperor without clothes. Nothing has changed in what the SBC does. But something is changing in the eyes of others. And that’s progress.

Now… speaking about progress… I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m unintentionally progressing through this life a little too rapidly. Let me explain. I’ve noticed that, whenever a reporter asks how old I am, I almost invariably screw up the answer. I make myself older.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s an easy question. “How old are you?” Duhhhh. Somehow I can’t get it right. And typically, I don’t even realize my error until later, when I see the article in print. Then I say to myself, “Whoa, that’s not how old I am.”

So what’s going on? I mean… I know age is mostly a state of mind, and I don’t want to get caught up in chronology, but this still seems a bit silly. Why does my mind do a mental block on this? I’m not deliberately lying. If I wanted to do that, I’d make myself younger, not older.

So here’s what I think. I think that, whenever I talk about this stuff, it makes me FEEL older, and so my mind winds up thinking it IS older. Weird.

If you’ve got some other theory on why my mind does this, let me know. Or take my online poll in the right-hand column: “Why does Christa mistakenly tell reporters she’s older than she is?”

Meanwhile, I gotta go run. That’ll make me feel a few years younger, and maybe it will all average out.

Shine on!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Accountability for cover-ups

Last week, the Episcopal Church held a bishop accountable for having covered-up his brother’s sexual abuse of a teen girl in the 1970s. The bishop, Charles Bennison, was a church rector at the time. His brother, John Bennison, was a lay minister.

Bishop Bennison was charged with having failed to investigate information about the abuse and with having failed to halt his brother’s ordination a couple years later.

Even though the accused perpetrator was the bishop’s own brother, the Episcopal Church didn’t let Bishop Bennison off the hook. The Episcopal Church demands a higher standard for its clerical leaders and it pursued a process of accountability.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist officials won’t even hold clergy-perpetrators themselves accountable. Southern Baptist officials won’t look into reports of clergy abuse and won’t keep records on reports of clergy abuse.

Given that Southern Baptist officials won’t even do anything about clergy who are reported as actual perpetrators, it seems fantasy to imagine that they might ever do anything about those who keep quiet and cover-up.

Can you even imagine it? Think of all the men who might be called to task if there were actually some system that demanded accountability for church and denominational leaders who keep quiet about abuse.

I think it would be quite a lot of them.

But of course, I’m dreaming.

Southern Baptists are light-years behind in establishing systems to protect against clergy abuse and to promote clergy accountability. As compared to other major faith groups in this country, Southern Baptists are still in the dark ages.

And notice that former Episcopal minister John Bennison never faced any criminal charges. That’s typical. Yet, even though John Bennison was never criminally charged or convicted, Bishop Bennison was nevertheless held accountable for having failed to take responsible action when confronted with information about his minister-brother’s abuse of a kid.

Kudos to the Episcopal Church on this one!

How I pray that there will come a day when Southern Baptists will also provide effective systems of accountability for their own clergy. They need accountability systems, not only for accused perpetrators, but also for those who cover-up.

When that day finally comes – when Southern Baptist leaders lift their blinders and move this denomination out of the dark ages – kids will be a great deal safer in Southern Baptist churches.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Child molesters on SBC's ministerial registry

Once again, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ministerial registry is revealed as including men who have been convicted or charged with sex crimes involving children.

As reported in the Tennessean, “Southern Baptist Convention leaders are railing against sexual predators, calling upon local churches to drive out anyone accused of sex crimes against children, but a quick internet search shows the organization has not cleansed its own web site.”

So here’s the picture. Executive Committee president Morris Chapman stood there telling the convention crowd that “our denomination…must condemn publicly this vile act.” But even as he spoke, child-molesting ministers remained on the SBC’s own registry in Nashville.

That doesn’t exactly constitute public condemnation, does it?

And this isn’t the first time these guys have been caught with harboring child-molesting ministers on their registry.

Take a look at the documented history.
  1. On October 11, 2006, EthicsDaily published the fact that convicted child molester John O. McKay was still on the SBC’s registry of ministers. Nothing happened.

  2. On March 28, 2007, EthicsDaily published the fact that Timothy Byars was on the SBC’s registry of ministers despite having been charged with child sex crimes, and it again pointed out that convicted perpetrator John O. McKay was also still there. Nothing happened.

  3. Around March 30, 2007, ABC 20/20’s correspondent Jim Avila told SBC president Frank Page face-to-face about the fact that there were convicted child molesters whose names were on the Southern Baptist Convention's ministerial registry. Despite the stunned look on Frank Page’s face, nothing happened.

  4. On April 13, 2007, ABC 20/20 aired publicly with a program called “Preacher Predators,” showing that there were convicted child molesters on the Southern Baptist Convention’s ministerial registry. Nothing happened. (To the contrary, SBC official Augie Boto publicly justified and defended KEEPING the names of convicted perpetrators on the SBC’s ministerial registry.)

  5. On April 16, 2007, EthicsDaily published the names of 6 convicted child molesters who were still listed on the SBC’s ministerial registry. Nothing happened.

  6. On April 18, 2007, SNAP made a wide-scale press release with the names of 6 convicted child molesters who were still listed on the SBC’s ministerial registry. Finally, something happened. As reported by the Religion News Service, the 6 published perpetrators were removed from the SBC’s registry either late on April 18th or early on April 19th.

Now here we are again, on June 24, 2008, with 10 more convicted or charged sex offenders reported as being on the SBC’s own ministerial registry.

SBC “leaders” just don’t learn, do they? Either that, or they just don’t care.

One thing for sure: It doesn’t look much like “moral outrage.”

One of the ministers now disclosed by the Tennessean is Timothy Byars. This is the same minister whom EthicsDaily first pointed out over a year ago on March 28, 2007. (See #2 above.) Yet, Byars was still there on the SBC’s ministerial registry.

So why should anyone actually believe Morris Chapman when he talks about how this denomination condemns this vile act? It’s just talk.

The reality of their deeds tell a very different story. These so-called “leaders” keep child-molesting ministers on their own registry there at Nashville headquarters. They’ve been repeatedly and publicly told about it. And it keeps on happening.

In fact, according to the Tennessean, the SBC hasn’t even assigned a single staff person to monitor the ministerial registry.

The national organization of the Southern Baptist Convention is a $200 million per year organization. If you count all the annual offerings in Southern Baptist churches and the funds going to statewide denominational offices, it’s a $10.4 billion per year organization.

Yet, this powerful, mega-monied, tentacular organization can’t come up with the funds for assigning even a single employee to keep clergy child-molesters off the ministerial registry.

And still they think we should believe them when they say they care about this.

Actions speak louder than words.

Monday, June 23, 2008

New SBC X-Com officer: words or deeds?

At the same time that the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee rejected a predator database, it also elected new officers. The new chairman of the Executive Committee is Randall James, assistant pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando. (See his photo at the link.)

I couldn’t help but notice this small fact because I’ve been told that my own perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, now goes to First Baptist Church of Orlando.

Do you think the Executive Committee’s new chairman, Randall James, has informed people in his church about Gilmore’s past? About the fact that Gilmore’s prior Texas church made a written apology for Gilmore's sexual abuse of a kid? About the fact that Gilmore is listed in a secret file at the Baptist General Convention of Texas based on a confession or substantial evidence of sexual abuse? About the fact that another Southern Baptist minister made a sworn statement showing he knew about Gilmore’s sexual abuse of a kid?

I wonder.

While rejecting the database, Executive Committee president Morris Chapman said this: “We must determine that when we know someone is a sexual predator, we will expose him… whether he is a pastor, a member of the staff or a member of the church.”

Nice talk, I suppose. But do even the Executive Committee officers actually do this?

Did the Executive Committee’s new chairman, Randall James, do this? Did he expose the truth about Tommy Gilmore to the people who most need to know -- i.e., the parents of kids in the church?

In rejecting the database, Morris Chapman also said this: “Those who would overpower our children and violate their trust must come to know that they will not be coddled, they will not be protected, they will not find refuge in our churches.”


Obviously, Gilmore had no trouble finding refuge in Southern Baptist churches, and in very prominent ones at that. Previously, he was children’s minister at the church of Florida Baptist Convention president Dwayne Mercer, and before that, he was children’s minister at the mega-church of former SBC president Charles Stanley. And all the while when Gilmore was working with kids in Florida and Georgia churches, there was another Southern Baptist minister, James A. Moore, who knew about Gilmore’s sexual abuse of a kid in Texas, and kept quiet about it. Yet, Moore is still a minister.

Looks to me as though Southern Baptist churches not only coddle the perpetrators, but they also coddle the cover-uppers.

And none of Morris Chapman’s fine words do anything to alter that reality.

In the end, preaching doesn’t protect kids against clergy-predators. Deeds do.

Disclaimer: Two people have told me that Tommy Gilmore is now at First Baptist Church of Orlando. However, I am unable to positively confirm this since I have no access to the church’s membership roster. Likewise, I do not know whether or not he may be serving in some unofficial capacity, for example as a Sunday School teacher.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No basis for BGCT brag

Albert Einstein described “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It’s a good description of how the Baptist General Convention of Texas handles clergy sex abuse. And it’s why the recent comments of Baptist Standard editor Marv Knox are so disturbing.

He’s absolutely right, of course, that “the Southern Baptist Convention missed a great opportunity to protect its members when the SBC Executive Committee declined to create a sexual-offender database.”

But Knox is wrong to proceed with bragging about what the Baptist General Convention of Texas does.

Why? Because the BGCT has been doing the same thing over and over again, with the same sad results, and yet they don’t seem to learn. Theirs is a failed system and it’s insanity to expect different results from it in the future.

For starters, the Baptist General Convention of Texas accepts reports of clergy sex abuse only from churches, not from victims.

Yet, the BGCT’s own expert has publicly acknowledged that “churches don’t have to report abuse cases to the registry and aren’t likely to.”

“In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret,” he explained.

So, it’s insanity. The BGCT has seen what happens, and yet they keep doing – and not doing - the same things.

They know that, in the normal scenario, churches try to keep clergy abuse reports secret. And yet, they don't change their procedures to incorporate that reality.

It’s a Catch-22. The BGCT brags about how they keep a file of ministers reported by churches, and yet they know that, in reality, most churches don’t report their ministers.

Furthermore, the BGCT’s blindness to reality heaps enormous additional hurt onto abuse survivors. By insisting that abuse reports can come to the BGCT only from churches, the BGCT forces the wounded to try to report their abuse to the den of the very wolf who savaged them.

Most ordinary people can readily see the insanity of such a system, but not BGCT officials.

Perhaps the craziest part of all is that, even in the rare case of a child-molesting minister who actually does get reported by a church, the BGCT still doesn’t do anything to warn people in the pews where the minister is currently working. The minister’s name simply sits in a file cabinet in the Baptist Building in Dallas.

My own perpetrator’s name sat in that file cabinet while he continued to work in children’s ministry in Florida.

The BGCT knows. They keep records. They keep quiet.

How is this much different from what Cardinal Roger Mahony did?

Here’s the difference I see: BGCT officials are so mired in their own self-deception and self-delusion that they actually think they’ve done something to brag about. They are so utterly inured to their own complicity that they congratulate themselves on it.

It’s bad enough that the BGCT doesn’t warn people in the pews about credibly accused clergy child molesters, and it’s bad enough that they do nothing to help the victims in their efforts to protect others, and it’s bad enough that they provide readily available counseling for clergy-perpetrators but not for victims… but on top of all this, they think they’ve got bragging rights!

It would be comedy if only the real-world impact of their hubris were not so terribly tragic.

But before I begin to weep, let me point out a couple other interesting issues that Marv Knox’s comments bring to light.

Notice how he says that “most notably among Baptists,” it’s women who are abused. It’s as though Knox is trying to suggest that Baptist ministers are more likely to abuse women rather than children.

On this, I think Marv Knox is just pushing the party line. It’s Baptist propaganda.

How would Knox have any clue about whether Baptists are more notable for abuse of women rather than abuse of children? Who’s keeping records? Who’s keeping track of abuse reports from people molested by Baptist ministers as kids?

The limited data we have is data that shows the opposite of what Knox suggests. Based on data gathered from insurance companies by the Associated Press, we have every reason to think that clergy abuse of children is just as widespread among Baptists as it is among Catholics.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that ministerial abuse of women is indeed abuse. In fact, in Texas it’s a felony when a clergyman uses a position of spiritual trust to sexually exploit someone.

Finally, it’s important to notice how Knox says the BGCT’s file includes the names of “proven predators” and “proven abusers.” He also states that the process of getting a minister’s name into that file is “deliberate and serious,” and that “undocumented accusations are not accepted.”

This is very different from what BGCT leaders said just a few months ago when they were publicly challenged about their file. They told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the reason the BGCT doesn’t reveal the names of ministers reported for child molestation was because the reports were nothing more than “unsubstantiated claims.”

But now, when Marv Knox talks to the BGCT’s own constituency of Texas Baptists, he says the BGCT's file contains “proven predators” with serious, documented accusations.

So which is it? “Proven predators” or “unsubstantiated claims”?

Assuming Marv Knox is telling the truth, which I believe he is, how can there be any moral basis for the BGCT to keep a file of “proven predators” without telling people in the pews who those “proven predators” are?

Prior BGCT-related postings:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Princeton professor says SBC prevaricates

Princeton professor Marci Hamilton hit the nail on the head in explaining why the Southern Baptist Convention’s reasons for rejecting a clergy predator database are so lame. Let me share some excerpts with you.

“The SBC prevaricates by saying that, as there is a comprehensive federal database of abusers, the creation of a Baptist database would just confuse matters.

The way SBC officials make it sound, the issue is now dead and individual churches should just do their own individual background checks. Never mind that such checks would be profoundly easier – and more likely to be thorough – if an intra-organizational database could be consulted.

There is a basic procedural answer to what the SBC has portrayed as an insuperable barrier – agree among all independent entities to coordinate. If Baptist churches cannot coordinate on a shared, national strategy in favor of children at risk, they rightly lose a great deal of moral capital.

Thus, the autonomy excuse is nothing more than that: an excuse.

The church-network database suggestion was visionary – and the suggestion that it would simply overlap with Megan’s Lists or federal databases is dead wrong.”
Hamilton’s words are strong. But read for yourself the “reasons” given by SBC Executive Committee president Morris Chapman. Are they really "reasons" or just excuses?

I think Chapman reveals the falsity of his reasoning when he repeatedly refers to “convicted” sexual predators. It shows that he’s making a straw man argument.

Chapman claims that a “Baptist only” database of convicted sex offenders would be less comprehensive than the federal database of convicted sex offenders. Because the federal database of convicted sex offenders is the most comprehensive one, it’s the “best resource,” says Chapman.

But this was never about creating a database of only the convicted. It was about creating a database of convicted, confessed and credibly accused clergy predators. That last part – the “credibly accused” part – is critically important.

For Chapman to focus only on the convicted shows either ignorance or disingenuousness.

Experts far and wide – scholars, law-enforcement, and child advocacy groups – universally recognize that most active child molesters have never been convicted of anything. This means they won’t show up on the federal database of convicted sex offenders.

This reality – i.e., that most child molesters have never been convicted and can’t be prosecuted - is why most other major faith groups have systems to objectively assess the credibility of abuse allegations against their clergy. Even if faith leaders can’t put such men in jail, they can at least prevent them from using their weapon of ministerial trust to molest and rape kids in some other unsuspecting congregation.

Over 700 Catholic priests have now been removed from active ministry based on “credible accusations” of child sex abuse. Only about 3 percent were ever convicted of anything. If Catholic leaders still professed the same tragically low standard as Southern Baptist leaders, about 679 of those “credibly accused” priests would still be in ministry and working with kids.

For that matter, if they took off their collar, those “credibly accused” priests could now go to work in Southern Baptist churches. After all, they aren’t going to show up on the federal database of convicted sex offenders.

In real-world effect, Southern Baptists are allowing that men may continue in ministry unless and until they show up on a federal database of convicted sex offenders. This is a terrifyingly low standard that leaves kids in harm’s way.

In that light, Morris Chapman came close to getting something right when he reiterated the SBC’s oh-so-useful autonomy excuse. “The world may never understand our polity,” he said.

What the world will never understand is how a powerful religious group that purports to be a moral beacon can possibly prioritize the protection of “polity” over the protection of kids against the clergy who prey on them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Your voices

Thanks to EVERYONE who sent in comments and letters to newspapers and blogs about clergy sex abuse, the SBC’s rejection of a database for credibly accused clergy, and Morris Chapman’s rationalizations. (The Associated Press article was in over 200 newspapers!) Newspapers cannot publish every letter, but every letter makes a difference. With each letter and comment received, reporters and editors learn how much people care about this and they become more inclined to cover the issue again. So, kudos to ALL of you for making your voices heard! Here is a small sampling of published comments.

"Anemic? Formaldahydic!" (Percy, obviously in reaction to Chapman’s statement: “Never let it be said that we are anemic in the fight against sexual abuse”)

"The refusal of the Southern Baptist Convention to acknowledge the scope of the Southern Baptist leadership abuse problem… is driving me away from my Baptist roots. I don’t like being a member of a church and denomination where only “leadership roosters” at the local church level can protect the “hen house membership” from abusive leadership roosters that prey, not pray, upon our membership." (Brenda)

"I believe that this just goes to show that the Baptist church is more concerned about protecting its image than about protecting it’s children." (lee)

"This is surprising? People point fingers at the Catholic Church (rightfully so), but other denominations are no better, and really could care less about victims. They are more likely to blame them." (Bad Malanga)

"If a person in authority wants to sexually abuse, he will find a way. Even when windows with blinds are installed on the office doors…the blinds will be closed, the door will be closed and locked, but not without first telling the secretary that he is not to be disturbed for an hour. How do I know? I was the secretary. I myself was put in some terribly uncomfortable situations where I felt threatened and fearful because of inappropriate sexual behavior from the minister that I worked for. I tried to report it but ended up turning in my resignation, even though I loved my work. My complaints were ignored by some, laughed at by others, and blatantly denied. I was asked if I could have imagined it or dreamed it. My spouse was asked how many times I had lied. We were told not to tell what happened. I was fired… I was called divisive…" (treadwell)

"Blaming the victims anew is to re-abuse, and it does not cleanse the church. It also does not change the facts of the abuse nor protect future victims… To put a denomination and its authority, including the ones who teach to that authority, above the tenets of the God who is worshiped is, I believe, called idolatry." (Sandra)

"Not so surprising for those of us who have been through the horror of our children being molested by Baptist pastors and then having our families abused and spat upon by the church for having the audacity of reporting and requesting restitution from the churches that knowingly brought the molesters into our communities." (A Dad)

"The data base is a great idea. That being said, there are many people in churches…those in leadership, those in the pews, that don’t want to know. If they think Brother So-and-So is a great guy, they will hire him regardless of what kind of person he may be." (Suzy)

"The message of Jesus is lost on these people. They should be forced to carry the shame, guilt, fear and emptiness of every victim, who at the hands of BAPTIST ministers, have suffered greatly." (David)

"My home church in South Carolina once had a Pastor with a habit of inappropriate touching and talking with women church members. When the Deacons investigated his past, they learned that he had been dismissed from overseas mission work, although the Mission Board could not disclose the reason. The man resigned our church rather than face a business meeting in which several accusers were ready to speak. Now he has a doctoral degree and is a part time religion professor at two colleges. The girls at these colleges are now his prey…." (Ronald Anders)

"So because the list could be incomplete it is better to have no list at all? Based on that logic, we should do away with the Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registration list because it is incomplete. I say it is better to have a partial list than no list at all. Sounds hypocritical and a rationalization to me." (Trent)

"The SBC has forever lost it's right to criticize the Catholic church for this sin. Our Pope has instituted measures that will hopefully expell these predators from our pulpits. I would have hoped that our Baptist brothers and sisters would have taken comparable action." (James)

"Does anybody else get the feeling we will need dateline 'To Catch a Predator' to start targeting Baptist Churches ? … Why should this even require any debate at all… How can the Baptist Churches look us in the eye and tell us they are serious about sexual abuse… They are more inclined to pass the buck on the issue… They would rather avoid the problem rather than face it… At this point and time, I cannot even trust anything coming out of any Southern Baptist Ministers mouth after reading this story." (Zoe1980)

"Of COURSE the Baptists don't want a national database...that would admit a problem and hold them accountable! They'd rather pray the problem away. That's their answer for everything. Fools. Hypocrites." (Goddalmighty)

"How, in the name of God, in this 21st century, can ANYONE live with themselves while ignoring sexual abuse? Unless they are a perpetrator? Those who turn a blind eye are guilty by association. PEOPLE, please think about this, think about your children, your nieces and nephews. Would you turn a blind eye if they were the victims? Traumatized for life by a trusted clergyperson? Think again about what this debate means and how your actions will impact future generations…." (Anonymous)

"I am still shocked at how we sweep this stuff under the rug.............but we’ll have a Church war over the type of music we sing. Anyone got that figured out?" (Bruce Gerencser)

"During Chapman’s speech, the audience stood six times by audience applause. We rally around words, when will we rally around reality?... Once again, we resolve to do nothing. God help us. (Alyce)

"I think its spineless of the SBC to not develop such a list. There are literally ministers and volunteers that have hopped from church to church getting away with the same violations time and again (this is for real, not just an urban legend)." (Chad Smith)

"It appears that those who made this decision for the SBC are a spineless bunch. Maybe if the sex offenders were also alcoholics they would take action more quickly." (Jim in NJ)

"Unbelievable!!! I do not understand why the Baptists are so against doing anything that will help protect lives and churches from certain people who need not be in leadership. As an individual who has been abused as a child I am completely disgusted by this move and the political crap within this denomination… All of the details could have been defined and kinks worked out once they decided to do it… They did not even want to begin the process. IGNORANT! … I am sure the world looks at this and once again thinks that another church organization is covering up for its own." (Jimmy “the church pirate”)

"In the corporate world, often the only way to get rid of a really bad employee is to give him or her good reviews so that you can get them promoted out of your department. Churches without a spine do the same thing." (Melody)

"I think it is just an excuse by the SBC to avoid doing anything… The SBC’s track record is dismal on this entire subject. The shocking lack of moral courage is truly sad." (John)

"If Baptist churches cannot coordinate on a shared, national strategy in favor of children at risk, they rightly lose a great deal of moral capital." (Pam)

"This is a mistake - a very big mistake! The Southern Baptist Convention has just unwittingly sent a loud message to every sexual predator in the country. "COME TO OUR CHURCH! WE WON'T WORK TOGETHER TO SCREEN YOU." Effectively, the convention has just absolved itself of ANY and ALL responsibility over the protection of minors from sexual predators in pastoral positions. If ever there was a time for the Southern Baptists to step up to the plate, and put some teeth into their denomination, this was it. They could have simply ruled that any local church wanting to participate in the convention would have to participate in a sexual predator database, or else drop out of the convention." (the Catholic Knight)

"Sounds like they just don’t want to reveal their true numbers." (Jennifer)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's no home run

Outgoing Southern Baptist president Frank Page called the executive committee’s report on sexual abuse “a home run.”

He’s talking about the report where they said the denomination shouldn't create a "database to help churches identify predators or establish an office to field abuse claims.”

And Page calls THAT “a home run”???

Do you think Page has ever played baseball???

Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that, if you want to hit a home run, you have to first hit the ball. I don’t think these guys can even see the ball, much less hit it. And they sure as heck haven’t hit a homer.

These guys can’t keep their eye on the ball of protecting kids because they’re too focused on protecting themselves and the institution.

In fact, I don’t think these guys have even stepped up to the plate yet. They aren’t going to bat for clergy sex abuse victims. They haven’t even kicked the dirt. They’re still sitting in their comfortable little dugout of “autonomy,” aren’t they?

But hey - I like baseball. So let’s keep talking about it.

Imagine that guy in the outfield. Do you see him? His knees are a little bent. He’s shifting his weight. He’s watching. He’s waiting. He’s got a wad of tobacco bulging in his cheek.

Next thing you know, he’s hocking a loogie onto the grass. It’s a brown, ugly, oozy loogie.

That’s the sort of image Frank Page’s “home run” remark conjures for me.

But hey – don’t hold Page’s remark against baseball. I like baseball.

Some people even think the word “loogie” derived from the name of Lou Gehrig, because of baseball players’ habit of spitting.

Lou Gehrig still holds the all-time record for the most grand slam homeruns. He was “the pride of the Yankees,” and his number 4 was the first number retired by any pro team in any sport.

I wish Lou Gehrig were still around. Maybe he could teach Frank Page a thing or two about what it takes to hit a home run.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Where's the study?

At last year’s Southern Baptist annual meeting, 8600 “messengers” directed the SBC Executive Committee to conduct a study on creating a database of “Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.”

At this year’s annual meeting, the Executive Committee reported back. It declined to create a database “to help churches identify predators or establish an office to field abuse claims.”

So it issued a decision. But where’s the study?

Southern Baptist officials made it clear from the get-go that they didn’t like the idea of a database and didn’t want to help churches with outside assistance for determining credible accusations. But does it constitute a “study” if a group of guys do little more than churn out a document that supports a position they’ve already taken?

In the ordinary world, if someone plans to conduct a legitimate study, you expect to see a budget for the study.

Where was the budget?

In the ordinary world, if someone plans to conduct a legitimate study, you expect to see a proposal on how the research will proceed and who the sources will be.

Where was the proposal?

In the ordinary world, if someone conducts a legitimate study, you might expect to see transcripts of hearings with testimony from experts.

When were the hearings? Who were the experts? What was their testimony?

In the ordinary world, if someone conducts a legitimate study, you expect to see data, charts or graphs. For example, in this case, you might have expected to see data on what other denominations do.

Where is the data?

The sub-committee that was charged with conducting the study met 3 times. At the first meeting, they took an adversarial tone toward clergy abuse survivors. David Clohessy, SNAP’s National Director, was at that meeting, but they didn’t invite him to speak. What a missed opportunity to hear from an expert! Just two days later, David was at the podium of the Institute on Violence, Abuse & Trauma, where he was publicly recognized with a lifetime achievement award for his extraordinary contributions in the field.

At the second meeting, “there wasn’t much news to report,” and “the whole meeting was a lot of talk about why the SBC’s hands are tied.”

At the third meeting, according to their own account, “much of the discussion centered on whether it would be reasonable for a child sex offender – after accepting Christ – to be employed again in a Southern Baptist church.” So they were focused on the offenders rather than on how to help the wounded or prevent future victims.

So if that’s what they did for those 3 meetings, when was the study done? And where is the actual study?

It’s not as if these guys just don’t like studies. They’ve done recent studies and surveys on Calvinism, pastoral terminations, attendance at SBC annual meetings, unchurched Americans, and private prayer language. They even did a survey on how Southern Baptist pastors plan to vote in the presidential race.

And just last year, Southern Baptists managed to conduct a survey and compile data for a study designed to provide churches with accessible online information about how to adequately compensate their ministers. They thought it was important for denominational entities to “work together to serve our churches with information to help them adequately compensate our ministers.”

So why isn’t it equally important for denominational entities to work together to provide churches with information about credibly accused clergy child molesters? Isn’t that sort of data even MORE important than data on ministers’ salaries?

Where is the study on Baptist clergy-predators and the database of credibly accused?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Words and deeds

By now, many of you have seen the Southern Baptist Convention’s recently released special report called “Protecting our Children.” Take a look. They put some nice words on paper.

But the question remains: What will they actually DO?

Deeds are what’s needed for the protection of kids against clergy abuse.

If you ask almost anyone, they will tell you that child molestation is terribly wrong. Heck - lots of perpetrators would say that. Words are easy.

But if Southern Baptist leaders want to actually move the ball forward toward reducing clergy child molestation, they must take action to help the victims who already exist.

The only way clergy-predators are exposed is if victims speak up. But victims will speak only when they are psychologically capable of doing so and, for most, only if they feel safe in doing so.

Few clergy abuse victims feel safe in trying to report their perpetrator to his own church, the place where he rules the roost and is the most beloved person in the congregation. Victims are wary and for good reason.

For those who do try to report to the church, what they fear will happen almost invariably does happen. The church circles the wagons around the pastor and effectively stones the victim who brings such unwelcome news. The victim winds up being re-wounded and re-silenced.

This tribal pattern, of protecting the leader and stoning the outsider, occurs with such consistency that it should be considered normal human behavior. The very normalcy of this human reaction is why there must be systems in place to compensate for it. It is why other faith groups have put in place systems for independent review of clergy abuse allegations. But not Southern Baptists.

Most people will tell you that, if they knew about a minister who molested a kid, they would do something about it. But again, words are easy. In the real world, most people don’t actually see a minister molesting a kid and so they don’t know about it with their own eyes. Knowledge isn’t immediately certain and so they stay in their comfort zone of trusting their minister.

The most important question isn’t about what people will do if they know a minister molested a kid. The most important question is about what people will do if they don’t know. Action is needed even when full knowledge is absent.

The average age of a sexual abuse victim is 12. The average age of disclosure is 42.

This means that the typical reporting scenario is a 42 year old who says he was molested by the minister when he was 12. That 42 year old has probably been long-gone from the church and is a stranger to them. If the victim had to track the perpetrator to a new church, or a different state, he may be even more of an outsider.

Do you see the difficulty?

In Southern Baptist circles, who will take responsibility for conscientiously considering these more typical sorts of clergy abuse reports? Who will take responsibility for objectively looking into such allegations with the grave seriousness they deserve? And who will take responsibility for informing people in the pews?

In Southern Baptist circles, the answer is almost invariably, “No one.”

Southern Baptist officials must take action to counteract that reality. Nice words and glossy brochures won’t do the job.

Most child molesters have multiple victims, and many victims never, ever speak of it. That’s a reflection of how great the trauma is. And contrary to what many might think, studies show that the more severe the abuse, the less likely the victim is to disclose it. And older victims, such as teens and preteens, are less likely to disclose than younger ones, who sometimes disclose accidentally.

The best way to prevent more clergy molestation victims is to provide a safe and welcoming place where those already abused may report their perpetrators with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard. Until that exists, there should be no peace of mind for families in Southern Baptist churches. You won’t find out about the perpetrators unless the victims feel safe in reporting them.

Southern Baptist officials must stop feigning powerlessness and must put in place systems for independent review of clergy abuse allegations.

They must put the safety and well-being of kids first… in words AND deeds.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Low expectations

The first step for dealing with a problem is admitting there IS a problem.

That’s what I think we may see from Southern Baptist leaders at this year’s annual meeting June 10-11. Maybe they’ll publicly acknowledge that there’s a real problem with clergy abuse and cover-ups in Southern Baptist churches.

Oh, I know it’s not much, and it’s not nearly enough. Perhaps I’ve set my expectations too low. But Southern Baptist leaders have taught me that. When it comes to clergy sex abuse, they’ve shown a pattern of being big on words but terribly puny on deeds.

So, while I always hope for more, the reality is that I’ve seen too much of a pattern to let hope give way to expectation.

Yes, I know… the Executive Committee is supposed to have conducted a study on the feasibility of creating a database of “Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harrassment or abuse.” That’s what over 8000 “messengers” instructed them to do at last year’s annual meeting. (The photo is of SNAP members at last year’s SBC annual meeting.)

If they actually created such a database, it would necessarily mean creating a system for assessing whether ministers are “credibly accused.” This is what other major faith groups are already doing -- assessing credible accusations from victims. But of course, Southern Baptists are far behind the curve, and at this point, it looks as though their leaders are determined to stay there.

Despite last years’ vote by the delegates, I’m not optimistic that we’ll actually see much meaningful action on the database this June. I wish I thought otherwise, but Southern Baptist leaders have given us no reason for optimistic expectations on this. None.

I hope I’m wrong. If I am, I’ll be the first to shout “Hallelujah!”

But even if all they do is to clearly acknowledge the problem, progress will have been made.

After all, it was just a year ago that SBC spokesperson Will Hall suggested that there had been only about 40 incidents of Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse in the past 15 years. Hall told WKRN-TV that the relatively low number of cases showed that the way Baptists deal with the problem is working. [On WKRN reporter Jamey Tucker’s blog, you can still see some of the heart-wrenching comments from abuse survivors who wrote in that day.]

It was an outrageous statement. 40 incidents in 15 years!?!? Hall was either deliberately pushing propaganda or he was shamefully clueless. Either way, it was grotesquely insensitive and oblivious. He effectively negated the horrific harm that countless more kids have endured in Baptist churches.

EthicsDaily called on Hall to issue a correction, but of course, that never happened.

Southern Baptist president Frank Page also chose to publicly minimize the problem by characterizing it as merely “several reported cases.”

Of course, Page was wrong. There were way more than “several” reported cases and, of all people, Page should have known that and acknowledged it.

There were way more than “several” even if you counted only the reported criminal convictions of Baptist clergy. And criminal convictions are just the bare tip of the iceberg.

There were also many more cases of abuse survivors who reported their clergy-perpetrators to church and denominational leaders… only to be ignored while their perpetrators stayed in their pulpits.

As Southern Baptist president, Page should have also been gravely concerned about these sorts of abuse reports. But apparently he was too focused on kicking the messengers to give much attention to the reality of the problem.

Remember? Just a year ago, Page publicly proclaimed that the victims’ support groups were “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

Sad, huh? Such mean-spirited words came straight from the mouth of the president of the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

Even sadder is the fact that Page’s “minimize and kick” reaction was so remarkably similar to what we see in local churches when people attempt to report clergy abuse. Staff, deacons, and often congregants as well, find all manner of ways to minimize the unwelcome news brought by the victim and to convince themselves that it couldn’t possibly be so bad. Then they typically set out to kick the messenger.

Why do Southern Baptist leaders imagine that churches will do any better than they themselves do in addressing clergy abuse? When even the denomination’s president sets an example of minimizing the problem and kicking the messenger, why should people imagine that local church leaders will do any better?

If Page wanted to now show leadership and decency on this issue, he would apologize for the hurtfulness of his own prior words, for the dreadful example he set in minimizing the problem, and for his own “kick the messenger” reaction. THAT would be something that would set a very different sort of example for Baptist churches.

But, of course, I’m not holding my breath for that. I hope for it, but I don’t expect it.

I figure it will be progress if Southern Baptist leaders like Page do nothing more than to bite their tongues and refrain from kicking the victims any further.

And it will be progress even if Southern Baptist leaders do nothing more than to squarely acknowledge the seriousness of the problem in Southern Baptist churches.

One thing for sure…. they can no longer get away with telling people that there’s been only 40 cases in 15 years.