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.


Anonymous said...

Here is an exercise everyone can do. Call your church and see who they use to do background checks. I called several SBC churches because I needed to do a background check and did not know who to use. I got so much run around, interrogation, and never a straighforward answer. You would have thought there was something to hide or reason to fear. Surely someone at churches check ministerial staff or preschool and children's leaders. I just wanted to run a background check for personal reasons and wanted to use the one that my church or other SBC churches used. But I am non the wiser about background checks after making the calls. I was never given an answer by any church. Are they really done?

Name withheld for good reasons

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is Google "background checks" and you will find all the good information that you need.

Perhaps churches are wary because of blogs like this and because there are sexual predators in lots of churches and they don't really know what to do.

The other thing you all seem to ignore or ridicule, is that the key to a lot of this is that the accusations must be CREDIBLE--and believe it or not, there are people who have made false accusations and ruined people's lives and ministries.

This is a very difficult situation and there are no easy answers.

gmommy said...

"and believe it or not, there are people who have made false accusations and ruined people's lives and ministries."

and believe it or not, there are many people who have had their lives ruined, or at the very least...forever altered, by ministers who should never have been in any kind of ministry...
but they continue today after molesting countless vulnerable and innocent people.

Anonymous said...

I never said there weren't people who hadn't had their lives ruined but two wrongs don't make a right.

Just because someone hollers wolf doesn't mean that there actually is a wolf.

gmommy said...

That statement is so over the top ignorant...I will restrain myself...why bother.
Brainless AND heartless.

Christa Brown said...

How in the world have we "ignored or ridiculed" the need for accusations to be credible? SNAP is the very organization that has repeatedly REQUESTED of SBC leaders that they establish an independent objective review board, staffed by professionals in the field, to assess the credibility of accusations. That was our request in our original letter to SBC leaders a couple years ago, and we've been hammering on it ever since. Obviously, it's a difficult issue, and that's exactly why churches need objective, professional assistance in assessing accusations. There are no easy answers, but the answer cannot be to do nothing. Each and every allegation of clergy sex abuse should be treated with grave seriousness.

And what about assessing the credibility of ministers who deny abuse and then move on from church to church to abuse more and more? Those denials deserve to have their credibility assessed by objective people also.

Other faith groups have managed to come up with standards and with review boards for assessing the credibility of clergy abuse accusations. Why not Southern Baptists?

Every study out there has determined that false accusations are extremely rare among those who report having been sexually abused as a child or adolescent. Here's one reference. The number I have seen most frequently over the course of the past couple years is about 4 percent.

No doubt it's a terrible thing for a minister to be falsely accused. About the only thing I can imagine that would be worse would be to be molested and raped by a trusted minister and then to be ignored and disbelieved when you try to report it to others you trusted, and then to watch while your rapist-pastor continues in his pulpit.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that its any worse. They are both awful.

I do have one question. Who do you think would be the ones to determine if something was a credible accusation?

Not trying to pick a fight--just wondering.

Junkster said...

Whether 40 instances in 15 years, or 40 in 1 year, or 1 in 40 years ... any occurrence of sexual abuse by a minister is too many. Even the possibility of it is sufficient reason to ensure that a mechanism for reporting, review, and action is in place. This ought to be a no-brainer.

I, too, want to have hope, and although I know God is more than able to exceed our expectations, perhaps my faith is not what it should be in this matter. But the truth is, at this point, I would not be surprised if there is not even a serious acknowledgment of the problem at this year's Convention meeting, but rather just more excuses and appeals to "autonomy". I'm just so tired of that valid, biblical doctrine being abused as a smoke screen for apathy, indifference, and fear of loss of power and/or money.

Christa Brown said...

"This ought to be a no-brainer."

Amen, Junkster!
In an on-line readers' poll last year, 96 percent of Tennessean readers said Southern Baptists should create such a database. I guess they all saw it as a no-brainer, too.

Thanks also, junkster, for reminding us that this isn't really a problem about the autonomy of local churches. It's about a radicalized version of "autonomy" that Southern Baptist leaders are using as "a smoke screen for apathy, indifference, and fear of loss of power and/or money."

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could make Christa the head of the database. In charge of determining what is valid and how much information to share.

I think that would be the best solution to the problem at hand.

Christa Brown said...

Other faith groups have already dealt with this. Southern Baptists don't have to completely re-invent the wheel.

In other faith groups, lay-people and professionals in related fields (e.g., psychologists, sex crimes detectives, etc.) serve on review boards for assessing whether clergy are credibly accused.

Anonymous said...


Seriously, would you consider being the head of such a board?

Anonymous said... has a topic entitled Sexual Abuse & the SBC Annual Meeting. Kaylor has an entry written Thursday, June 5 at 9:25pm that is of interest. They are talking about including sexual harassment in the proposal. Kaylor's mother was harassed and fired for complaining. She sued, won and four years later the minister who harassed her was fired from the Missouri State Board. Now he has been placed on the SBC's International Mission Board!

We definitely need a database and if an SBC organization does not use it, there should be consequences. I know every person might not be listed but at leaast it would be a start. And we need a review board. Victims need to be able to take their complaints to a place that is unbiased, where they feel safe reporting to people who understand, not to people who support the one being complained about and sometimes do the same things themselves.

Clergy sexual abuse is like a cancer that has invaded the church, is spreading and destroying people's lives and churches. We must stop turning our backs on it. That is what we are doing when we do nothing about it.

Thank you to this website for your strong stance against clergy abuse. There are actions behind your words.

Lin said...

"--and believe it or not, there are people who have made false accusations and ruined people's lives and ministries."

Please do your homework before making such a statement. The incidence of false reporting in the secular world is low and in Christian circles would be even lower! But, we have many victims who do NOT speak out because of people like you. They know they will be treated like you are treating Christa and they have been abused enough.

"Who do you think would be the ones to determine if something was a credible accusation?"

The civil authorities who tend to take it more seriously than many so called Born Again Christians who do not seem to think sexual perversion is that big of a deal