I figure the first question you’re probably asking is this: Why would Christa take an interest in FBC-Paducah?
- Dr. Stephen Wilson, chairman of the bylaws workgroup of the SBC Executive Committee, teaches just a few miles down-the-road at MidContinuent University in Mayfield, Kentucky. His group was the subcommittee that was supposed to study the creation of a database of Southern Baptist clergy-predators… and did virtually nothing other than to put out a glossy brochure.
I can’t help but wonder whether First Baptist of Paducah might be Wilson’s own home church. And that leads me to wonder whether this is an illustration of what he thinks will work to protect kids against clergy predators in Southern Baptist churches.
- FBC-Paducah went to the trouble of getting media attention for its letter. According to the news report, “the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee have already shown interest in possibly using this letter as a model for other churches across the state and maybe even across the country.”
Since Kentucky will play host to next year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, I predict that we will indeed see FBC-Paducah’s model put forth as exemplary of what Southern Baptist churches should do.
So, is FBC-Paducah's model a good one?
What FBC-Paducah is doing is not nearly enough. Not even close.
Supervised counseling, internet monitoring, and large windows are all good things. But they constitute so little that no one should be reassured by them.
Let’s not forget that the SBC executive committee just blew an opportunity to take real, meaningful action. It refused to establish any system for objectively assessing the credibility of clergy abuse reports and refused to establish any denominational database for keeping track of credibly accused clergy predators. It’s sad to think that they would now try to reassure people with these feeble measures when they refused the chance for far more effective measures.
I know many of you wrote to Dr. Wilson and to other members of the SBC Executive Committee. Some of you told them about your abuse at the hands of Southern Baptist clergy. Yet, I don’t think a single one of you got any help at all in exposing your perpetrator, getting him out of the pulpit, or protecting others.
Why should anyone imagine that Southern Baptist leaders will be able to prevent clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about when they do nothing at all about clergy child molesters who are specifically reported to them?
No parent in a Southern Baptist pew should sit easy until this denomination provides a safe place where victims themselves may report abuse and where their reports will be responsibly assessed.
This is what does not exist. This is what is essential. This is what other major faith groups are doing. This is what Southern Baptists are tragically failing to do.
Instead, Southern Baptist leaders tell victims to report their abuse to the church of the accused perpetrator. This is like telling a person savaged by a wolf that he must go to the wolf’s own den to seek help.
Most clergy abuse survivors will not go to the wolf’s den, and understandably so. For those who try, they are almost always re-wounded as those who love and trust their pastor circle the wagons and stone the messenger who brings such unwelcome news.
This is the reality of human behavior in churches where ministers are accused of sexual abuse. Southern Baptist leaders must address this reality if kids in Southern Baptist churches are to be made safer.
People in the pews will find out about clergy child molesters only when victims report them. Victims will do that only when they are psychologically able and only when they feel safe in doing so.
If Southern Baptists hope to find out about clergy child molesters, denominational leaders must provide a safe place where victims may report abuse and where their reports will be responsibly assessed. Until that happens, steps like those taken at FBC-Paducah will amount to little more than window-dressing.
The letter of FBC-Paducah is a poor model for another reason. In talking about “the danger of sexual temptation,” it reflects a horribly minimizing view of clergy sex abuse. But it’s a view we’ve seen too often among Southern Baptist leaders.
In treating it as a matter of “sexual temptation,” they effectively take the perspective of the perpetrator and they objectify the victims as the source of the temptation.
The clergy-predators who commit these deeds do not simply fall into “temptation.” They commit their deeds intentionally, deliberately and methodically. They often groom their victims for months in advance, slowly moving in on their prey.
The victims are neither tempters nor temptresses. They are human beings, often children, who were victimized by predators through no fault of their own.
It's not about "sexual temptation." It's about sexual savagery, child molestation and rape.
These are awful words but not even a fraction so awful as the actual deeds. Southern Baptist leaders need to stop minimizing this conduct as “sexual temptation” and see it for the full awfulness of what it actually is.
When Southern Baptist leaders begin to view this horror from the perspective of the victims, rather than the perspective of their predatory colleagues, then they may finally begin to see the need for effective action.
Until then, people in the pews should not feel reassured of any safety.
Addendum: According to Executive Committee background material, Stephen Wilson's home church is NOT FBC-Paducah.