Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Accommodated to unaccountability

It was two years ago that SNAP first showed up on the doorstep of Southern Baptist headquarters in Nashville. So let’s reminisce a bit.

On September 26, 2006, we hand-delivered a letter with 5 requests for action to make kids in Baptist churches safer, and we asked for a dialogue.

The Southern Baptist Convention replied with a terse brush-off letter saying “continued discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful.”

But I didn’t personally receive that brush-off letter, and I didn’t know about it. Neither did David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director, and neither did any other SNAP leader. The letter just sat in a pile at SNAP headquarters in Chicago. (Apparently, a volunteer there didn’t see much significance in the letter, but of course, why would she? It was just a brush-off.)

So, since I never saw the letter and didn’t know about it, I wound up making statements to the press, saying that SBC officials hadn’t replied to SNAP’s Sept. 26th letter. That was a mistake.

It was an inconsequential mistake, because the SBC’s reply letter was nothing but a brush-off and not anything substantive, but it was still a mistake.

As soon as I got the first indication about the mistake, I looked into it and tracked down the SBC’s letter. Then Clohessy and I made a public apology in a news release. And I personally contacted every reporter I had spoken to about it and told them about the mistake. (None of them seemed to think it mattered much. They were more interested in whether the SBC had actually done anything.)

Though neither Clohessy nor I bore any personal fault, we made an apology on behalf of the organization. It’s what leaders in organizations do.

SNAP is a diffuse and dispersed organization. It is an organization comprised mostly of volunteers who exercise a large measure of autonomy and who are scattered across the country. But the local volunteers join together in a “network” for the pursuit of greater good.

Does that sound like another organization you know? Isn’t the Southern Baptist Convention also a sort of dispersed organization? And it’s comprised of local churches that voluntarily network together for the pursuit of greater good.

But however voluntary the network may be, the SBC is still an organization.

So why don’t SBC officials see the need for their own organizational apology? Do they just not believe in apologizing?

Or are they so accommodated to unaccountability that they don’t even notice when mistakes are made?

Before showing up in Nashville, SNAP had asked SBC officials to launch an investigation into the abysmal mishandling of my own abuse report so as to learn from it and make changes. My report showed that it was substantiated by another Baptist minister, who eventually made a sworn statement attesting to his knowledge of the abuse.

Yet, the SBC wrote that it had no record the perpetrator was still in ministry.

Many months later, and with no help from church or denominational leaders, I learned that my perpetrator was actually still working in children’s ministry at a Southern Baptist church in Florida. He had been in children’s ministry all along, including a long stint at the church of former SBC president Charles Stanley and a stint at the church of former Florida Baptist Convention president Dwayne Mercer.

But despite his prominent connections, I’ll simply assume for the sake of argument that no one at the SBC actually knew where the man was. Even so, wasn’t it still a mistake for the SBC to write that they had no record he was in ministry – when in fact he was?

SNAP lost a brush-off letter, and we made an organizational apology for that mistake even though neither Clohessy nor I had any personal knowledge about the letter’s existence. Our lack of knowledge didn’t alter the fact that the letter was actually there in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the SBC “loses” a reported clergy child molester, and gives out the misleading information of saying there’s no record he’s in ministry, and to this day, the SBC has made no organizational apology. Even if it’s true that SBC officials didn’t personally know about him, it doesn’t alter the fact that the man was actually there in Florida working as a Southern Baptist minister.

Do you think SBC officials even realize that a mistake was made?

Or are they so accustomed to being in a “buck-stops-nowhere” organization that they don’t even notice their organization’s mistakes?

Certainly, the SBC’s mistake was one that carried far graver potential consequences than the loss of a brush-off letter. Yet, it’s a mistake for which the organization has made no apology.

Why doesn't the SBC expect of itself the same sort of organizational accountability that it expects of other organizations?

The SBC still owes an apology, not only to me, but also to all those Florida parents whose kids they left at risk.

The SBC’s organizational apology is long over-due, of course, but better late than never.


John said...

Except for the very weak statement concerning segregation I cannot remember the SBC EVER apologizing about ANYTHING. You must understand that this organization is made up of a lot, NOT ALL, men who do their crossword puzzels with an ink pen! If you are going to wait for an apology you might want to memorize the dictionary while you wait. They have never been inclined to admit a mistake, failure, nor short coming because how can they KNOW God's will and ever do anything wrong.!

Phyllis Gregory said...


Amen and Amen! Especially, "They have never been inclined to admit a mistake, failure, nor short coming because how can they KNOW God's will and ever do anything wrong.!"

Does that bring back childhood nightmares! Because they alone KNOW God's will and because they alone do NO WRONG makes them Baptist. I grew up thinking that being Baptist did not SAVE you, but that all Baptists were saved. I also grew up wondering if people who belonged to other denominations would go to heaven. Is that pathetic or what?

Now, I didn't just decide to believe that way. I got that from my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Baptist church, child abusers that they were, who definitely believed that way. And I got that from the church and church people who basically thought they were better than everyone else -- they had ARRIVED spiritualy -- it was unspoken but there none the less.

Anonymous said...

"He had been in children’s ministry all along, including a long stint at the church of former SBC president Charles Stanley and a stint at the church of former Florida Baptist Convention president Dwayne Mercer."

There is the reason he could not be found: It would be too embarassing to their 'anointed' leaders to admit they hired a rapist. We must protect the leaders at all costs to victims. Who cares about them...just women and children not nearly as important as these men who have a lot of power, prestige and money to lose.


J. Davidson said...

Here is, to me, the height of hypocrisy and hubris. There were more than 100 Baptist ministers from around Northeast Florida to Jacksonville's Trinity Baptist Church all getting together, all raising awareness and media concern about....wait for it....Gays.

Here is one comment:

Failure will result in the continuing moral decline of American society and government, said the Rev. Tom Messer, Trinity's pastor, and opens congregations to lawsuits if they refuse to marry same-sex couples. Messer said he's holding similar gatherings around the state.

So if they can do all this because of same sex marriage, why can't do they do more about sexual abuse?

Here is the link to the article:

Christa Brown said...

"There is the reason he could not be found: It would be too embarassing to their 'anointed' leaders to admit they hired a rapist."

I've often thought the same thing, Lydia - that it was the very fact of his high connections that helped to assure no one would find him (and to assure that there would be an extremely hostile reaction to my attempts at reporting him). Here's a prior posting that talks about some of his other high-honcho connections: Oh what tangled webs.

But of course, I've also seen plenty of cover-ups in smaller churches with less prominent pastors.

John: Not to worry - Though an apology from the SBC is certainly due, I'm not holding my breath while I wait for it.

oc said...

Probably way off topic and maybe not understandable...but...
I know you are a fan of the Boss.
Me too.
But right now I'm listening to some old Boston stuff. And I have just understood something concerning the SBC. I'm not leaving it, it's leaving me.

"I see MaryAnne walking away..."

Just sayin'.

oc said...

PS. It hurts.

John said...

OC, it only hurts for a little while. When you are free to worship without the "stuff" hanging over you you will be blessed. It is hard but well worth the trip.

oc said...

Thanks John.

Christa Brown said...

OC: I know it hurts for you - I've seen that pain in some of your prior comments. Sometimes I think it's the WAY the SBC left so many by the wayside that wound up making it even more painful than it might otherwise have been for many. It's as though the SBC decided to put on steel-toe boots and just kick all the "riff-raff" out of the way. And then they sort of got into it, fed off their own adrenaline and the sight of others' blood, and so they just kept kicking. And of course, the "riff-raff" are actually good, decent, ordinary people. But it seems as though the SBC as an institution has gotten so hyped up on its radicalized and self-aggrandized self-image to even notice or care.

Christa Brown said...

I've seen that same sort of pain in many clergy abuse survivors who try SO hard to hang on to some connection to the faith community they once knew. Even the tiniest showing of compassion and care from WITHIN the faith community would mean so much to them. But instead, they just wind up getting their teeth kicked in at every turn. I've seen it so many times now, and every time it still makes me weep. I will never, ever, ever understand why Southern Baptist leaders don't try to bring in the wounded sheep and minister to them. Wouldn't that be the Christian thing to do? Wouldn't it be the decent, ethical thing to do? But noooooo. They just let the wounded sheep bleed out in the field. And you know what? The ground is now covered in blood.

john said...

It really hurts me as a retired SBC pastor to read these comments. It makes me ashamed of my former church. An apology from me means nothing except to say that all of us as pastors do not share the attitudes of the current leadership.
Even though I have never met any of you I love you and wish there was something I could do to help you deal not only with your pain but to force the SBC to do the right thing. Christa you are right in saying that an apology would be a good START and yes it is the Christian thing to do to offer assistance to ALL victims. There is so much more they could do if they really cared. I am so sorry they do not.
To all of you who have been hurt. Your complaints and desire for a response is valid and right. Just like you did not do ANYTHING to deserve what an evil person did to you you deserve more of a response than what you have received. Please know some of us are sorry and fully support every effort to bring about change and healing. God Bless

oc said...

And I'm reading the book of Hosea. And how Israel was unfaithful to God. And how Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea. Just to be honest and upfront, Hosea loved a whore. And God loved Israel, who was "renting" herself out too. Both Hosea and God loved the whore. And I'm searching my own heart. And I've been through some of that betrayal in my own personal life. But now I'm looking at the SBC and wondering, (excuse me for being biblically explicit, because I will,) I do wonder why I even care about the SBC whore who has walked away from me. I loved her. But she broke my heart.

Just sayin'.