Monday, December 15, 2008

Innocent until proven guilty?

I get email after email with these words: “Innocent until proven guilty.”

Sometimes, they put “proven” in all caps: “Innocent until PROVEN guilty.”

The thing that gets me is the way they toss out those words as though “enough said.”

It’s a catchy slogan and they seem to think slinging the slogan will automatically solve something.

It doesn’t.

In fact, the slogan doesn’t even apply in the context where they’re slinging it.

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a standard for whether a person should go to prison, not a standard for whether he should be in the pulpit.

Our criminal justice system operates with an underlying presumption that it is better to let nine guilty men go free than to convict one innocent man. This fundamental choice lies at the very foundation of our American justice system. So everything is weighted toward a presumption of innocence for the accused.

After all, if a man is found guilty in a court of law, he may lose virtually everything. He may lose his freedom; he may be locked up; he may even lose his life. The consequences of criminal conviction can be extraordinary and severe.

This is why, in a criminal trial, the prosecution bears the burden of proof and must convince a jury that the accused is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s an extremely high standard of proof. It’s a standard that inherently accepts that some guilty men will nevertheless go free under the law.

Religious institutions that review clergy sex abuse reports do not operate with the same presumption as the criminal justice system. And for good reason: The risk of mistake does not carry the same consequence for the accused.

A religious institution doesn’t have the power to throw a pastor in prison. It does, however, have the power to inform people in the pews about credible accusations and to safeguard the well-being of kids. It's a power that religious institutions ought to exercise.

Being a pastor is a privilege and a sacred trust. It’s a profession, not a right.

When there is substantial evidence that a pastor molested a kid, the privilege of that profession should be forfeited, regardless of whether the pastor has ever been criminally convicted in a court of law.

This is a reality that other major faith groups have recognized.

In effect, leaders in other faith groups take on the burden of policing the sacred trust that their pastors carry. They realize the power of that sacred trust, and the horror of what can happen when the trust is twisted into a weapon for sexual abuse.

So they honor the power of that trust by safeguarding the boundaries of it. They do so by implementing systems for responsibly assessing clergy abuse reports.

But of course, Southern Baptists are the exception. They’ve rejected the sorts of accountability systems that other faith groups -- and other professional groups -- implement. Instead, Southern Baptist pastors can effectively say, “If you can’t put me in prison, then you can’t put me out of a Baptist pulpit either.”

Wouldn’t you think that Baptist clergy should be held to a higher standard than THAT?

15 comments:

Bob Allen said...

Interesting stuff.

Here's the standard for pastors proposed by Paul in First Timothy 2. Unfortunately, the only one you hear much about is "husband of one wife."

1] This saying is trustworthy If anyone aspires to be an • overseer, he desires a noble work.
2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy—
4 one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity.
5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)
6 He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil.
7 Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Christa Brown said...

"...not a bully but gentle"

What a blessing it would be if they would focus a little more on this part! For people trying to report clergy sex abuse, far too many Southern Baptist pastors have been the very personification of "bullies." And of course, they've shown that bullying side for many others as well -- e.g., Sheri Klouda.

"... not greedy"

I think FBC Jax Watchdog would have a thing or two to say about this one.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that sexual victims through their anger can also become bullies. Can victims stir up sympathetic anger toward those not so sympathetic to their cause?

Is there a standard for victims to live by or are they excluded from standards?

John said...

Yes, victims do have standards to live by;

1. It is standard to not be believed.
2. It is standard to be told how others think they should handle their "problem".
3. It is standard to be accused of encouraging the assault.
4. It is standard to be told to "get over it!"
5. It is standard to be asked such stupid questions as the one just asked!

Anonymous said...

well pardon me, John

I asked a stupid question. Victims do not have standards to live by.

I have a very sharp knife, just point out your rapist and I will castrate him, no questions asked.

Christa Brown said...

Most of the anger that I see in clergy sex abuse survivors is anger that they unduly heap onto themselves. There are all sorts of psychological reasons for that, but the manifestation of self-loathing is pretty universal.

"I have a very sharp knife, just point out your rapist and I will castrate him, no questions asked."

What good would that do? Who would it help? How would it change anything? How would it make the world safer for church kids in the future? Most clergy abuse survivors that I've encountered are far more occupied with thoughts like these than with the sort of thoughts that your words, Anon, give evidence of. In any event, your words suggest that you think it's a crime about sex. It's not. It's about power, control, and violence.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe it is about sex.
Quick prosecution of the sex offender goes a long way to deter the continuation of this violence.

Endless talk about power, control and violence just perpetuates the loathing and perhaps encourages it. The court system is filled with people of power and control issues and so that makes it impossible to objectively deal with violent crimes.

In fact we all have power and control issues and so there is a natural tendacy to be sympathetic to the perpetrator.

Simply straying from sexual standards should be the beginning of enforcement. But that is so old fashion. One man and one woman in a santified union before God is the basis. The children are taught this in the home. ALL ofenders are disciplined and punished if needed. All this implies an active call to regenerate living in Christ.

But all this has been abandoned and intellectuals with too much psychology argue endlessly about power and control and you have out of control violent abuse.

Actually my original statement was directed toward John's exercise of power over me by saying my question was stupid. "Stupid" is a power word that weak people use to control others. I reject intelluctual arrogant rape.

Anonymous said...

This anon 7:58 smells and talks a lot like the banned Charles Page; in fact he used the same phrase a while back and spelled it the same way. Things must be slow on his blog again.

Do we in fact have a wolf in sheep's clothing?

Christa Brown said...

"I reject intelluctual arrogant rape."

That's nothing but a metaphor, Anon. Anyone who had a clue about the reality of rape - and of what it does to a kid - wouldn't make your comparison in this context.

So, yes, your remarks are utterly ignorant, Anon. And for you to ask whether "victims" are "excluded from standards" was, on its face, a facetious question. Duh. And for you to then assert indignation when someone challenges you on such a facetious question is just silliness.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the 6th grade. This petty bickering does nothing but make us have a little insight into why some Baptist leaders won't listen.

Christa Brown said...

Well gee whiz, Anon, if you think your charming style of talk will get Baptist leaders to listen... and to actually do something... then by all means, take your charm school talk to their doorstep.

Lin said...

Christa, very good post. Yes, we are called to a higher standard. But we don't even look like the world in this one aspect. The world handles this stuff much better! That is how bad it is!

JOHN said...

Anon is a fake. He gets off on being so insulting. If face with a victim or those of us who are trying to make a difference he would slid right back under his rock. Mr. Anon, why not come clean and tell us how you get your jollies by sharing your ignorance with others on this blog?
It takes a man to stand up for the truth and offer himself to those who need his assistance. What you are doing anything could do.
If you would like direct commuication with me just request my address after you share yours. I will do letters, phone calls, or even face to face if you really want to try to understand what this effort is all about.

Anonymous said...

"charm school talk"

Christa, the sad thing is that the SBC will not listen to this either.

You are relying on legalese and psychology and the SBC has the money. Everyone has abandonded old fashion values.

Lin said...

I would argue that the victims standards are higher in all respects both from a practical and legal sense.

They instinctively know they will probably not be believed by many people. Especially if their perp is someone respected or carries a title. So many remain silent for years. Many also believe wrongly they did something wrong to cause the abuse. Suffering in shame and silence is their standard.

That is why blame the victim games are nothing but more abuse. And those that play them are nothing but cruel.