Thursday, August 28, 2008

Croon along

If I had a buck for every time some Baptist guy has called me “bitter,” I’d have a big pile of moolah.

That seems to be their dismissive word of choice.

What’s comical is that I have such a pathological penchant for self-doubt that I actually sit back sometimes and think about it. Obviously, their name-calling isn’t really worth even one second of my time. It’s just that I have a tendency toward second-guessing.

So I wind up asking myself: Am I bitter?

And finally, with so many of their “bitter” barbs flung my way, there was nothing left to do but stick that question into a song.

Feel free to croon along. It’s sort of to the tune of “Am I blue?”

Am I bitter?
Over this?
No I’m not.
It’s a crock.
I’m not bitter.
Just wanting better.
How ‘bout you?

Maybe in some afterlife, these bitter-barbed Baptist guys will get a bit of punishment and have to listen to me sing. Now there’s a wicked thought. Oops…. Am I bitter?

I couldn't figure out how to post musical notation, but if you want to carry this bit of silliness a bit further, this will give you a notion of the notes I'm singing....

gg│ D - - gg │ D# - - gg │ D - - de │ C - - cd │ B - - bc │ A - - ab │ G - -

Monday, August 25, 2008

Therapy for perps but not victims

The Baptist General Convention of Texas recently announced that it was eliminating its psychological staff and instead establishing a network of “thoroughly researched” and strongly-recommended counselors for ministers. The BGCT will provide “financial assistance for ministers who receive counseling through this network.”

When I saw this news, I thought back to April 2005, when I virtually begged BGCT directors Jan Daehnert and Sonny Spurger to set up a referral list of counselors for clergy abuse survivors.

When I realized how difficult it had been for me to find a therapist who had experience in dealing with clergy abuse, I knew it must be a huge hurdle for other survivors as well. So I asked the BGCT to put together a referral list that they could give to clergy abuse survivors who contact them. I asked for a simple list of counselors in Texas’ major cities who had experience with the dynamics of clergy sex abuse.

With a referral list, I thought the BGCT could at least give clergy abuse survivors a starting place for getting help. And it wouldn’t have cost the BGCT one dime.

But they wouldn’t do it.

The largest statewide Baptist organization in the country wouldn’t provide so much as a bare list of counselors for clergy abuse survivors, even though it had long been providing much more than that for the ministers who committed abuse.

Around 1990, the Baptist General Convention of Texas Ministers Counseling Service launched a restoration program to help ministers put their lives back together after sexual misconduct.”

This “restoration program” was also described in the BGCT-published booklet, Broken Trust. It was a “two-year restoration program” offered through the BGCT’s “Ministers Counseling Service.” For the first 6 months, it consisted of weekly counseling with a “prohibition” on ministry employment. After that, the man continued with less frequent counseling and advanced from volunteer ministry to full-time paid ministry. Counseling was also provided for the minister’s wife. (The BGCT apparently stopped publicly labeling it as a “restoration” program in around 2007.)

So for about 18 years, the BGCT used Cooperative Program dollars to directly fund in-house counseling services for sexually abusive ministers. And even with the BGCT’s recent budget cut-back, it’s STILL using Cooperative Program dollars to provide “financial assistance” to ministers who receive counseling through the BGCT’s network of therapists.

Meanwhile, most of the victims of abusive ministers haven’t been given any counseling services at all.

Instead, the BGCT has said that local churches should be responsible for providing counseling to the victims of abusive clergy.

This, of course, has always been a Catch-22 and a very cruel one. The BGCT has long known that most churches “just try to keep it secret.” But they tell the victim to go to the church anyway, even though the most likely scenario is that the victim will be re-traumatized by the church’s desire for secrecy and by the congregants’ inability to be objective about their beloved pastor.

It’s a sick system, but a rather efficient one for the BGCT. They get to put on a nice public face of “encouraging” churches to provide counseling, but the BGCT doesn’t actually take on any obligation. The BGCT doesn’t commit to expending any of its own resources for clergy abuse victims, because after all, their resources are being spent to restore the abusive ministers.

An abusive minister doesn’t need to beg for a counseling stipend. The BGCT provides it, along with a ready referral network for him.

But for the victims of abusive ministers, they get counseling assistance only if they beg for it from the local church and only if the local church agrees to it. This almost never happens, and it certainly doesn’t happen without additional pain for the victim.

How does this disparity make any sense?

If the autonomous polity of Baptist churches doesn’t preclude the statewide organization from funding counseling for abusive ministers all across the state, why does the autonomous polity preclude the statewide organization from funding counseling for the individual victims of abusive clergy?

Why doesn’t the Baptist General Convention of Texas tell sexually abusive ministers that they should seek a counseling stipend from their church, or former church, in the same way that the BGCT tells the victims of abusive clergy that they should seek counseling from the local church that harbored the abusive minister?

Dee Miller has stated her “strong suspicions that the resistance to providing survivors with adequate funding for therapy is not always about money.” She explained that “leaders know that the more therapy a survivor gets, the more likely she or he is to realize that there are many choices, one of which is speaking out as much and as long as one wishes to do so!”

Though it’s a sad perspective, I think Dee is probably right. It’s a perspective that suggests many Baptist leaders don’t actually want clergy abuse survivors to obtain healing. Instead, they seem to prefer that the wounded stay weak... because weak people don’t speak out.

Prior related posts:
Why the BGCT?
Broken Trust at the BGCT
BGCT provides counseling for clergy perpetrators

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Set free"

Convicted child molester David Slone was hired as the senior pastor at Mountain View Baptist Church in Lafayette, Colorado, about a year ago. Before that, he was the church’s youth minister for several years.

As reported in the Denver Post, there were a lot of things that Slone apparently didn’t tell the church when he was hired.

He didn’t tell them about his 1986 child molestation conviction in Oklahoma. Or about the fact that he himself admitted to sexually abusing 5 boys, ages 12 and under. Or about the fact that some of the boys were children in the church where Slone taught Sunday School. Or about the fact that the Oklahoma prosecutor said Slone had molested other children, in addition to the 5 he admitted

Last month, this information came to light when someone sent anonymous letters to church deacons and local newspapers.

Slone resigned as pastor, even though some church members asked him to remain.

So now that the truth has been brought to light by others, Slone says he hopes that “the truth will set me free.”

But what about the boys he molested? Are they “set free”?

That’s what I keep wondering about.

Those boys would be in their early thirties now. They might have children who are the same age they were when Slone molested them. Do their own children’s faces remind them of the confusion, anguish, and quiet terror they felt at that age?

I wonder whether all of Slone’s victims are even still alive. Given the strong correlation between sexual abuse in childhood and suicide in adulthood, I can’t help but wonder whether one of Slone’s victims may have tragically chosen such a terrible means to be “set free.”

Or perhaps some of Slone’s victims are now accustomed to being “set free” from psychic pain with drugs and alcohol. Those addictions are quite common among clergy abuse survivors.

Do you think Slone even knows what became of his victims? Does he care? Has he sought them out to try to help them?

Slone himself received counseling, which started during his one-year stint in prison. I’m guessing that at least part of his counseling came at taxpayer expense, and I don’t begrudge that one bit. Counseling for child molesters is a good thing, if for no other reason than because it may help to protect other kids. Some experts say that previously convicted child molesters are the least likely to re-offend. Why? Because they were finally dealt some consequences for their conduct and because prison time often comes with mandatory professional counseling.

But what I’m wondering about is counseling for his victims. Did they ever receive adequate counseling? Were they able to afford it? Or did trying to heal themselves drive them into bankruptcy, like some other clergy abuse survivors?

Do you think Slone ever offered to pay the counseling costs of his victims? A child molester can never undo the harm, but if he were genuinely remorseful, wouldn’t he at least attempt to ameliorate it?

Do you think any of Slone’s Oklahoma victims knew that he was pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Colorado? I wonder whether seeing their perpetrator in the pulpit made them feel “set free.” Or did it make them feel as though no one cared about what this man did to them as kids?

Slone says God has “transformed” his life.

But I wonder whether Slone’s victims would have thought Slone was “transformed” if they saw him taking kids to baseball games and football games. Or would they worry desperately about what he might be able to do to those kids behind the mask of pastoral trust?

Most of all, I wonder whether anyone else even wonders about Slone’s victims. Or are the victims just forgotten?

Do all those church members who are “very supportive” of Slone ever wonder what became of his victims?

Do the church members who want to “forgive him and let it go” ever wonder about Slone’s victims?

Slone even reaps praise now for “learning how to stand up and tell” about his past.

Do you think his victims are now able “to stand up and tell” about what Slone did to them as kids? Or are they still mired in the shame and self-blame that are the long-enduring hallmarks of sexual abuse?

Of course, even if Slone’s victims wanted “to stand up and tell,” who in Southern Baptist circles would actually listen to them? Who would care?

Slone continues to have the support of his faith community. He doesn’t have to bear his burden alone.

But what about his victims? Do they have the support of a faith community? Or did they see enough of the faith’s falsity that they forever guard against it?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Post-trauma haikus

In a comment under a prior posting, Gmommy talked about her feelings when she read what accused child molester Darrell Gilyard reportedly told detectives. He claimed he got the girl to get better grades, and so “it wasn’t all bad.”

His words “sting my soul and turn my stomach” said Gmommy. “Why do perps all use the same script?”

As Gmommy continued to describe the way Gilyard’s words affected her, I realized she was probably describing post-traumatic stress symptoms, something that many clergy abuse survivors experience in one form or another. And strangely, despite the painfulness of Gmommy’s description, I also saw poetry in it.

So I took Gmommy’s description and shaped it into this haiku.

Words bring unsought smells
Taste of vomit in my throat
Weight on my body.

Remember haikus from your high-school English class? Three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables that paint a small picture or that convey a feeling or sensory impression. The lines don’t need to rhyme.

Or you can forget about counting syllables and just do three lines – short, long, short. That works too.

Try it for yourself. Try to put your post-trauma feelings, images, experiences or symptoms into a haiku. Or put the anguish you feel from Baptist leaders’ blindness into a haiku. See what you come up with.

Good or bad, I’d love to see them. Post your haikus here.

Thanks to gmommy for the inspiration!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Listing to heartless and overrun with rats

"Remember it's hard to turn a ship as big as the SBC.”

That was “Michael’s” lame excuse for why Southern Baptist leaders don’t institute changes to better protect against clergy predators. Then “Michael” proceeded to lambast abuse survivors for “criticizing every Southern Baptist that ever lived because some idiot pastor somewhere abused someone.” (You can read the entirety of “Michael’s” remarks in
comments under the prior posting.)

“Michael” sounded like an SBC leader, and it’s a tactic we’ve seen before. They often try to dismiss and discredit those who speak out about abuse by characterizing them as people who are against Southern Baptists or who want to hurt the faith.

But in response, “OC” painted such a powerful picture that I’m reprinting it below. Read OC’s words for yourself. I see no broad-brush venom toward Southern Baptists there. What I see is heartbreak and loss, combined with the courage to see a terrible truth.


"You know what? I think he's on to something there. It would be hard to turn the SBC ship around. Maybe too hard. Maybe not even worth it.

After all, it seems the ship is infested with rats anyway and is taking on water. It's become a massive, rudderless hulk with many a gaping hole and rotting timbers in its hull. Many have abandoned the SBC ship because of disrepair due to the rats which have overrun it and now captain it.

And the rats have been informed of dire straits, yet still choose to ignore the danger of sinking.Turn the ship around? I don't know. I'm thinking that those who have abandoned the SBC ship are right to do so. And smart.

Many saw it listing to "heartless" years ago and got off the barnacle encrusted schooner then.

Some of us are still clinging on to pieces of what was once a mighty and beautiful ship. And now it is a shame and an embarrassment to be a crew member on a ship in this sad and sorry condition with little promise of ever seeing land.

A storm is brewing.

I'm tired of the decrepit condition of this mammoth ship. I'm weary with sea-sickness of denial, and dying from the plague of cover-up. I think I may be better off rowing like a slave in the midst of dangerous high seas aboard the dingy of honesty and right intent.

Abandon ship? I never wanted to. But I don't know how else to sound an alarm to those who will not hear. Maybe they will see when there is no one left on board.

So I believe I'm next overboard.
I'm walking the plank voluntarily."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How many does it take?

How many wounded women and girls does it take before Southern Baptist leaders will take a stand?

Yesterday, it was reported that hundreds of pages of documents detail the sexually explicit text messages allegedly sent by pastor Darrell Gilyard to 14 and 15 year-old girls. Another news account provides details of the molestation allegations against Gilyard.

So this is the current news, but let’s review a bit of the history on this pastor.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, Gilyard left Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas in 1987 after about 25 women complained of his “sexual misconduct.” The senior pastor, Rev. E.K. Bailey, “assumed that would be the end of Darrell Gilyard’s bright evangelistic career.” How tragically wrong he was.

At that time, the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Criswell College president Paige Patterson were promoting Gilyard in Southern Baptist churches. He was considered a rising star. Despite the many allegations against Gilyard, First Baptist officials “decided there was not enough evidence” to further investigate Gilyard, and, according to Rev. Bailey, Paige Patterson wrote him “an unkind letter” saying that “he would have come out to my church and solved the problem for me if I had told him first.” (That's Paige Patterson in the photo.)

Apparently, 25 accusations weren’t enough for Paige Patterson. In fact, according to the Dallas Morning News, Patterson painted “Gilyard as a victim” and suggested the accusers were motivated by “jealousy, frustration and racism.”

Even under the Taliban, a woman’s testimony is said to be worth half that of a man’s. But for Patterson, it appears a woman’s word is worth even less. Patterson wanted “demonstrable evidence” such as “photographs, videotapes or laboratory tests.” Despite 25 women’s accusations, Patterson and First Baptist “continued to recommend” Gilyard.

Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, was Gilyard’s next stop. Senior pastor Dan Maxwell said he “had heard rumors” about Gilyard, but “Paige Patterson said he had been out there and talked to the women and there had been nothing to substantiate the allegations.”

At Hilltop, 3 more women reported Gilyard’s sexual advances and sexual misconduct. Reverend Maxwell took the information to Paige Patterson, who said “he did not believe” the stories.

In 1989, Gilyard became an assistant pastor at Shiloh Baptist in Garland, and “allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced again.” Some women met with Paige Patterson in person to discuss their allegations. Counselor Don Simpkins, who was at those meetings, told the Dallas Morning News that, rather than focusing on the allegations against Gilyard, those meetings delved into the women’s own pasts, looking to see whether they were divorced or had psychological problems. More recently, Simpkins gave a stark video interview in which he said that 6 to 8 women met with Patterson at that time and reported everything from rapes to sexual assaults.

During that same time period, one woman reported that she requested a meeting with Paige Patterson to talk about Gilyard, but that her phone calls were not returned.

One more woman said that Gilyard “pulled me down onto the floor right there in the church” and that, when she tried to report it, Paige Patterson “would not take her calls.” She wrote Patterson a detailed, 10-page letter, but Patterson still “wouldn’t agree to meet” with her.

Next, Gilyard went to Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, where “at least 4 women” made accusations against him. As reported in the Dallas Morning News, one woman said she was “raped.”

Gilyard was allowed to resign from Victory Baptist after confessing to “several adulterous relationships.” That was the characterization Paige Patterson gave to Gilyard’s conduct, as quoted in the Dallas Morning News.

The morning after Gilyard’s resignation, Paige Patterson described Gilyard as one of the “most brilliant men in the pulpit.”

Just two weeks later, Darrell Gilyard was preaching in the pulpit of another church.

In 1993, Darrell Gilyard became pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. The church grew to 9,000 members. Gilyard was encouraged by former Southern Baptist president Jerry Vines, who “agreed to forgive” Gilyard for his “out-of-state troubles.” Reportedly, Vines also gave credence to Gilyard by speaking from the pulpit of Gilyard’s church.

Now, finally, Gilyard faces trial in Florida on criminal charges of child molestation and lewd conduct.

Consider how many have likely been hurt. Based on published news accounts, 42 women made accusations against Gilyard. Some of them were mere college students. Now 2 underage teen girls have reported Gilyard. That’s a total of 44.

And that’s just the ones who reported Gilyard. How many more were so traumatized that they stayed silent?

Yet, even in the face of so many published accusations, “Gilyard is said to be preaching and teaching at another church in Jacksonville.” Numerous blog comments, emails, and a reliable source have said the church is First Timothy in Jacksonville. It’s a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

So where are the voices of Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines now? These two former Southern Baptist presidents were plenty willing to use their powerful voices to promote Gilyard. Why aren’t they now willing to use their powerful voices to get Gilyard out of the pulpit?

Why aren’t there other Southern Baptist leaders who are speaking up?

Why isn’t anyone in Southern Baptist leadership willing to take a stand and say how wrong it is to allow Gilyard in the pulpit?

Why isn’t anyone in Southern Baptist leadership willing to take a stand on behalf of the 44 wounded women and girls?

Aren’t 44 enough?

How many does it take?

Paige Patterson was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1998-2000, and he is currently president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, setting an example for a whole new generation of Southern Baptist pastors.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Get down off your donkeys!

A seven-year-old named Reagan brought the story of the Good Samaritan to my mind again. So I’m re-running my own prior posting on this parable. If only Baptist leaders had the heart of a seven-year-old!

Let's just assume that other major faith groups, who have seen the need for record-keeping on "credibly accused" clergy, are all wrong, and that Southern Baptist leaders are right in believing this wouldn't help with preventing abuse in the future.

Should that be the end of the matter?

What about the people who have already been wounded? How should they be treated?

What is the moral and Christian response that religious leaders should make to individuals who report having been sexually abused as kids by Southern Baptist clergy?

These are people who often bear grievous psychological and spiritual wounds. As kids, they were stripped of humanity and dignity by men they were raised to trust unconditionally. They were violated in unspeakable ways by men of God, with words of God, and often in the house of God.

The trauma from this sort of abuse is so devastating that many victims never speak of it at all, and those who do often wait many, many years.

When clergy abuse victims are finally able to report their perpetrators, is it enough for religious leaders to shrug off their reports by telling them "all churches are autonomous?"

Is it moral for religious leaders to simply ignore such wounded people even while knowing that accused perpetrators remain in their pulpits?

Is it Christian for religious leaders to sermonize such wounded people on forgiveness while doing nothing to help them?

Through no fault of their own, clergy abuse victims are stripped of everything dear and then left wounded, naked and bleeding in the dirt of a spiritual desert. Years later, when they have finally crawled to the edge of the desert road, they will sometimes still muster a breath of hope to reach out to the faith community from which they came and seek help.

Tragically, for Southern Baptist victims, their experience usually winds up being similar to that of the wounded traveler in Luke 10.

Southern Baptist leaders look down from their high donkeys and pass right on by. The wounds of clergy abuse victims are too ugly, and so they avert their eyes. If Southern Baptist leaders allowed themselves to actually see those grievous wounds, they would have to face truths that do not flatter them, and this is something they apparently lack the intestinal fortitude to do.

After all, these are not just any wounds. These are wounds that were inflicted by Southern Baptist clergy themselves. These are wounds that transform the victims into untouchables within the faith community.

So Southern Baptist abuse victims experience the reality of the Good Samaritan parable. We thought religious leaders would surely help us, but they wind up being the people who almost never do. Instead, they run their donkeys right past us and sometimes right over us. They leave us bleeding in the dirt, and do nothing to bind our wounds.

If help arrives, it almost invariably comes from unexpected people.

Southern Baptist leaders are so focused on the letter of their religious law of church autonomy that they neglect the spiritual components of compassion and care.

Yet Jesus himself rejected the letter of the religious law of his day and called people to a life of the spirit. He called people to the sort of life exemplified by the action of the Good Samaritan--a life of compassion put into deeds.

Though the Good Samaritan owed no obligation to the wounded stranger in the desert, he still got down off that donkey and did something. He went to the wounded person. He heard his moans and saw the wounds up close. He bound those wounds and he cared for the person.

It's time for Southern Baptist leaders to get down off their donkeys and grapple with the question of how to make a Christian response to people who have been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy.

At a minimum, shouldn't there be some place within the faith community where the cries of the wounded can at least be heard?

Jesus would point Southern Baptist leaders to the story of the Good Samaritan and tell them, "Go and do likewise."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Nothing lovely about it

“You know what might be the best part of Southwood? The people of it…the church itself. They’re lovely. That’s it, lovely.”

Fort Worth’s Southwood Baptist Church has rotating quotes on its website, and that one was up when I clicked there this morning.

I nearly spewed my Diet Frostie out my nose.

Let’s take a look at how these “lovely” people behave.

Southwood’s pastor James “Jay” Robinson was arrested in June on charges of molesting a 16-year-old church girl.

Before the girl’s dad went to police, he first confronted Robinson after overhearing his daughter’s phone conversation with him. When Robinson denied wrong-doing, the dad went to church leaders. When Robinson continued to deny the accusation, and when church leaders did nothing, the dad took his daughter’s cellphone records to church leaders. They still did nothing.

We’re going to err on the side of the pastor,” said a church leader.

Ultimately, church leaders refused to fire pastor Robinson. Instead, they voted to put a “reprimand” in his file and they directed him to obtain counseling.

But when the dad talked about it with other church-members, the church leaders decided to retract even that tiny, inadequate measure of discipline for Robinson.

Instead, they issued a threat against those who were talking about the pastor’s conduct. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s account, church leaders said that “anyone who is caught…talking about the issue at church will be removed.”

And guess what?

Church leaders made good on the threat. They used armed guards to remove from church services some of the people with whom the dad had been talking.

The next day, pastor Robinson and seven church leaders sent a letter to members saying this:

“Those who choose to follow the lead of these by gossiping, slandering, causing division and discord, or by holding or participating in sectional meetings, will face church discipline…. It is our desire and prayer that all would repent and be restored, but until that time, those who cause discord in the Church are to be shunned according to Scripture.”

The same "lovely" letter also invited church-members to pastor Robinson’s upcoming wedding. Nice touch, huh?

After that letter went out, the dad went to the police. They conducted a polygraph that showed “significant deception” on pastor Robinson’s part.

Nevertheless, even after pastor Robinson failed the polygraph, “church leaders didn’t waiver in their support” for him. Robinson stayed in the pulpit throughout the 3-month criminal investigation leading up to his arrest in June.

“Everybody is supporting the pastor,” said a man at the church.

Now… finally… the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported yesterday that pastor James “Jay” Robinson has resigned from Southwood Baptist Church. The resignation was described as “an agreement between Robinson’s criminal defense attorney and the church’s attorney.”

I think what that likely means is that church leaders shifted gears from protect-the-pastor mode to protect-the-church mode.

“Lovely” people? “Lovely” church?

That’s sure not what this sad saga reflects.

Perhaps the most that can be said of them is that they’re normal.

Over and over again, we have seen this pattern of how churches circle the wagons around an accused pastor. The people of Southwood Baptist Church behaved as countless others have in similar circumstances.

The pattern is so pervasive that it might be called “normal.”

But there’s nothing “lovely” about it.

See WFAA video of pastor James “Jay” Robinson delivering a sermon.

Update 8/30/08: After all this, James Jay Virtue Robinson wound up pleading guilty to sexual assault on a 16-year-old church member.