Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Southern Baptist ministers and leaders instilled in me a hateful lesson. The core teaching of their lesson was this: “You are a creature void of any value -- you don’t matter.”

In both my childhood and adulthood, Baptist leaders made that dehumanizing lesson absolutely clear. They whipped it into me.

It was a lesson first taught by Tommy Gilmore, the minister who molested and raped me as a kid.

It was a lesson reinforced by the keep-it-quiet music minister, Jim Moore, and by other leaders in my childhood church, who knew and stayed silent.

In recent years, the lesson was retaught by the current ministers and deacons at First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, including the same keep-it-quiet music minister Jim Moore, who is still there. These were men who chose to threaten recourse against ME rather than doing anything about their own former minister who molested me when I was a kid.

Then, as though Baptists were afraid I hadn’t adequately learned my lesson, it was retaught yet again by the men of the Baptist General Convention of Texas who, with double-faced dissembling, strung me along, did nothing to help me, and instead helped the church that was seeking to silence me.

The lesson was repeatedly retaught again and again by men of the Southern Baptist Convention who misled me to think my perpetrator wasn’t in ministry, who wouldn’t even shake my hand, who did nothing to help me, and who said remarkably harsh and hurtful things.

In truth, if I were to recount all the misery of what I’ve encountered in Baptist-land, there would be no end to it. And how I wish my story were a rarity. But it’s not.

I’ve seen the effect of Baptist leaders’ “you don’t matter” message on many other clergy abuse survivors. It’s such a terribly hateful lesson for religious leaders to teach.

It’s a lesson that I consider myself lucky to have survived.

That’s why I’m always a bit bewildered when Baptist leaders lash out that I’m motivated by vengeance. What really motivates me is something more akin to gratitude. I KNOW how lucky I am.

After all, I survived my twenties only because I was too inept to kill myself off. I can’t help but think that even God might find some humor in the incongruity of it. I’m a “do-the-job-right” sort of perfectionist, and yet I’m also a person whose heart is filled with unending gratitude for my own imperfect failure.

In more recent years, when Baptists’ “you don’t matter” message reared its ugly head again, I was graced to have other people in my life -- people who worked hard to counter that hateful Baptist teaching and to remind me that my life did indeed matter. If not for them, I almost certainly would have lost my grasp. Thank God for non-Baptists and non-believers.

I am a survivor. And I am grateful.

It’s not something I take for granted because I know there are many who do not survive the savage wound that is inflicted by the sexual abuse of a trusted religious leader. It is a wound that literally kills people. And if the wound itself doesn’t kill, then the infection that follows from the faith community’s hateful collusion will sometimes finish off the job.

Every clergy abuse story is a tragic one, but the stories of those who successfully commit suicide are among the most heart-wrenching of all.

Many more clergy abuse victims survive in body, but are lost down a myriad of dark chasms. Lost to alcohol. Lost to drug addiction. Lost to rage. Lost to self-mutilating behaviors. Lost to isolation. Lost to chronic depression. Lost to mental illness.

My heart is filled with gratitude. I came out on the other side of that dreadful darkness, still alive and sane. Whatever pain I may have, I am grateful for the capacity to feel that pain and for the ability to speak of it. I pray that my voice may help others and may work for good.

I give thanks for the life I still live and for the goodness of the people who surround me. And I give thanks for all of you.

May your hearts be full. Shine on, Survivors!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Three-legged stool

Clergy abuse survivors in other major faith groups have three possible ways for exposing their perpetrators and warning others: (1) criminal prosecution, (2) civil litigation, and (3) ecclesiastical process.

Think of it as a 3-legged stool. It’s not a very pretty stool; it’s not a piece of Shaker craftsmanship. But for other faith groups, the stool at least has three legs.

For Baptists, it’s a stool with only about one and a half legs. In effect, it’s not any stool at all, and that’s why kids in Baptist churches are at greater risk.

The first leg: criminal prosecution. It’s good if you can get it, but for most, it’s not possible. The very nature of the psychological damage usually renders a child sex abuse victim incapable of speaking about it until many years later when it’s too late for criminal prosecution. Nationwide, district attorneys recognize this basic reality that most child molesters escape criminal prosecution because of short statutes of limitation. So, while criminal prosecution is an important leg, it can’t possibly hold up the stool.

The second leg: civil litigation. It won’t put the offender in jail, but it can at least bring the offender’s deeds into the light of day and help protect others. Civil litigation gives reporters something they can write about, and so it can bring information about clergy perpetrators to people in the community.

Clergy abuse lawsuits face similar time limitation hurdles as criminal cases, but depending on the state, there is sometimes a measure of flexibility for a civil lawsuit that isn’t available for a criminal case.

However, lawyers considering Baptist abuse cases face even more hurdles than just the time-lag problem. In Baptist cases, lawyers also struggle with finding a line of responsibility because, in the autonomous system of Baptist churches, the buck stops nowhere. By contrast, with Catholic cases, there’s a clear line of responsibility. Penn State professor Philip Jenkins has observed that the “relative ease of litigation against Catholic dioceses” helps to create the public misperception that clergy abuse is “a Catholic problem,” when in fact, it’s just as big a problem for other faith groups. (Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles & Priests, at p. 51 (Oxford U. Press 1996).

Baptist cases can face still more hurdles that lessen the likelihood of litigation and insulate the denomination from court scrutiny. While most Catholic dioceses endure virtually forever, Baptist churches have no trouble in dissolving, reorganizing and renaming themselves. This too can make it more difficult to pursue civil litigation in Baptist clergy abuse cases. And without litigation, reporters will be less likely to write about it, and people in the community will have less chance of finding out about Baptist clergy child molesters.

So, for Baptist clergy abuse survivors, the civil litigation leg of the stool is really only about half a leg as compared to other faith groups. Because this leg is so much smaller for Baptists, you won’t read about as many Baptist cases in the newspapers, and Baptist clergy child molesters will stay more easily hidden.

The third leg: ecclesiastical process. In most other major faith groups, some sort of ecclesiastical process provides the third leg of support for the stool. Other faith groups provide a systematic process for assessing clergy sex abuse reports. They don’t wait for a minister to be criminally convicted, because they know that at least 90 percent of clergy child molesters will slip through the cracks with that approach. So instead, leaders within the faith group take on the responsibility for deciding whether abuse allegations are substantial enough that a man should not be allowed to continue in a position of high trust as a minister.

Decisions made by ecclesiastical processes – or church trials as some call them – are also something that reporters can write about. So they provide still another way of getting information about clergy sex abusers into the light of day and of warning people in the community. Recent news accounts provide ready examples of how church trials brought information to the public about credibly-accused Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergy. In fact, for these faith groups and others, this is the strongest of the stool’s three legs, because it has been the means by which the most credibly-accused clergy child molesters have been removed from ministry.

But this possibility doesn’t even exist for Baptists. These sorts of stories never see the light of day for them because there is no ecclesiastical review process for the 101,000 Southern Baptist clergy in this country. There is no third leg.

Unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists have no systematic process for objectively and professionally assessing clergy sex abuse reports. There is no committee, no panel, no review board. There is no safe place to which clergy abuse survivors can report their perpetrators. There is no one in leadership who will take on the responsibility of assessing clergy abuse reports or of providing information to people in the pews.

So... imagine what happens to a 3-legged stool if you take away one and half legs. Southern Baptists simply don’t have any stool of support for protecting kids in Baptist churches.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Baptist propaganda

At SNAP’s last press event at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I was told the BGCT’s media person talked about how, for Baptists, the problem involves clergy “sexual misconduct” with adult women rather than with kids. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve heard this public relations line of theirs before.

In fact, the Baptist General Convention of Texas made a training video about preventing “sexual misconduct” in churches, and on the video, you can see BGCT director Sonny Spurger saying, “Most of ours are heterosexual relationships with adults.” (See part 4 of the video on “clergy issues.”)

I’ve even seen well-respected Baptist academics spout this view that, for Baptists, the clergy “sex” problem involves “misconduct” with adults and not the abuse of kids as with the Catholics. These are people who ought to know better and who ought to be demanding some data before they simply regurgitate the propaganda of the Baptist machine. But, of course, even highly educated academic people can still have blind spots when it comes to seeing the falsity in their own faith group where they’ve built their lives and careers.

Whenever I see this “our problem is adults, not kids” propaganda, it really burns me. Here’s why.

  1. How the heck do they know? How can they possibly go around suggesting that, for Baptists, the problem is primarily about “misconduct” with adults rather than abuse of kids when no one in Baptist circles is even keeping any good records? What data do they have to support this claim? Answer: They have none. Why? Because no one in Baptist circles even cares enough to keep track of clergy abuse reports made by the victims themselves.

  2. After massive media pressure, the Catholic leadership commissioned a multimillion dollar two-part study from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to try to get a handle on the extent of the problem. The first part of the study, completed in 2004, had some serious flaws, but at least it provided the beginning of a yardstick for assessing the clergy abuse problem among Catholics, and it’s WAY more than Baptists have bothered to do. Baptists have cared so little that they haven’t even attempted to get a handle on the extent of the problem.

  3. Based on the limited data that actually DOES exist -- insurance data obtained thanks to the Associated Press -- Baptists do indeed have just as big a problem with clergy abuse of kids as do the Catholics. So, when the Baptist General Convention of Texas spews its “our problem is adults” propaganda, it’s just flat-out contrary to what the data actually does show. If they want to refute that data, then they need to make a conscientious attempt to assess the extent of the problem instead of just spewing propaganda.

  4. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is effectively USING clergy abuse of adults as a shield to divert attention away from their clergy abuse of kids problem. Why? Presumably because they think it makes them look better. I can just hear them now: “Oh… we know it’s bad… but at least our clergy aren’t abusing kids like Catholic priests did.” This does a terrible disservice to BOTH groups -- to those abused as vulnerable adults AND to those abused as kids. It effectively exploits those who were abused as adults to further the BGCT’s own propaganda, and it denies the reality of the many who were abused as kids.

  5. The fact that it’s the Baptist General Convention OF TEXAS doing this spin-job makes it particularly troubling. Texas is one of the few states whose laws make a clergyman’s sexual exploitation of an adult a felony. So, when BGCT officials talk about ministers having “affairs” and committing “adultery” with congregants, there’s a high probability that what they’re really talking about is felony conduct. They’re using the soft terminology of “sexual misconduct” to minimize what really amounts to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and sexual assaults.

  6. People in the pews put their hard-earned dollars in the offering plate, thinking that a portion will be used for missions work through the Cooperative Program. But a sizeable chunk of their hard-earned dollars -- dollars that they think are going for God’s work -- are really being used to pay for public relations people who spew such hurtful propaganda as this. It’s propaganda that serves only to protect the institutional image and that keeps kids, families and congregants at greater risk. People in the pews deserve better.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Relinquishing expectations

“Relinquish any expectations of others….”

Those were the wise words of “Cakes” in talking with an abuse survivor. The survivor was having a really bad day, and she shared with me the dialogue she had with Cakes.

It was a long exchange, but I seized on those words. They were like neon lights leaping off the screen at me.

Isn’t it funny how, out of the blue, someone can wind up saying exactly what you need to hear? And they can wind up saying it even when they aren’t saying it to you?

“Relinquish any expectations of others….”

That is a lesson I constantly strive to remind myself of. It is a lesson I constantly seek to relearn. It is a lesson I obviously struggle with. And so I need a lot of reminders.

Sometimes the universe gives me those reminders. Cakes’ words were one of those times.

I struggle A LOT with the realization that no one in Southern Baptist leadership seems to give a hoot about kids being molested by clergy… or about the adults that those wounded kids become. Oh sure… Southern Baptist leaders will talk about “precious children,” but it’s just talk. No one cares enough to actually do anything. That’s what’s real.

And that’s the part that I can never wrap my head around.

Sexual abuse is plenty bad, no doubt about it. It has life-long repercussions. But when I think about what it is that I really, really struggle with the most, it’s this. It’s all these other blind-eyed do-nothing people.

That is what literally haunts me.

To accept the reality of it is sort of like believing in ghosts. I can’t do it.

That’s why I have to keep relearning the “relinquish any expectations” lesson. Because the empty-hearted ghosts are real. And in Southern Baptist circles, they’re everywhere.

Yet I keep refusing to see what is before my own eyes. Instead, despite all evidence to the contrary, I keep expecting them to have hearts. Then I’m stunned when they don’t.

“Relinquish any expectations of others…”

This is the same lesson that my friend, Elana, also reminded me of a while back. On lots of walks, she has listened to me recount things that Baptist leaders have said and done. She has heard my expressions of disbelief and has listened to me repeatedly say things like “Just when I thought I’d seen it all, they do this!”

But one day, Elana gave vent to her own disbelief. “Christa, I can’t believe you still expect anything OTHER than low behavior from them. They have shown you what their true values are and they have shown you over and over again. When will YOU learn? Why do YOU keep expecting the best of them? What holds YOU to that belief?

I think it’s pretty much the same thing Cakes is saying.

I keep assuming that decent people will behave in ways that are decent, and I project that expectation onto them. But over and over again, when it comes to clergy sex abuse, Baptist leaders have shown me that it’s an expectation I need to relinquish.

I’m working on it.

You can see portions of Cakes’ “conversation with a survivor” on his blog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Football players' gender isn't biblically based

Kacy is a 14-year-old athlete. She’s a girl. Her sport is football.

Those facts may make her a bit unusual. But they don’t make her unChristian.

Apparently, the coach of the opposing team thought otherwise. Before the start of the game, he read a statement on the intercom, quoting Romans 12:2 and warning that Christians shouldn’t be conformed to the unChristian ways of the world.

It wasn’t the first time Kacy encountered such nonsense. She plays in an Atlanta league for home-schooled kids and kids attending Christian schools. The chairman of the league tried to boot her out. Kacy respectfully stood up for herself and she kept playing football.

Kudos to Kacy! She simply wanted to play football, but to do so, she had to stand up to senseless religious-based bullying. She didn’t do it because she was trying to make a point. She did it because she’s an athlete.

And that’s reason enough. Her playing football has nothing to do with anything biblical or unbiblical.

For men to twist scripture to say a 14-year-old girl can’t play football is silliness.

If they think a girl shouldn’t play football -- for whatever reason -- fine. But they’re grown-ups and they should at least have the gumption to own their own point of view.

For them to project their personal point of view onto the face of God, and then conjure scripture to rationalize it, is nothing more than cowardly chicanery.

It’s similar to the sort of chicanery that Baptist leaders have used to rationalize why they don’t take action to protect kids against reported clergy child molesters. “Scripture teaches that each church is autonomous,” they say. And so they protect their self-serving radicalized notion of “autonomy” rather than protecting kids.

There’s nothing biblical about it.

News Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Is a girl playing football un-Christian?”