Thursday, May 28, 2009

Betrayal of Faith

“It is generally agreed that the impact on survivors of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders is greater than for survivors of other forms of power abuse. Since part of coping with trauma is spiritual, sexual abuse by a spiritual leader further complicates the recovery process. . . .

Betrayal by spirit means that the person who betrays the victim also plays a critical role in the resources the victim has for defining meaning. The victim’s spiritual path is blocked. The fundamental question all victims have to answer for themselves is: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is a far more troubling question when the cause of the problem is supposed to be the resource for the answer. . . .

People are searching for meaning. That search and the vulnerability it produces may be used as part of the seduction or the promise. Trauma bonding is exponential under these circumstances because it blocks the critical process of trusting anything meaningful and leaves only the option of despair.”

Patrick J. Carnes, PhD., The Betrayal Bond at pp. 68-69 (1997).

My own take on this:

In times of difficulty, grief and trauma, many people ask themselves “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” But it is a far more troubling question when the “bad thing” is inextricably linked to what is supposed to be the resource for an answer – i.e., when the “bad thing” is inextricably linked to God or faith. For those who have been abused by religious authority figures, the question becomes something more like this: “Why did God pre-ordain that I should be nothing more than a rape-toy for one of His anointed ones?”

It’s not “Why did God let it happen?” It’s “Why did God make it happen?”

When THAT becomes the question -- consciously or subconsciously -- it becomes very difficult to turn to God or to prior spiritual resources for comfort or aide. To the contrary, the victim’s prior spiritual resources were transformed into the weapon of destruction.

For many clergy abuse survivors, they know too well what it can cost to buy into the belief that God had a plan for their life. Their bodies, souls and psyches paid a heavy price for that belief. That’s the belief they were raised with; that’s the belief they held fast in their hearts; and that’s the very belief that clergy-perpetrators used as a weapon against them.

Clergy sex abuse sets up an extremely difficult psychological dynamic. I’m no therapist, and I won't tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. Besides, we’ve all had more than enough of the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”, haven’t we? I do hope, however, that there may occasionally be something on this blog that may help some of you to realize that your feelings are normal.

My wish for all of you is that, wherever you are on your journey, you will give yourself the space and the freedom to feel whatever you honestly feel . . . and to know that your journey will continue from there.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It should not be forgotten

Yesterday, Baptist pastor Darrell Gilyard pled guilty to molesting a 15-year-old girl and sending lewd text messages to another. Under the Florida plea agreement, he faces three years in prison.

Where are the voices of Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines now?

These two former Southern Baptist presidents mentored Gilyard for many years of his star-studded career. They continued to promote Gilyard even after numerous abuse allegations had come to light.

It should not be forgotten that literally dozens of young women, college girls, and teens were wounded by pastor Gilyard while high-level Southern Baptist leaders stayed mired in their own complicity.

At least 44 people reported abuse by Gilyard during his career in Baptist churches. That was my count nine months ago, and those are just the ones we know about from published articles. There are likely many more who may have been so traumatized they stayed silent. And let’s not forget that the spouses, future spouses, and families of those abused by clergy are also people who suffer.

According to 1991 Dallas Morning News reports, it was over 20 years ago when female students at Criswell College first started trying to tell Paige Patterson about Darrell Gilyard. Even though Patterson was president of Criswell at that time (and you might have thought he would have felt some responsibility toward the students), Patterson wouldn’t listen to them, they said.

A couple other ministers also tried to report Gilyard to Patterson, as did counselor Don Simpkins. With Patterson in the room, Simpkins listened while six to eight women reported “everything from being raped to being sexually assaulted to sexual affairs that went on with Mr. Gilyard.”

But neither Patterson nor any other Baptist official took action to stop Gilyard. He was always able to move on. In Texas and Oklahoma, Gilyard resigned from 4 churches in 4 years because of sexual abuse allegations.

About the time when the Dallas Morning News started reporting on all the allegations and making them public was when Paige Patterson finally withdrew support from Gilyard. But what did he actually do? Reportedly, Patterson allowed Gilyard to confess to “adulterous relationships,” and Gilyard moved on. (Do I need to point out that “adulterous relationships” aren’t the same as “sexual assaults”? That’s painfully obvious to me, but it doesn’t appear that Patterson made the distinction.).

Gilyard moved to Florida, where former Southern Baptist president Jerry Vines “agreed to forgive” him for his out-of-state troubles. Reportedly, Vines gave additional credence to Gilyard by speaking at Gilyard’s church. It worked out well for Gilyard; his career prospered. But it didn’t work out well for others.

Jacksonville’s Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church settled the lawsuit of a woman who claimed pastor Darrell Gilyard had sexually assaulted her. Another of Gilyard’s Florida churches settled an earlier “sexual misconduct” claim. So actually, counting the two women who brought these Florida lawsuits, we’re now up to 46 known publicly-reported victims of Baptist pastor Darrell Gilyard.

You have to wonder how many it would take before Baptist leaders would take it seriously, don’t you? Would they ever, if the media didn’t get involved?

Finally, Gilyard was brought up on charges for his crimes against two Florida teens. And even as those charges were pending, and despite all the many prior allegations, other Baptist churches, including at least one Southern Baptist church, still allowed Gilyard to preach.

Where were the voices of Vines and Patterson when that happened?

It’s a sad saga, isn’t it?

Clergy predators are able to persist because others turn a blind eye. Gilyard persisted for over two decades.

Shortly after the criminal charges against Gilyard were filed, and after I dug up the old Dallas Morning News articles, SNAP wrote to the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and asked that they suspend Patterson as seminary president and investigate the claims that Patterson had overlooked past abuse reports involving Gilyard. (See the video of Patterson’s response in this WFAA-TV link.)

In significant part, our letter said this:
As reported in the News, the accounts indicate that Patterson demonstrated a profound failure of moral judgment, a refusal to protect Criswell students who were under his charge, and a failure to warn others at risk about a reported serial predator.

Surely an institution dedicated to the development of spiritual leaders should consider the sort of spiritual leadership exemplified by its own president who reportedly exhibited an extraordinarily blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse. We ask you to demonstrate this institution’s commitment to treating clergy sex abuse and cover-ups seriously by suspending Paige Patterson, fully investigating, and publicly reporting your findings.

The words of our letter were appropriate then, and they’re even more appropriate now that Gilyard has been convicted.

If Southern Baptists are ever going to effectively address clergy sex abuse, they must begin to see that the problem is about more than “a few bad apples.” It’s about the way in which the barrel itself enables the rot.

That’s what we asked the trustees to do -- look at whether Patterson played a role in enabling the rot. That sort of accountability inquiry is the sort of thing that a responsible organization would do. It’s what an organization that truly cared about the safety of kids and congregants would do.

Why? Because when it takes two decades and at least 46 wounded people before a predatory preacher is stopped, there is something very wrong with the system. Either the institutional safeguards are non-existent or they have failed. And someone in a position of responsibility needs to look into it and to assess what went wrong.

It should not be forgotten that a great many people suffered grievous wounds in this dreadful saga.

What would Baptist leaders do differently to prevent so many from being so wounded in the future? What would Patterson and Vines do differently?

In the photo, Darrell Gilyard is on the left and Paige Patterson on the right.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Passing the trash

Last week, the Oregon legislature passed a law prohibiting school administrators from making deals that hide the “sexual misconduct” of teachers who resign.

These sorts of deals are so common that they have a nickname -- “passing the trash.”

What happens is that an accused teacher is allowed to voluntarily resign from a school district, without having the accusations investigated by the state’s teacher disciplinary board. Typically, the school district agrees to either provide a reference letter or to say something innocuous when asked -- something like “he voluntarily resigned for personal reasons.”

It’s a good deal for the problem teacher and for the school district. The teacher gets to leave under a cloak of secrecy, without having his teaching license affected, and the school district gets rid of a problem quietly and quickly.

But of course, for kids, it’s not a good deal at all. It can be devastating. The problem teacher can readily move to a new school district, in or out of Oregon, where he may abuse again and again.

So, with what’s been described as a “cutting edge” law, the Oregon legislature addressed the “passing the trash” issue. When it becomes effective, the new law will prohibit any school from “entering into an agreement or contract that suppresses information related to child abuse or sexual conduct.”

The law also requires that school districts must disclose to other districts any “substantiated” reports of sexual abuse or sexual conduct by a prior employee. It broadly defines “sexual conduct” so as to include “any verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and directed toward a student,” including “grooming behaviors.”

So, for the protection of kids, Oregon is working to get teachers out of positions of trust in the classroom, based on standards that are less rigid than criminal conviction.

“Passing the trash” is a problem, not only among independent school districts, but also among autonomous churches. We’ve seen it over and over again in Baptist churches.

It’s the NIMBY response at work: “Not in my back yard.”

A church with a problem pastor decides it’s easier to simply let the pastor resign, without looking too closely at troubling accusations. The church gets rid of the problem quietly and the pastor gets to keep his career.

But of course, he moves on. And then he becomes a problem in someone else’s back yard -- in someone else’s congregation and with someone else’s kids.

If a state legislature can figure out a way to stymie the NIMBY response among its school districts, why can’t leaders of the largest Protestant denomination figure out a way to stymie the NIMBY response among their churches?

Why aren’t they even trying?

Oregon has a population of about 3,790,000. The Southern Baptist Convention claims a population in its churches of 16,200,000.

Aren’t the kids in that 16.2 million member populace entitled to at least the same measure of safety in their churches as the kids in that 3.7 million member populace get in their schools?

In a civilized society, we expect the protection of kids to be a priority. But the protection of kids requires more than merely preaching rote platitudes about “precious children.” It requires action.

So long as Baptist leaders persist in doing nothing to preclude churches from “passing the trash,” they leave Baptist churches as easy playgrounds for clergy sex predators.

In case you're wondering... that's "Portlandia" in the photo. She's the second largest hammered copper sculpture in the country -- second only to the Statue of Liberty. Portlandia reaches out to the citizens of Portland, Oregon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

40 in 15

Exactly two years ago, Southern Baptist spokesperson Will Hall publicly suggested that there had been only 40 "incidents" of Baptist clergy sex abuse in the past 15 years.

It was such a grotesque understatement that it took my breath away. I wondered exactly which kids were so unimportant that Will Hall didn’t think their molestations and rapes mattered enough to even be counted. It was obviously a whole heckuva lot of them because there had obviously been a whole heckuva lot more Baptist clergy sex abuse incidents than 40.

Southern Baptist leaders must have known there were a lot more, and if they didn’t, they certainly should have. Heck… one Southern Baptist pastor alone confessed to molesting 40 boys, and no telling how many “incidents” there were. That was just one perp.

And even if you considered only published reports of Baptist clergy sex abuse -- the bare tip of the iceberg -- any fool could see that the scale of the problem was much, much bigger than “40 incidents in 15 years.”

EthicsDaily called on Hall to issue a correction, but of course, that never happened.

When I heard Will Hall’s “40 in 15” remark, I vowed then and there that I would keep posting published Baptist clergy abuse stories on the StopBaptistPredators website for as long as I could bear it… if for no other reason than so that Southern Baptist leaders could never again get away with such an immoral minimization of the problem.

After all, Will Hall wasn’t just some ordinary Joe, talking off the top of his head. Will Hall is a professional media person. He gets paid to know what he’s talking about and to say it well. Some might call him a spin-doctor. And what he “spins” is news about the Southern Baptist Convention.

So… this paid professional spokesperson (paid with offering plate dollars, mind you) decided to spin the Baptist clergy sex abuse problem into something small.

Only “40 incidents in the past 15 years.”

Then Hall decided to spin his own spin and turned it into a Southern Baptist brag.

He said the low number showed that “the way Baptists deal with the problem is working.”

That’s what he said: “working.” It shows you just how arrogant Southern Baptist leaders were.

“Working for whom?” I wondered. The Southern Baptist system sure as heck wasn’t “working” for the hundreds of kids molested and raped by Southern Baptist clergy. And it sure as heck wasn’t “working” for the hundreds of wounded adults who were further betrayed by the blind-eyed do-nothingness of Baptist leaders.

Yet, as recently as two years ago, Southern Baptist leaders thought they could get away with bragging about only “40 incidents in 15 years”… and that people would automatically believe them.

Never again.

Sometimes I wonder whether any of this work will ever make any difference. But then I think about Will Hall and the outrageous hubris of his “40 in 15” remark, and I realize that it already has.

Never again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Last week in Memphis, pastor Steven Haney pled guilty to sexual abuse of two teen boys.

For people with eyes that are open, this single case reveals so much about what is so wrong with how Southern Baptists deal with clergy sex abuse.

Heaping hate onto those who speak out

In a plea agreement intended to allow the victims to avoid the stress of trial, Haney was sentenced to just eight years of probation on the sexual abuse charges. (He still faces federal charges on child pornography.)

For those of us who have lived through the hell of clergy sex abuse, it’s not hard to understand why the young men who were Haney’s victims may have felt enormous stress. The charges against Haney had been pending for almost two years.

To make matters worse, the victims were receiving anonymous mail from supporters of pastor Haney. The prosecutor described the mail as “unconscionable.”

But why should anyone be surprised by such hatefulness?

After all, this is a faith group whose highest leader wrote a column in a widely-dispersed Baptist publication saying that clergy abuse survivors were “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” And another former Southern Baptist president said we were “evil-doers,” and “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”

When high religious leaders indulge such hateful remarks, they encourage a climate of hatefulness. Their words effectively tell others that meanness toward clergy abuse survivors is okay.

Others follow the example of such leaders and often take the hatefulness a step further.

I’ve been told about vandalized houses and awful name-calling, not to mention grocery-store glares. Many clergy abuse survivors and their families simply move away from their communities because the ugliness of what surrounds them becomes too unbearable.

I suppose the name-callers and anonymous letter-senders think they’re serving God? That thought only makes such hatefulness seem all the more frightening.

Rather than helping to fuel such hate, why don’t church and denominational leaders speak out publicly and persistently against it? I suppose it’s because what they really want is for clergy abuse survivors to shut up and go away so that the truth of their stories won’t reflect poorly on the faith. The more hate they fling, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to make that happen.

But of course, it seems like a feeble faith if it can’t tolerate truth. Maybe that’s why they resort to such hatefulness to try to silence abuse survivors. Maybe they’re afraid the smallness of their own faith will be revealed to them, and maybe what they really fear is seeing that smallness inside themselves.

Putting it in the past fast

Haney’s prior church decided to put the past behind and start fresh. The church changed its name from Walnut Grove to Gracepoint.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if a simple name-change could put it in the past for clergy survivors? But of course, it’s not so easy for the survivors, particularly when they’ve not only been abused as kids by a pastor-perpetrator, but have also been further wounded by the hatefulness of so many others.

And let’s not forget that, according to news accounts, there’s good reason to believe that these aren’t the first of Haney’s victims. This is a church that tried too fast to put it in the past once before.

Ignoring prior accusations

In the mid-1990s, there were allegations that pastor Steven Haney abused another teen. Thirty families left the church at that time.

What else could they do? There wasn’t any sort of state or national denominational review board where they could have taken their concerns. There still isn’t.

So, despite dreadfully serious accusations, there was no one in Southern Baptist leadership who would even look into it. Haney wasn’t thrown in jail and so he was free to stay in a Baptist pulpit.

And what happened? More kids got hurt. Haney was allowed to pervert faith and pastoral authority into weapons for child molestation.

Perhaps Haney’s more recent victims could have been spared if only someone in denominational leadership had cared enough to responsibly assess the prior allegations against him. And perhaps Haney’ prior victim could have been spared the additional anguish and betrayal of seeing that no one in his faith community cared enough to actually do anything.

The message that Southern Baptists’ do-nothingness sent to Haney’s prior victim was “you don’t matter.”

The message that Southern Baptists’ do-nothingness sent to Haney was “carry-on.”

Those are messages every bit as unconscionable as hateful letters.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wake up, Morris!

“One sexual predator in our midst is one too many.”

Remember that line? It’s what SBC honcho Morris Chapman said at the 2008 Southern Baptist annual meeting, when he was explaining why the Southern Baptist Convention was NOT going to create a review board to objectively assess clergy sex abuse reports. (Don’t strain your brain trying to make sense of how that line could be part of such an explanation, because the simple truth is that it doesn’t make sense.)

It’s a line with a good public-relations vibe to it. That’s all. It sort of sounds tough, but at the same time, it implicitly suggests that the numbers of Baptist predators are few.

A whole lot of people applauded Chapman when he said it. But more and more, it just sounds lame, doesn’t it?

After all, what did the SBC actually do besides a bit of fine preaching and some glossy brochures?

If your company had a serious problem, and your boss asked what you were going to do about it, and you said, “I’m gonna preach about it,” would that get the job done? Would people be okay with that? I doubt it.

Chapman’s tough-sounding talk rings all the more hollow when it’s juxtaposed to a real case involving real kids.

Last week, at First Baptist Church of Benton, Arkansas, long-time music minister, David Pierce, was arrested on a felony count of sexual indecency with a child.

Lo and behold, the church gave investigators the names of 3 more adult men who had also claimed they were abused as teens by Pierce.

In an exceptionally rare display of interest, the Baptist Press published news about the arrest -- possibly because it realized that, with FBC-Benton being such a prominent church, the story would make big news anyway, and so it wanted to get out ahead of it. But of course, I can’t help but wonder why the Baptist Press publishes so few other news stories about kids being abused by Baptist clergy. Don’t you think parents in Baptist pews would like to know just how widespread this problem is?

I would think so, but it’s obvious the Baptist Press thinks otherwise because they sure as heck aren’t covering the stories.

And even on the exceptionally rare occasion when they deign to cover one, look at what they do. They focus on singing the praises of the SBC.

In the Baptist Press, the story is reported with paragraph after paragraph re-iterating the tough-talk of Morris Chapman. “The Southern Baptist Convention is on record for having stood strongly against sexual abuse,” said Chapman.

Yeah, right. “Stood strongly” on the sideline with feet firmly planted in cement.

And then the Baptist Press again paraded out that “One sexual predator in our midst is one too many” line.

Wake up, Morris!

There are more than one. A lot more. And there have been for a long time. Just because your Baptist Press doesn’t choose to cover the stories doesn’t mean the stories aren’t there.

In fact, even as the Baptist Press was trolling out that tired public relations line of yours, in the real world, in the same week, still another Southern Baptist pastor was pleading guilty to the sexual abuse of teen boys just a few miles from you in Memphis. Worst of all… there were similar accusations against the pastor back in the 1990s.

How many more, Morris? How many more kids are going to be hurt before you do more than just talk tough?

Wake up, Morris! You’re late getting to work! And children are depending on you.