Friday, July 17, 2009

They know

A few days ago, when I saw this policy of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, I literally dropped my jaw. It’s their policy on responding to allegations of child sexual abuse. Amazingly, much of the Mission Board’s policy mirrors the sort of policies that SNAP has been requesting from the Southern Baptist Convention in general.

Yet, we’ve been getting repeatedly slammed in the face for even asking for the sort of policies that the International Mission Board has already adopted.

I’m told the IMB’s policy was adopted back in 2004 when it put in place a confidential toll-free number for people to report child sexual abuse by IMB personnel. I was aware that the IMB had a toll-free number, but I wasn’t aware of this adopted policy. And frankly, I didn’t figure their toll-free number amounted to much, since we almost never see any publicity about it. I mean… what good does it do to have a toll-free number for reporting abuse if nobody knows about the number?

Now I learn that they also have this policy. Take a look at some of its provisions:

  1. A clear statement of zero-tolerance. “A single act of sexual abuse by Board personnel, regardless of when that act occurred, will result in permanent termination of employment…”
  2. “A clearly established process” in which specific individuals are designated for receiving reports of abuse, for relaying information about reported abuse to the Executive Vice-President, and for taking action to investigate abuse reports.
  3. The creation of an “Assessment Team” for investigating “all reports of sexual or physical abuse involving a child… no matter how long since the alleged abuse occurred.”
  4. The Assessment Team’s lead investigator “shall be someone who has received training.”
  5. “At least one member of the Assessment Team shall be an impartial outside observer not employed by the Board.”
  6. “Where the alleged victim is a female, at least one of the members of the Assessment Team shall be a female.”
  7. The duties of the Assessment Team shall include… maintaining “an impartial, unbiased attitude…, to preserve any evidence… to determine if there are any additional potential victims…. to prepare a confidential written report of the investigation.”
  8. The Assessment Team’s written report shall include “a specific statement about whether or not reasonable cause exists to suspect that sexual or physical abuse has occurred.”
  9. “Reasonable cause means… that it more likely than not that abuse occurred; it is not the more onerous ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard that would apply in American criminal proceedings.”
  10. When a complaint of sexual abuse involving a child is made, all reasonable measures shall be taken to assure the safety of other children. “Such measures shall ordinarily include, at a minimum, placing the accused on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation….”
  11. If the Executive Vice-President, in consultation with the Assessment Team, determines that the allegations of sexual abuse “are substantiated,” he shall take disciplinary actions “without regard to any statute of limitations that would govern criminal or civil actions.”
  12. The designated disciplinary actions include termination of employment, a bar against future service, and a written statement in the individual’s file.
  13. The IMB retains the authority to inform anyone who seeks information about a past employee about the cause of termination, to notify the employee’s home church and other churches with which the employee has a relationship, and to notify “entities connected with the Convention.”

These are some pretty good policy provisions. They aren’t perfect -- for example, there isn’t any requirement for actually notifying parents about substantiated reports of abuse -- but they’re better than anything else we’ve seen in Southern Baptist life.

Now mind you… I haven’t seen any indication that this Southern Baptist Mission Board policy has been put into practice much. But the very existence of the policy says a lot about what Southern Baptist leaders know and understand.

So here’s the thing that bothers me.

The very existence of this policy shows that, institutionally, at a very high level, the Southern Baptist Convention has already recognized the need for things like affording victims a confidential way to report abuse, providing assessment teams that have trained people and outsiders on the panel, and implementing a standard of assessment that is less onerous than the criminal law standard. Yet, even though this policy implicitly recognizes the importance of these procedural mechanisms for the protection of kids, the Southern Baptist Convention utterly refuses to implement similar policies and procedures applicable to Southern Baptist life on a broader scale.

Do you see what this means?

They know.

They know what is needed for the better protection of kids, and they simply refuse to do it.

They know, and they choose not to act. They know, and they choose to make excuses about polity instead of choosing to do what will make kids safer.

Think about it.

Even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had high officials like Augie Boto telling people that “the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement,” the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already expressly recognized that there needs to be an administrative assessment team that can investigate abuse reports “without regard to any statute of limitations that would govern criminal or civil actions.”

And even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had countless commenters insisting that a Baptist pastor should be “innocent until proven guilty,” the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already expressly recognized that, for the safety of children, ministers occupy a position of high trust and should be administratively assessed based on a less onerous standard than what would apply in American criminal proceedings.

And even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had high officials like Frank Page and Paige Patterson calling clergy molestation victims “opportunists” and “evil-doers” when they sought to prod the Convention into implementing policies for the protection of kids, the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already adopted policies similar to what the clergy molestation victims were seeking.

This SBC Mission Board policy shows that, institutionally, the Southern Baptist Convention already knows a whole lot of what it needs to do for the better protection of kids against clergy predators.

They know, but they just don’t care.

17 comments:

Elisabeth said...

A lot of the reason is, in my opinion, that the IMB is very much controlled by their board whereas churches in general are not controlled. Therefore, it is just plain easier to implement a policy like that with the IMB than with the convention in general. Also, the head of the IMB very easily could be more in tune with the dangers of clergy predators, and care more, than some of the people currently in high places in the general convention.

Junkster said...

Very interesting, Christa. While this indicts SB leadership overall for not having done more, it also provides hope that at least some SB leaders / administrators "get it" and that perhaps this can someday serve as a template for the whole SBC.

I'm sure that a policy like this was pretty much required for legal and insurance purposes, since IMB personnel are employees of the IMB -- but the SBC does not face the same legal and insurance concerns, since SB pastors are employees of their individual congregations rather than of the SBC. Of course, it would be better if SBC leaders were more concerned about what is morally right than what is required by law or by insurance companies.

It's also interesting that any funding that would be required to put this policy into practice (forming an Assessment Team, ensuring that the team leader is trained, resulting disciplinary actions, communications to churches, other SBC agencies, record keeping, etc.) would have to come from the IMB budget, which is entirely funded by Cooperative Program dollars. That completely blows away the excuse used by some that CP funds should not be "diverted from missions" in order to set up a similar process for addressing claims of abuse by SB ministers.

Christa Brown said...

"Of course, it would be better if SBC leaders were more concerned about what is morally right than what is required by law or by insurance companies."

Yes, it would. They have consistently treated this problem as an issue of minimizing their own risk of legal liability rather than as a matter of minimizing the risk of harm to kids. And they have utterly ignored the reality of their moral responsibility.

It's also interesting that any funding... would have to come from the IMB budget, which is entirely funded by Cooperative Program dollars. That completely blows away the excuse... that CP funds should not be 'diverted from missions' in order to set up a similar process for addressing claims of abuse by SB ministers."

Very interesting observation, Junkster.

Michelle said...
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Michelle said...
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Thy Peace said...

Michelle, I am sorry to see you deleted your two comments. They were very insightful to me and made lot of sense to me.

Madre de Dios by Barry Lopez.

Wiki > Satyagraha.

I practice meditation based on principles from this site: Easwaran.

God bless you, sister in Christ.

Thy Peace said...

From the Easwaran site: Thought for the day - July 18.

I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world.
– Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi provides a perfect example of how anger can be harnessed. As a young, unknown, brown-skinned lawyer traveling in South Africa on business, he was roughly thrown from the train because he refused to surrender his first-class ticket and move to the third-class compartment. He spent a cold, sleepless night on the railway platform.

Later, he said this was the turning point of his life: for on that night, full of anger because of this personal injustice, as well as the countless injustices suffered by so many others every day in South Africa, he resolved not to rest until he had set those injustices right. On that night he conquered his anger and vowed to resist injustice, not by violence or retaliation, but through the loving power of nonviolent resistance, which elevates the consciousness of both oppressed and oppressor.

We may never be called on to liberate a people or lead a vast nation, but Gandhi’s example can apply in a small way in our own lives, when we decide to return good will for ill will, love for hatred, in the innumerable little acts of daily life.

Michelle said...

Thy Peace,

I just got scared. It seems everywhere I turn someone is yelling at me or telling me they're going to sue me. Sometimes I just want a bit of peace, not to theorize or ruffle feathers. I feel a coward. Ugh.

I'm just not ready for what I've landed into. I'm still just a kid, I'm a newly-wed! I want my life.

One of my biggest mentors who was in Rwanda during the genocide told me that for five years afterwards he talked endlessly about the experience, then for another five years he was completely silent but always ruminating, and now he allows himself only one public speech in regards to a day, and does that full time.

Right now, maybe I'm just ruminating. Not that I've been through a genocide or had to 4-wheel through bodies to save orphan kids, but we've all dealt with awful stuff here. ***sigh*** I feel like a fool.

I won't be quiet forever. I just need a bit of peace in my life, just a little bit. Just for today.

Mojoey said...

I missed the part in the rules where they report all allegation of abuse to law enforcement. Was it in there?

Christa Brown said...

No... I don't think you missed it, Mojoey. Part 2 says that their procedures "are not intended to prevent or relieve" anyone from reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to the proper civil authorities as required by law." So they don't actually tell people to report or say that reporting is mandatory.

Then, in part 8b, they say that, when a person "is terminated" for sexual abuse of a child, the Board "shall have the authority" to notify the appropriate civil authorities. 1) Seems as though they should be notifying the civil authorities a whole sooner rather than waiting until after they themselves have decided to terminate the guy; and 2) Saying they "have the authority" to notify civil authorities suggests that they might choose not to. No doubt about it... the wording could sure be a lot better. Of course, in addition to wording, they need to actually put this policy into practice.

Christa Brown said...

"It seems everywhere I turn someone is yelling at me or telling me they're going to sue me."

I understand. This is exactly what happens to a great many clergy abuse survivors when they start speaking out. And it IS very scary.

"I just need a bit of peace in my life, just a little bit. Just for today."

Michelle,
Please don't kick yourself for the choices you make. You are neither a fool nor a coward. Choosing peace is a valid choice, and if you choose differently on a different day, then that's a valid choice as well.

For me, there are times when every day feels as though the choice is between truth and peace. If I pursue truth, then I feel no peace. And if I sit in peace, then I worry that truth languishes. There are also occasional days when truth and peace seem to co-exist and work together. I hope for more of those.

Lydia said...

"I'm sure that a policy like this was pretty much required for legal and insurance purposes, since IMB personnel are employees of the IMB.."

Exactly. .

Thy Peace said...
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Michelle said...

Thy Peace and Christa,

I am doing better now. I just sort of had a nervous breakdown.

My mom gave me the very good advice once when I was horribly depressed to just do one thing a day, it didn't have to be much, just one thing, like the dishes, or a letter to a friend, or a poem. I guess that's a good motto to live by when I feel so overwhelmed like I did yesterday.

Christa,

I finally finished your book and it was amazing. I have alot to say about it on my blog, but that'll take some time. I did do a review of it on amazon. I'm Una (as in Una Jeffers, I get huge crushes on dead poets.)

Some painless things we could all do to increase circulation:

-put in a written request for "This Little Light" at our respective local libraries.
It'll go to the new shelf at first, which is normally in the front of the library.

-put in a request for the book at our local bookstores and if they do have it, find it and put it up front when you stop by for a coffee and the latest bestseller.

Thank you, all of you for being here. You helped me yesterday, and now I'm going to go make chocolate chip cookies.

Christa Brown said...

Michelle,
Thank you so, so much for writing a review on Amazon. It's such a personal and warm review. Others can read "Una's" review here.

I am grateful to any of you who are able to put up reviews on Amazon. Reviews help with rankings and can increase a book's visibility. Plus... other survivors like reading them and it helps them to realize more and more that they're far from alone in their experience. Reviews don't have to be long. They can be just a few sentences and still be meaningful to others who read them.

Thy Peace said...

Michelle, thanks for your comments here and on Amazon. You write well. I received my copy of Christa's book last week. I get pretty shook up reading this. So I am slowly reading Christa's book.

Richard said...

Ex-Teacher Guilty Of Sex With Student

Man Pleads Guilty To Lesser Charge, Sentenced To 2 Years Probation

“A former teacher pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he had sexual contact with a 16-year-old student.”

“Prior to working for Lighthouse [Christian School, he] worked with the Duval County School District, and Duval administrators have said he was fired over "similar accusations," but his teaching license was not suspended.”


This school doesn’t appear to be Southern Baptist; it is associated with Grace Chapel Christian Fellowship here in Jacksonville. What astounded me was that this Christian school hired him in the first place after being terminated by the public school system over “similar accusations.” This guy didn’t have to leave the state and go somewhere to hide his background – he never left the county and STILL got another teaching job. What kind of background check was done? Are these schools so desperate for teachers that they will hire anyone with a teaching certificate and try to overlook such past indiscretions? Is that it?

Now to pour salt on the wound of the victim, on a technicality the guy gets a slap on the wrist and he STILL hasn’t been required to register as a sexual predator!

(Shakes head in utter disbelief)