Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Denial: It ain't just a river

Last week in Arkansas, the longtime music minister at a prominent Southern Baptist church pled guilty to 4 counts of sexual indecency with children. It was a plea bargain deal. He had been charged on 54 counts.

David Pierce was the music minister at First Baptist of Benton for 29 years, and he preyed on trust-filled boys during much of that time. The prosecutor said there were “many” who claimed to have been victimized by Pierce “during the past two decades,” but that the statute of limitations had run on many of the claims.

So, the four charges on which Pierce pled guilty are just the tip of the iceberg. Even the 54 counts on which he was criminally charged are just the tip of the iceberg. We know there were many more who spoke up but whose claims were too old to support criminal charges. And there are likely many, many more who have never spoken of it at all but remain lost in silent undue shame.

In the face of so many wounded people, what did minister Pierce have to say for himself in the courtroom?

Nothing.

Pierce “offered no apology or explanation.” Instead, after the hearing was over, Pierce had his attorney read a statement that Pierce had prepared in advance. In that prepared statement, Pierce said this:

“The past several weeks have been very difficult for many, including the congregation of First Baptist Church, the people of this community, and those affected by these circumstances, and especially my family.”

“Those affected by these circumstances”???

Doesn’t he mean “those whom I sexually abused as kids”?

Do you see how Pierce tries to distance himself and to use words that minimize what he did? Those boys were not affected by mere “circumstances.” They were wounded by the sexual abuse that Pierce himself inflicted on them. And Pierce inflicted that abuse on countless boys, over and over again, during the course of two decades.

Pierce’s prepared statement then goes on to say this:

“Our family has learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are the first steps to mending broken hearts. To that end, I express my most sincere apologies to every person affected by my actions. It was never my intention to hurt anyone.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Just minutes after he was taken away in handcuffs, Pierce has his lawyer read a statement in which Pierce presumes to sermonize people on “forgiveness.”

Then there’s the clincher -- the part that really gets me. Pierce says, “It was never my intention to hurt anyone.”

Yeah. I believe that. Pierce’s intent was focused solely on himself. On his own sexual gratification and on the perverse satisfaction he got from controlling others through religious manipulation. But the boys themselves -- those other human beings who were in front of him -- they were irrelevant to Pierce.

For Pierce, those boys weren’t soul-filled human beings at all. He didn’t respect their humanity. He simply used their bodies to serve his own ends.

When a drunk driver crosses the center line and kills a family, he probably didn’t intend such horrific harm. He intended to drink, and he intended to drive, but he didn’t intend to kill anyone. Nevertheless, the law still holds him criminally accountable because his actions entail a high risk of serious harm to others.

When a trusted minister sexually abuses kids, he may not consciously hold the intention of hurting anyone. But there is a 100 percent probability that his actions will cause serious harm to the kids. One hundred percent. It’s not just a high risk scenario like the drunk driver; it’s a one-hundred-percent scenario.

That’s why Pierce’s stated “intention” is irrelevant. Sexual abuse of kids causes them serious harm. Period. So no one should be impressed by Pierce’s statement that “it was never my intention to hurt anyone.” The “hurt” is a 100 percent probability. Pierce’s statement merely underscores his own ongoing denial, rationalization and minimization.

But of course, Pierce isn’t alone in his denial. The denial of Pierce the perpetrator is supported by the denial of other leaders in the faith community.

The church’s former pastor, Greg Kirksey, who was also a 2-term president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, wrote a letter to the judge, asking for “leniency” and essentially telling the judge that Pierce should “not be sentenced to prison.”

You have to wonder whether Kirksey would ever make the same request for a non-clergy child molester. “Please, Judge, no prison time for this admitted child molester.” How many times do you think Kirksey has done that? Did he do it this time because Pierce was a fellow Baptist minister?

Do you think Kirksey imagines that Pierce’s status as a minister makes his crimes less heinous? It doesn’t. It makes his crimes even worse. But perhaps Kirksey is too mired in denial to comprehend that.

As they say… “Denial – it ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

And here’s what Rick Grant, the church’s current pastor, told the press, “It is hard to see someone you’ve known for years as a friend, mentor and colleague end up in this kind of circumstance.”

There it is again -- that minimizing word -- “circumstance.” Is it any wonder that the perpetrator deflects it as a mere “circumstance” when that’s also what his senior pastor calls it?

It makes it sound as though this was something that just sort of happened, doesn’t it? As though it were a “circumstance” beyond anyone’s control, and Pierce just happened to “end up” in it.

But of course, that isn’t how it was. It wasn’t just a “circumstance.” It was intentional, deliberate and calculated conduct that minister David Pierce pursued for at least two decades, using a church ministry as lure for his prey.

Then, after calling two decades’ worth of a minister’s child sex abuse a mere “circumstance,” pastor Rick Grant quickly shifted gears to sing the praises of First Baptist -- this church in which countless boys were horribly harmed -- and to say that “God will bless us if we strive to follow his will for our lives.”

Pastor Grant still doesn’t get it, does he? That’s what all those boys were trying to do. They were striving to follow God’s will, as it was maliciously brainwashed into them by one of pastor Grant’s staff ministers.

At First Baptist Church of Benton, striving to follow God’s will is what got those boys sexually abused by a minister.
____________________

For more insights on the nature of denial in sex offenders, see Sex offenders refuse plea bargains in The Morning News, 8/29/09.

For more info on this story of decades-long clergy sex abuse at First Baptist Church of Benton, see my prior postings: (1)
Questions need answers in Benton; (2) Basically brainwashing; (3) What’s wrong with this picture? and (4) A good man who does nothing.

See also BaptistPlanet's take: “Sentenced after confessing more than a decade of sexual abuse.”

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jesus, do you weep when you read this blog too?

john said...

I am sure He weeps more than all of us as He knows the whole story

john said...

I am sure He weeps more than all of us as He knows the whole story

Anonymous said...

"That’s why Pierce’s stated “intention” is irrelevant. Sexual abuse of kids causes them serious harm. Period. So no one should be impressed by Pierce’s statement that “it was never my intention to hurt anyone.” The “hurt” is a 100 percent probability. Pierce’s statement merely underscores his own ongoing denial, rationalization and minimization."

Thank you! I get so sick of hearing about intentions and motives. They are a moot point! We are to focus on fruit. Motives and intentions do NOT matter.

Does saying he did not intend to molest change the FACT that he did? Does it make it any less heinous?

These are people who cannot face up to what they did. They refuse to see themselves as they really are. That is NOT repentance. it is the opposite.

And the pastor who asked the judge for leniency is just as bad. He refuses to see it for what it is, too.

Let us pray the judge ignores him.

What is it about Christian leaders that they have no compassion for innocent kids who are the victims? Is it because they do not tithe?

Christa Brown said...

"What is it about Christian leaders that they have no compassion for innocent kids who are the victims?"

I often wonder the same thing and can never comprehend it. How can they NOT see the horror of what these predatory ministers do to kids -- both the physical AND the spiritual horror?

Is it because they do not tithe?

It's a sad explanation to contemplate, but what other explanation is there? No matter how much they talk about "precious children," it's just talk. Their deeds tell a very different story.

I also think that, on some level, consciously or unconsciously, many Baptist leaders essentially blame the kids for their own abuse. They see the kids as little sinners.

Elisabeth said...

"I also think that, on some level, consciously or unconsciously, many Baptist leaders essentially blame the kids for their own abuse. They see the kids as little sinners."

Before the Baptist minister who abused me when I was in my 20's actually started the sexual abuse, I told him about how a neighbor boy molested me when I was 7 and raped me when I was 12. He told me that he thinks little kids enjoy sex. He also once said "People wonder why there's so much child molestation. Well, kids have to watch what they do, too!"

Hearing the man I had come to for help with the fallout from child sexual abuse come up with that stripped me of every last little bit of self respect I had.

Christa Brown said...

Elisabeth,
I am so sorry to hear this aspect of your story. Tragically, it's something I've heard far too many times, and every time it breaks my heart. It seems to be a common pattern that predatory preachers will move in on someone who expresses vulnerability about some prior trauma. I wish other Baptist leaders would begin to understand this pattern and to see how predatory this sort of conduct is. Instead, too often, they just talk about it as though their preacher/colleague "fell into sexual temptation." Yet, what I see is calculating and predatory. They're like animals who circle their prey, finding the weakest point, and then move in for the kill.

john said...

Why go to a pastor with this type of story in the first place. I know we want to think they care, but, do they really? Go to a professional who is trained and is subject to review if they mess up.
The Bible says to "not cast our pearls before swine". Swine do not appreciate the value of tings. Neither do a lot of these "pastors". You simply become sewrmon material and table talk at the next "preacher's feed".
Please reconsider going to a pastor. If they are really intrerested in you they will refer you to someone who can help.
Yes, I know there are exceptions. If you want to live on the edge and hope you found the exception, that is your choice. I for one will not and encourage you to not do so either.

Christa Brown said...

"Go to a professional who is trained and is subject to review if they mess up."

This is excellent advice. Most pastoral counselors simply do not have the level of training that is needed to competently help people with serious psychological issues. And because they often presume competency when they are actually quite lacking, they can often do enormous harm. Furthermore, unlike other sorts of psychologists and counselors, pastoral counselors are not subject to peer review processes, and this lack of any effective oversight mechanism sets up dreadful possibilities for abuse.

I know that some pastoral counselors are good, but the good ones will recognize the limits of their training, and won't presume beyond it. And as John points out, the good ones will refer you to someone else who is more qualified to help.

Anonymous said...

Not only that but the pastor will feel empathy with a perp who was on staff instead of the victim. He will be thinking of losing members, a church split, less tithe, etc.

His very well being can be tied up in the outcome of such things, even at another church!

He is the LAST one to be objective in such a situation.

A professional is going to make sure you know how the civil authorities can help you and keep the perp from hurting others

Renae C. said...

The advice to go to a non-clergy professional is good, but often in the midst of looking for a way out of the pain, there is no where else to go. Kids, teens, young adults raised in the typical "baptist" environment often can't or won't turn to family for help. They've seen mental illness and sin equated all of their lives and often had the psychological professions degraded and minimized with statements like "counseling is only for crazy people". They've been told all their lives that their minister is God's representative and that God can heal all wounds. Why WOULDN'T they go to their pastor?

So, yes, in hindsight - it's easy to say - go see somebody else. But that doesn't help the poor soul seeking absolution and healing from the only place they know how. And then, once they've told their story and revealed their vulnerabilities, the predator has everything he needs to stalk his prey.

Christa's right - it happens this way an awful lot. Elisabeth - I'm so sorry it happened to you. And I do think one of the reasons nothing ever happens in response is because the privileged men in the positions of power do not value women and children as any more than livestock. That's a biblical perspective, right? (that was sarcastic in case anyone had a question)

Christa Brown said...

"They've seen mental illness and sin equated all of their lives and often had the psychological professions degraded and minimized .... They've been told all their lives that their minister is God's representative and that God can heal all wounds."

I think this is sooooo true among Baptists. And it really sets up clergy abuse survivors with a double-bind. They're sexually abused by a trusted minister and this causes serious long-lasting psychological problems, not the least of which is often post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be extremely debilitating. Then, as an adult, if they turn to a pastoral counselor for help and if he does the thing of telling them that they need to put it in God's hands and that they can be healed through God's love, then typically, the victim just winds up feeling all the worse. With that approach, they're made to feel that, if they persist in having psychological difficulties, it's their own fault because of their lack of a strong enough faith . . . or whatever. Then the victim not only winds up feeling as though they're to blame for their own abuse, but they also wind up feeling as though they're to blame for the fact that they struggle so much with psychological issues. Their psychological issues are very, very real, and yet frequently, pastoral counselors lead people to believe that what they're experiencing is NOT real and that, if only they were somehow "better" in their faith, then they wouldn't have problems. They often do way more harm than good.

Elisabeth said...

"They've seen mental illness and sin equated all of their lives and often had the psychological professions degraded and minimized with statements like 'counseling is only for crazy people'.

Oh, man! I have freaking seen that so many times! And I have had professional counseling, but it took me many years to get to that point! I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. I ended up in a church that a deacon's wife was bi-polar, so the leadership knew more about mental illness than many other churches.

And what really burns me about that thought is that people like me who are really hurting get hurt more, rather than getting the message that Jesus loves them just as they are.

Anonymous said...

"Not only that but the pastor will feel empathy with a perp who was on staff instead of the victim."

That's what pastor Rick Grant did. Grant knew about Pierce. He wasn't just "in denial." HE KNEW.

How are we supposed to live with THAT? Knowing that the pastor knew?

Christa Brown said...

Anon 3:02 - I don't know the answer to your "how" question. What I do know is that you are not alone in your feelings. There are many of us who struggle to come to terms with the knowledge that others knew and did nothing. . . because that's how things often are in Baptistland. And because, for many of us who have seen clergy-abuse cover-ups up close, we aren't inclined to put a rose-glasses gloss on a very ugly reality. We see the reality.

I understand the pain you feel. Many clergy abuse survivors would say that, even though the abuse itself was extremely damaging, what was even more damaging was what they encountered when they tried to tell other church and denominational leaders about it.

"What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander." -- Elie Wiesel