Saturday, October 17, 2009

Okay... so start with the admitted ones

From time to time, I hear from Baptist pastors who seem to at least recognize that the status quo won’t do. They say they’re in favor of keeping a database of Southern Baptist clergy who have admitted to sexual abuse or been criminally convicted. But they still think it would be wrong to create any sort of review board to assess abuse reports. That would interfere with local church autonomy, they say.

I’m always a bit puzzled when I hear this view because I think it reflects such a profound naivety.

Do they imagine that clergy sex abusers are simply going to raise their hands and say “Put me on the list, please”?

It doesn’t work that way.

When confronted, ministers sometimes say things that constitute admissions to sexual abuse, but the admissions usually come out in ways that are oblique and minimizing. And the admissions always come out in ways that require an open-eared listener.

The colleagues and cronies of a minister are almost never open-eared listeners for these sorts of admissions. They plug their ears. They blind their eyes. They lapse into denial.

They conjure every rationalization possible to avoid hearing the full reality of the admission that is right in front of them. . . and to avoid dealing with it.

For example, when minister David Pierce was confronted with the accusations of a man who said Pierce had abused him as an adolescent church boy, Pierce “didn’t deny any of the allegations leveled against him.” But he told Rick Grant, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Benton, that the events were “a one-time run of bad decision-making.” And rather than hearing that admission for what it was, pastor Grant apparently closed his ears.

Then minister David Pierce wrote down a “list of 12 names” of boys “whom he’d had inappropriate contact with,” but pastor Rick Grant apparently blinded his own eyes. Even with such an admission on paper squarely in front of him, pastor Grant was apparently incapable of recognizing the admission for what it was and of seeing the need for immediate action.

Pastor Rick Grant is the perfect example of why a minister’s colleagues and cronies cannot possibly assess the credibility of abuse reports. Heck… most of the time, the minister’s colleagues and cronies can’t even appropriately hear the guy when he makes a plain admission.

That’s exactly why an outside professionally-staffed review board is so desperately needed.

And even if the only thing you’re willing to agree to is a database of convicted and admitted clergy-predators, Baptists still need an outside review board to assess whether there has been an admission.

"But what happened at pastor Rick Grant’s church was something unusual" -- is that what you’re thinking?

Tragically, it’s not. Far from it.

Consider the case of George “Tom” Wade, Jr., a Southern Baptist missionary. When his 14-year-old daughter told the mission-school housemother that her minister-father had been sexually abusing her, the housemother told the Southern Baptist area director, Marion “Bud” Fray, who confronted Wade.

Wade admitted “only to a little fondling” and said “it happened a long time ago.”

Fray was apparently incapable of hearing that as the admission of abuse that it so obviously was. Fray kept quiet, and Southern Baptist missionary Tom Wade went on to sexually abuse other kids.

Consider the case of Paul Williams, a minister at the prominent Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. Williams admitted to “inappropriate sexual behavior with his son,” but senior pastor Steve Gaines was apparently incapable of hearing the reality of the admission with the seriousness it so obviously deserved. Instead, he simply accepted Williams statement that “the activity had not reoccurred”…. and Gaines stayed quiet.

Other church staff also knew about minister Williams’ admission . . . but they too stayed quiet. Later, after it was brought to light in the press, an investigation determined that Williams had engaged in “egregious, perverse, sexual activity with his adolescent son over a period of 12 to 18 months.”

And consider the case of pastor Larry Reynolds at Southmont Baptist Church in Texas -- a church that is aligned with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It’s an affluent, well-educated congregation in a university community.

After a woman alleged that Reynolds had sexually abused her when she was 14, Reynolds openly admitted at a church banquet that he had “made a terrible mistake.” He called it a “lapse in judgment,” confessed “that proper boundaries were not kept,” and asked forgiveness from the woman.

It was an admission, but other church staff ministers and church members were apparently incapable of hearing that admission for the child molestation reality that it was. They did nothing, and Reynolds stayed in the pulpit until the case was finally brought to light in the press. Even then, despite Reynolds’ own admission, the church gave him a $50,000 “love offering” to send him on his way.

Or consider the case of pastor Dale “Dickie” Amyx. When accused of sexually abusing a church girl, who said the abuse started when she was 14, his response was to say, “I did not have sex with her when she was 16 or under.” He also said, “I told her many times I never meant to hurt her.”

These were words that obviously constituted an admission of sexual abuse. And there was also the fact that the girl gave birth to a child when she was 18, and Amyx was legally determined to be the father. He finally began paying child support when the child was 8.

Yet, despite his admissions, and despite the paternity determination, pastor Dale “Dickie” Amyx remains a Southern Baptist minister to this day. Apparently there was no one in his congregation who was capable of hearing the seriousness of his admissions.

And so far, no one else in Baptistland has been willing to hear those admissions either. That’s the problem.

So to those of you in Baptistland who proclaim that you’re all in favor of having Baptists keep a database of admitted clergy-predators, I say, “Fine -- start with that -- do it”

But Baptists will still need an independent review board in order to have people who will actually hear the admissions when they happen.

Because even when a minister admits to sexual abuse, his colleagues, cronies, and congregants can’t hear him.

23 comments:

Joe Blackmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BaptistPlanet said...

I wonder how many victims of Baptist clergy sexual predation believe local church autonomy trumps abuse prevention?

BaptistPlanet said...

Also, why isn't pastor Rick Grant an accessory after the fact?

Christa Brown said...

"If I were the senior pastor ..."

Virtually everyone - EVERYONE - likes to believe that, if they had information about a minister who abused a kid, they would do the right thing. But in the real world, when it hits close to home, good people do not do the right thing. Good people do nothing. That's what actually happens.

Good people recoil against the reality of child sex abuse, and so they find ways not to see the full reality of it, particularly when that reality involves a friend, colleague and minister whom they have known and trusted for years. They deny, rationalize and minimize. It happens all the time.

It's an obvious failure of leadership, but it's also a common human reaction. It's so common that it's part of the reason many other organizations, including other major faith groups (but NOT Baptists), implement institutional oversight mechanisms. For example, no one would expect a police-officer's partners and buddies to assess whether he used excessive force. They have independent review boards so that outsiders will be the ones who look into complaints and who hear the responses that officers make when confronted.

Christa Brown said...

"I wonder how many victims of Baptist clergy sexual predation believe local church autonomy trumps abuse prevention?"

Probably none.

But I think most people in the pews wouldn't believe this either, if they really understood what's happening. Here's what Baptist leaders' "autonomy trumps abuse prevention" view means in actual practice: 1) People who were abused by Baptist ministers when they were kids try to report the minister to state and national denominational leaders. 2) Denominational leaders say "local church autonomy" and do nothing. 3) The reported minister remains in the pulpit, with a congregation who trusts him completely. 4) The reported minister can move from church to church and state to state, with no one the wiser, because no one is even keeping records on abuse reports. 5) The people who try to report these abusive ministers wind up with even greater wounds as they see only collusion and complicity among so many others in the faith community.

In any event, the whole notion that the implementation of review boards would interfere with local church autonomy is a canard -- a piece of propaganda sold by Baptist leaders who prefer the status quo because the status quo protects THEM.

Lydia said...

I have no way to know, but I can't believe that all pastors would just turn a blind eye if presented this kind of admission. If I were the senior pastor of a church and a staff member admitted this to me I'd probably spend the night in jail for beating the snot out of the guy before I called the cops on him. Any pastor who would not immediately turn someone in when they confessed to something like this is not a pastor.

October 18, 2009 7:36 AM

Joe, I agree they are not real pastors. But the SBC is full of them.

But here is the real difference. You are not deriving your entire income from ministry. You are not engaged full time in trying to grow a church and your entire identity is not wrapped up in your image being tied to the churches image.

They know the amount of damage it will do to their church if this is made public and dealt with in not only a biblical manner but criminal matter. So, they put expediency before the victim. Image trumps protecting kids.

I would not say this if I had not seen such things with my own eyes. I have heard leaders say, 'you know making this public now is not going to help the victim and it will only hurt the cause of Christ'.

I have heard that! Nevermind there is NO cause of Christ when the Body is protecting and sweeping under the rug such heinous sin that children are not protected in the Body of Christ????

And so when the liar pervert (all perverts have to lie) says it was only fondling or a one time deal, they believe it and think...well, that is not so bad. What is it about kids they seem to think it is no big deal when they are molested? Do they not understand millstones? No, because they are not real undershepherds. They are hirlings.

There was one instance I remember reading about when the youth pastor was finally caught and the state association leaders begged the judge for leniency because this had hurt his family so badly. They were awfully concerned for the pervert and his family (never mind the pervert did this to his own family) but this same state association would not even talk to the victims!

Joe Blackmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christa Brown said...

Joe: From seeing your comments that you subsequently removed, and from prior comments, my impression is that this is something you are genuinely struggling to understand. It also appears to me as though you took my 10:06 comment as a personal insult. It wasn't intended personally.

"Why do good people do nothing in the face of evil?" It's an age-old question that crops up in a lot of contexts. My raising it in this context was not in any way directed at you personally.

Joe Blackmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Blackmon said...

Let's try this dance again....

Struggling to understand isn't exactly how I'd put it. Disgusted by it. I would not turn a blind eye to it. I've had opportunity to and I have not. Therefore, I am completely at a loss to understand how anyone could have someone, particularly a child but really anyone, come up and say they were abused and not investigate to find out the truth. I don't care who it was, a friend, a family member, whoever, if I found out about I would do something if they were accused because I would want to know the truth. If someone I loved were abused obviously I would act. Depending on how close they were to me (my child, for instance) I might not even have to have anything more than their word before I would seek to redress the situation personally. Of course, that is not Christlike but it would also be un-Christlike to lie about it.

I think having some independant body investigate would be a great idea. I have no idea how to make that work. As an auditor, our office is subject to peer review of our work and it's always outside of our office and any malpractice by an auditor or an accountant is brought before some external board but I don't think that mechanism is in place in the SBC.

Yes, I did take it personal. If you say it wasn't meant personal then I will take your word for it since I have no reason to think you're lying.

Thy Peace said...

Joe: If you do get a chance, I would encourage you to read Christa's book. In it you will find Christa then was way different then Christa who is now. My reading of what has changed is the reception Christa received from SBC, when Christa was pursuing some recourse for what she went through in an SBC Church. Mind you my reading is the physical stuff is bad enough, but the really obscene one is the mental rape that took place by using Scripture.

Showing posts for query this little light.

Joe Blackmon said...

Thy,

My reading plate is a wee bit full but I do intend to read the book at some point.

Elisabeth said...

Joe,

I have been reading this blog quite awhile, and am very familiar with Christa's writing style. Nothing on her 10:06 comment appeared to be directed towards you.

And I have really had to come to terms with the good people doing nothing in my own life. I was not a child when I was abused, rather a 23 year old new Christian who went to counseling with my pastor, and my pastor convinced me that the only way I would be acceptable to God would be by having sex with him. I blamed myself for years. I eventually ended up marrying a man whose parents went to that church. It was after my marriage when I slowly became aware that the pastor had victimized me. My husband told his mom and step dad what happened, and did they stop going to the church? No. They had been going there too long and had too many friends there. They were convinced the Christian thing would be to forgive him. And my own faith had been almost destroyed by that man, not to mention my self image.

Doing the right thing involves seeing things as they are, allowing yourself to see the man you've loved and trusted as a spiritual leader for several years is a fraud, and be willing to stick your own neck out. It's being willing to allow your own church to go into an upheaval, and possibly losing friends, or maybe even your church totally folding. It's being willing to have others not believe you because they are unwilling to face such stuff about their pastor. It involves a lot of self sacrifice; sacrifice not everyone is willing to make.

But I wish that everyone would think of the child or vulnerable adult who was hurt and make that sacrifice, instead of thinking of themselves.

Joe Blackmon said...

E-beth,

Like I said, I take her at her word. If she says it wasn't intended to be directed at me personally then I'll assume that it wasn't directed at me.

Christa Brown said...

"As an auditor, our office is subject to peer review of our work and it's always outside of our office and any malpractice by an auditor or an accountant is brought before some external board but I don't think that mechanism is in place in the SBC."

Not only are auditors subject to outside review and external disciplinary boards, but so too are many other professionals -- doctors, lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, realtors, teachers, police, etc. Indeed, the notion that accountability requires a system of external oversight is very well-established in most other professions. Similarly, in most of the other major faith groups in this country, clergy are now subject to various sorts of outside review processes. But not Baptist clergy. Why? Because Baptist leaders are stuck on pretending as though this notion of a denominational review board is some sort of radical idea . . . when of course it's not. Furthermore, a review board wouldn't have to interfere with local church autonomy, but to the contrary, could be a very valuable resource for the local churches.

Anonymous said...

MORE busted youth ministers! ENOUGH of this so-called profession of youth-ministers. UUGH!

Elisabeth said...

Because Baptist leaders are stuck on pretending as though this notion of a denominational review board is some sort of radical idea . . . when of course it's not. Furthermore, a review board wouldn't have to interfere with local church autonomy, but to the contrary, could be a very valuable resource for the local churches.

I so agree. It could be a valuable resource. And churches need resources if their minister is accused of child molesting, or even victimizing an adult who came to him for help.
What I would wish for is not only a review board, but also counseling for the person directly victimized, his or her family, and someone knowledgeable about predators to talk to the congregation in general. I honestly think one of the reasons for blaming or not believing the victim is it's so hard for people to believe that the minister fooled them into thinking he was such a man of God. But predators are often very good at presenting themselves as being men of God, only showing their true colors to their targets.

john said...

kay, let me tyr this again. Autonomy of the local church is in place because all SBC churches do not believe the same way about almost anything. Therefore they do not want to be told what they have to read.
Autonomy is also in place because no SBC church wants someone else telling them who their pastor must be.
In addition SBC churches want total autonomy when it comes to how they spend their money.
There are a few other areas which church autonomy is very special to them.
Howevr, protecting a criminal, covering-up the truth so justice cannot be done, and curcumventing the law is not an area for autonomy. Whenever, someone refuses to agree to an independent agancy to help protect churches from these perps it has nothing to do with autonomy. It is all about pride, sin, a love for self over a serious commitment to a call to serve God.
This is a smoke screne and not a very god one at that.
The fear of being prosecuted is best answered by the verse found in Romans 13 which says if we do good the authorities will praise us however if we do evil, "be afraid for he does not bear the sword in vain'.

Christa Brown said...

"What I would wish for is not only a review board, but also counseling for the person directly victimized, his or her family..."

Yes, absolutely. It's what I wish for too. The lack of compassion and care for the people who have been wounded within the faith community is just astonishing to me. And what really boggles the mind is knowing that some of the state conventions provide counseling services (free and/or subsidized) for ministers who have committed sexual abuse... and have for a long time. (The Texas counseling program also provides counseling for the ministers' wives.) So... statewide Baptist entities can use Cooperative Program dollars to help the clergy-perpetrators... and yet they claim they can't use Cooperative Program dollars to provide counseling for the victims. I'll never understand it.

Elisabeth said...

I was one of the lucky ones with counseling - I ended up in a church that is in partnership w/ a Baptist group that offers counseling. Because of that partnership I got counseling at a reduced rate. But even that's rare, and dependent on individual churches. And since the rate was because of the partnership, not the church offering to help me with counseling, the only way I could get a reduced rate was through going to this group.
And, of course, this wasn't the church I was hurt at. I got nothing from them.
It also seems like the very, very few times you hear of a Baptist church offering counseling for a person who was hurt at their church, it's always with a counselor of their choice, NOT the victim's choice. Often it's a counselor connected to their church in some way. Who would want to go to a counselor connected to the church where they were hurt? How could healing even take place in such a circumstance?
I've also heard of subsequent pastors not understand when a victim of clergy sexual abuse decides to go to a "secular" counselor, and even try to discourage it. I wish pastors would understand that for clergy abuse victims, that seeing a counselor not connected with churches in any way can be more helpful than seeing a "Christian" counselor, because of the triggers! :-(
I myself have seen both "secular" and "Christian" counselors, and both have been helpful. I am distrustful of pastors who seem to think that secular counselors all lead people down the paths of untruth and damnation!

Christa Brown said...

"Who would want to go to a counselor connected to the church where they were hurt?

I would never, ever, ever recommend that any clergy abuse survivor go to a counselor connected to the church. NEVER. I have heard far too many horror stories -- stories of people who were wounded a dozen times over and worse because they had a counselor whose primary interest was in protecting the church. EVERY survivor deserves a counselor whose primary interest is in helping the survivor.

I know that there are some good pastoral counselors. However, in this context, I believe that it is absolutely essential that a clergy abuse survivor have counseling that is completely independent of the church.

I feel profoundly grateful and fortunate that I was able to obtain good counseling and to afford it. It's what EVERY clergy abuse survivor deserves, and the churches ought to pay. They should WANT to help the victim on their road toward healing. And yet, I've talked with other Baptist clergy abuse survivors who struggled enormously with trying to obtain adequate counseling . . . to the point of driving their families into bankruptcy. It breaks my heart. They want to work at healing. They're trying. And they're getting no help.

My own counselor was a woman who has counseled many Catholic abuse survivors. I was fortunate because she already had a deep well of understanding about the dynamics of clergy sex abuse... and I think that base of experience was enormously helpful. This is extremely difficult stuff to deal with (as evidenced by the many clergy abuse survivors who commit suicide... many simply don't make it out of the darkness), and it is VERY helpful to have a counselor who has been down the road before. My own counselor was a practicing Catholic -- a woman who was both deeply spiritual and also religious. But for purposes of counseling me, she was a professional, independent, secular counselor . . . and she was 200 percent on my side. I am forever grateful.

Elisabeth said...

Glad you had a good counselor Christa! :-) I did too. I was far enough along in my healing that the fact it was a "Baptist" agency didn't bother me - and I did check out all church ties it had thoroughly!
My insurance also covers a limited amount of counseling, and I had taken advantage of that, too.
And I hear you loud and clear about the horror stories! I think some such "counseling" offered by the church itself is just a ploy to try to make the victim "toe the line." And that's really, really bad.
The only thing for a victim to do is get out of the church, and do not get counseling from the church. I wish there was some way victims could get the church to pay, but that almost never happens.
I wish that all people in the pews could stand to look at us, really look at us. Then they might do something to make a change happen. But often times, if we say something, we're "bitter."

Christa Brown said...

"I wish that all people in the pews could stand to look at us, really look at us."

It's ironic, isn't it? I always hear so much blame heaped onto the victims for not speaking up sooner. And yet, the very people who are so willing to heap so much blame onto the victims are the same people who can't even muster the courage to really look at us. They can't understand why we have so much psychological difficulty in speaking up . . . and yet they themselves are completely incapable of seeing the reality of what was done to us . . . and they aren't even the ones traumatized by it.

I'm glad you had good counseling too, Elisabeth! Like you, I always think that I'm one of the lucky ones.