Thursday, November 12, 2009

Once every two weeks for Texas Baptists

“Southern Baptist churches in Texas must stop hiding sexual abuse by clergy and provide outreach to victims.”

That’s what Phil Strickland told the delegates of the Baptist General Convention of Texas exactly 10 years ago when they gathered for their annual meeting in El Paso.

Phil Strickland, who was executive director of the BGCT’s Christian Life Commission, presented a report to the 2000 Texas Baptists gathered there, and said: “There is increasing evidence that clergy sexual abuse is a significant problem among Baptist ministers.”

How did Phil Strickland know this back in November 1999?

Because this sort of knowledge was part of his job.

As Strickland explained, the Baptist General Convention of Texas “gets a call about once every two weeks from someone wanting to report abuse.”

“Once every two weeks.”

So that would be about 26 calls per year from people wanting to report clergy sex abuse to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Do the math.

Over the past 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, this would mean that about 260 people tried to report clergy sex abuse to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Then consider this. Phil Strickland worked for the Baptist General Convention of Texas for nearly 40 years, and when he made those remarks, he had been at the post as executive director of their Christian Life Commission for about 19 years.

If, as Strickland said, he had been getting a call about “once every two weeks” for the 19 years prior to his remarks, then that would be 494 more people who called the Baptist General Convention of Texas to try to report clergy sexual abuse.

So, if we take Phil Strickland at his word, this would mean that about 754 people tried to report clergy sex abuse to the Baptist General Convention of Texas between 1980 and 2009.

Who are those Texas ministers whom people tried to report? Where are those ministers now? How many more kids and congregants have been hurt by those reported ministers?

And where are the records on those 754 reports of clergy sex abuse?

In response to Phil Strickland’s 1999 plea, the Baptist General Convention of Texas put out a glossy brochure. It also started keeping a confidential file of ministers reported by churches “for sexual misconduct, including child molestation.” Information included in the file specifically includes “sexual abuse of children.”

But note the Catch-22: the file includes only those ministers who are reported by churches, and everyone knows that, in the normal scenario, the churches don’t report clergy abuse. “They just try to keep it secret.” So most of those 754 reports probably didn’t make it into the official file. Were they placed in some unofficial file, or were they just trashed?

Even in the extremely rare case when a church actually does report a minister’s sexual abuse, the Baptist General Convention of Texas simply keeps the information in a file cabinet. The minister can continue working in a different church or in a different state, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas won’t undertake to warn people in the pews.

That’s what happened in my own case. My perpetrator was reported to the BGCT, not only by myself, but also by a church. And his name simply sat in the BGCT’s file cabinet while he continued working in children’s ministry in Florida.

According to Phil Strickland, there are probably about 754 more reported cases of clergy sex abuse that the BGCT did nothing about.

Personally, I think Phil Strickland would likely turn over in his grave if he could see what became of his 1999 plea to Texas Baptists.

Phil Strickland talked about “a counseling program for victims.” But as Dee Miller reported, “About the assistance to victims . . . it appears that strings are attached when one seeks assistance from the BGCT.” Counseling for victims may be available if the victims grovel and if they sign a contract agreeing to never speak of it. I know from personal experience that Dee’s report is exactly right.

It’s the sort of system that ensures secrecy. It doesn’t work to protect others.

And about that “crisis intervention” for churches that Phil Strickland talked about? In actual practice, what that means is that the Baptist General Convention of Texas may send out its own long-time attorney to “help” the church handle the crisis. And the way the attorney “helps” the church is by threatening to sue the victim if the victim doesn’t shut up.

Again, it’s the sort of system that ensures secrecy. It doesn’t work to protect others.

Meanwhile, “once every two weeks,” those people who are trying to report Baptist clergy sex abuse wind up hearing the “because there are no bishops” excuse. It’s Texas Baptist leaders’ self-serving rationalization for do-nothingness.

Or they hear the “go to the church” line, which almost always inflicts even greater wounds. Telling clergy abuse survivors to “go to the church” is like telling bloody sheep to go to the den of the wolf who savaged them. It’s cruel to the victims, and it doesn’t work to protect others.

In his last speech before his death, Phil Strickland talked about “the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and courageously to say so . . . .” He wondered aloud about where this had all gone in Baptist life.

I wonder the same thing.

When will Texas Baptists quit pretending? When will they choose to see the people whom they prefer to remain invisible -- the people who have been sexually abused by Baptist clergy? When will they open their eyes to the consequences of the denomination’s do-nothingness? When will they step beyond their fear of risk and step forward with courage toward protecting the innocent and healing the wounded?

Ten full years have passed since Phil Strickland’s words, but for Baptist clergy abuse survivors, virtually nothing has changed. “Once every two weeks,” their voices still fall on deaf ears at the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

The only thing that has changed is that Houston is hosting their annual hoopla this year. It convenes next week, November 16-17.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

"In his last speech before his death, Phil Strickland talked about “the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and courageously to say so . . . .” He wondered aloud about where this had all gone in Baptist life."

Seriously, what does it say about Christians that they care so little about injustice? It says a lot. It says there is a deep ignorance of the Word. Injustice toward another sister in Christ or an innocent child should be a call to protect and mourn the sin. To embrace the victim with protection, love, empathy.

But we do the opposite and call ourselves followers of Christ and brag about our denominations work for the Lord. It is sick. And we are liars.

John said...

I believe this says a lot about the SBC today and as Dr. Strickland saw things. From Amos 5:21-24 the "The Message/Remix reads: "I can't stand your religious meetings, I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religious projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to Me?
Do you know what I want? I want justice- oceans of it.
I want fairness - rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want."

It could very well be too late for the SBC to regain it's once walk with God. Man's ideas and goals have replaced God's. And, I do not believe He is happy!

Jim said...

Just heard on the news that evangelist Tony Alamo has been sentenced to 175 years in prison and ordered to pay $250,000 in fines for his sex crimes against young girls. Additionally, two of the girls, now women, have been awarded about $3,000,000 in damages. The trial involved five individuals, and hopefully all will receive large financial judgments from his "ministry." Now, Baptist girls and boys who have been abused, I hope this gives you added strength to stop child predator clergy among you. Take a page from the courageous women who fought Alamo and his big evangelistic machine, and won. Thank God for one victory. Pray for many more.

XaurreauX said...

I'm not a criminologist or a sociologist, but I suggest that when enablers of child molesters face criminal charges and serious prison time the number of incidences of child abuse will plummet.

非凡 said...

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Anonymous said...

" but I suggest that when enablers of child molesters face criminal charges and serious prison time the number of incidences of child abuse will plummet."

I agree. That means pastors who do not report and fire pedophiles on staff and wives who do not report sexual molestation of their own children.

Jim said...

"...when enablers of child molesters face criminal charges and serious prison time the number of incidences of child abuse will plummet."

AMEN! By virtue of their inaction, SBC leadership may be enabling abusers. Among it's several functions, the SBC is a religious franchising operation. It franchises houses of worship across the country in exchange for a voluntary percentage of receipts. Literature, programs, and promotional materials come from corporate headquarters. Most of the managers and employees are trained at six corporate academies. Many of the franchise outlets sport the corporate logo on their marquees. Those franchise outlets are somewhat autonomous, but SBC is the brand. Stray too far from corporate's mandate and a franchise will lose its branding. Why, then, do we presume that victims of abuse by the manager or an employee of one of those franchise outlets cannot seek legal relief from the parent corporation. It seems to work all the time for folks wronged by franchised fast-food restaurants. One or two courageous DA's and some creative trial lawyers might help fix this mess by bringing criminal and civil action against the SBC corporation.

Christa Brown said...

"...the SBC is a religious franchising operation."

What a fascinating way to think about it! Thanks for the insight. A very useful analogy!

"...but SBC is the brand."

No doubt about it, and people rely on that SBC "brand" in the same way that they rely on other sorts of brands.

"... some creative trial lawyers might help fix this mess by bringing criminal and civil action against the SBC corporation."

Yes, I too think that some creative lawyers are what's needed, and also lawyers who are willing to take on greater risk... lawyers who are willing to take on a significant risk of losing in some jurisdictions (with the costs those losses will entail) and then trying again elsewhere. The same sorts of legal arguments that have worked in the Catholic context (and in the context of other faith groups with more obviously heirarchical structures) will not work in exactly the same way with groups like Baptists who at least purport to have a congregationalist structure. The Catholic cases in which there is a clearly-delineated line of responsibility are, relatively speaking, much easier to pursue. (And of course, it's the lawsuits that in turn brings more media exposure.) Maybe when the easier low-hanging fruit starts running out, lawyers will begin to more aggressively pursue the more difficult cases -- which are in large part Baptist cases.

In any event, what I now believe is this: So long as Southern Baptist leaders feel as though their do-nothing status-quo insulates the SBC against legal responsibility, they will blind themselves to the moral responsibility that legitimately rests on their shoulders. I just flat-out don't think they give a hoot about the moral responsibility. I've seen no reason to think otherwise. So, they MUST be made to feel legally vulnerable in order to prod them into accepting their moral responsibility.

Jim said...

Christa, I could not agree with you more: "they MUST be made to feel legally vulnerable...." That is the reason I used the franchise analogy. If the SBC does not want to be considered along with denominations who have faced-up to clergy sexual abuse, then let's treat them like any other organization with corporate branding and franchise outlets. You are on target when you say you "don't think they give a hoot about the moral responsibility." SBC leadership is not immoral; it is, for the most part, amoral. As far as I am concerned, that is a far more dangerous quality in a religious organization. Amoral people do not recognize moral responsibility, particularly as it relates to community. They create their own sense of good and evil, right and wrong, and in the case of amoral religious types, prop it up with inadequate exegesis, poor hermeneutics and out of context scripture verses. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised, I doubt there is even one credible ethicist or theologian left in the entire SBC leadership structure. Over the past 30 years they have been systematically replaced by intellectual lightweights and spiritual Neanderthals who take-on a banner of doctrinal purity, but whose primary motivations are self promotion and corporate preservation. The shattered lives of children will not become important until it begins to cost them in image, freedom, and financial resources.

Christa Brown said...

"As far as I am concerned, that is a far more dangerous quality in a religious organization. Amoral people do not recognize moral responsibility, particularly as it relates to community. They create their own sense of good and evil, right and wrong...."

I am reminded of a "prayer" once said by Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz as an adolescent boy and who has written at length, in both fiction and nonfiction, about good and evil. He said:
"As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance."

I think his prayer speaks to the enormous power of religion and the extraordinary danger that arises when human beings take on for themselves the mask of God.

Anonymous said...

Heard the song Wolves by Garth Brooks awhile back. I can't help to think about this song a lot these days. Too many churches slip into Ephesus and Thyratira mentalities. There will be a rude awakening when the rapture has seemed to slip by such churches. But I am convinced the rapture of the two witnesses is when it will take place.