Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trick from the Baptist playbook

Before I went to bed last night, this article about a Southern Baptist youth minister in Kentucky crossed my screen. It was late. I was tired. So rather than load it onto the StopBaptistPredators website, I just hit print.

This morning, when I got ready to load the article, I noticed that it had been updated. The updated version no longer referred to the guilty man, Frank Shaw, as a “former youth minister” at Chester Avenue Baptist Church. That part was deleted. (The video was apparently harder to change; it still describes Shaw as a “former youth minister.”)

There isn’t anything unusual about an article being updated. But I’ve seen this sort of thing before -- where the fact that the guy was a Baptist minister gets omitted. Sometimes that fact never gets mentioned to start with.

I don’t blame the reporters. Baptists don’t make it easy for people to figure out who’s a minister. It’s not as if there’s a registry somewhere that lists all the men who carry the “Baptist minister” brand. There’s not.

Not only do Baptists fail to keep any systematic records on ministers accused of child molestation, but they don’t keep any systematic records on ministers… period.

What’s more, Baptist leaders play with the definition of minister.

In yesterday’s Kentucky case, I figure the reporter probably got some information that Frank Shaw was a minister, and after the article went to press, he may have heard from a representative of the church, who told him he was mistaken and that Shaw wasn’t actually an ordained minister. So the article got updated to delete the reference to Shaw being a “minister.”

Obviously, I don’t know for sure that this is what happened. I’m just making an educated guess.

In connection with another recent case, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to the accused as “the director of children’s programs” at First Baptist Church of St. Charles. It then cited the senior pastor of the church, David Sheppard, as saying that “the man was not an ordained minister.”

Well, let’s see. “The man worked for the church running children’s programs, Bible school and evening youth services.” Sure sounds like a Baptist youth and education minister to me.

Whenever I see that “he’s not an ordained minister” line, I get suspicious. It usually means that the church is simply trying to distance itself from the ugliness of what their guy did.

But a Baptist minister doesn’t have to be ordained to be a minister. Most of the time, people in the pews won’t have a clue one way or the other about whether their minister is ordained. They’ll just think he’s their minister.

In fact, with Baptists, ANYONE can be a minister. That’s one of the problems. Baptist ministers aren’t required to have any sort of minimum qualifications or training. And there isn’t any sort of preliminary screening; Baptist ministers don’t even have to go to seminary. All they have to do is convince a few people that they were “called” by God.

It’s a perfect set-up for con-men.

But of course, the average reporter probably isn’t going to realize all this. So when a pastor tells him that “the man was not an ordained minister,” the reporter might think it means the man wasn’t a minister. And then the reporter will probably decide to err on the side of caution and not put the fact that the man was a Baptist minister into the story.

You can’t blame the reporter. He’s working on a tight deadline and where else is he going to check? There isn't any reliable registry where he can confirm who's a minister and who isn't.

I tend to notice this sort of thing because I saw how this game was played in my own case. The national headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote that it had no record my perpetrator was still in ministry anywhere. And get this… I believed them.

Besides, I had already looked at the SBC’s online registry, and my perpetrator’s name wasn’t there. At that point, I presumed the online registry was a complete listing. That was a mistake. My perpetrator was indeed still in ministry, and he had been all along.

The SBC’s online ministerial registry isn’t complete… not even close. Moreover, it’s easily manipulated. I first figured that out when I saw how minister James Moore appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared on the registry. Since then, I’ve seen that lots of other ministers don’t show up on the registry either.

In my childhood church, James Moore was the music minister who knew that the youth and education minister had sexually abused me. He knew about it at the time, even when I was a kid. Years later, as an adult, when I started trying to deal with it, Moore was still there.

I was thrilled when I saw Moore’s name listed as a “minister of music” on the SBC’s registry. I immediately printed it out. “No problem,” I thought. “Moore knew what happened, and he’s surely older and wiser by now, and he’ll want to do the right thing.”

Looking back, I can’t believe how trusting I still was. As soon as I started trying to even talk about this, the church’s attorney wrote that Moore wasn’t “an ordained minister”. . . as though to preemptively stave off any possible argument that the church might bear any responsibility for what Moore did and didn’t do -- i.e., for the fact that Moore allowed the abuse to continue, didn’t tell my parents or report it to the police, and allowed the perpetrator to eventually move on to another congregation.

According to the church, it wasn’t their problem. Why? Because Moore wasn’t “an ordained minister.”

Incidentally, the attorney who came up with that “he’s not an ordained minister” line was the longtime attorney for the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country, the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Since then, I’ve talked with several other clergy abuse survivors who had encounters with this same attorney. He’s the guy the Baptist General Convention of Texas sent out to “help” churches when they had to deal with a “clergy abuse crisis.” As best I can tell, the way he “helped” was by intimidating and misdirecting the abuse survivors. I figure he pulled that “he’s not an ordained minister” line on a lot of other people, too.

Meanwhile, back at national headquarters, minister Moore’s name suddenly disappeared from the Southern Baptist Convention’s registry of ministers.

When I saw that disappearing act… and after I pulled out my printed sheet to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken… I knew for sure that there was a lot of gamesmanship going on with the whole “who’s a minister” thing. Both the clergy-perpetrator and the minister who knew about it had been taken off the ministerial registry. Yet, they were both still in ministry.

Ultimately, because I couldn’t get Moore or any of the other church leaders to even meet with me, I filed a lawsuit. Only then did the church leaders finally deem me worthy of sitting down to talk with.

Shortly after my lawsuit ended, Moore’s name reappeared on the Southern Baptist Convention’s registry as a “minister of music.” I guess they decided it was safe to again list him. Of course, he was really a Baptist minister all along.

So… here’s the lesson: When a Baptist pastor or church official tells you “he wasn’t an ordained minister,” it doesn’t mean diddly-squat. It’s just one of the games in the Baptist playbook.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Knowing him" doesn't yield knowledge

North Carolina Baptist pastor Gene Scarborough wrote to me, urging that I should remove from the website the news story about Cale Camp director and former Southern Baptist missionary Stephen Carter. “I believe it is premature to keep it up,” he said, “because, as you can see in the Biblical Recorder responses, people who know him are being supportive and this includes our editor who knows him personally.”

Take a look at those comments under the July 16th Biblical Recorder article. Two are comments of the Biblical Recorder’s editor, Norman Jameson, who confirmed for me by email that the comments of “Norman” are indeed his.

Norman Jameson, editor of the Biblical Recorder, states in that publication: “I guarantee a positive outcome for Cale and for Steve will be trumpeted here.” He then talks about how “innocence is to be assumed.”

In another comment, Mr. Jameson points out that, at the Baptist-sponsored camp, many young people “prayed to receive Christ,” and he praises Stephen Carter for having “trained and recruited an outstanding summer staff.”

I wonder if Mr. Jameson can imagine how his public comments might look to a Baptist abuse survivor. If there were any others who were considering making a complaint against Carter, or against some other Baptist minister, do you think it will make them more inclined to speak up when they see comments like that from the editor of the statewide Baptist newspaper? Or will it make them less inclined?

Lots of “I can’t believe it” sorts of comments were also posted on the WITN news site. People said “Steve didn’t do this;” they sang his praises because he “brought a lot of children to Christ;” and they said it was “just a trumped-up charge.” Again, I wonder whether any of these people have any clue about how it becomes even more difficult for clergy abuse survivors to speak up when they see that so many in the community are so determined not to believe accusations and so ready to heap praise onto an accused minister.

In his email to me, Mr. Jameson stated: “This is a rare case in which I am very familiar with the person involved, I know him personally and I would be surprised if the allegations proved true.” Mr. Jameson also stated “as a journalist I’m neutral.”

What I wish I could help Mr. Jameson to understand is that there is nothing “rare” about this case. In virtually every case, there are people who are “very familiar with the person involved” and who just can’t believe the accusations. Other church staff, congregants, and people in the community almost always rally around the accused minister. This is the usual pattern. Often, they also vilify the accuser.

We have seen this pattern in far too many cases with allegations of Baptist clergy sex abuse, including those involving David Pierce, Jeff Hannah, Rick Willits, Larry Neathery, Larry Reynolds, Leslie Mason, Keith Geren, Mark Brooks, Lonnie Broome, Tom Wade, and many more.

This common pattern is exactly why Southern Baptists need to establish a review board with trained professionals and church-outsiders who can more objectively and responsibly assess clergy abuse reports and relay those assessments to people in the pews.

Only a very small percentage of clergy molestation cases can be criminally prosecuted. Most cannot. This is why other major faith groups have implemented denominational review boards to assess clergy abuse allegations. But Southern Baptists haven’t. Consider what this means.

The most typical scenario is a person who was sexually abused as a kid and who seeks to report the abuse two to three decades later. It’s too late for criminal prosecution, and so he tries to go to denominational authorities, thinking that someone will surely want to look into the matter to try to assure the safety of others.

In most other major faith groups in this country, there are processes for doing that. But for people who want to report abuse by Southern Baptist clergy, there are not. Instead, Baptist leaders tell people to report the abuse to the church of the accused minister.

Given how common the “I can’t believe it” pattern is even when police have already determined there is enough evidence for indictment, can you imagine how much more common the “I can’t believe it” pattern is when an outsider tries to simply go to a church and tell them something so awful about their beloved pastor?

It doesn’t work. It cannot work. It will never work.

The reason it cannot work is reflected in the comments of Gene Scarborough and Norman Jameson. Those who “know him personally” cannot possibly be objective about an accused minister. They think they "know," but they don't.

In other major faith groups, hundreds of clergy have been removed from ministry based on the assessments of denominational review boards. These are men who were never criminally convicted of anything, but for the greater safety of kids and congregants, they were nevertheless removed from ministry by action of the faith community.

But with Baptists, the prevailing standard seems to be that a minister is “innocent until proven guilty” under criminal law, and if he hasn’t been criminally convicted, then he can still stand in a Baptist pulpit. This is a very dangerously low standard for men who occupy a position of such high trust.

Innocent until proven guilty” is a criminal law standard for whether a person should be deprived of liberty and put in prison. It is not a standard for whether a minister should be allowed to remain in the pulpit or whether he should be allowed to work with kids.

At this point, despite Mr. Scarborough’s entreaties, both public and private, I have no intention of removing from the website the news articles about the indictment of Stephen Carter. If I removed articles every time I got an email from someone who “knows” the accused, then the website wouldn’t have very many articles.

Besides, countless cases have demonstrated that those who “know him personally” are probably some of the least likely to have any genuine knowledge about the truth or falsity of clergy abuse allegations.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jimmy Carter says religion can't justify injustice



“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
-- Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president and recipient of the Nobel peace prize

Former President Jimmy Carter has opened the door to a dialogue on how the word of God gets twisted into a justification for discrimination and injustice toward women. Writing on behalf of a group of world leaders from many faiths, Carter publicly urged religious leaders to repudiate teachings that subjugate women and undermine their equal human dignity.

In his written statement, Carter also spoke about his painful decision to sever ties with the faith group in which he himself spent six decades -- the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason is apparent from his paper: He could no longer be part of a faith group whose leaders twisted religion in a way that did so much harm to so many.

Those of us who are Baptist clergy abuse survivors have also seen how Baptist leaders twist religion for other perverse and inhumane ends. We have seen how Baptist clergy-molesters often twist Bible verses and “God’s will” into powerful weapons for sexual abuse and rape of the young. Even worse, we have seen how other Baptist leaders then twist the doctrine of local church autonomy into a rationalization for doing nothing to hold such ministers accountable… and for doing nothing to protect others against them.

A faith group that so devalues women and children as to render unaccountable the ministers who abuse, molest and rape them is a faith group that has utterly lost its moral bearings. No amount of invoking “religion” or pontificating about the “biblical” autonomy of local churches can possibly make it right.

No one is saying that Baptists should abandon their doctrine of local church autonomy. But they should stop allowing that religious doctrine to be twisted into a rationalization for turning a blind-eye to clergy sex abuse.

Rather than radicalizing the doctrine so as to rigidly preclude a denominational system of routing out clergy-predators, Baptist leaders need to work with the spirit of the doctrine so as to facilitate a cooperative effort at routing out predators, protecting congregants, and ministering to the wounded.

It is flat-out cruel the way Baptist leaders persist in telling clergy abuse survivors that they must go to the church of the perpetrator to report it. That’s like sending the bloody sheep back to the den of the wolf who savaged them. It almost invariably inflicts much greater wounds on the survivors, and it certainly doesn’t work to protect others.

Yet, this dysfunctional cruelty is inflicted under the rationalization of Baptist religious doctrine.

I hope that the conversation, which Carter has begun, may eventually be expanded so as to also speak of how religious doctrine is twisted to justify such a do-nothing response to clergy sex abuse… in his own former faith group and in some other groups with a congregationalist polity.

After all, as Carter points out, virtually all faiths call for “proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.” And even those of us who have been so dehumanized as to be sexually abused by “anointed ones” are nevertheless children of God.

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.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reverence

Reverence
by Julie Cadwallader-Staub
from Friends Journal

The air vibrated
with the sound of cicadas
on those hot Missouri nights after sundown
when the grown-ups gathered on the wide back lawn,
sank into their slung-back canvas chairs
tall glasses of iced tea beading in the heat

and we sisters chased fireflies
reaching for them in the dark
admiring their compact black bodies
their orange stripes and seeking antennas
as they crawled to our fingertips
and clicked open into the night air.

In all the days and years that have followed,
I don't know that I've ever experienced
that same utter certainty of the goodness of life
that was as palpable
as the sound of the cicadas on those nights:

my sisters running around with me in the dark,
the murmur of the grown-ups' voices,
the way reverence mixes with amazement
to see such a small body
emit so much light.
____________________________

The photo is of my sisters and me standing in the snow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Baptist camp director charged with sex crimes

In North Carolina, a Baptist summer camp director is charged with sex crimes against children, reports WITN-TV. Stephen Carter, shown in the photo, is director of the Camp Cale Retreat, which describes itself as a place “where people meet Jesus.”

Carter was arrested on July 1. According to the Camp Cale website, Carter and his wife were “married 25 years on July 1st.” Some anniversary present, huh?

But here’s the thing I’m most concerned about. The Camp Cale website says that “Rev. Stephen Carter” previously worked as a “church planter for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving in the country of Belize.”

Do you think anyone in Southern Baptist leadership will make any effort to reach out to kids in Belize? To even try to see if there might be kids there who could have been hurt by this guy? To let their parents know? To offer them some help or counseling?

You know the answer to that. So do I. When it comes to clergy child molestation, Southern Baptist leaders have shown themselves to be a whole lot more concerned with image than with kids. They may talk about “precious children” but when it comes to action, it’s a different story.

This North Carolina camp story reminds me of the story a couple years ago when a camp leader at an Illinois Baptist camp was arrested for child pornography and indecent solicitation of a child. According to police, he “met both of his victims through a camp sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association.”

The press reported that the Illinois Baptist State Association “chose to contact less than one-fifth of the 67 churches that sent students” to the camp that summer. And even for the one-fifth of the "churches" they contacted, I wonder whether the church leaders ever actually told the parents of the kids who went to camp.

Southern Baptist leaders don’t have a good track record on reaching out to other possible child-victims when they learn about a minister charged with child molestation. Even in this country, it’s not something they do. So why should anyone imagine that they’ll reach out to kids in Belize?

By the way…. the Illinois Baptist State Association is the same Southern Baptist entity that forced its newspaper editor to resign after he published the story of a prominent pastor who was charged with criminal sexual assault on two teen girls.

Did you get that? They basically fired their own news editor for even writing about a pastor’s arrest on child molestation.

Furthermore, even after that Illinois Baptist pastor pled guilty, the Illinois Baptist Children’s Home Director wrote to the judge to urge that the child-molesting pastor should receive no prison time.

Do you see a pattern in these stories? I do. Where is there any genuine concern for the kids?

____________________

Updates: Baptist camp director on leave after arrest,” Associated Baptist Press, 7/16/09; “Former Baptist camp director charged with abuse found dead,” Associated Baptist Press, 5/25/10.

See also: "Allegations should be assessed," July 18, 2010.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Don't be a troublemaker," says keep-it-quiet pastor Steve Gaines



You can enjoy this hilarious video of an authoritarian Baptist pastor all on its own, and I hope you will. But for those who might want some context, here it is.

For six months, pastor Steve Gaines kept a secret. One of his staff ministers, Paul Williams, had admitted to sexually abusing a kid.

Gaines did nothing. Gaines kept it quiet.

Gaines even allowed that child-molesting minister to continue acting as a counselor to church members who said they were sexually abused as children.

Can you imagine how those people felt after they learned that they had shared their most horrible memories of childhood abuse with a minister who was a child molester himself?

“There’s no telling what was going through his mind as I’m telling him these things,” said one woman. The thought that he “might have been titillated by the story of her abuse… turns her stomach.”

To make matters worse, when things came to light, these people also learned that their trusted senior pastor, Steve Gaines, had known that minister Williams was a child molester, and Gaines kept it secret. Gaines even left the child molesting minister in an official church position as a counselor to child molestation survivors.

Do you see the utter sickness of this?

Those people were betrayed 5 times over -- first, by the perpetrator who molested them when they were kids; second, by the child molesting minister who purported to counsel them when they were adults; third, by their senior pastor who kept that child molesting minister as a counselor for child molestation survivors; fourth, by all the people in the pews who, by keeping Gaines as their senior pastor, send a message that it’s no big deal; and fifth, by other Southern Baptist leaders who send the same “no big deal” message by their failure to speak up and call pastor Steve Gaines to task.

This story is really a lot worse. I’m just skimming the surface. There were other church staff members who also knew about the fact that minister Williams was a child molester -- at least two more ministers in the church knew and 10 people affiliated with the church knew.

So many people knew. And so many people did nothing.

But of course, look at the example set by their highest leader. Senior pastor Steve Gaines kept things quiet.

To this day, senior pastor Steve Gaines has not faced any serious consequences. He is still the senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s one of the top-100 largest churches of any kind in the whole country, and among Southern Baptists, it’s a flagship.

A flagship in numbers. A flagship in money. But a very sick boat.

A small band of people saw the reality of what happened at Bellevue. Unlike so many others, they weren’t able to clench their eyes shut fast enough or tight enough. And after they saw that awful ugliness, they began seeing other things about pastor Gaines and the authoritarian manner in which the church was being run. A few of them began blogging about it.

The bloggers’ criticism hasn’t been easy for poor pastor Gaines to deal with. After all, he’s a “God-ordained authority,” and I guess when you’ve got that God-thing going for you, people aren’t supposed to question you. So, every now and then, Gaines gets a little edgy and launches into a pulpit-tirade about “troublemakers”.

It would be funny if it weren’t so un-funny. But thank God for bloggers like the New BBC who put together this video that manages to make us laugh anyway!
______________________________

In the process of writing this, I looked again at this article from the Associated Baptist Press. Look at what it says. Citing language from Bellevue Baptist’s own investigatory report, it says: “No policies on problems of ‘a sensitive nature’ existed and a precedent of keeping those issues under wraps… led leaders to avoid disclosure.” So some of you ex-Bellevue people, tell me… what was the “precedent”? When had it happened before that such issues were kept under wraps at Bellevue?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Heritage Baptist had two molesters

In Vinton, Virginia, two church officers at Heritage Baptist Church have been sentenced on sex crimes involving children.

On July 7, the former assistant pastor, Daniel Silverman, was sentenced to prison after he pled “no contest” to a charge of aggravated sexual battery of a 12-year-old.

A week earlier, a former deacon, Dean Stone, was sentenced to prison on 12 felony sex crimes involving three young girls.

With two church officers sentenced on child sex crimes in one week’s time, what do you imagine that senior pastor Bob Barton, shown in the photo, had to say about it?

Did he act as a good shepherd and reach out to try to help any others who might have been wounded?

No.

Pastor Bob Barton’s response to this horror was to lash out at the media. He claimed the news media “had unfairly linked the personal failings of two members to the entire church.”

“Members”?

Do you see what pastor Bob Barton is doing? From the get-go, he’s trying to minimize things by acting as though these two men were mere “members.” Of course, it would be plenty awful enough even if they were mere members. But they were more than that. They were church officers -- an assistant pastor and a deacon.

And “personal failings”? To hear pastor Bob Barton talk, you might think these men did little more than drink a beer or two. But let’s be clear about something. Child molestation is a great deal worse than a “personal failing.” First of all, it isn’t merely “personal” because it victimizes another human being -- a child. Second, it’s not merely a “failing” – it’s a crime.

Pastor Bob Barton continued by saying this: “They have literally dragged our church’s name through the mud when we had nothing to do with any of this.”

Oh… boo-hoo. The poor church. The poor church “name.”

Obviously, pastor Bob Barton is a great deal more worried about his church’s “name” than he is about the kids who were sexually abused.

What kind of a pastor talks that way?

Well…. according to WDBJ-7 News, it’s a pastor who “refutes accusations he asked church members to change their stories.”

“Have you tinkered with the investigation in any way, shape or form?” asked WDBJ-7 News.

“No,” said pastor Barton. “I don’t know of anyone who has been asked to recant anything.”

Uhhhh… what’s THAT about? Why was pastor Bob Barton having to publicly refute accusations that he asked church members to change their stories in connection with a child molestation investigation?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I did find a former charter member of Heritage Baptist, Steve Lambert, who certainly has a strong point of view about pastor Bob Barton. Mr. Lambert talks about “cover-ups” and says that pastor Bob Barton “places more weight on maintaining a good ‘godly’ appearance while concealing dark secrets.”

I’ve never met pastor Bob Barton, and I don’t know whether Mr. Lambert’s opinion of him is accurate or not.

But this much I do know: A pastor who has two church officers sentenced on child molestation charges in one week’s time, and who responds to that horror by railing against the media, is a pastor who has lost his moral bearings.

Or maybe he never really had any.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Indicted Southern Baptist minister in Kentucky

In June, when the Southern Baptist Convention was having its annual hoopla in Louisville, Kentucky, a former Southern Baptist minister was indicted just down the road in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

That minister, Gordon H. Lunceford, now faces thirteen charges of sex crimes, including rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. He is accused of “using his position as a youth minister to have sex with two juveniles.” (See WKYT video.)

The victims were both under 16 years of age. That’s just the victims who are identified by initials in the indictment. No telling how many more child-victims may be identified before this case is over. And no telling how many more there may be who will remain silent, mired in undue shame, while no one in Southern Baptist leadership even bothers to reach out to try to help them.

According to the news reports, Lunceford church-hopped through First Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, First Baptist Church in Richmond, Rosedale Baptist Church in Richmond, and Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort. All of these Kentucky churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

So picture this. Even while the mighty Southern Baptist boys were whooping it up in Louisville, it was coming to light that four of their nearby churches had harbored a minister who was being indicted on child sex charges.

And even while the mighty Southern Baptist boys were preaching about “actions speak louder than words,” they weren’t actually taking any actions to prevent predator-church-hopping scenarios in the future.

The pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond said that Lunceford was their youth minister “for a very short time” and that “there were no complaints or accusations against Lunceford during the brief time he worked” there.

Based on what I’ve seen in other Baptist clergy abuse stories, I can’t help but wonder if what that pastor really means is that there were no complaints or accusations that anyone kept a record of. That’s the great beauty of Baptist-land for predators. No one keeps systematic records of complaints. That way, no one ever has to take ownership of knowing anything.

If someone in the church suspects something, or if people get uncomfortable with a minister, they can just quietly let him go. Problem ended. They wash their hands of him, and the minister moves on to become some other church’s problem.

At Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, a church representative who declined to be identified said that “because of turnover, none of the current staff had worked with Lunceford.” “It’s been years since he was here,” she said.

So there it is again -- that minimizing “not my problem” hand-washing that goes on in Baptist-land. It’s a land where everyone is able to neatly distance themselves -- everyone except the kids who get molested and raped.

Baptist-land: It’s an endless porous sieve of church-hopping predators and cover-uppers. It’s a land where no one ever seems to know anything.

Baptist-land: It’s the perfect faith group for the unaccountable and the irresponsible. And because everyone in Baptist-land can so easily turn a blind eye, it’s also a perfect paradise for predators.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Christa Brown's saga resonates more... now that I'm a mother"

In the Austin American-Statesman, longtime religion writer Eileen Flynn published an article about my book, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. Check it out. Flynn packs an emotional punch. It’s the punch that comes with the primal immediacy and transformational power of motherhood.

Here are some excerpts:

Christa Brown’s story will likely make you mad. As a na├»ve 16-year-old growing up in a North Texas Baptist church… she was pressured into having a sexual relationship with her youth minister. The married pastor told Brown it was God’s will and justified his marital infidelity by citing Bible verses about concubines -- then excoriated her as a satanic temptress when his wife found out.

When Brown reported the abuse to another church leader, the minister… was transferred to another congregation. No police investigation. No announcement to the congregation.

It was difficult hearing Brown’s account last year when
I wrote in the American-Statesman about the soft-spoken Austin lawyer and her efforts to improve Baptist churches’ inadequate system of handling sexually abusive ministers. But I didn’t really identify with Brown. Nothing like that had ever happened to me.

My world shifted dramatically when I became a mother in January, and when I picked up Brown’s recently published book “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang” a few weeks ago, I saw Brown’s story with new eyes. What if someone tried to do this to my daughter?

*****

Molesters don’t just ruin childhood, they set their victims up for an adulthood fraught with anxiety and anger, failed relationships and self-loathing -- nothing any mother would wish for her child.

I always felt sorry for abuse victims. But as I held my baby and imagined all the wonder and joy that awaited her, I began to understand more clearly what Brown and so many others had stolen from them.

*****

“This Little Light” should stir Baptist leaders to action. And it should help all of us understand just exactly what’s at stake.


At the end of Eileen Flynn’s article is a place for comments. I hope some of you will send a few words her way… and congratulate her on new motherhood. You can also post a comment on Eileen’s blog, where she talks about why she liked the fact that her column about my book ran on Independence Day.