Friday, November 27, 2009
“Jezebel.” It’s a name some Baptist pastors like to fling at women who don’t keep quiet when they’re told. It's been flung at me a few times.
“Jezebel.” She was thrown out a window, trampled by horses, left for dead, and devoured by dogs.
So you know they don’t mean you well when they call you a “Jezebel.”
But even though I knew that being called a “Jezebel” wasn’t a compliment, this video sheds a whole new light. Gee whiz, according to pastor Gaines, you’d think “Jezebel” women are responsible for every bit of e-e-e-e-e-e-e-vil in the world.
It’s no wonder so many Baptist men can get away with so much and are held so unaccountable. They blame everything bad on “Jezebel” women and so they never bother to take a good look at themselves.
In fact, what makes this version of the “Jezebel rant” so ludicrous is that it’s being delivered by a man who knowingly kept quiet about an admitted child molester on his ministerial staff. Furthermore, he even allowed the child-molesting-minister to serve as a counselor for congregants who said they had been molested in childhood. So, a known child-molesting-minister was able to sit in a church office and feed off asking molested individuals for details about exactly what happened.
Yet, here’s this man, Steve Gaines, masquerading as a voice of moral authority and ranting about “Jezebel,” when he himself didn’t even have enough moral sense to remove a known child molester from ministry.
To quote the former Southern Baptist pastor Robert G. Lee, who first delivered the “Jezebel rant” years ago . . . “What a ridiculous picture.”
Be sure you don’t miss the part toward the end where pastor Gaines manages to impugn all of Southern California, despite the countless good, decent, hard-working people who live there. Rather than ranting about the “moral quagmire of Southern California,” Gaines would do better to take a good look at the moral quagmire of his own mega-church, Bellevue Baptist in Memphis. It’s a church in which at least 10 other church leaders and staff also knew about the child molesting minister, but they followed the example of their morally-blind pastor and kept quiet.
The creepiest part of Gaines’ “Jezebel rant” is the part at the very end when you hear the sound of people applauding. Why are those people of Bellevue still placing themselves under the claimed pastoral authority of a man so obviously lacking in moral authority?
And why are those people of Bellevue so utterly oblivious to the message their church sends by continuing to retain Steve Gaines as senior pastor?
It’s a message that shouts loud and clear: “Clergy sex abuse cover-up? No big deal.”
Without further ado . . . here is Southern Baptist pastor Steve Gaines performing the “Jezebel rant.” Have a laugh, if you can.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last week, Linda wrote to tell me that my work to educate people about sexual abuse was “at the expense of integrity.”
She said: “I was deeply disappointed to see your notice about Salvador Mata and linking him as a Baptist when his abuse occurred in a public school and not a church.”
Huh? Salavador Mata? It was a name that triggered not even the tiniest glint of a memory.
Of course, by now, I’ve posted on the StopBaptistPredators website literally hundreds of Baptist-related abuse articles, and I guess I’m past the point of remembering all the names. It’s sad because, for each of those articles, there are kids and congregants who were deeply wounded. Their stories bear witness to the extent of this problem, and their stories should be remembered.
But I couldn’t remember.
Then Linda bragged about how the reason the abuse occurred in a public school and not at the church was because the church has “strong policies.”
“I didn't see any of that posted on your site,” she ranted. “It's like a half-truth to feed a cause, losing sight of honesty in the process.”
By now, I’m wondering exactly what was on the website that so offended this woman. So I searched the site.
The only thing I found was this reference on the News 2008 page:
“Terrell teacher accused of abusing additional students, Dallas Morning News, 6/19/08 (Salvador Mata, a Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church of Terrell, Texas)”
That was all there was -- a link to a 2008 Dallas Morning News article with a short parenthetical. Yet this woman was off and running with her rant because she was offended by the mere sight of her church’s name on the site and because she wants me to also post information about how good her church is for having “policies.”
But of course, a whole lot of churches with “policies” have also been churches with predators. Heck, I’m told that my own perpetrator sat on the policy-making committee at the prominent First Baptist of Oviedo. He helped write the policies. But of course, that was just part of his mask.
I worry that policies like the ones Linda is bragging about -- policies like always having 2 adults in the room -- sometimes do little more than give church people a feel-good sense of complacency.
Predatory people think in predatory ways. To imagine that they will be stopped by “policies” is dangerously naïve. That doesn’t mean policies are pointless, but it means they aren’t nearly enough. Without any denominational system for actually listening to people who try to tell about abuse, these sorts of “policies” amount to little more than window-dressing . . . and the windows are still wide-open.
Besides, just because Linda is so all-fired confident that nothing happened at her church doesn’t mean nothing happened at her church. We don’t really know. Maybe some kid who was molested in the church happened to overhear or intuitively absorb the “not in our church – no way” attitude of people like Linda, and so the kid kept her mouth shut.
Maybe it will be 20 years later when that kid will try to tell about what happened. That’s the more typical scenario -- abused kids talk about it years later in adulthood. But who in the church or denomination will listen to her then?
The investigation of Salvador Mata began with a single complaint when the relatives of a 9-year-old school girl called the police. According to the last account I saw, Mata ultimately stood accused of sexually assaulting 4 kids. But police were very clear in stating that they had “information that leads us to believe there are additional victims.” Mata was not only a school teacher but also a Sunday School teacher at First Baptist of Terrell.
But Linda still insists: “Salvador Mata was not a Baptist issue.”
Her “not a Baptist issue” insistence reminds me of how some religious leaders minimize the reports of ministers who abuse their own kids. When the kids grow up and try to report it, they get told it’s “a family matter” -- not a church issue.
But of course, the kids are still just as abused.
First Baptist Church of Terrell, Texas, had a Sunday School teacher who became an accused serial child molester. The fact that he was a Sunday School teacher was newsworthy, and that’s why it was reported in the newspaper, and that’s why I included a link to it on the website. It's that simple.
In the process of considering Linda's email, I found still another article on the Salvador Mata case, and this one contained a statement by the pastor of First Baptist of Terrell.
“It knocks you back,” said pastor John Lowrie. “But what an incredible opportunity for God to prove himself.”
Sunday School teacher Salvador Mata stood accused of sexually assaulting four young girls. They were third-graders. With medical exams that were publicly reported, two of the kids showed signs of sexual penetration, and a third showed signs that penetration had been attempted. Police were talking about “additional victims.”
Personally, I don’t think God needs facts like these in order to “prove himself.” And God doesn’t need Baptist pastors like John Lowrie to proclaim that facts like these provide Him “an incredible opportunity.”
God grieves. Jesus weeps. That’s what I believe.
And yes . . . I also believe that, when a Baptist Sunday School teacher sexually abuses kids, it’s “a Baptist issue.”
First Baptist Church of Terrell, Texas, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention.
(Photo of First Baptist of Terrell by Jim Klenke, Terrell daily photo)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Georgia Baptist Convention has disfellowshipped the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia.
Because the church has a woman serving as pastor. Her name is Julie Pennington-Russell. (That's her in the photo.)
Apparently the Southern Baptist principle of local church autonomy just goes out the window when a church indulges the “sin” of having a woman in the pulpit.
It’s only for “lesser sins” . . . like indulging clergy child molesters and cover-uppers . . . that local church autonomy really matters. Then it’s all up to the local church and whatever they do or don’t do is just fine.
Who they “call” as a pastor and who they keep as a pastor is up to the church . . . so long as it’s not a woman.
Heck . . . they can even keep a reported clergy child molester. At least he’s not a woman.
With reported clergy child molesters, the Baptistland view is like the Billie Holliday song: “Ain’t nobody’s business.” It’s solely a matter for the local church, and the denomination simply turns its back.
So here’s the reality of how it works in Baptistland. It’s worse to have a woman than . . .
- A pastor who kept quiet about a minister’s admission to sexually abusing his young son, and with that sort of pastoral example, at least 10 more church staff people also knew and kept quiet.
- A former California Southern Baptist Convention president and still-prominent pastor who said he “erred on the side of grace” when he kept quiet about a deacon’s molestation of children in his church.
- An Illinois Baptist children’s home director who urged no prison time for a Southern Baptist pastor convicted of sexually abusing a teen in the church.
- A former Arkansas Baptist State Convention president and still-prominent pastor who urged leniency and no prison time for a Southern Baptist minister who sexually abused dozens of adolescent church boys.
- An Oklahoma Baptist director who did nothing when a former Southern Baptist pastor got a job at an independent Baptist church, despite holding a letter in which the man admitted to sexually abusing a kid.
- A Texas minister who kept quiet about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid, while allowing the minister to move on to work in children’s ministry at other churches . . . and he said the minister’s abuse of the kid was “consensual.”
- A still-in-the-pulpit Texas pastor whose best defense to an accusation of having sexually abused a church girl was to say “I did not have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”
- Texas church leaders who gathered a $50,000 “love offering” to send their pastor on his way after he admitted that “proper boundaries were not kept” and paid “hush money” to try to silence the report that he had abused a 14-year-old church girl.
- An Arkansas pastor who, when confronted with accusations about a staff minister’s abuse of a boy, quietly accepted the accused minister’s explanation that “it was a one-time run of bad decision-making.”
- A former Florida Baptist convention president and still-prominent pastor who harbored a clergy child molester on his staff, apparently without checking with his prior church employer who knew (or else the prior church didn’t tell), and who later “put on trial” a church secretary who reported sexual harassment by church staff.
- A Texas denominational director who acknowledged keeping a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, specifically “including child molestation,” but who failed to warn people in the pews.
- A Florida pastor who, according to news reports and a “smoking-gun” tape-recording, “knew for years” that the church’s founding pastor was a pedophile and participated in covering it up.
- A Texas Southern Baptist church whose officials “said nothing” when other churches called for references even though their former staff minister had been twice-reported for sexual abuse.
- A former Southern Baptist president and still-prominent seminary president who, while head of a Baptist college, turned his back on numerous college girls and young women who tried to report the sexual abuse and assaults of a pastor whom the president was mentoring.
In none of these instances was there any sort of denominational rebuke, much less any denominational action.
The reason for denominational do-nothingness? “Local church autonomy.”
But oh gee whiz . . . let a congregation hire a woman pastor, and a shout goes up from the Baptist hordes: “Oust them!”
For those of you who might be interested, Miguel De La Torre, professor at Iliff Theological Seminary, provided an enlightening history in quotes of the church’s “anti-woman legacy.”
Update 11/20/09: “Does the SBC respect local church autonomy or not?” by Wade Burleson, Associated Baptist Press, 11/20/09.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
For the sake of truth-in-advertising, I feel as though they really ought to add some fine print: “Texas Hope 2010 (but not applicable for Baptist clergy abuse survivors).”
Dee Miller saw the hopelessness of the Baptist General Convention of Texas a long time ago.
They may talk the talk of caring, but they won’t walk the walk.
That’s why Dee Miller said the BGCT dishes out “false hope.” And that’s why Dee said she couldn’t recommend that survivors report clergy abuse to the BGCT -- or to any other Baptist agency -- because what they actually do is to re-victimize the wounded.
I agree with Dee that what the Baptist General Convention of Texas does is to re-victimize the wounded. Clergy abuse survivors should be warned: the leaders of this organization will not help you, and they will more-than-likely hurt you.
But Baptist clergy abuse survivors are given few options in their struggle to protect others. Of course they should report the abuse to police, but the vast majority of cases cannot be criminally prosecuted, and all experts know that. (Baptist leaders also know that.)
So, for abuse survivors who are able to get supportive counseling and who are feeling strong, I still believe there may be value in reporting Baptist clergy perpetrators to denominational leaders, including leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Put that mantle of knowledge onto their shoulders.
Oh sure … they’ll likely shrug off the knowledge of a reported clergy child molester as if it were nothing more than a raindrop on vinyl. But their shrug is their own failure . . . not yours.
Over the course of a dozen years, Dee has heard the stories of hundreds of clergy abuse survivors and she knows of what she speaks in talking about the “false hope” of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its re-victimization of the wounded. Dee was one of the first to write about my own story and to use it as an illustration of that “false hope.” Here’s an excerpt from what Dee wrote:
“When C. Brown submitted a written report to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and First Baptist of Farmers Branch in July of 2004, she wasn't totally broken. Victims who bring forward allegations of sexual abuse never are! That's because a totally broken person can't find the strength to make a report. Her requests were for counseling costs, a written apology, and some symbolic gesture of support--something that would show that the church stood in solidarity with victims of clergy sexual abuse.”
“She believed, like all of us who have ever made reports to any denomination, that people recognized by the denomination as authorities, would understand her requests. She believed they could and would immediately take action to protect others who could be harmed. . . . . Taking action looked to Brown like a logical and relatively simple task for people in authority, people who were far more powerful than a local church . . . . She wanted the BGCT to provide guidance to Farmers Branch, guidance that she expected would be designed to benefit survivors and protect others. . . . . “
“When Brown met with leaders of the BGCT four months later... she was not nearly as hopeful because of a threatening letter sent to her in August from … the attorney for both the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, Texas AND the BGCT. [He] suggested that the church might seek “recourse” against Brown if she pursued in trying to expose the abuse and shocking collusion. . . .”
“The inaction of the BGCT, as in every case I've known, is ‘justified’ because . . . the very structure protects ministers from accountability, both the abusers and colluders, and nobody seems to be interested in changing that!! Yet using attorneys who protect the church from taking actions to promote accountability, while re-victimizing the wounded, is in no way a Christian action. . . . ”
“Any belief she had that denominational leaders would care about protecting others was a hope completely destroyed.”
Dee was exactly right in her conclusion: my belief that Baptist leaders would care about protecting others was “a hope completely destroyed.”
Destruction of hope is a natural consequence of how the BGCT deals with clergy sex abuse.
Because the hand that delivers threats and bullying to clergy abuse survivors becomes the hand that burns the bridge to belief in Christian care.
Because the hand that dishes out do-nothing double-faced duplicity to clergy abuse survivors is the hand that teaches the fraudulence of the faith.
Because the hand that shields the institution rather than protecting kids is the hand that shows the cowardice of Baptist belief.
For many clergy abuse survivors, that hand belongs to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Survivors: Please be sure to observe my cautionary words. Any clergy abuse survivor who even contemplates making a clergy abuse report to the BGCT, or to any other Baptist entity, should have supportive counseling in advance and should be feeling strong before starting. And whatever you do . . . don’t go alone.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
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.
Friday, November 6, 2009
My question is this: Why?
Why are Southern Baptists of Florida holding up Tom Messer as an example of pastoral leadership?
For starters, Tom Messer’s church isn’t even affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s an independent Baptist church.
More importantly, Tom Messer is the pastor who, reportedly, participated in a huge, long-standing cover-up of the child sex crimes committed by his church’s founding pastor, Bob Gray.
“A TV station in Jacksonville, Florida reports that leaders in a prominent Baptist church in the city knew for years their former pastor was a pedophile, but covered it up for fear public knowledge would harm the church’s ministry, shipping the minister to Germany where he served 10 years as a missionary, possibly with access to otherAt the top of that list of accused cover-upping Trinity Church “leaders” was pastor Tom Messer.
Consider these excerpts from the First Coast News report, “Tape-recording called ‘smoking gun’ in alleged Trinity cover-up:”
“A First Coast News investigation has uncovered an audio tape recording of a meeting at Trinity about a few weeks before Gray's arrest in 2006….
On the tape were . . . current Trinity pastor Tom Messer, and two Trinity leaders, including a Deacon.
To understand the comments on the tape we need to go back to 1992 . . . . Ann Stewart, a former Trinity member . . . [and] a pastor's wife now in North Carolina, says she was molested by Bob Gray when she was a young girl . . . . She says finally, at age 21, she went to Tom Messer, she hoped, to expose the truth. She told about the incidents, she says, but her words were twisted to ‘lie to the congregation.’
In 1992, church members recall, there were crazy allegations against their pastor at the time, Bob Gray.
Dennis Cassell was Athletic Director at Trinity back then. He remembers Gray told the congregation that there was an indiscretion but it was ‘neither sexual nor immoral.’
Stewart says, ‘It was just a cover-up.’
But those words, ‘neither sexual nor immoral,’ have been repeated at Trinity for years, as if Trinity was all above board and Gray had done nothing wrong . . . .
When asked if there was no cover-up at Trinity, Stewart says, ‘No, that's a lie.’
Stewart and the Cassells both listened to the tape.
Pat Cassell, Dennis's wife, says, ‘The victims are vindicated. The kids are vindicated. Tom (Messer) knew and covered it up for years.’
Dennis Cassell says, "The truth is finally out and that's what we've been praying for many years."
What's on the tape?
Messer acknowledges he knows the meeting is being recorded.
Also, Messer is asked about that well-known meeting in 1992 in which Gray said he had done nothing ‘sexual nor immoral.’
A woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says, ‘People sitting in Trinity still do not believe that there is anything that Dr. Gray ever did anything sinful. Remember, Tom, it was an indiscretion. It was not of a sexual nature. That is not true.’
Messer replies on the tape, ‘No, I've never doubted that what he said that first night was inaccurate. I've never doubted that . . . .’
Later in the tape Messer talks again about Gray's statement using the term ‘erroneous.’
To 'John,' Messer says, "You want the erroneous statement that was made by Dr. Gray to be corrected."
'John' also asks Messer, ‘Let me ask you this question because I think it's important. Do you feel like he's disqualified himself from the ministry?’
Messer's reply is, ‘Yes, I do from pastoring.’
"John" says he urged Messer to make a statement in front of the church admitting Gray's 1992 statement was inaccurate and admitting Gray molested children.
Messer on the tape says, ‘I have a draft statement’ . . . .
But Messer says on the tape he can't promise it would happen.
It never did.
'John' says the date scheduled to tell the church supposedly was Sunday, May 21, 2006.
Bob Gray was arrested and charged with capital sexual battery three days before.
Still some want Messer to speak, they say, the truth.
Stewart says she isn't holding her breath, though.
She says, ‘I believe Tom Messer has entangled himself so much with lies and deceit for many years that it's impossible for him to face the people and tell the truth. That would be his demise at Trinity.’”
Ultimately, over 20 people came forward saying they were sexually abused as children by Trinity’s founding pastor, Bob Gray. That’s just the ones we know about. One woman’s claim dated back to 1949. Most of the claims were too old for prosecution, but Gray was eventually charged with capital sex crimes against 3 girls and a boy. He died before the case could be brought to trial, but before his death, he talked openly with the police about “french-kissing” little girls and about how he held them in his lap. He also admitted that the reason he went to Germany in 1992 was because he received a visit from a child protective services investigator and because he wanted “to avoid problems for the church.” (You can read excerpts from the police interviews here.)
Victims talked publicly of Gray’s abuse and of their attempts to tell Trinity church officials about it. One woman said, “The church knew what happened in Gray's office decades ago, years that the victims silently ‘suffered broken marriages and broken lives.’"
Another woman, who said she was molested by Gray when she was 12, told TV reporters that “officials at Trinity knew what was going on but failed to take action.” She said that she herself told church leaders about it in 2004 and again in 2006. On television, she read aloud an email she had sent to pastor Tom Messer.
Still another accuser had a letter on Trinity letterhead, signed by a church official, acknowledging the allegations.
Yet, through it all, pastor Tom Messer two-stepped around the evidence of a church cover-up and remained in the pulpit.
Of course, it probably helped him that, during the midst of the scandal, former Southern Baptist Convention president and celebrity evangelist Jerry Vines spoke as a guest at Trinity and publicly praised the church “without mentioning the fact that a local TV station was accusing it of covering up sexual abuse.”
How do you think that sort of whitewashing looked to the many victims who were seeking accountability?
And now, here we are again with still more Southern Baptist leaders who are propping up and promoting Tom Messer.
Wouldn’t you think they could present a better example of pastoral leadership than the man who was at the helm of one of the biggest clergy sex abuse cover-up scandals in all of Baptistland?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
“The greater number of sex abuse victims and abusers never come to public attention via either set of data,” he said. “Church records” are where the greatest number of priest abusers can be found, he insisted.
“I could not possibly agree more,” I answered. “The greater number of sex abuse victims and abusers never come to public attention” via media reports or insurance data. “But among Baptists, there are no church records being kept and so the possibility of data via church records simply doesn't exist.”
So ended still another dialogue with a person trying to persuade me that the problem of clergy sex abuse could not possibly be as prevalent among Protestants as among Catholics.
That’s always the trump card for those who make this argument to me.
I point to the data gathered by the Associated Press from the companies that insure the major Protestant groups. It’s data that shows, over a 10 to 20 year period, a consistent average of 260 sex abuse reports per year involving Protestant clergy and staff. Baptists are the largest of the Protestant groups reported in that data.
This 260 per year average for Protestants “is a higher number than the annual average of 228 ‘credible accusations’ brought against Catholic clerics.”
Though this 260 to 228 comparison is far from perfect, it does raise some troubling questions. As a FOX News commentator noted: In the Catholic context, the 228 per year number “includes all ‘credible accusations,’ not just those that have involved insurance companies, and still is less than the number of Protestant cases.”
By the same token, I can’t help but wonder if the 260 per year number would be even greater if the largest Protestant denomination -- the Southern Baptists -- would bother to assess ‘credible accusations’ in the way Catholics do. As it is, the only numbers that get reported for Baptists are cases that are likely on the verge of a lawsuit . . . and yet the Protestant number is still bigger.
The 228 per year Catholic number derives from a study that the Catholic Church commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It was a study that mined the Catholic Church’s own records and that looked at clergy abuse reports through 2002.
But more current “church records” show that the numbers are even higher, I’m told.
There it is again -- the trump card. Catholics have “church records” because Catholic canon law requires record-keeping.
But “church records” stacked up against “no church records” doesn’t equal bigger numbers.
It means nothing more than that one group kept records and the other didn’t.
Personally, I don’t understand why some people seem so intent on persuading me that Catholic clergy are “the worst.” I don’t believe it, but more importantly, I haven’t seen any data to support that conclusion.
I also think it’s a dangerous conclusion. It puts “clergy sex abuse” in a deceptively little box and lulls Protestants into thinking it’s something that only affects “others.” It allows too many Protestant faith leaders to sit back thinking “Bad Catholics” when in reality they need to be looking at themselves and cleaning out their own ranks.
Because make no mistake about it . . . clergy sex abuse is a scourge that knows no bounds of theology or denomination. Regardless of who may have a bigger number, clergy sex abuse is a serious problem for all faith groups.
I yearn for the day when I can answer one of these “Catholics have the most” arguments by saying: “You’re right -- Catholic church records show a higher percentage of clergy child molesters than Baptist church records.”
If I could say that, it would mean that Baptist leaders finally cared enough to at least start keeping records on clergy sex abuse. And that alone would be a huge step forward in Baptistland.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Meanwhile, in case after case, we have seen Southern Baptist leaders who keep quiet about Baptist ministers who sexually abuse kids and who urge "no prison time" for them when they are finally caught.
What message do you think they send to the kids who are abused?