Thursday, December 30, 2010

Columnists summed up Baptist clergy abuse story

In 2010, the writings of four columnists gave a good overview of the Baptist clergy sex abuse story. The columnists are Norman Jameson (former editor of the Biblical Recorder), Douglas Sharp (dean of the American Academy for the Common Good), Robert Parham (executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics), and David Briggs (Association of Religion Data Archives). Here are their combined and excerpted words.

“It would be a mistake to give in to the convenient temptation that this is ‘a Catholic problem’.” (David Briggs)

“Sex-abuse cases also rock Baptist churches. Individually they are just as bad, and collectively we are doing a lot less than the Catholics about resolution.

"Southern Baptists as a national entity have nothing in place to prevent abusers from carrying their satchels of pain to another church or to yank credentials from an abusive clergyman.

"A motion to institute a national registry of abusers was rejected by the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in 2008 on the basis of church autonomy. The Executive Committee recommended instead that churches run background checks through an already available U.S. Department of Justice system. That system contains names only of those convicted of a crime and not those times when a church forces a minister to leave and keep the reasons unstated to avoid lawsuits or embarrassment.” (Norman Jameson)

"The sexual abuse of children is going on in Protestant churches, and it is social, sexual and religious irresponsibility to ignore it, camouflage it, minimize it or think one's faith community is immune from it." (Douglas Sharp)

“Since the late 1990s, denominational judicatories in the mainline Protestant traditions have taken formal structural, educational, ethical and policy steps to prevent and report all forms of sexual abuse in their churches. . . . These efforts are indicative of attempts to cultivate ‘safe’ and ‘hospitable’ churches for all, but especially for children. (See for example, American Baptist Churches, USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church.)” (Douglas Sharp)

[Note that the largest Protestant denomination in the land – the Southern Baptist Convention – is not included in Sharp’s list.]

“Protecting the Baptist denomination and churches from public humiliation and discrediting has been a higher priority for many Baptist leaders than protecting children from the predatory ministers – ministers who move from church to church, state to state, without punishment, only to harm again. . . . The shield of local church autonomy is a false one that should not be used to protect predatory preachers. . . Baptist leaders know too well about the official church connectivity and ‘unofficial web of clergy connectivity’. . . .

"The biblical concept of church autonomy should not be used to override the biblical concept of protecting the vulnerable. . . .

"Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front. Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems. And both have covered up predatory behavior . . . .

"Sacraments may differ. But the systems, secrecy and spin are similar – and shameful.” (Robert Parham)

“We know it takes extraordinary courage for even one victim to come forward amid the shame associated with sexual abuse. Most clergy abusers are likely to have several victims, and should never again have access to children. Yet when the unimaginable happens, few are willing to believe the victim. Congregants remember the minister . . . as someone who visited them in the hospital or comforted them at funerals. Religious leaders tend to view them as friends and colleagues, and are likely to take their word over the victim’s word or give the abuser a second or third chance. Fear of lawsuits or damage to the institution hardens their hearts further.

“And the children suffer, many for the rest of their lives. . . . The most religious, those who are most likely to accept a cleric’s authority and most dependent on their faith . . . are the most vulnerable.” (David Briggs)

“While many other structures of modern life have heightened the protections offered to children, the churches have lagged behind – with disastrous consequences. The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view.

“This situation demands reform, immediately, for the sake of the vulnerable and abused children among us – not to mention for the sake of the gospel witness . . . .” (David Gushee)

The situation demands immediate reform . . . but how much longer until reform actually happens? And how many more Baptist church kids will suffer?

My hope for 2011 is that Baptists will make protection of "the least of these" the most important thing on their agenda.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Top Baptist abuse-related stories of 2010

1. Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker was convicted of murder. Despite multiple prior reports of sexual abuse and sexual assault, Matt Baker was always able to move on through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. No one stopped him. Links to my many postings on the Matt Baker story are at the bottom here.

2. The Tina Anderson story: The alleged rape of a 15-year-old by a deacon, and its cover-up, implicated multiple Baptist pastors and multiple Baptist churches from New Hampshire to Colorado to Indiana to Wisconsin.

3. Frank “still-no-apology” Page was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. This is the man who publicly castigated clergy abuse survivors who speak out as “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” Rather than imposing consequences on a leader who wrote such stunningly callous remarks about clergy sex abuse survivors, Southern Baptists promoted him.

4. After Southern Baptist pastor Daniel Moore of New Whiteland Baptist Church in Franklin, Indiana, was charged with child sex abuse, the pastor, ministers and deacons of Calvary Baptist Church in the nearby town of Greenwood invited him to worship at their church “anonymously.” And in what appeared as an effort to influence the judge to impose a lesser sentence, Calvary’s leaders also wrote a letter of support for Moore. Congregants from New Whiteland packed the courtroom in support of their former pastor.

5. Stephen Carter, a former Southern Baptist missionary who worked in Belize for four years and then became the director of a Baptist camp in North Carolina was found dead of an apparent suicide. At the time of his death, he was awaiting trial on six child sex charges. We have seen no Baptist public outreach effort to help children who may have encountered this man in Belize or to help those who made the allegations in North Carolina.

6. Baptist pastor Robert Dando pled guilty to repeatedly abusing two boys in Virginia, starting when they were 7 and 8 years old. Virginia prosecutors said that, under questioning, Dando also admitted to sexually abusing boys in the United Kingdom. Dando was closely connected to the highest levels of Baptist worldwide leadership; he previously served as executive assistant to the president of the Baptist World Alliance. More on this story is here.

7. “More than 600” felony offenses turned up when about 900 churches and organizations conducted background checks on staff and volunteers by using the discounted service offered through LifeWay, which is the publishing and research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention has about 45,000 churches. Do the math.

8. Eddie Long, pastor of the 25,000 member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, was accused by four young men of having used spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual acts when they were teen church members. The case was also noteworthy because of how other Baptists tried to distance themselves from it. For example, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that independent Baptist congregations lack “the discipline of a denomination.” Mohler appeared to be suggesting that Southern Baptist churches are less likely to have such scandals because they have a denomination. But where’s the discipline? When a man described as “the most prominent public intellectual” in the Southern Baptist Convention talks about “the discipline of a denomination,” people ought to ask about the system of discipline in his own denomination.

9. In New Hampshire, Southern Baptist pastor Timothy Dillmuth and two church elders were found guilty of failing to report suspected child sex abuse. The prosecutor described it as “a conspiracy” that was “not only unlawful but shameful.” The judge pointed out that they “deliberately attempted” to keep the matter within the church and, because they used religion as a rationalization, said “they would do it again.” Abuse reporting laws are rarely enforced; this case was a remarkable exception.

10. Okay, this one isn’t going to make anyone else’s list, but I’m proud of it and so it goes on my list. The Reverend Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, presented me, Christa Brown, with the Phoebe Award. The 3,000 member church gives this award to “someone who has made a difference in our world” and “who stands up for truth and right.” Kudos to Rev. McKissic for recognizing that the work of seeking to protect against clergy-predators is not work that attacks the church but work that seeks to help the church. In 2011, I’m hoping that many more Southern Baptist pastors will arrive at the same understanding as Rev. McKissic, and will care enough to do something about it.

Wishing for all of you peace in your hearts in 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bed Intruder Christmas Carol

Humor is not my strong suit. I’ll be the first to admit it. So, whenever everyone else thinks something is funny, and I don’t, I tend to doubt myself. Watch this video. Tell me what you think.

This is the a cappella choir at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty is the largest evangelical Christian university in the world. It was founded by Jerry Falwell, and has close ties with Thomas Road Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here’s the gist of the story behind the video. In Huntsville, Alabama, Antoine Dodson spoke to the local news station, WAFF-48, after an intruder broke into his sister’s bedroom window and tried to rape her. He was clearly upset at the time. He himself had fought the intruder after his sister screamed. The intruder escaped, leaving behind a room that showed considerable evidence of the struggle.

Antoine Dodson was angry. He was on high adrenaline. He was authentic and real in expressing his feelings. You can see the video of Antoine's original interview here.

With almost lyrical phrasing, and with plenty of emotion, Antoine says everyone should lock up their kids and wives because there’s a rapist loose in the projects. Then he tells the intruder “you are so dumb” (because they have his t-shirt and fingerprints), and he says “we’re going to find you. . . homeboy.”

The Gregory Brothers put Antoine’s interview to music as the “Bed Intruder Song,” and you can see that music-video here. It uses the original video of Antoine himself, and as I understand it, the Gregory Brothers split the proceeds 50/50 with Antoine.

The “Bed Intruder Song” went viral, and as of yesterday, it had received over 52,000,000 views on YouTube, which listed it as the most popular video of 2010.

Then, a week ago, Liberty University’s choir performed their own Christmas carol version of the “Bed Intruder Song,” and put it up on YouTube. They used Antoine’s own words, except they substituted the word “taking” for “raping.” I guess a Christmas song about “raping” wouldn’t have been festive?

But isn’t that exactly the problem? Raping isn’t festive and raping isn’t funny. Antoine’s own words were authentic and real, but there is nothing authentic about this Liberty University production of his words. It makes an attempted rape and the brother’s reaction into a Christmas comedy, and it does so without any apparent interest in or concern for the context.

But hey . . . that’s just me talking. If you look at the YouTube comments, it’s obvious that a whole heckuva lot of other people think it’s “hilarious” and “awesome.” In one week’s time, Liberty University’s video captured 430,000 views on YouTube and has brought a whole lot of media attention to the school.

University chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr., said “the video helps break a stereotype about Christians not being able to show a side of humor.”

“It’s great that the world is able to see that Christian young people can have fun just like everybody else,” he said.

A parody about an attempted rape in the projects is “fun”? This is how Christian young people at a private university show humor?

Well . . . I said from the get-go that humor is not my strong suit. So tell me what you think.


See also: "The humor in attempted rape is (nonexistent)," BaptistPlanet, 12/19/10

Another perspective: "Antoine Dodson's sister: On invisibility as violence," 8/20/10

A tangential 2010 Liberty U story: "Former Liberty University professor sentenced on sex charge," The News-Advance, 3/5/10

Friday, December 17, 2010

Venom-spitters and bile-spewers

“I happen to be a family member of one of the higher ups in this church.”

That’s how the comment began, and it deteriorated from there.

The church this “family member of one of the higher ups” is talking about is Eden Westside Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama. It’s a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

What set-off this “family member of one of the higher ups” was this prior post I did about one of Eden Westside’s ministers who pled guilty to sexual abuse of a 14-year-old.

I’m always a bit amazed when people think they can come onto my own blog, call me ugly names, and flat-out libel me.

On my own blog.

And frequently, they spit their venom anonymously, as this “family member of one of the higher ups” did. Such courage!

So, since I can’t tell whether this person is male or female, I’ll just call him or her “Billie.”

Here’s the thing, “Billie.” You can’t use my own blog as a forum for libeling me and calling me names. If you want to do that sort of thing, you can surely find some Baptist blog on which to do it, and with your style of trash-talk, you’ll fit right in on some of them. But you can’t expect to call me names and say untrue things about me right here on my own blog. Got it?

Some of you other bile-spewers should take a lesson on this as well. I won’t let you use my blog as a spittoon for your venom. Besides, you really need to be more civilized.

I’ve been getting a lot of this ugly stuff lately, and some of it far worse than “Billie’s.” Mostly, I just delete it. But it really makes me wonder about a lot of Southern Baptists. Rather than letting their faith inspire them toward their best selves, some Southern Baptists seem to use their faith as an excuse for bringing forth their worst selves.

And those “worst selves” sure aren’t very pretty.

The bit of substance in “Billie’s” rant was his statement that the church deserves no blame because “the man had no record and no one could have known he was a creep.”

This is where I almost feel compassion for “Billie.” People like “Billie” have been so misled by Southern Baptist leaders that they actually believe that, if a guy doesn’t have a criminal record, then he’s automatically safe to be in a position of high trust as a minister.

It’s ignorance for sure, but it’s the sort of ignorance that Southern Baptist leaders have actively promoted. Forget about the fact that many experts say only about 3 percent of child molesters have any record (and almost all experts say it’s less than 10 percent). Forget about the fact that other major faith groups now have denominational review boards to assess clergy abuse allegations that can’t be criminally prosecuted. Forget about the fact that Southern Baptists are years behind on the bare-bones basics as compared to how other major faith groups are more pro-actively implementing safeguards to protect against clergy abuse. Forget about the fact that Southern Baptists don’t even bother with denominational record-keeping on credibly-accused clergy. Forget about the fact that Southern Baptists’ system of denominational do-nothingness allows many clergy predators to church-hop with ease, with no one at the new church even being warned.

That’s the sort of ignorance that Southern Baptist leaders have promoted. That’s the sort of ignorance that, as a practical matter, allows Baptist pastors to remain in pulpits so long as they’re not sitting in prison. That’s the sort of ignorance that leaves countless kids and congregants at risk.

Like “Billie,” most Southern Baptists seem to find it easier, and more psychologically comfortable, to imagine that each and every story (and there are now hundreds of them) is nothing more than the story of an isolated “creep.” That way, they can distance themselves from the “creep” and they don’t have to take a hard look at themselves. That way, they don’t have to bother with considering how their own institutionalized denominational do-nothingness contributes to the problem.

But as Rev. Timothy Bonney said: “Anytime an SBC minister commits abuse, the denomination carries some level of blame for not creating a system to deal with abuse.”

Baptists can’t just wipe that responsibility away by saying “the man had no record.”

And one last message for bile-spewing “Billie”: Ministers like the one that was at Eden Westside aren’t merely “creeps” – they’re criminals.

Note to all: For the indefinite future, I plan to moderate all comments on this blog. Clergy abuse survivors are my primary intended audience, and several have written to me privately, saying they feel they can no longer read my blog because some of the comments have been so upsetting for them. Though I have always deleted the worst of comments, in hindsight, I wish I had deleted a great many more.

Survivors: You are, and always have been, right in your determination to protect yourselves against the meanness of what some of these know-nothings dish out. So . . . in the future, be assured that the pseudo-religious bile-spewers, venom-spitters, and pontificators of unfiltered ignorance will get no forum on this blog, not even for one second. It's bad enough that Southern Baptists have no system for extending any help to clergy abuse survivors, and I will NOT allow them to inflict even more wounds with their comments on this blog.

I hope this may mean that more survivors will eventually feel more able to participate. But whether you ever leave a comment, or merely lurk and read quietly, I want this blog to be a safe place.


Update: "Christa Brown: Restricted commenting," on Civil Commotion, 12/17/10

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Feds investigate mortgage scheme with link to Baptist pastors

In Atlanta, federal authorities are investigating a “controversial mortgage scheme” that allegedly preyed on financially troubled homeowners, and two Baptist mega-church pastors are linked to it.

As told by CBS Atlanta reporter Wendy Saltzman, at least a thousand people paid Matrix Capital a $1,500 upfront fee based on the company’s promise that it could get their mortgage payments lowered. But according to investigators, “most of them ended up in bankruptcy and losing their homes” instead.

Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Gary Hawkins was "the face of the company's promotional video," and he “vouched” for Fred Lee, the man behind the company. Many of the victims attended a Matrix seminar that was presented inside Hawkins’ Voices of Faith church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. With 11,000 members, Voices of Faith also claims to be “one of the fastest growing churches in the Georgia Baptist Convention.”

Independent Baptist pastor Eddie Long also allowed Matrix to present seminars at his prominent New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

People say they trusted the Matrix representative, Fred Lee, “because he made those promises in the sanctity of their local church.” Now, CBS News reports that people are asking whether these two mega-church leaders got “kick-backs to betray their flocks and expose their congregations to financial disaster.”

Police say that Southern Baptist pastor Hawkins was “less than forthcoming with records that would have shown if payments were made” either to him personally or to the church.

Independent Baptist pastor Eddie Long is the same pastor who is also embroiled in civil lawsuits alleging clergy sex abuse. Four young men have accused him of using spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual acts when they were teen church members.

Both Hawkins and Long refer to themselves as “bishops” – a title that is unusual in Baptist life. Nevertheless, both pastors are indeed Baptist.

When news of the Eddie Long scandal first broke, some Baptists tried to distance themselves by claiming that Long wasn’t really a Baptist -- despite the fact that his church is called New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. But the Southern Baptist Convention is about as Baptist as you can get, and the SBC’s own website lists pastor Gary Hawkins’ email address as So make no mistake about it, self-named “bishops” exist in Baptist life, and both of the pastors who are being investigated in this mortgage scheme are Baptist.

(For more explanation on “Baptist bishops,” see this article in Slate, recognizing that, nowadays, some Baptist churches do indeed have “bishops” and naming Baptist historian Doug Weaver of Baylor University – the largest Baptist university in the world – as one of its sources for the information.)

Without accountability, power corrupts. In Baptistland, we have repeatedly seen this truth manifested, not only in the context of clergy sex abuse, but also in the context of financial shenanigans.

For both types of corruption, the root of the problem is a systemic lack of accountability. This is the root that Baptists so desperately need to remedy.

Related posts on financial mismanagement and misdealings in Baptistland: "Almighty Dollar"; "Spending God's Money"; and "He could have been stopped."

Related post on "Another Eddie Long controversy."

Monday, December 6, 2010

This Little Light reaches France

“L’Église baptiste, paradis des pédophiles”

That’s the headline that people in France are reading when they open the December/January edition of the Paris publication, Books magazine. In English, it says:

“The Baptist church: Paradise for Pedophiles”

The headline is for a review of my book, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. It's a book that not only tells my personal story, but also documents the denomination’s do-nothing response to the problem of clergy child molesters.

The review, written by investigative journalist Patrick Lindsay Bowles, is “fantastique.” In the space of a page, he illuminates the irrational arrogance of many Baptist leaders and their "systematic persecution of victims." And amazingly, Bowles even manages a touch of humor, as when he talks about former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson, whose hobbies include “hunting dangerous game” and who is shown on his website “kneeling behind the much-dreaded zebra.”

Ooh-la-la. Think about what this means. There are now people in France who are reading about the ugly reality of America’s largest Protestant denomination. They are learning of how the “Convention Baptiste du Sud” offers no compassion or care for those wounded by clergy sex abuse, and no accountability or consequence for clergy who commit abuse.

It’s awful stuff, but it’s real. So I’m glad that at least some people are learning the truth.

After all, the Southern Baptist Convention is an evangelical faith group that is intent on going to “all nations” and “teaching them.” (Matthew 28:19-20) So it certainly behooves those in other nations to consider exactly who these “teachers” really are and to assess the sort of values that they actually manifest.

Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group that turns its back on protecting “the least of these”? Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group that allows clergy predators to church-hop without anyone imposing accountability? Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group whose own institutional integrity is so utterly tainted?

Bowles’ review was published earlier by the Times Literary Supplement of London (which is sort of like a British version of the New York Times Review of Books). Now it has been translated into French and republished in this Parisian magazine. Bravo to Patrick Lindsay Bowles!

Here is the original English version of Bowles' review from the Times Literary Supplement. And here is a pdf of the French version from Books magazine.

Related post: “In the London Times!” 4/17/2010

See also: "Church honors advocate for abuse victims," ABP, 12/7/10 ("A translation just out in the Paris publication Books magazine carries the headline, 'L’Église baptiste, paradis des pedophiles,' French for, 'The Baptist church, paradise for pedophiles'.")

Friday, December 3, 2010

Menorahs' lights bring thoughts on denial and evil

Elana's father was smuggled out of Germany as an 8-year-old boy. Her grandparents and other paternal ancestors were all annihilated in the Holocaust. Many on her mother's side were slaughtered as well.

Once a week, we walk a loop together around Town Lake. Though Elana is a decade younger, she often seems centuries wiser than me. Maybe it's because she has long pondered the dark side of humanity. Or maybe it's because she carries an ever-present awareness of mortality -- the result of facing down cancer in her 20s. Or maybe it's just in her genes. Whatever the reason, I feel graced by Elana's pragmatic, eyes-wide-open sort of wisdom.

Amidst talk of kids' colds and Texas politics, we also weigh in on weightier matters. Elana was one of the first people to whom I dared mention that I was sexually abused by a Baptist minister as an adolescent girl.

Elana came to a stand-still on the trail. She immediately saw the significance of my small statement and of the fact that I had never previously spoken of it.

Through the pink crepe myrtles of summer and the red sumacs of fall, Elana continued to listen as my story unfolded. While we fended off angry geese, she watched me work at coming to terms with the blasphemous brutality of what a Baptist minister did to me as a kid.

Elana kept on listening. She heard about my efforts at reporting the perpetrator to church and denominational leaders, and about my frustration at their grotesque oblivion.

Finally, she saw me unravel when I learned that, despite all my efforts, the man was still working in children's ministry. That's when Elana started tossing books my way.

She knows my weakness. I'm a bookaholic.

But the kinds of books Elana was tossing made no sense to me. It was all Holocaust literature -- essays, poems, and memoirs. I couldn't imagine how any of it could possibly have any bearing on the problem I was encountering.

"Denial," she said. "You need to understand a whole lot more about the dynamics of mass-scale denial."

I kept reading, but I resisted the analogy. I was uncomfortable with any comparison to the Holocaust because it seemed to trivialize the incomprehensible horror of it.

But Elana insisted. "The most important lesson of the Holocaust is about denial in the face of evil," she said. "If people think they're going to wait to see a genocide before they apply the lessons of the Holocaust, then the lessons of the Holocaust are lost."

Evil is a shape-shifter. Recognizing it with the benefit of hindsight is not so hard. The trick is seeing it when it's there in front of you, and finding a way to confront it at the time.

Why do good people do nothing in the face of evil?

That's the question posed by the Holocaust. It is an ancient question that has arisen in countless other contexts.

Incomprehensible evil is done by trusted ministers who use spiritual authority to violate kids' bodies for their own depraved ends.

Baptist leaders clearly have the power and the resources to cooperatively confront this pervasive evil. Yet they collude through silence and denial.

They blind themselves behind a self-made wall built with a perversion of autonomous polity and a faulty forgiveness theology. It is a wall that shields clergy predators and leaves kids in harm's way. No amount of labeling it "religion" will change what that wall really is.

It is moral and spiritual cowardice. It is denial in the face of evil.

As menorahs begin to light the night, I thank God for the goodness of Elana's life and for the courage of a few individuals who saw evil and took action to smuggle a small boy to safety.

And I wonder how many more seasons will pass before Baptist leaders open their eyes to the evil of clergy sex abuse and take action to keep kids safe from horrible harm.

This is a reprint of my guest column published in EthicsDaily on December 14, 2006. Despite all that I have encountered in Baptistland, I still believe that, ultimately, light will prevail over darkness.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


In Georgia, a former Southern Baptist minister pled guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl. As reported yesterday in the Athens Banner-Herald, Norman Anthony Pugh was sentenced to 13 years in prison with another 7 years on probation.

In 2005, Pugh was arrested on similar charges when he was working as a youth minister at Georgia's Arnoldsville Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. At that time, he was charged with molesting a 14-year-old church girl.

Church members rallied around Pugh after that 2005 arrest. His bond was posted by the wife of the senior pastor, Nathan Palmer. (Do you think they used offering plate dollars to post Pugh’s bond?)

The case went to trial, and Pugh was acquitted in November 2006. Church members lined up in the courtroom to hug him.

How do you imagine that 14-year-old felt when she saw her whole church publicly supporting the minister?

And if any other kids were molested, how do you imagine they felt? Almost certainly, they would have squelched any possible thought of speaking up when they saw how the church rallied around the minister.

And it surely didn’t help the prosecutors any for the church to rally around the minister.

It is often very difficult for child molestation victims to have to testify in court. That’s just one of the reasons why so many of these kinds of cases are resolved with a plea bargain – prosecutors seek to spare the victim the additional trauma of testifying. But often, the way a prosecutor gains the negotiating leverage needed for a plea bargain is with evidence of other victims who speak up after the first one. But by publicly rallying around its minister after his 2005 arrest, Arnoldsville Baptist Church helped to assure that there likely wouldn’t be any others who would speak up.

So Norman Anthony Pugh went free. At that time, prosecutors were unable to prove his guilt by the strict “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of the criminal law.

Now, four years later, Pugh has been convicted of molesting a 13-year-old. He was no longer working at the church.

Do you think the people of Arnoldsville Baptist feel even a shred of remorse? Do they give any thought to how their own conduct may have helped to allow Pugh to go free and may have thereby enabled him to molest that 13-year-old in 2009 . . . and no telling how many others? Do you think they’ll seek out that church kid who reported Pugh back in 2005 and offer to pay for her counseling?

Do they even give a hoot? And if they do, what will they now do about it?

On a related note, I received an email just nine days ago, on November 22, from a guy who signed off as “William J. Tarbush,” and whose email address was for “Jeremy Tarbush.” He told me it was “deplorable” that I had posted Norman Pugh’s name with a link to the news article about Pugh's 2009 arrest.

Tarbush ranted a bit and made this complaint: “Norman Pugh is not even on the list of sex offenders in the State of Georgia for sex crimes.”

I guess Tarbush thinks the only people we should be concerned about are people who show up on a sex offender registry . . . even though virtually all experts recognize that the vast majority of active child molesters have never been criminally convicted and won't show up on a sex offender registry.

Ordinarily, I would ignore an email like the one from William J. (Jeremy) Tarbush. But since his timing was so poor – just 8 days before Pugh’s guilty plea -- I'm going to respond a bit.

Tarbush closed his email with “In His Service.” I don’t think so. That’s just Tarbush’s own no-thought-required religious rationalization for his rant. Heck . . . I once saw a letter in which a prominent Southern Baptist official was threatening to sue a blogger, and he signed the bullying letter “In His Name.” It would be comical if it weren’t so pompously pathetic.

In any event, I believe that “In His Service” would mean looking out for “the least of these.” But when it comes to clergy sex abuse, Southern Baptists are far too wrapped up in looking out for the ministers. “The least of these” seem to be “the least of” their concerns.

And as for what’s “deplorable?” It’s churches like Arnoldsville Baptist when they turn their backs on kids who report clergy sex abuse. It’s Southern Baptist officials when they choose to do nothing at all about ministers who are reported for clergy sex abuse. It’s the Southern Baptist Convention when it persistently refuses to institute the bare-basic safeguard that other major faith groups have of allowing outside review for clergy abuse reports and when it refuses to even keep records on credibly accused clergy sex abusers.

All of that is what’s “deplorable” … along with the fact that the news reports of Baptist clergy abuse and cover-ups keep growing, and the denomination keeps doing nothing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Eddie Long controversy

Gospel Today magazine is catching a lot of flak for its decision to feature the scandal-plagued pastor Eddie Long on the cover of its December issue. It has the appearance of being little more than a public-relations fluff piece for a prominent pastor who is currently embroiled in lawsuits alleging clergy sex abuse.

Long is the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. Four young men have accused him of using spiritual authority to coerce them into sexual acts when they were teen church members.

Long is also Chairman of the Board of Advisors for Gospel Today magazine. Therein lies a big part of the problem. The conflict of interest seems obvious to a whole lot of people . . . but apparently not to the people at Gospel Today.

As reported by CNN, Gospel Today owner and editor Teresa Hairston went on the magazine’s website to defend the article, after readers complained. Personally, I applaud those astute Gospel Today readers who cared enough to voice their concern; it’s a shame Gospel Today didn’t take its readers’ criticisms to heart.

For those who have followed other Baptist clergy sex abuse cases, Hairston’s remarks will carry an eerie air of familiarity. She took aim at the press for how it has covered the Long scandal, and she claimed that Gospel Today had chosen to present a “biblical perspective.” She also said this:

“The Word of God teaches us that God is love; and far too many times we have been unbalanced and unloving — all in the name of a God who not only loves, but loves unconditionally and restores sinners — us included. Whether Bishop Long is guilty or not; whether the young men are guilty or not, the BODY OF CHRIST must handle this situation according to the Word of God! The mainstream press has painted a hideous picture; some have even called for Bishop Long’s resignation! They’re not even members!!”
My response: You don’t have to be a member of the church to know that power without accountability leads to abuse of power. You don’t have to be a member of the church to know that it’s wrong for faith groups to allow men into positions of high trust without also assuring that effective oversight systems are in place. You don’t have to be a member of the church to know that such a failure of oversight is a travesty that puts huge numbers of trusting kids and congregants at risk, not only in independent Baptist churches, but also in Southern Baptist churches and many other sorts of Baptist churches. You don’t have to be a member of the church to speak out about this sort of travesty. Indeed, it’s a shame that, so often, it is outsiders who must speak out, because, so often, it is the “members” who try to cover it up.

Related posts:
Eddie Long: The Real Scandal Is Even Bigger, 9/28/10
Denominational Double-talk, 9/29/10
Independent Baptist Eddie Long, 10/2/10
Our selective curiosity on sex scandals, 10/10/10
Where’s the Discipline? 10/13/10

News updates:
Bishop Eddie Long agrees to mediation, Huffington Post, 12/6/10
Another "I'm innocent" guilty case of sex abuse, Thoroughly Anderson Cooper blog, 12/8/10 (In video, expert says, "Mediation would be the last place you'd think he would wind up.")

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pastor told member to "keep his mouth shut"

In New Hampshire, Southern Baptist pastor Timothy Dillmuth and two church elders, Richard Eland and Robert Gagnon, were found guilty of failing to report child sex abuse. As reported yesterday in the Union Leader, the men will be sentenced on December 21st.

According to the judge’s written ruling, pastor Dillmuth “had met with the parents of a child who had been molested by a member of the church, which he later confirmed after talking to the child.”

“The information was shared with other members of the board of elders in September 2009,” and was discussed at some meetings of the church board.

A month later, when another member of the church urged the child’s parents to report the matter to authorities, pastor Dillmuth talked to the concerned church member and told him to “keep his mouth shut.”

“That church member subsequently left the church after belonging for over five years.”

Testimony showed that, at least into November 2009, the matter continued to be discussed at meetings of the board of elders, and “it became contentious.”

However, it was only in February 2010, after another church member heard about the abuse and threatened to go to the police, that pastor Dillmuth finally agreed the matter should be reported. Then, as stated in the judge’s ruling, church officials “put pressure on the parents… to do what the elders had a duty to do months before, report the child abuse to authorities.”

As police began to investigate, they turned their attention to the church officials’ conduct in failing to report the abuse. In a police interview, church elder Richard Eland justified their failure by saying that they “respond to a higher authority.” Thus, he used religion as a rationalization.

Because of this, the judge observed that “they would do it again.”

It was "deliberately attempted" to keep it within the church, wrote the judge.

The prosecutor described it as "a conspiracy" that was "not only unlawful, but shameful."

The church in which this shameful “conspiracy” took place is Valley Christian Church in Redstone, New Hampshire. According to its website, the church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why should anyone be surprised at such keep-it-quiet conspiratorial conduct among the leaders of a local church when we have seen so much in the way of collusion, complicity and cover-ups extending even to the highest levels of Southern Baptist Convention leadership?

N.H. Baptist minister, elders found guilty of failing to report abuse, ABP, 11/30/10
Southern Baptist pastor told member to "keep his mouth shut," BaptistPlanet, 11/30/10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving "Firsts" at Cornerstone

It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving and my heart is filled with gratitude. At the invitation of Rev. Dwight McKissic, I spent the morning in a joy-filled worship service with the people of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

This was the first time that any Baptist church has actually invited me to speak. So this 3,000 member congregation is something special, and they have a pastor who carries a genuine concern for the problem of clergy sex abuse.

For over 4 ½ years, I’ve been writing and talking about this subject that a whole lot of Baptist officials, Baptist pastors, and Baptist people seem to not want to hear about -- Baptist clergy sex abuse and cover-ups. It’s not a pleasant subject -- I know. But I also know that, if kids in Baptist churches are going to be made safer, we need to do a whole lot more talking about it.

That’s why I was both surprised and glad when I received Dr. McKissic’s letter of invitation. He also said that Cornerstone wanted to honor me with its “Phoebe Award.” It’s an award that Cornerstone gives out every 3 to 5 years “to a person who has made a difference in our world; someone who stands up for truth and right.”

For a moment, I confess I was flat-out dumbfounded. I looked again at the name on the letter. Sure enough – he was talking to me.

This was something dramatically different from all the ugly-talk that I’ve gotten from so many others who carry the “Baptist” name. So I decided to accept their gracious invitation and to go visit the people of Cornerstone.

They were warm and welcoming, attentive and caring.

Many people have told me that “Baptists are hopeless” when it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse. I have had many moments of believing it. But when I meet Baptists like Dwight McKissic and the people of Cornerstone, it renews my hope.

I yearn for a future when kids in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer.

I yearn for a future when Baptist clergy abuse survivors will be received and heard with compassion and care.

I yearn for a future when clergy accountability systems will seem as "right as rain" in Baptistland.

I know that we still have a very long way to go before these dreams become reality. And perhaps it won’t happen in my lifetime. But like many others who have gone before and who will come after me, I feel as though we are working to plant seeds of change.

Today, I was very happy to be able to plant those seeds, standing side by side, with the people of Cornerstone. Someday, perhaps many years yet into the future, those seeds will grow into strong trees whose wide and sheltering branches will give safe sanctuary for the kids and congregants of Baptistland.

On a more personal note, today was a “first” in another way. Except for funerals, this was the first time I have set foot in a Baptist church in more than 30 years. I am grateful to the people of Cornerstone for welcoming me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

In the top photo, that’s Dr. Dwight McKissic and I. The bottom photo shows the lovely award that Cornerstone presented to me. The plaque on the base reads: “A servant of the church … a helper of many.” Romans 16:1, 2.

Church honors advocate for abuse victims, ABP, 12/7/10
Positivity: Christa Brown rewarded for helping abuse victims, Ex Times, 12/22/10
Cornerstone's press release, 11/30/10

Update 3/5/11:
I packed away the award into a box and put it in storage. It became too sad to even look at it. I have come to the belief that, with only the rarest of exceptions, Southern Baptist pastors simply will not hold their own accountable. Cronies protect cronies. Why should anyone expect Southern Baptist pastors to hold other pastors accountable for sexual abuse when they won't even hold their highest denominational officials accountable for harsh, cruel written public rhetoric? On this issue, Baptist pastors are plagued by fawning tepidity. That's how it is in Baptistland.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"That's how you get a Jim Jones"

November 18th marked the 32nd anniversary of the Jonestown massacre. Over 900 people lost their lives when Rev. Jim Jones exhorted his followers to “die with dignity.”

By faith and by force, hundreds swallowed the cyanide-laced Kool-aid that was served up by the leaders of Jones’ church.

It was an event that left a permanent mark in our lexicon with the expression “drink the Kool-aid.”

Nowadays, people almost always describe Jim Jones’ church as a “cult.” Yet, what is often overlooked is that, for years, Rev. Jones was actually a very politically-connected preacher. It’s not as if he wore a sign saying “wacko.”

To the contrary, as reported by longtime religion writer Terry Mattingly, Jim Jones carried the credibility of being “a minister in good standing of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an absolutely normal denomination….”

The Disciples of Christ are a denomination with congregational polity, similar to the polity of Baptists. But after Jonestown, the Disciples of Christ saw the importance of plugging the safety gaps in their polity, and they took action.

The people of Jim Jones’ congregation weren’t fools. Many were highly educated. Yet, when things turned terribly wrong, the sheep couldn’t rein in the shepherd. And no one in denominational leadership intervened.

It was only after 900 people died that Disciples of Christ leaders saw how their lack of clergy oversight made them vulnerable to horrific abuse perpetrated in the name of faith. So they created a process by which a regional body can consider the continued “standing” of ministers who carry the Disciples of Christ name.

One ordained Disciple explained the change this way: “In the dark light of Jonestown, it’s hard to argue that you can go back to an entirely decentralized structure with a general identity. That’s how you get a Jim Jones.”

Yet, that’s what Southern Baptists still have. Despite their shared general identity, they have a decentralized structure, and their leaders refuse to plug the safety gaps.

Baptist historian and religion scholar Bill Leonard describes Baptists as having a “radical congregationalism.” (Baptists in America, 2005, p. 153) I think those are apt words, not merely in theory, but also in practice.

When a faith group places the perfection of its man-interpreted polity above the protection of kids against clergy predators, then yes . . . they have stepped into the realm of being “radical.”

When a faith group fails to meet the standard of care that is now found in virtually every other major faith group in the country through the use of outside review on clergy abuse complaints, then yes . . . they have stepped into the realm of being “radical.”

Many people in the pews make the erroneous assumption that, because they share a “general identity” as Southern Baptists, the denomination provides a measure of safety. But with its “radical congregationalism,” Southern Baptists don’t prioritize safety. They afford no denominational system for effectively dealing with those who abuse the trust of the shared identity.

Thirty-two years ago, the congregationalist Disciples of Christ put in place an accountability process to try to plug the safety gaps in their own decentralized system. When over 900 people lost their lives, leaders saw the power of faith as a weapon, and they realized that the denomination itself carried a moral responsibility to intercede.

It’s a moral responsibility that Southern Baptist leaders still haven’t recognized.

For another account of what happened at Jonestown, read “Town without Pity,” by Charles A. Krause, a journalist who was shot while trying to cover the story there.

Note: Parts of this post were from a prior 12/1/08 column, "Jonestown Anniversary."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


How an organization spends its money can tell you a lot about what it thinks is important.

So I decided to take a look at the 2011 proposed budget for the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country, the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

It’s a budget that allocates a total of $38 million for net expenses.

How much of that do you imagine they allocated for addressing “clergy sexual misconduct”?


That’s three thousand five hundred and four dollars.

I’m guessing that amount is just enough to allow the BGCT to reprint some of its glossy brochures and put them on a table at the next annual meeting.

That’s it. Nothing more. That’s how little they care.

It's a tragic number that gives substance to the reality of the BGCT's institutionalized blindness to clergy sex abuse. (And the very fact that their budget labels it as “misconduct” only furthers the evidence of how the BGCT persists in minimizing this conduct. But I digress . . . this posting is about numbers.)

The Baptist General Convention of Texas once bragged that it was doing more than any other statewide Baptist organization in the country on the subject of clergy sex abuse. So there isn’t much reason to think the Baptist budgets in other states have allocated anything more.

A budget of $3,504 makes apparent that no one at the Baptist General Convention of Texas is even taking the first tiny baby step toward trying to responsibly address clergy sex abuse. And they sure aren't doing anything to minister to the wounded.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas should have allocated at least 10 times that amount for the sole purpose of conducting a study to assess their own institutional failure in the case of minister Matt Baker, who was convicted of murder last January. The BGCT needs to work toward understanding how and why a minister with multiple sexual abuse and assault reports was able to move so easily through so many of the BGCT’s affiliated churches and organizations, without anyone stopping him. They need to work toward understanding why it took a murder before those abuse and assault allegations were brought to light.

They need to work toward understanding how a Baptist minister with multiple abuse and assault reports was still able to get a job working as a chaplain at a residential treatment facility for emotionally troubled youth. Doesn’t the BGCT do credentialing for Texas Baptist chaplains?

They need to work toward understanding how, even at the end of his career, just before he was hauled up on a murder charge, a minister with multiple abuse and assault reports was still able to get a job working with college kids at a Baptist Student Union. It was a job funded by the BGCT. Didn’t anyone check his background? How could they have overlooked so much?

In most other organizations, an institutional failure of the Matt Baker magnitude would lead to a lot of questions. Leaders would try to understand how things went so wrong. They would try to figure out what they should do to assure that it wouldn’t happen again.

But at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, so-called “leaders” just hunkered down and stayed silent . . . as though it simply wasn’t their problem.

Kids and congregants in Texas Baptist churches are the ones who pay the price for the BGCT’s institutionalized blindness toward clergy sex abuse.

$3,504. That’s how little the BGCT cares.

The BGCT’s proposed budget is 177 pages long, and for me, it was an eye-numbing exercise to look at it. But if you’re someone who likes numbers, or if you just want to peruse it for yourself, here it is:

Meanwhile, I’ll point out just a few other items that caught my eye.

The “Ministers’ Wives Retreat” gets $9,000. The office of the Chief Financial Officer gets $61,882 for “Tax Seminars.”

Thinking about the fact that Matt Baker was able to work as a chaplain, I noticed that the BGCT’s budget allocates $2,248 to the “Chaplaincy Endorsement” program, and a total of $113,029 to “Chaplaincy Ministry.” But of course, that doesn’t count the salaries and benefits for the BGCT people who work in the program. (Once you start looking at some of the compensation packages for BGCT officials, you start to understand real fast about where a lot of the offering plate dollars go.)

"Counseling and Psychological Services" gets $115,148. (You can read more about that program here: “Therapy for perps but not victims.”)

Finally, the “Ministers’ Protection Plan” gets $1,300,000. I’m told that this is how the state conventions help to assure that Baptist ministers are provided with disability benefits. Of course, I’ve got no problem with ministers being able to get benefits when they become disabled. But here’s what I don’t understand: Why can denominational officials use the pooled money from autonomous churches to provide Baptist ministers with disability benefits, but they can’t use the pooled money from autonomous churches to provide Baptist congregants with the resource of a trained review board for objectively assessing clergy abuse reports and for informing people in the pews about credibly-accused clergy?

Kids and congregants would be a whole lot safer if the Baptist General Convention of Texas cared just as much about protecting them as it cares about protecting ministers.

But $3,504 is all they allocated.

Remember that number. That’s how little the BGCT cares.

Related post: "Once every two weeks for Texas Baptists"

See also: "How much do Southern Baptists budget for dealing with clerical sex abuse?" Baptist Planet, 11/17/2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

He was a Baptist pastor, not a priest

“Pervert priest faces 80 years in US jail.”

That was the headline in the November 5th Oxford Times.

One big problem: Robert Dando was a Baptist pastor, not a priest.

It’s bad enough that news reports sometimes don’t even mention the fact that a charged or convicted child molester is a Baptist pastor. Now we have a news story whose headline transforms the pastor into a priest.

The text of the story got it right, but of course, a whole lot of people just scan the headlines.

This is a dreadfully disturbing case, and in my view, it warranted a whole lot more media coverage than it got.

After all, consider these facts:
  • Dando was very closely connected to the highest levels of Baptists’ worldwide leadership. He previously served as executive assistant to the president of the Baptist World Alliance. This was a guy who ran with the big dogs.
  • Dando “was embroiled in another child sex abuse scandal when he was a minister at Orchard Baptist Fellowship” in the United Kingdom. In 2001, when the leader of the church, Dr. Anthony Gray, was convicted of serious sex offenses against a 14-year-old boy, Dando said this: “All our youth work is carried out within proper guidelines.” Yet, we now know that Dando too was sexually abusing kids, and had been since at least as far back as 1995. (Do these guys run in packs?)
  • At the time of his arrest, Dando was the prominent senior minister of Worcester Park Baptist Church in suburban London.
  • Dando pled guilty to repeatedly abusing 2 boys in Virginia, starting when they were 7 and 8 years old. Virginia prosecutors said that, under questioning, Dando also admitted to sexually abusing boys in the United Kingdom.
  • Dando had plenty of access to kids. His wife was a national vice-president of the Boys’ Brigade, a Christian youth organization with more than 500,000 members in 60 countries. Dando also worked for a children’s charity in India.
  • Dando previously worked as a magistrate on a family court panel, which dealt with child care and child access proceedings.
It’s awful to even think about how many kids this Baptist pastor may have wounded. Baptists ought to be making a far-ranging public outreach effort to try to reach those kids and help them. But I haven’t seen anything like that.

Meanwhile, in other news, a Baptist pastor in Missouri is charged with murdering the husband of a woman in his congregation with whom he had been having a sexual relationship. The pastor, David Love, even performed the man’s funeral.

According to the Kansas City Examiner, pastor Love had a longstanding "habit" of instituting sexual encounters with a female congregant. So this raises a question similar to the one raised with Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker, who was convicted of murder last January: Why didn’t Baptists bust him sooner?

It shouldn’t take a murder for a pastor’s sexual abuse and assault reports to come to light. But tragically, that’s what it took with Baptist pastor Matt Baker.

Now we see yet another Baptist pastor charged with murder. And in the process, we learn that he reportedly had an ugly prior pattern for which no one held him accountable. Again . . . it shouldn’t take a murder charge to bring this stuff to light.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why education isn't enough

Baptist leaders often say that, in order to prevent sexual abuse in churches, congregants should be educated to recognize the signs of potential abuse. But what do you do when you see the signs, and no one else wants to see them?

What do you do when what you see involves the minister, and everyone else just wants to ignore it?

That’s what happened to Nancy at her Southern Baptist church in Georgia. Her story is a good illustration of why educational efforts will never be enough. There must also be effective accountability systems that include a process by which clergy conduct can be reviewed by those outside the minister’s circle of influence.

Nancy is plenty educated. She’s a college psychology professor. In the past, she has worked as a counselor for sexual abuse survivors, and she herself is an abuse survivor. She’s also a mom. So when Nancy saw signs of potential abuse, she knew something needed to be done.

I have changed some of the details of Nancy’s story in order to protect the young girl’s sense of privacy. However, in reality, there is nothing unusual about this story. The elements are far too familiar. We’ve seen similar stories in countless other Baptist churches across the country – churches in which ministers with troubling allegations were simply allowed to move on.

For Nancy, it started about a year ago when she noticed on Facebook that one of their ministers, Steve, was being very flirtatious with a 15-year-old girl. He was also overly friendly with her at church.

Minister Steve is married and has kids of his own. He usually preached the sermon on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays. He also served as a Sunday School teacher.

As things progressed, minister Steve started posting more and more Facebook comments about the girl. He posted pictures of himself and the girl together on a church trip, and the pictures had inappropriate captions. Then he posted a comment about how she had given him a great massage.

Nancy recognized these things as “red flags.” She also knew that minister Steve had been accused of sexual harassment at a company he worked for previously. The accusations were corroborated by another employee who had witnessed some of Steve’s conduct; the company began an investigation; but Steve simply resigned in the middle of it.

Nancy went to talk to the girl’s mom. She’s a mom who is on her own with three kids, one of whom has special needs. Her only source of income is her part-time secretarial job at the church.

The mom immediately told Nancy that she had the same concerns, but was afraid to even think about it. The mom then told Nancy about still more of minister Steve’s disturbing conduct. He had been texting and calling the girl, having unsupervised workout sessions with her, giving her skin-tight workout clothes, asking for massages, and “accidentally” touching her during workouts. He had also given the girl a car.

After talking with Nancy, the mom sent minister Steve a short note asking that he not have further contact with her daughter. She said she felt uncomfortable. The note was honest and direct, but all it asked was for Steve to leave the girl alone.

Minister Steve responded by rallying his forces. He told people at the church that the girl’s mom was spreading lies about him. A deacon cornered the girl’s mom and told her that, if she were a better mother and had spent more time with her daughter, this wouldn’t have happened. (If this is the sort of thing a deacon says to the mom, I wonder what he may have said to the girl?)

After that, as Nancy describes it, “all hell broke loose.” Minister Steve started raging and retaliating in emails, on Facebook, in phone calls, and at the church. He figured out that Nancy had supported the mom, and so he also targeted Nancy and her husband. He cursed and yelled and threatened to sue people.

Ultimately, the deacons held a meeting, but they decided not to do anything.

So, for a while, minister Steve kept right on at that church, smiling and shaking hands as though nothing had happened. Meanwhile, Nancy and her husband became outcasts. Some church members won’t even look at them or speak to them. People say they are “gossips” and “trying to bring the church down.” All of this has affected Nancy’s own kids. This was, after all, their longtime church home.

The senior pastor and deacons have made it clear that the matter is not to be discussed. No one has tried to reach out to the girl. She seems “scared and ashamed,” says Nancy, who is understandably concerned that the girl has not told everything that happened.

But the mom has now gone back to her quiet ways. As Nancy says, she has learned that, if she doesn’t want to jeopardize her job, “she should simply keep her mouth shut.” So the mom isn’t interested in talking to the police or to an attorney.

Nancy says she knows there were originally other church members who had concerns, but in the face of such abysmal leadership, no one else was willing to stand up. So they just went back to their “singing, preaching, programs and donuts.”

It now appears that minister Steve has left the church. He just stopped showing up. So this one girl is now safe. But Nancy knows the pattern. Minister Steve will probably move on to some other church and other kids will be at risk.

That’s how it works in Baptistland. A single church can make a man a minister based on the lowest of possible standards, or based on virtually no standards. But once he’s a minister, he can easily migrate to other churches.

Nancy is deeply troubled, but she doesn’t know what more she can do. Here are her questions, in her own words.

1. “How do we let the next unsuspecting victims know? The girl’s mother isn’t going to do anything. Our Baptist Association won’t do anything. Our church won’t do anything. I don’t trust the leaders of the next church to do anything. So what can we do?”

2. “Do you stay in a church that refuses to hold people who hurt others, especially children, accountable? Do you stay in a church with poor, weak, and even ungodly leadership that is only concerned with covering things up and making the whole thing go away?”

3. “If you DO choose to leave the church, do you find ANOTHER Baptist church where leadership probably wouldn’t step up to the plate either? I am feeling so disillusioned about churches and their leadership in general. I have begun to feel that many of them are playing church and this isn’t real.”

4. “Everyone we know is happy with the status quo. If it doesn’t affect or concern them (or even if it does), they seem content to sweep it under the rug. We were very active in our church, along with our children, but this has caused us so much hurt, discouragement and disillusionment. I now have so many questions and concerns about things I’ve never questioned in my 41 years of being in Baptist churches.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autonomy doesn't trump kids' safety

“Anytime an SBC minister commits abuse, the denomination carries some level of blame for not creating a system to deal with abuse.”

Those are the words of Rev. Timothy Bonney, written today on the BaptistLife forum. Bonney is now a pastor at a United Methodist Church, but he spent many prior years as a pastor with the American Baptist Churches USA. So, Bonney knows about Baptists.

The American Baptists are a much smaller Baptist group, but like all Baptists, local church autonomy is central to their polity. However, for American Baptists, autonomy doesn’t preclude a system for clergy accountability.

The Southern Baptist Convention may be a lot bigger, but they could sure take a lesson from the American Baptist Churches.

Kudos to Rev. Timothy Bonney for his clear, true words! Here they are in context:

“The SBC could do as the ABC has done and create a clergy registry which would allow them to recognize clergy or blackball offenders when necessary. They are the largest non-Catholic denomination in the U.S. They could do it. They just won't do it. And so anytime an SBC minister commits abuse, the denomination carries some level of blame for not creating a system to deal with abuse.

I know local church autonomy is a very high value belief for Baptists. But I have a hard time seeing local church autonomy trumping the safety of children and the overall well being of the church.”


Related post with more words from Timothy Bonney and others: “Essence of the problem.”

See also "Iowa church illustrates low standards of Baptistland."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A victim's voice is heard

Earlier this month, North Carolina authorities charged an assistant pastor at New Manna Baptist Church with child sex abuse. Now, a prior victim of abuse within the same church has chosen to speak out.

Kudos to Casie Rumfelt!

Here are excerpts from Casie’s story, as written by reporter Richelle Bailey and reported in The McDowell News on October 29.

“Casie Rumfelt wanted someone to love her. One of her church officials honed in on that, she stated, preyed on her vulnerability and was eventually convicted of molesting her. . . . She was 14 and 15 at the time of the offenses, and he was 25 and 26, was married and had a little girl.

The suspect was charged in March 2004 and pleaded guilty in February 2005 to taking indecent liberties with a child. He was sentenced to 1 ½ years behind bars and is still registered as a sex offender today. . . .

Rumfelt is choosing to speak out, tell her story and hopefully keep this from happening again.

‘I just want to help somebody,’ she stated. ‘It’s OK to come forward. It will be rough, but you will get through it.’ . . . .

She admits that she wanted someone to love her. That’s where this man came in.

One day, after a church function, Rumfelt had no ride home, so he volunteered to take her. He said he had to make a quick stop by his house first, and he invited her inside.

‘He told me how pretty I was,’ she stated. ‘I had never had anybody pay that much attention to me. He told me he knew I was going through some hard times and that he was here for me.’
The same routine continued over and over and over. . . . but what started as telling her she was pretty advanced to kissing then to fondling then to sexual intercourse, according to Rumfelt.

‘I was 14 and I was naïve,’ she said. ‘Yes, I had a choice of saying yes or no to that man, but no 13-, 14- or 15-year-old should have to make that choice. He was supposed to be a leader in the church, a mentor and someone to look out for me, but, in his eyes, I was just a young, vulnerable girl that could be part of his sick, twisted life. He took something from me that I could never get back.’ . . . .

He became ever more obsessive and possessive. She was required to call him at certain hours, wasn’t allowed to spend time with her friends and was forced to be everywhere he was.

‘The people at New Manna had to know something was going on,’ she stated.

He became verbally abusive, said Rumfelt, and would berate her over the smallest things. She had had enough and wanted it to stop.

Rumfelt gathered enough nerve to go to Tony Shirley, the church’s pastor and the school’s principal . . . but she never expected his response.

‘I told Mr. Shirley that I was in a sexual relationship with a married man,’ she said. ‘He asked me a lot of questions, but he told me he didn’t want to know who it was. He told me I really needed to think before I identified him because I would ruin his life.’

Shirley, Rumfelt contends, forced her to go home and tell her grandparents what she had done.

‘More or less, I was punished for coming forward,’ she stated. . . .

Rumfelt spent much of her time at her best friend’s house. . . . During one of Rumfelt’s mandated calls… her best friend’s mom picked up the phone and heard him scolding the teen. That raised enough red flags that the woman questioned Rumfelt and she came clean about the relationship.

She took the teen to the Sheriff’s Office and an investigation ensued.

‘If she hadn’t taken me to the Sheriff’s Office, I would never have told because I tried to tell someone earlier and I was told not to ruin his life,’ Rumfelt stated. . . .

Next came the suspect’s arrest. But that meant a lot of the teen’s problems were just beginning. . . .

‘As if my world wasn’t turned upside down enough, by me coming forward, I was kicked out of the Christian school I had attended since the third grade and banned from all church activities,’ she said. . . .

‘You would think that after the leaders and members of that congregation found out the things that happened, they would find (the perpetrator in her abuse) at fault, but that was not the case,’ said Rumfelt. ‘The blame was placed on me. I was the bad guy instead of the victim.’

She was shunned by many of the church-goers.

‘Not one of the leaders in that church asked me if I was OK or bothered to come and visit,’ she said. ‘I was born and raised in that church, but because I wasn’t ‘a man of God’ my well being didn’t matter. The whole time it was ‘We need to pray for that man and his family. They are really going through it right now.’ Well, what about me? What was I going through?’ . . . .

Rumfelt no longer attends New Manna Baptist Church but did visit on one occasion in October on an invite from a friend.

It just happened to be the evening that [pastor] Shirley stood up in front of the congregation and announced that police had arrested Michael Eugene Pearson, 30, of Marion on charges related to a sexual relationship with an underage female relative. Pearson was the bus director at New Manna and also an assistant pastor. . . .

‘Mr. Shirley kept asking everyone to pray for Michael and his family, but he never once mentioned the victim,’ she stated. ‘It infuriated me, so I decided I wasn’t going to let it happen again. It’s not her fault.’

For Rumfelt, it was déjà vu. She said she left the church that night and made the decision that she would no longer keep quiet.

‘They are cowards and hypocrites,’ she added. ‘They preach that you are not to sin then they do it. You can’t be godly and a pedophile at the same time.’

New Manna’s problems will continue, Rumfelt contends, until the leaders take a stand.

‘The leadership needs to step up and say ‘Something’s not right,’ instead of ‘This is the devil’s work,’’ she stated. ‘If the proper precautions had been taken with my situation then it would have been stopped earlier and Michael’s situation wouldn’t have happened.’

Rumfelt knows the victim in Pearson’s case and has talked to her via e-mail.

‘Don’t back down, don’t let anyone talk you into giving up and don’t ever think this is your fault,’ she advises the teen. ‘I didn’t ask for this and neither did you. The members of this community don’t need to let this get swept under the rug like it’s not a big deal because it is.'"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


“Ask reporters on the religion beat and they’ll tell you the most vicious e-mails they ever receive as journalists are from people of faith who feel their beliefs have been slighted. The passion behind religion magnifies any perceived mistakes, slights or bias.”

-- William Lobdell, former longtime religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, in Losing My Religion at p. 265

In my experience, Lobdell's words go ditto and double for people who speak out about clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.

I never imagined a world of so much meanness until I stepped onto the terrain of Baptistland with pleas for clergy accountability and for care of abuse survivors.

Worst of all . . . it’s a malignant meanness that masks itself as religion.

Most people seem to want to believe that clergy sex abuse is about the perpetrators. You know . . . the “bad guys.”

But really . . . it’s mostly about all the rest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where's the Discipline?

When I got Sheila’s email yesterday, I found myself thinking once again about Al Mohler’s statement about the “discipline of a denomination.” Remember? Al Mohler, shown in the photo, is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he engaged this denominational double-talk in an apparent attempt to distance Southern Baptists from the sort of sex scandal that has enveloped Independent Baptist pastor Eddie Long.

Independent congregations “lack the discipline of a denomination,” said Mohler.

But where’s the discipline? What exactly was Al Mohler talking about?

Where is the Southern Baptist disciplinary process for denominationally dealing with allegations of clergy sex abuse?

Maybe Al Mohler would like to answer that question for Sheila.

Here is what she wrote to me:


I won't recount my story here, but I am now 50 years old – reported my abuser, a youth pastor in Alabama, when I was 21.

The board of deacons told me it was my fault, told me not to come back to church, and he did it because of the clothing I wore. I wasn't the only girl.

I am in such pain.


In a subsequent email, I learned that the abuse began when Sheila was in her mid-teens. Sheila was 21 when she reported it, but she says the senior pastor already knew about it because a deacon had previously told him.

That youth pastor whom Sheila reported 29 years ago is still working at a large Southern Baptist church in Alabama. While Sheila has struggled greatly over the years, the youth pastor was able to continue with a long career. He has worked as a minister of education and a minister of music at other churches in Louisiana and Alabama.

So where exactly is this “discipline of a denomination” that Al Mohler talked about?

Where is there any denominational office that will even look into allegations like those of Sheila? What denominational process exists for responsibly assessing allegations like those of Sheila? What denominational office will even receive Sheila’s report, much less “discipline” the minister or warn people in the pews?

When someone like Al Mohler talks about the “discipline of a denomination,” why in the world should someone like Sheila believe that what he says holds any real meaning?

And while we’re on the subject, what about some denominational process for providing compassionate care to those who have been wounded by Southern Baptist clergy? In addition to denominational disciplinary processes, other major faith groups now have processes that can provide counseling assistance for clergy abuse survivors. Where is that denominational process for Southern Baptists? Sheila could sure use some help. And doesn’t the faith group have a moral obligation?

Al Mohler was recently described as “the most prominent public intellectual” in the Southern Baptist Convention. I sure wish he would use some of that intellectual prowess to realistically address the problem of clergy sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. Maybe if Mohler would apply himself to the task, he could tell us how Southern Baptists can cooperate together to assure effective clergy accountability mechanisms, to minimize the likelihood of church-hopping preacher-predators, and to help people like Sheila.

But I guess Mohler is too busy telling Christians they shouldn’t do yoga.