Saturday, July 31, 2010

Truth isn't easy

Sometimes truth isn’t easy, and that’s sure true about clergy sex abuse.

The truth doesn’t always set you free. Sometimes it binds you tight as you try to learn to live with it.

Truth can shred all that you ever knew or believed. It can make a mockery of everything you ever held dear. It can rend asunder relationships, and it can pulverize the simple ability to live at peace.

Truth can be hard. It’s why so many people choose the softness of lies.

The lies comfort. When you believe them, they feel easier. They don’t challenge or confront.

People rationalize and justify. They rush past the real rawness of clergy sex abuse while spouting platitudes about “precious children” and “church autonomy.”

But their platitudes don’t protect anyone other than themselves. Their platitudes give them something to latch onto so that they don’t have to see the ugly reality of kids being molested and raped by clergy.

So who has more moral courage? The abuse survivors who step into the abyss and allow themselves to see the full horror of their own helplessness when they were groomed, molested and raped by a trusted minister? Or the Baptist leaders who shield themselves behind their safe wall of platitudes and who never confront the reality of clergy colleagues who rape kids?

People often wonder why abuse survivors don’t speak up sooner. But why do they wonder when they themselves lapse so easily into denial and minimization?

We did nothing wrong. We were raped because we were young, vulnerable, faith-filled and trusting. We were raped because the pastors held power and they used it against us.

Church and denominational leaders have a responsibility to know this truth and to confront it.

They can’t change what was done to us in the past. But if they will muster the courage to see the truth, they can change what will happen to others in the future.

But first, they must stop pushing away the truth with excuses, denials, minimizations, rationalizations and victim-blaming.

Those are all lies.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Debbie Kaufman reviews "This Little Light"

Debbie Kauman has posted a review of my book, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang.

"What part of the book... should I write about?" begins Debbie. "It’s a book that when I finished reading the last page left me with a host of different thoughts and feelings. One chapter had me shocked at the number of victims in the Southern Baptist churches alone, one chapter had me angry that leaders in the Southern Baptist churches, Convention, literally turned their backs on Christa Brown as she tried to approach them, one chapter had me both angry and sad that Christa Brown was full of hope in approaching Southern Baptist leadership about clergy sexual abuse only to have her hopes dashed as excuses were made, doors shut on her, threatening letters were sent to her."

You can read the rest of Debbie's review on her blog. And since she calls it "part 1," I think she's not yet done. This is a woman with more to say.

Thanks, Debbie, for your strong voice!

More from Debbie Kaufman:
Review of "This Little Light" - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
"Southern Baptist Convention and its affiliates guilty of spiritual abuse?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Perhaps it's more about polity than race

In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Mark Chaves and Diana Garland published a study titled “The Prevalence of Clergy Sexual Advances Toward Adults in Their Congregations.”

The study found that, among women who currently attend religious services at least monthly, 3.1 percent have been the object of a sexual advance by a clergyperson or religious leader in their own congregation since turning 18.

This 3.1 percent conclusion was widely publicized almost a year ago, but recently, there has been news about another finding within the study – a finding that was not previously publicized. The study reports what is described as “a race difference” in the incidence of abuse. (Chaves and Garland at 821)

Specifically, among women who currently attend church at least monthly, the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse was approximately three times greater for African-American women than for white women. In other words, the behavior of clergy sexual advances toward adult congregants “occurs somewhat more frequently in predominantly black congregations than in predominantly white congregations.” (Chaves and Garland at 823)

As reported by the Biblical Recorder, Diana Garland spoke publicly about this additional finding in a recent meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “She offered as possible explanation that black churches typically have smaller staffs who have heavier loads; a higher proportion of members are female and there are fewer eligible men in the church.”

Chaves and Garland rightly acknowledge that they “speculate” in their possible explanations for understanding the “race difference.” (Chaves and Garland at 823) So, since Chaves and Garland are putting forward speculation about this, I too will speculate to put forward another possible explanation.

I’m inclined to think that the difference may have more to do with polity than with race.

The study surveyed 3,559 people in 17 Christian and Jewish denominational bodies.

African-Americans are largely concentrated in denominations that have a congregationalist polity. The National Baptist Convention is the largest African-American denomination in the United States, and a great many African-Americans are in other Baptist denominations as well – all of which have congregationalist polity.

By contrast, the Anglos who were surveyed were more than likely splintered among a wider range of denominational bodies, including not only those with congregationalist polity, but also Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and others. In these other sorts of denominational bodies, there exists at least the possibility that abusive clergy may be reported to an office outside the local congregation. Not only can the victims themselves report the abusive clergy to someone outside the congregation, but so too can other ministers and church officials who may have seen the predatory clergyman’s patterns.

In these other sorts of denominational bodies, there exists at least the possibility that a regional review board might suspend the clergyman, defrock him, or discipline him.

However, most African-American respondents were probably more cohesively in denominations that claim their congregationalist polity precludes denominational oversight of clergy. For these people, the ONLY possibility for reporting abusive clergy is to report them to the local church.

So, because of the lack of any outside oversight, ministers in denominations with congregationalist polity can migrate more easily and thereby accumulate more victims. And since African-Americans are concentrated in denominations with congregationalist polity, this may be at least part of the explanation for the increased incidence of clergy abuse.

(Remember Baptist pastor Darrell Gilyard? He had 44 known adult victims before he was finally stopped by a criminal conviction. And that’s just the victims who revealed their abuse. Yet, despite reports within congregations, and despite reports to Baptist officials, and even despite the efforts of other ministers in churches where he worked, Gilyard was always able to move on.)

Thus, I can’t help but wonder whether the appearance of this “race difference” in the data may actually be a back-door sort of insight into the reality that the lack of any oversight outside the local congregation may be something in Baptist life that sets up the probability for a higher incidence of clergy abuse. If this is what the data is telling us, then it would likely be true for anglo-dominated Baptist denominations as well ... i.e., for denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

Interestingly, Chaves and Garland themselves hint at this possibility, but then stop short. They raise the question of whether the "race difference" can be explained because, when it comes to “developing policies and procedures that adequately deal with such situations,” "predominantly white denominations and religious groups [have] been somewhat more likely to take these steps than predominantly black denominations and religious groups." (Chaves and Garland at 823) However, Chaves and Garland don’t make the link to the fact that most predominantly white denominations (Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic) have developed review board procedures that afford outside oversight of their clergy while most predominantly black denominations have not.

Most predominantly black denominations are congregationalist in polity -- and largely Baptist -- and they use their polity as an excuse for a lack of clergy oversight. (Garland herself works for Baylor University, a Baptist-funded institution.)

Finally, let me reiterate my concern about the 3.1 percent conclusion. This is something I blogged about previously, and now that I have seen the study itself, my concern is even greater.

Though there are several places where the study makes plain that it concerned itself only with women who currently attend religious services at least once a month, the study’s title may give the misimpression of a broader conclusion. There are also statements within the study that proclaim it as having established “a national prevalence rate for sexual advances by clergy toward their adult parishioners.” (Chaves and Garland at 823) This is simply incorrect. It did no such thing.

The Chaves and Garland study does not reflect the women who were sexually abused by a religious leader and who completely stopped going to church. Nor does it reflect the women who were sexually abused by a religious leader and who now go to church only sporadically. Those women remain invisible and uncounted.

Yet, they are real. And based on the people I hear from, I expect that there are at least as many clergy-abused women who don’t go to church as those who do.

All of them need a safe place to which they can report clergy abuse, and that “safe place” will almost never be the church of the accused clergyman. Indeed, for Baptists to persist in telling clergy abuse survivors that they must report to the church of the accused clergyman is flat-out cruel. It is like telling bloody sheep to go the den of the wolf who savaged them.

Such a system will never work. Not only does it fail for the purpose of fostering clergy accountability, but it also inflicts horrible additional harm on the victims of clergy sex abuse. As Garland herself has stated: Victims were “hurt” by a religious leader, but they were “destroyed” by the congregations.

Study published at Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2009) 48(4): 817-824.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Allegations should be assessed

A Southern Baptist missionary worked in Belize for four years, and on return to the United States, he became the director of a Baptist camp in North Carolina. His work put him in contact with a lot of kids.

A couple months ago, this former Southern Baptist missionary and camp director was found “dead of an apparent suicide.” At the time of his death, he was awaiting trial on child-sex charges. The charges involved three separate children.

What moral obligation do Southern Baptists now have toward the children who made the allegations in North Carolina?

What moral obligation do Southern Baptists now have toward the children who encountered this missionary in Belize?

The man’s death ended the government’s obligation to assess the truth of the allegations through the criminal justice process. But what about the faith community’s obligation?

And what about the kids?

If the allegations were true -- and police obviously believed they were -- then the man’s death will not spare the children from the burden of dealing with the nightmare of what they hold in their heads.

Is it enough for Baptists to simply say “We’ll pray for them”?

Sexual abuse in childhood carries a known correlation to a host of problems in adulthood, including alcohol addiction, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, and suicide. If the allegations of the three children are true, their lives could likely be made a great deal better if they obtained professional counseling sooner rather than later.

And if the allegations of the three North Carolina children are true, there is a significant likelihood that other children may have also been victimized, including children in Belize.

Shouldn’t the faith community carry a moral obligation to help with the healing for any who may have been wounded by this man on whom it placed a mantel of trust as a Southern Baptist minister?

Shouldn’t the faith community carry a moral obligation to responsibly assess the clergy abuse allegations, and to compassionately act on that assessment?

Other major faith groups have answered “yes” to those questions. But unlike other faith groups that have denominational processes to assess allegations involving deceased clergy and allegations beyond the statute of limitations, Southern Baptists have no such process.

In Baptistland, credible allegations are not assessed or acknowledged. So, now that the man’s death put an end to the criminal justice process, no alternative denominational process is available.

It is a cowardly faith community that can’t muster the moral courage to consider for itself the possible truth of clergy abuse allegations.

For a comparison, consider last week’s news of how Episcopal leaders responded to similar allegations.

A deceased Pennsylvania bishop and former priest was denominationally determined to have had four credible allegations of child sex abuse. According to the news account, two were abused as kids at an Episcopal summer camp and two were abused over a period of years.

In March 2010, immediately upon receiving a woman's report that she was abused as a kid by the deceased clergyman, Episcopal leaders consulted with licensed professionals outside the church organization who are experts in sexual abuse.

The current regional bishop, Sean Rowe, contacted the denomination’s Office for Pastoral Development, which had kept records on allegations against the priest, who had served in four different states. Through that office, Rowe learned of the three prior allegations, which in turn helped to substantiate the March 2010 report.

By comparison, for Baptists, there doesn't yet exist any denominational office that is even keeping records of clergy abuse allegations much less assessing them. Any Baptist pastor out there could have multiple allegations and no one would have any way of tracking them because no one is bothering to keep records.

After learning of the other allegations, Episcopal bishop Rowe offered an “abject apology” on behalf of the faith group and said: “We believe that these allegations are credible. We believe the stories.”

The Episcopal Church went public with the information about its deceased clergyman. On July 12, 2010, it made a denominational press release, and a letter was read aloud in 34 churches.

In the press release, Bishop Rowe said “The existence of four victims makes it possible that there are others, and we are bound as Christians to seek their healing.”

This is the very reality -- and moral imperative -- that Baptist leaders ignore.

Bishop Rowe publicly reached out to other possible victims of the deceased clergyman and urged them to come forward either publicly or confidentially.

Have you ever seen a Southern Baptist leader who publicly urged other possible clergy abuse victims to come forward and seek help?

Bishop Rowe had contacted the U.S. Episcopal Church’s highest leader, Katherine Jefforts Schori, who fully supported his decision to go public with the information about the abuse allegations.

Contrast this with the statement of Southern Baptists’ highest leader, Frank Page, who used a denominational press funded with offering plate dollars -- a press that would print virtually anything he wanted -- to publicly castigate those who speak out about clergy sex abuse.

Quite a contrast, eh?

Episcopal leaders aren't perfect. Though they removed the accused from priestly duties, and also removed him as a bishop, the prior allegations were not made public. They should have been. Nevertheless, compared to the long-continuing aggressively hostile do-nothingness of Baptist leaders, current Episcopal leaders wind up looking nearly like saints.

Baptists must come up to speed with what other major faith groups are already doing. Baptists must take up the hard work of denominationally assessing abuse allegations, of keeping records on abuse allegations, and of pro-actively reaching out to those who may have been abused by Baptist clergy.

They could start by assessing the abuse allegations of the North Carolina kids and by publicly reaching out to any others who may have been wounded in Belize.

Prior postings on the Stephen Carter case:
"One reason abuse victims don't talk," 8/1/09
"Knowing him doesn't yield knowledge," 7/23/09
"Baptist camp director charged with sex crimes," 7/14/09

Thursday, July 8, 2010

20/20 to air update on Matt Baker story

On Friday, July 9, ABC's 20/20 will air an update on the story of Matt Baker, the Baptist pastor who was convicted of murdering his wife.

According to investigators, Baker had also spent years living "a secret life as a sexual predator." Yet, despite multiple allegations of sexual assault and abuse, he was always able to move on through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

No one stopped him.

Not until he was put on trial for murder did people in the pews finally learn about the sexual abuse and assault allegations against him.

Now prosecutors say that "Matt Baker was a person who lived a double life and used his position as a minister for evil purposes."

Quoting Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, they point out that "The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

Prior postings on the Matt Baker case:
Outside Baptistland, there are consequences, 3/22/10
Lora's response to Baptist Bill, 2/17/10
Baptist Bill and the Courage of Lora, 2/8/10
Baptists threw kids a rattlesnake, 1/26/10

Complicity of Baptist leaders, 1/24/10
It shouldn't take a murder, 1/21/10
Guilty! Jury says pastor murdered wife, 1/20/10
Excerpts from the Matt Baker murder trial, 1/20/10
Baptist leaders silent at start of murder trial, 1/12/10
Baptist leaders must consider possible consequences, 6/12/09
Risk: Another lesson from the Matt Baker story, 12/31/08
Baptists at their best? 12/30/08

Why didn’t Baptists bust him? 2/23/08

Updates:"Was pastor's double life motive for murder?," ABC 20/20, 7/8/10
Murdering minister's lover tells all," ABC 20/20, 7/9/10
20/20 tells the story of Matt Baker," Debbie Kaufman's blog, 7/12/10