Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Truth

When it comes to clergy sex abuse, Southern Baptists can’t handle the truth.

Can’t. Won't. Won't even try.

Truth can be messy. So basically, Baptists just opt out. They refuse to deal with it.

Time and time again, we’ve seen this pattern. When a church’s minister is arrested on child sex charges, the pastor and other church leaders talk about wanting to wait for “the truth” to be made known.

We saw this pattern in the recent case in Port Orchard, Washington. “We want the truth to come out,” said senior pastor Jamie Greening, after another minister in his church was arrested on child sex charges and after police said he had “confessed on tape to raping a 12-year-old.”

So, in circumstances like this, what do pastors really mean when they talk about “the truth”?

As best I can tell, they mean that they want to wait to see whether or not the minister is criminally convicted. They want some other authority – such as the criminal justice system – to simply tell them what constitutes “the truth.”

But criminal conviction is not one and the same as “the truth.”

Just because a man hasn’t been criminally convicted doesn’t mean that he hasn’t sexually abused a child. In fact, many experts estimate that 90 percent of active sex offenders have no criminal record. This is consistent with FBI data, which indicates that only about 1 to 10 percent of child molestation crimes are ever even disclosed, much less prosecuted or convicted.

This reality is one reason why most of the other major faith groups in this country now have denominational systems for making their own assessments about whether it is more likely than not that a minister sexually abused a person. They take responsibility within the faith group for making an assessment about what they believe “the truth” to be, and they make that assessment based on standards that are less rigid than those of the criminal justice system.

Other major faith groups take that responsibility onto their own shoulders for the sake of better protecting kids and congregants. A faith group’s assessment of “the truth” will not function to put a man in prison, but it can function to assure that he won’t be able to use the mantle of ministerial trust as a weapon.

There’s plenty of room for debate about the standards and presumptions of the criminal justice system. But here’s the thing – whatever you may think of the criminal justice system, there is no reason why a faith group should rely solely on the criminal justice system for deciding whether a pastor is fit to remain in the pulpit.

Our criminal justice system is premised on the notion that it is better to let nine guilty men go free rather than to risk convicting an innocent man. This premise may make sense when the end result may be a deprivation of liberty . . . i.e., when the person who is convicted may be confined to a jail cell.

But does it make sense for deciding whether a pastor should remain in the pulpit?

Is it better to let nine child-molesting ministers remain as ministers rather than to risk the removal of one innocent minister from his chosen career?

Other faith groups have taken on these difficult questions and have developed their own standards for assessing “the truth” about clergy sex abuse allegations. But Southern Baptists still don’t bother. This makes lack of a criminal conviction into the de facto standard for clergy fitness among Southern Baptists. Basically, if a minister isn’t sitting in prison, he can probably find a Baptist pulpit to stand in. There is no Baptist denominational system that will stop him.

Sadly, waiting for “the truth” is also an excuse that many Baptist pastors use to avoid even the extension of care to those wounded by clergy sex abuse. We saw this pattern, too, in the Port Orchard case.

After immediately telling his congregation how important it was “to keep Pastor Dirk’s family in our prayers” (and after “the courtroom was packed” with supporters for “Pastor Dirk”), senior pastor Jamie Greening said nothing at all about care or concern for the victim in his initial “pastoral note.” (And I couldn’t help but notice that Greening still respectfully referred to the minister who “confessed on tape to raping a 12-year-old” as “Pastor Dirk.”)

Then, in two subsequent posts (here and here), Greening made these statements about the victim:

“If these allegations are true (and we don’t know that for sure yet) then she is in need of our prayers and support….”

“If these allegations are true, then our love, encouragement and support must be for the woman who has brought these charges as well as for Dirk and his family."

You’ll notice, of course, that he makes support for the victim conditioned on “if these allegations are true.” So, even though he has already publicly urged support and prayer for “Pastor Dirk,” senior pastor Jamie Greening still waits to see “if these allegations are true” before he will allow that the accuser may also need support. Then he goes an even further step of publicly casting doubt on the victim with his “and we don’t know that for sure yet” comment.

So, what exactly does pastor Greening mean by his “if these allegations are true” statement? Exactly what “truth” is he waiting for before he will allow that the victim, too, may need prayers and support?

As best I can tell, it’s the same old pattern. Even in the face of admissions, Baptists wait for the criminal justice system to provide them with “the truth” in the form of a criminal conviction.

When criminal conviction is a faith group’s only standard for assessing “the truth” about a minister, you can be sure that many ministers who rape and molest kids will remain in positions of high trust, and that kids will be at greater risk. That's the truth.

Related post: "Even in the face of admissions," 3/4/11


Wendy said...

The "East Coast Rapist" was arrested two days ago. He is charged with 17 sexual assaults over 12 years. Although police have evidence that matches his DNA, he has not confessed.

When reading this news, I couldn't help but notice the stark contrast between those who know the East Coast Rapist and those who know Dirk Jackson. The friends, neighbors, family members, and even the girlfriend of the rapist are so distraught, most of them have chosen not to speak publicly. Only a neighbor and a spokesperson for the rapist's girlfriend have spoken publicly. They stated that he performed handyman services and was an avid runner. He has a five-year old son. They had no idea of his crimes and are very shaken and upset. It's interesting that neither person who spoke publicly about the East Coast Rapist defended him. They never said they are waiting for the truth to come out or waiting to see if these allegations are true.

Dirk Jackson CONFESSED. Yet, Jamie Greening continues to freely use in his nauseating blog - day after nauseating day - "allegedly", "allegations", "IF this case is true", and "IF he is guilty".

Are you kidding me??? The POLICE stated that they have a taped CONFESSION. They also have phone recordings in which Jackson admits his guilt. There is no "IF" to it.

Thank you for the posts on this case, Christa.

Jeri said...

Dealing with Jamie Greening on his blog was just too upsetting. What an utter narcissist. He insists upon defending and sympathizing with a confessed rapist, but still, even when confronted about it, equivocates on the victim. Horrible man. And that sociopathic church falls right into line with him, expressing sympathy for a child rapist.