Sunday, December 30, 2007
Shining Lights & Black Holes of 2007
EthicsDaily and Bob Allen: “This controversial and explosive issue would not be receiving the attention it is now without the relentless coverage of EthicsDaily.com.” That’s a plain statement of truth. With over 58 articles and columns on Baptist clergy sex abuse in 2007, EthicsDaily continued to chronicle this story… and it didn’t back down.
ABC’s 20/20: They focused a national spotlight on the problem of Baptist clergy sex abuse. In addition to the trailer, you can see three excerpts of the 20/20 show here.
Baptist abuse survivors who contributed to the 20/20 program without being shown in the final product: Two additional Southern Baptist abuse survivors were interviewed on camera for the 20/20 program, but no part of their interviews made the final cut. Other Baptist abuse survivors spoke with a 20/20 producer by phone. These people engaged extremely painful conversations and went through the very difficult process of considering whether they were capable of speaking on camera. Some went to extra counseling to grapple with it. They got absolutely nothing for it, but they made a difference in helping the 20/20 producers see the extent of the problem and the need for shining a spotlight on it.
Rose French of the Associated Press: She uncovered the data: sexual abuse is as big a problem for Protestants as it is for Catholics. Of the Protestant churches whose data was included, Southern Baptists were the largest number.
8600 Southern Baptist messengers: They voted to instruct the SBC Executive Committee to study the feasibility of creating a database of convicted, confessed and credibly accused clergy. People in the pews have spoken; if only SBC officials would listen.
Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship: It provided a model for how faith groups with autonomous churches can still work together to protect against clergy-predators. It adopted a policy that allows for individuals to report abuse, creates a review committee, and keeps a file of credibly accused clergy.
SNAP leader Tim Fischer: He set up a new website for StopBaptistPredators.org and he did it with lightning speed. Need a website? Tim is amazing! He’s also a dad, husband, hockey fan, artist and a courageous clergy abuse survivor.
Black Holes of 2007
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice-president of Southern Baptist Convention Relations: He told the press: “We’re looking at…how we can best, first of all, protect the autonomy of the local church, and second, protect the children, too.” In a single sentence, this paid SBC spokesperson revealed volumes about the tragically misplaced priorities of Southern Baptist leadership.
Frank Page, Southern Baptist president: He publicly labeled clergy rape and molestation victims as “opportunists.” Do you think he’ll ever have the decency to publicly apologize for such a “salt-in-the-wound” statement? This is the same guy who whined about how 20/20 didn’t show enough of his interview. I guess he figured 20/20 was supposed to provide him a pulpit. You didn’t hear any whining from the survivors who had no part at all of their painful interviews shown, did you?
D. August (“Augie”) Boto, general counsel for the SBC’s Executive Committee and vice-president for convention policy: After the 20/20 show, Boto defended and justified KEEPING the names of convicted clergy child molesters on the SBC’s online registry of ministers. This demonstrates a level of denial and blindness that’s impossible to exaggerate; yet, Boto is the man who advises the SBC committee that’s supposedly addressing clergy abuse. Is it any mystery why not much seems to get done? Only after still MORE media attention – an EthicsDaily article and a SNAP press release – did the SBC finally remove the convicted perps from its registry of ministers.
Will Hall, vice-president for news services of the SBC Executive Committee: He publicly suggested there had been only 40 incidents of Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse in the past 15 years. This was a bald distortion of SNAP’s statement that it had been contacted by 40 Baptist abuse survivors in just 6 months time. And it’s shocking that a paid SBC spokesperson would publicly downplay the problem to such an extent. Which kids’ abuse just wasn’t important enough to even count? Hall owes a public apology.
Baptist General Convention of Texas: It did a masterful spin job in claiming it was making it easier for churches to report abuse. But lawyers could readily see that what the BGCT was really doing was minimizing its own risk of potential liability. The BGCT was protecting itself, not protecting kids. It’s bad enough that the BGCT does diddly-squat to effectively address clergy sex abuse, but for the BGCT to spin that diddly-squat into braggadocio is pure illusion. And…the BGCT’s secret file of ministers reported for sex abuse is still kept secret; people in the pews aren’t told.
Doug Devore, executive director of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home services: He used “Baptist Children’s Home” letterhead to write a letter to a judge, urging no prison time for a convicted clergy child molester, and to this day, he stands by that decision and can’t even acknowledge that it was a mistake. With role models like this in Illinois Southern Baptist leadership, is it any wonder that churches like First Baptist of Romeoville think it’s OK to have a convicted child molester in the pulpit?
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, former Southern Baptist president, and former president of Criswell College: He mentored pastor Darrell Gilyard, who has recently been accused of sending obscene text messages to an underage teen. Now we learn that numerous college students say they previously tried to report Gilyard’s sexually abusive conduct but Patterson told them “to refrain from speaking” about it. The Dallas News reported that over 25 women in 4 different churches complained about Gilyard. How many women would it take before a Southern Baptist president would treat their complaints seriously?
Friday, December 28, 2007
Texas Baptists' Keeper of Secrets
Previously, Daehnert was the director of the BGCT’s Office of Minister-Church Relations. That’s the office that maintains the secret file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse. Because Daehnert ran that office for so long, I figure he probably knows more than anyone else about what’s in that secret file.
I met with Daehnert in person in late 2004, and also had several phone conversations and email exchanges with him. Daehnert is the one who ultimately sent me this email saying that the BGCT had placed my perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, in their file.
According to the BGCT’s published policy at the time, this meant that Gilmore’s name had to have been submitted by a church (not merely by me), and that there was either a confession or “substantial evidence” the abuse took place. The BGCT’s booklet, Broken Trust, describes it as the file of “known offenders.”
Because at least one other minister knew about Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid, I assumed that Gilmore’s name was placed in the BGCT’s file based on a determination of “substantial evidence.” But I also think it’s likely that Gilmore simply confessed.
Oh…he probably wouldn’t have called it “abuse.” And he probably would have minimized his own conduct and shoved blame onto me. That’s what clergy perpetrators almost always do: they contrive ways to blame their child/adolescent victims. Nevertheless, I figure it’s likely he said things that amounted to an admission. Besides, he had already admitted it to the music minister of the church, and probably to the senior pastor, and so he may have admitted it to BGCT people as well.
But whether his name got in that secret file based on “substantial evidence” or a confession, don’t you think it’s information that people in the pews should have been told?
If your kids went to a church where Tommy Gilmore worked as a children’s minister, wouldn’t you want to know?
Is it morally right for Jan Daehnert and BGCT officials to keep that sort of information secret?
The answer, of course, is “NO.” It’s not right. It can’t possibly be. Any fool can see that….any fool EXCEPT Daehnert and other BGCT officials, who have allowed themselves to be blinded by their own complicity.
Tommy Gilmore was able to continue working in children’s ministry in Florida even after the BGCT put his name in that secret file. Rather than warning people, Daehnert and other BGCT officials were content to keep quiet and leave other kids at risk.
That reality just about drove me nuts.
Daehnert and other BGCT officials should have immediately taken proactive steps to warn the people in the pews in Florida and in every church where Gilmore worked. But that didn’t happen. The only way the secret news about Tommy Gilmore finally made its way into the public light was because I myself pushed it there via a lawsuit. (It was publicity that the BGCT's long-time attorney tried to prevent by preemptively threatening to sue ME if I pursued the matter.)
Given the recent accusations against another former Texas pastor, Darrell Gilyard, you have to wonder whether his name might also be in that secret file at the BGCT. Did Daehnert know about Gilyard, who is now accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage teen in Florida?
According to the Dallas Morning News, a lot of people say they previously reported Gilyard to former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson and to officials at First Baptist of Dallas. Did they in turn report Gilyard to the BGCT? If not, why not? And if they did, why didn’t the BGCT warn people in Florida?
Daehnert once tried to justify the BGCT’s secrecy by explaining that the information is given “in confidence by congregations that have had ministers confess or where substantial evidence has been uncovered.” They are reporting “something that is very troubling,” said Daehnert.
Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? The information is “very troubling” indeed, and that is exactly why it should NOT be kept secret.
Can you imagine what the response would be if a Catholic bishop were to say, “The information I have was given to me in confidence by priests who confessed to sexual abuse or by others in the parish who presented substantial evidence of abuse, and therefore I can’t disclose it.”
Nowadays, no one would accept that sort of excuse from a Catholic bishop.
So why do people accept it from Baptist leaders?
Daehnert also tried to minimize things by saying that the “majority of people on the list are there because of sexual misconduct between two adults, not for inappropriate action with minors.”
“Majority??” Even if we simply take Daehnert at his word, that still leaves us to wonder just how big the “minority” is. How many Baptist ministers are on that secret BGCT list because of having sexually abused a kid? And how many kids did they abuse?
Furthermore, under Texas law, it is a crime for a clergyman to use his position as spiritual adviser to sexually exploit another…even another adult. It’s not called sexual “misconduct;” it’s called a “felony.”
This means that the BGCT’s secret file could still be concealing criminal conduct even as to the “majority” that Daehnert claims are there because of "misconduct" with adults.
Try as he might, there’s just no way for Daehnert to sugar-coat this. The BGCT has bumbled badly, and it’s time to make amends. The secret list needs to be fully disclosed.
Upon his appointment, Daehnert said he hopes “to begin the healing” at the BGCT.
The only way “to begin the healing” is with absolute transparency, openness and accountability. That’s not going to happen until the BGCT tells people all the names of the reported clergy sex abusers who are listed in that secret file.
Parents are entitled to be warned; kids are entitled to be protected.
I’ll be the first to shout “Hallelujah” if I see some genuine indication that the BGCT is changing its dark and secretive ways. But until then, I don’t see Daehnert’s appointment as holding much hope for healing.
To the contrary, I can’t help but wonder if the very reason Daehnert was chosen is because other BGCT leaders know that Daehnert can be trusted to continue keeping their secrets.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Two SBC presidents knew a lot, but what did they do?
Another former Southern Baptist president, Paige Patterson, was well aware of what those “out of state troubles” were. That’s Patterson in the picture.
Numerous Texas and Oklahoma women say they tried to talk to Patterson about Gilyard's sexual abuse, and according to Patterson himself, Gilyard confessed to several “adulterous relationships” with women he was counseling.
At that time, Patterson was president of Criswell College, which was located at the facilities of First Baptist Church of Dallas, the largest Southern Baptist church in the country.
Multiple Criswell students said they reported Gilyard to Patterson, including one who said Gilyard tried to rape her. According to news accounts, Patterson reportedly told them “to refrain from speaking about it.”
Gilyard’s conduct had been a matter of concern to Baptist officials since 1987 when he was fired from Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Cliff after 25 women complained about “sexual misconduct.”
The senior pastor at Concord, Rev. E.K. Bailey, said he assumed that would be the end of Gilyard’s evangelistic career. How wrong he was.
According to Rev. Bailey, Paige Patterson wrote him “an unkind letter” which essentially said that, if Bailey would have gone to Patterson first, Patterson “would have come out to my church and solved the problem for me.”
Despite those 25 reports, officials at First Baptist Church of Dallas continued to promote Gilyard throughout the predominantly white Southern Baptist churches, said Rev. Bailey.
Gilyard was a rising star, and Paige Patterson was his “mentor.”
The next church Gilyard went to was in Norman, Oklahoma, where Rev. Dan Maxwell said that he had heard rumors about Gilyard, but that Paige Patterson talked with him and told him there was nothing to substantiate the allegations.
Later, after women at Rev. Maxwell’s church reported abuse by Gilyard, Rev. Maxwell took the information to Patterson, who spoke with one of the women, but claimed he didn’t believe her.
Gilyard moved on to other churches, and by the time he resigned from Richardson’s Victory Baptist Church in 1991, it was “the fourth time in four years” that he had been “forced to walk away from a congregation.”
Despite so many allegations, Gilyard became one of the most sought-after black preachers in Southern Baptist circles. He built Richardson's Victory Baptist into one of the top-ten fastest growing churches in the nation.
So what did Southern Baptist officials and Gilyard’s “mentor,” Paige Patterson, do to try to protect people against such a predator?
The Dallas Morning News reported that many were angry about how little was done. One woman said that she repeatedly phoned Patterson, requesting a meeting to talk about Gilyard, and that her phone calls weren’t even returned. Another, who said that Gilyard grabbed her and pushed her to the floor in the church, tried to report it to Patterson, but she said “Patterson would not take her calls.” She then wrote Patterson a 10-page letter, but according to the woman, Patterson still would not agree to meet with her.
Others recalled that, when they reported Gilyard’s conduct, church officials at both Victory Baptist of Richardson and First Baptist of Dallas grilled them about their own emotional stability.
One Criswell college student said that, when she obtained an appointment with Patterson to report Gilyard’s abusive conduct, Gilyard showed up at Patterson’s office with an attorney and accused her of wearing “suggestive clothing.”
“I don’t even own suggestive clothing,” stated the student.
Two other women obtained a meeting with Patterson, and the meeting included Gilyard and other officials at First Baptist of Dallas. Don Simpkins, a pastoral counselor, also attended.
Simpkins told the Dallas Morning News that the group did not focus on the numerous allegations against Gilyard, but instead “delved into the women’s pasts.” According to Simpkins, the group wanted to know if the women had a history of psychological problems, had been on medication, had seen counselors, or had been divorced.
Patterson asked Simpkins to counsel Gilyard so as to “polish the rough edges.” According to Simpkins, Gilyard ended the counseling relationship after only about 8 visits. Simpkins said “I called Paige [Patterson] to let him know it wasn’t going well, but he never returned any of my calls.”
Simpkins told the Dallas Morning News that he believed allegations against Gilyard “were covered up by Victory and First Baptist officials.”
According to the News, Patterson painted Gilyard as the victim. “It’s amazing,” Patterson said, “how jealousy, frustration, and racism can be motives for making accusations.”
So how does this story end?
Gilyard moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where former Southern Baptist president Jerry Vines had his prominent church. Gilyard started up a new church, the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. Even though his new church wasn’t affiliated with the SBC, Gilyard stayed closely connected to prominent Southern Baptist leaders. Jerry Vines preached as a guest from the Shiloh pulpit, and Jerry Falwell spotlighted Gilyard on his TV show.
Now we learn that Gilyard has been accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage teen girl. There are also allegations of “sexual encounters.”
This is the sort of thing that happens when a sexual predator is allowed to get away with it. He continues, and the conduct often escalates.
If Gilyard had been listed on a database of Baptist clergy sex abusers back in 1987, after 25 women reported him, perhaps numerous other women and girls could have been protected.
How many women and girls would it take before Paige Patterson and other Southern Baptist officials would deem their reports serious enough to proactively warn others and protect people?
Would 50 be enough?
But of course, there may have already been 50. How would anyone know? Who is even bothering to keep track of sexual abuse reports against Baptist ministers?
[Thanks to FBC-Jax Watchdog for first bringing this case to my attention.]
Friday, December 21, 2007
Great Hills Baptist has second minister convicted on child sex
It’s what church members often say when they learn that their beloved minister has been accused of child molestation.
They can’t believe it. They won’t believe it. They refuse to believe it.
So, over and over again, we see the same sad story of churches rallying around an accused or convicted minister while the victim is ostracized and vilified.
We read about it with Larry Neathery, Keith Geren, Leslie Mason, Larry Reynolds, Jeff Hannah, Bob Gray, Leonard Smith, Mark Brooks, Lonnie Broome, Tom Wade, and many many more. Those are just the names that come to mind off the top of my head.
Now we see the same story at a prominent Southern Baptist church pastored by a member of the SBC Executive Committee, Michael Lewis. His church, Great Hills Baptist in Austin, Texas, is shown above.
This is the second time Great Hills has had a minister convicted of child sex crimes. In 1999, their youth minister Charles Richard “Rick” Willits was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing a 14-year old boy he met at the church.
Congregants and other ministers just couldn’t believe it. “Some stayed loyal to the end, refusing to believe their youth minister was capable of sexually assaulting boys.”
At Grace Temple Baptist in Denton, Willits’ prior church, the pastor said, “I’m dumbfounded.” Yet, people in the Denton community reportedly “provided leads” to the police.
In the Austin newspaper, one commenter pointed out that, on “the same night when Austin police asked that any other victims be helped to come forward, former Great Hills pastor Harold O’Chester held a rally for Rick Willits…professing the belief of the church members that Rick was innocent and attacking Rick’s victim as a liar.” After seeing the first vocal victim ostracized and harassed, “guess how many other victims came forward?” the commenter asked.
Another commenter said the church “denounced the victim” and “very publicly supported the accused pastor…even paying his salary through the trial.”
And on TV, youth minister Billy Muench declared that, “without a doubt,” he would make Willits part of his ministry and “would serve with him til the day I die.”
Despite the certainty of the church members, a jury found Willits guilty.
Now, still another Great Hills minister has pled guilty and been convicted of a child sex crime. This time, it’s Jerry Carver, the former education minister at Great Hills.
With his own church having been infiltrated twice by clergy predators, will Lewis now appreciate the urgent need for action by the SBC Executive Committee?
Or will he be content with the status quo?
Thursday, December 20, 2007
More on Illinois Baptist Children's Home
His name is Barry Baker, and his letter was one of the most offensive ones submitted in support of convicted clergy child molester Leslie Mason. Baker offered this minimizing view of Mason’s crime:
“As I have worked with young people, I have had those situations when a girl had a crush on me. The girls come in to youth meetings wearing much less than is fair for us as boys and men. What I am saying is that only by the grace of God can I say that I didn't have wrong relationships. I have even thanked God that I am not a guy that the girls find irresistible.”I said it before and I’ll say it again: With views like that, Mr. Baker has no business working with youth.
Ministers who have sex with church girls are not merely having “wrong relationships.” They are molesting, raping, and abusing kids.
Girls get crushes. It’s so commonplace as to be banal. They get crushes on teachers, ministers, and coaches. There is nothing wrong with girls who get crushes. To the contrary, they’re normal.
It’s not the girls who are doing something wrong by having crushes. It’s the men who exploit that youthful innocence and vulnerability for their own sexual gratification.
And Mr. Baker’s complaint about girls who wear “less than is fair” demonstrates an archaic “blame the victim” mentality that no one working with youth should ever carry in their heart or head. It’s like thinking that the rape victim deserved it because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Do girls sometimes wear things that are inappropriate? Sure. And adolescent boys sometimes tell too many scatological and sexual jokes. It’s annoying, and they need to learn better.
But none of these things can possibly make them fair game for abuse. They’re kids.
It’s disturbing that someone like Mr. Baker would be selected as a trustee of the Illinois Baptist Children’s Home & Family Services. I’m told that officials of the Illinois Baptist State Association are the people who appointed him.
That’s right. It’s the same Southern Baptist group who decided it was “God’s will” to oust the newspaper editor who dared to print the story about the child molestation charges against pastor Mason.
The Chicago Sun-Times religion blog picked up on this story today. You can submit comments there if you like. Maybe Illinois Baptists will eventually see the travesty in what their leaders did and will demand some accountability.
Monday, December 17, 2007
More letters urging leniency for clergy pedophile
Recall that prominent Southern Baptist pastor Leslie Mason pled guilty to 2 counts of felony sexual assault on a teen girl in exchange for the prosecutor’s dismissal of 8 additional counts involving another girl. Initially, Mason pled “not guilty” in court even though he had previously admitted his guilt to deacons at Olney Southern Baptist Church, who found that he used his position of trust “to pursue and manipulate a 13-year old girl for sexual gratification and that he continued to use his authority to exploit and to maintain an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for a period of approximately seven years.”
WARNING: Reading these may cause retching. An empty stomach is advised.
A deacon of Fairfield First Baptist Church: “I believe in punishment, but I also believe in second chances…. Please take into account the many lives he has helped change for the better….”A dog may get one bite, but a minister doesn’t get one kid. When a minister has sexually abused even one kid, there must be serious consequences. He shouldn’t get a “second chance” in a position of trust where he might be able to abuse another kid. It is more than "a mistake" or an "error in judgment," and no amount of other “good works” can make up for the horrific harm that was done to the kids Mason abused. Ministers can’t buy dispensation for child sex abuse by visiting the sick at the hospital.
Men’s Missions Director & Adult Sunday School Director at Fairfield First Baptist Church: “Leslie is a caring individual of the highest moral character who admittedly made a mistake. He has confessed to his mistake.... Please do not judge Leslie solely on this error in judgment, but please take into consideration all of the good works he has performed in the past….”
A youth worker: “I have had those situations when a girl had a crush on me. The girls come in to youth meetings wearing much less than is fair for us as boys and men….Only by the grace of God can I say that I didn't have wrong relationships.”This guy has no business working with youth. His comments are downright scary. But tragically, based on some of the emails I get, his words reflect the attitude of many other Southern Baptist men, who seem all too willing to blame the young victims for the abuse inflicted on them by so-called men of God.
Minister of Music & Youth at Fairfield First Baptist says: "Leslie is a kind, caring and compassionate man who has a great strength of character. This character has been shown as…he has admitted his guilt.”
Another deacon at Fairfield First Baptist Church: “By confessing to the charges... he has shown character and faced responsibility for his actions."
Pastor of Fairfield First Baptist Church: “Les is remorseful...he is truly repentant….”Let’s be clear about something: Child molesters don’t admit guilt out of a sense of “character.” Most cops will tell you that the typical child molester admits guilt for one reason only…because the admission will buy him a lesser sentence. If Mason had gone to trial on the 8 additional counts charged against him, and been found guilty, his sentence could have been much longer.
Minister of Education & Young Adults: “I believe Leslie to be a man of good character…. I know that we all can and do make mistakes….Leslie Mason made a mistake in judgment and I request your mercy and lenience.”Clergy sex abuse is a great deal more than a mere “mistake in judgment.” It is distressing to see so many church leaders so minimize this horrific crime. But of course, look at the example set for them by their denominational leaders. Is it any wonder Southern Baptists have such a problem with clergy sex abuse and cover-ups?
Why don’t good Southern Baptists in Illinois rise up and demand accountability for the horror in how the Leslie Mason case was handled by their church and denominational leaders?
As “Lin” said on his coffeetrader blog, “When we are not outraged by this and allow those who make excuses for this behavior to continue in their roles, our children really are not safe at church.”
"Baptist children's home director urged no prison time for pedophile," 12/12/07
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Baptist Children's Home Director urged no prison time for pedophile
This recent news brought to mind lots of similar cases, but the one I couldn’t stop thinking about was the Leslie Mason case. That's his prison mugshot.
Not that long ago, Mason was a prominent pastor and “a star” on the rise among Southern Baptist leaders. Just days before he was scheduled to preach the keynote sermon at the Illinois Baptist State Association’s annual convention, Mason was charged with multiple counts of child molestation.
Ultimately, Mason struck a deal. He pled guilty to two counts of felony sexual assault involving a teen girl in exchange for the prosecutor’s dismissal of eight additional counts involving another girl at Mason’s church.
At the sentencing hearing, Mason’s lawyer entered into evidence 32 letters of support for Mason. Many were from other Southern Baptist ministers and deacons in the community.
The one that really caught my eye was this one that has a child’s hand as part of its logo. It’s from Doug Devore, the Executive Director of Baptist Children’s Home & Family Services. He asks for leniency and urges that Mason should receive no prison time.
You got that? The Illinois director of Southern Baptist children’s home services said “it would serve nothing to imprison” a minister who sexually abused teen girls.
This wasn’t just some personal letter on Devore’s part. He wrote it on Baptist Children’s Home letterhead and pointed out that he had “30 years of experience in working with children and families with similar issues.”
Take a look at this guy Doug Devore. Even with 30 years of experience in Baptist Children’s Home services, Devore still doesn’t seem to have a clue about the horrific harm that is caused to children when a trusted minister sexually abuses them.
It’s deeply disturbing that a Baptist leader with 30 years worth of children’s home experience would so minimize this terrible crime. And it’s a betrayal to Illinois Baptists that this man would so misuse the “Baptist Children’s Home” name as to turn it into a support system for a child molester.
Obviously, Mason’s attorney thought those “30 years” worth of experience from the director of the Baptist Children’s Home might carry some weight with the judge. He made Devore’s letter “Defendant’s Exhibit 1” and placed it at the top of the pile.
Thank God the judge cared more about kids than Devore. The judge sentenced Mason to 7 years.
It’s no wonder Southern Baptists have such a serious problem with blind-eyed responses to clergy child molestation when even their children’s home director urges NO prison time … as though this crime wasn’t even a matter of serious consequence.
Ironically, the stated mission of the Illinois Baptist Children’s Home is “to care for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected or are otherwise in crisis.”
But how much “care” does it show for abused children when a high official like Devore thinks it’s of so little consequence that he urges no prison time for a child molester? Devore sold out “care for children” to try to protect a crony from prison.
You might imagine that some higher-ups at the Illinois Baptist State Association would have called Devore to task for that letter. But you would be mistaken. Devore is still the statewide executive director of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home & Family Services.
The person who was called to task wasn’t Devore, but was instead the editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, Michael Leathers, who dared to publish the news about Mason’s child molestation charges. Leathers was forced to resign.
Glen Akins, the executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, explained by saying it was “God’s will” for Leathers’ tenure there to end and that Leathers would be happier in a position that didn’t require a “high degree of spiritual sensitivity.”
Huh? It looks to me as though Leathers may have been the only person connected to this saga who demonstrated “spiritual sensitivity.”
But of course, in spiritual matters, people often view things differently. After invoking “God’s will” to oust Leathers, Illinois Southern Baptist officials then took additional steps to restrict the newspaper’s independence and to assure that reporting like the sex-abuse story wouldn’t happen again.
I guess hushing up clergy sex abuse is THEIR notion of “spiritual sensitivity.”
Monday, December 10, 2007
Two Trinity suits tossed
It’s ironic, isn’t it? These court decisions were handed down within days after the publication of Bob Gray’s own statements in which he admitted to the abuse of children.
Though many of his congregants refused to believe it, we now know what the truth was all along. Bob Gray sexually abused kids. Lots of them. The last count I saw, 22 people had reported being abused as kids by Bob Gray. And there could easily be more.
No one should forget that, when too many people started talking, Trinity’s response was to allow Gray to run off to the “mission-field” in Germany. What were they thinking? Germany also has kids, and those kids were also worthy of protection.
But of course, from beginning to end, it appears that Trinity was more interested in protecting itself rather than protecting kids.
It wasn’t religious leaders who brought the truth to light. To the contrary, even after more than a dozen victims had come forward, Baptist high-n-mighties continued to sing the praises of Trinity and minimized the scandal as a mere “bump in the road.”
It was ordinary people of extraordinary courage who brought the truth to light -- people like Jane Doe 4 and Jane Doe 5. They pushed forward against overwhelming odds, and thank God they did.
But the court ruled against them, you say? Yes, but not because their stories weren’t true. The court ruled against them because of a legal technicality….the statute of limitations.
In one case, the court pointed out that, “even recognizing the defendants’ obligation to report child abuse to the authorities,” which Trinity leaders apparently didn’t do, it still wouldn’t prevent the church from invoking the statute of limitations so as to avoid the lawsuit.
Here’s what that means in lay-person’s language. Even if church leaders break the law by failing to report child sex abuse to authorities, once the statute of limitations has run, they’re all home free. In effect, church leaders get to thumb their nose, shout “nanny nanny boo boo,” and get away with it. The law allows for that.
In the other case, the court’s decision listed these two allegations: (1) that Trinity “failed to disclose it had received reports of child sexual abuse by Dr. Gray before Plaintiff was abused”; and (2) that Trinity “representatives who met with Plaintiff denied that the church had received any reports of alleged abuse by Dr. Gray.” Even if these allegations are true, said the court, the statute of limitations would still apply so as to preclude the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Again…it’s the “nanny nanny boo boo you can’t catch me” tactic. If church leaders can just maintain a cover-up long enough, the statute of limitations will run, and then they all get to thumb their noses.
You might imagine that religious leaders would be above such tactics. You might even imagine that they would voluntarily waive the statute of limitations and say “We WANT to get to the truth and to know all that happened.”
Of course, such imaginings would be delusional. Religious leaders don’t have a good track record for truth-seeking on clergy sex abuse. It’s so much easier for them to simply save their own skins with the “nanny nanny boo boo” tactic.
Courts all across the country have handed down decisions similar to these involving Trinity. MOST clergy abuse lawsuits get thrown out on statute of limitations grounds.
Though the big dollar cases make headlines, cases like these are actually far more common. (And cases in which the victims aren’t even able to find lawyers who will file suit - because they can see that the case will likely be tossed on limitations - are even more common.)
Clergy abuse survivors who file lawsuits put themselves through the hell of depositions taken by hostile church attorneys who typically ask all manner of demeaning and degrading questions about the victims' sexual lives and sexual histories. All too often, the victims get absolutely nothing for going through that hell, and the attorneys who take the cases often LOSE money because they have to pay court reporters, expert consultants, and investigators, and they also lose the value of their time – time that could have more profitably been spent on some other sort of case that would have been a lot easier than a clergy abuse case.
So many people persist in believing the myth of the money-grubber plaintiff. Yet what happened here is closer to the usual reality.
I applaud the abuse survivors who brought these suits. The very fact that they and others filed lawsuits is, in large part, what allowed reporters to write about Trinity and to expose the abuse and cover-up. (For anyone who still doubts there was a cover-up, I’d suggest you look at this video showing a letter by Trinity's Senior Pastor Tom Messer… but of course no one else can open your eyes for you.)
I hope these courageous abuse survivors will not feel defeated, but will instead feel proud, as they rightly should. They made a difference. They exposed a predator. They exposed complicit blind-eyed church leaders. They inspired other victims. And they gave people in the community the opportunity to see the truth.
[Thanks to Christian School Confidential blogger Dwayne Walker for informing me and providing links to the court decisions.]
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I try to picture him and to project my thankfulness out across the ocean. I hope he can somehow sense my gratitude.
Emily’s motorscooter went straight into a wall in that small Indian town. She went to the ground and lay bleeding in the dirt. An ambulance took her to the local hospital.
While her wounds were being stitched, a friend went back to the scene of the wreck to look for Emily’s teeth.
“Namaste.” The Indian man politely bowed his head and handed off the teeth.
Back at the hospital, they reinserted the teeth and wired them in place as best they could.
The next day, a sari-clad woman stopped a couple of Emily’s friends at the market. In a small town, the light-skinned, funny-sounding American students weren’t hard to spot.
She asked them to show her exactly where the scooter hit the wall and exactly where Emily fell. They walked to the spot. Emily’s blood still marked the site.
While Emily’s friends watched, the woman proceeded to lay out candles, flowers and leaves. She knelt and slowly lit the candles one by one. No one knows what she was actually saying, but she seemed to be praying.
She rose, bowed slightly, and said, “Namaste.”
When Emily left the hospital, she went past the display of candles, and was deeply moved.
Though she was an outsider, the people of that small town extended themselves to include her in their thoughts and prayers and hopes. They even made a physical reminder as a symbolic gesture of care and concern.
I don’t know whether that sari-clad woman was Hindu, Sikh or something else. I don’t know who she prays to or how she views her God. I simply say my own prayer of gratitude for the prayerfulness that she extended on behalf of my daughter.
We flew Emily home, and her calendar is now full of doctor, dentist and surgeon appointments. She will eventually be fine, and she will long remember the care that was shown to her by people in that small Indian town.
When I listen to her talk about the candles and how much they meant, I can’t help but wish that Southern Baptist leaders could find themselves capable of making a similar sort of gesture for those wounded by clergy sex abuse. It was what I requested when I first started down this road back in 2004.
I requested some sort of public symbolic gesture of care for clergy abuse victims. I felt then, as I still do, that even a small gesture would hold meaning and help with healing for many who have been so wounded.
I proposed a small millstone sculpture, but church leaders said that was too “negative.” I wondered whether they thought Jesus Himself was too “negative” in Matthew 18. But of course, the reality was simply that they didn’t want to do anything at all.
I proposed a small contemplation garden with a labyrinth and a plaque saying, “Dedicated in prayer for victims of clergy sex abuse and in honor of their efforts to reclaim life and faith.”
They refused that idea as well. They didn’t think it was “fair” that people who had nothing to do with any abuse should have to see such an “unpleasant” reminder.
It seemed sad to me then – and still does - that church and denominational leaders were incapable of seeing something positive in my proposal for a symbolic gesture.
To make a physical reminder of something terrible is not “negative.” It is showing respect for the humanity of the people who suffered. It does honor to the wounded, shows the care of the community, and bears witness to the hope for healing.
Southern Baptist leaders could learn something true and gentle and good from that sari-clad woman in India.
Friday, December 7, 2007
When I saw the news that “media staff at a large, moderate Baptist state convention” referred to me as “THAT woman,” it started me thinking. If that’s the sort of thing they say when they’re talking to a journalist, what do they say when they’re just shooting the breeze with their buddy in the office next door?
And if that’s the sort of thing “media staff” say -- i.e., paid spokespersons who are trained to be careful in their speech -- what do some of the other guys say?
Sadly, I can give you examples of some of the other things they say about clergy abuse survivors.
I know these words carry some sting, and so I hope I don’t hurt any of you by posting them here. However, I think hateful words sometimes lose some of their power when they’re put out in the open.
Many of these words were flung directly at me in person, via email, and via anonymous blog comments (which I deleted), and sometimes they were flung repeatedly. Some were said to other Southern Baptist abuse survivors, who related them to me. A few even made their way into print. Here are the things Southern Baptist leaders have called us:
- homosexual (An SBC person was referring to an abused 14-yr old and sticking a label on the kid rather than doing anything about the perpetrator!)
- little Lolita (This one gave a good belly-laugh to a friend who knew me as a kid: “Uhhh, no offense Christa, but I remember you as being more of a goody-two-shoes bookworm.” Of course, I can’t help but wonder… if I actually had been a troubled “little Lolita” sort of girl, would some Southern Baptist leaders think the minister’s abuse was excusable? Are troubled kids fair game for Southern Baptist clergy-predators?)
- destructive to the cause of Christ
- person of no integrity
I’m certain I’ve left some out. But this is enough to give you a sampling of the kinds of things clergy abuse survivors hear from Southern Baptist leaders.
It’s why Southern Baptists need a review board with trained professionals… so that people can safely report clergy abuse without having to hear hurtful, ignorant words like these.
When you see so many so-called religious leaders repeatedly spouting this kind of language, it starts to look simultaneously tragic and comic.
If this is their notion of Christian love, nobody needs it.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Steve Gaines on protecting kids
The pastor of this flagship Southern Baptist church stayed silent about what was ultimately revealed to be a staff-minister's “egregious, perverse sexual activity” with a kid during a 12 to 18 month period.
And yes... the congregation kept him as their leader… as though it were no big deal.
What’s more… many more people were also hurt at Bellevue, because Steve Gaines allowed this admitted child molester to counsel church members who themselves had been sexually abused. Can you imagine how you would feel if you went for counseling about something so traumatic and your counselor asked you to describe details of the abuse, and then you later learned that the counselor himself was a pedophile? And that your pastor and other church leaders knew he was a pedophile and still allowed him to serve as a counselor for abused people?
One woman said it “turned her stomach” to realize that he “might have been titillated by the story of her abuse” as a child. She was betrayed not only by her own childhood perpetrator but also by her pastor who allowed such a man to counsel sexual abuse survivors and yet again by the “legions of Bellevue members” who apparently see no need for pastoral accountability.
In fact, just a couple weeks ago, most of those blind Bellevue members probably listened attentively when Steve Gaines preached a televised sermon called “Jesus loves the little children.” Here is part of what he said:
"I remember one time... heh heh... I was in Gardendale and a little boy came home and said, 'Brother Steve, my daddy has beer in the... beer in the... in the uh... refrigerator.' And I knew the daddy. I said, 'You go pour it out. If he has a problem with it... you say... tell him here's my number. Call Brother Steve.'"
Steve Gaines still doesn’t have a clue about kids, does he? For those who have seen the truth about what happened at Bellevue, Gaines’ recent sermon inspired some appropriate comments on the New Bellevue blog (starting with 10:58 am Dec. 2 comment):
”It is NEVER the child's responsibility to take on a task like that. If SG thought it was so wrong for the dad to have beer (IF this little story in fact happened at all) then SG should have been the adult and the man and the pastor and gone to the dad himself. An adult should NEVER put that burden on a child.”
”Would SG be smirking IF the dad had beat the child????How irresponsible! Not unlike other decisions SG has made and bragged about.”
“SG should have been a man and talked to the Dad himself. Isn't that called leadership???”
“Would Brother Steve have been bragging and chuckling about it had the man hurt the child?”
“According to the sermon notes… ‘we must protect our children physically.’ That's when I changed the channel, threw the remote across the room, and ran screaming from the room. (Okay, I exaggerate, but I did change the channel and yelled at the TV.) I don't guess Steve Gaines believes that "physical protection" includes not allowing a confessed pedophile to freely roam the halls of the church for six months. Silly me.”
Folks, this is what happens when churches choose a cheap greasy style of grace without accountability. You wind up with leaders who show no leadership, leaders who haven’t a clue, leaders who lack wisdom, and leaders who say things that are downright dangerous to the safety of kids. Why? Because they’ve easily gotten away with saying and doing lots of other ignorant, hurtful things and no one held them accountable.
When leaders aren’t held accountable, they never learn.
Even worse, many other ministers see the example set by a flagship Southern Baptist church such as Bellevue, and they learn that they too can turn a blind eye to clergy child molestation. There are no consequences. No one will do anything. They won’t be held accountable.
Steve Gaines has been described as “one of the leading voices” in the Southern Baptist Convention. Is it any wonder Southern Baptists have such a serious problem with clergy sex abuse when its most prominent churches retain pastors such as Gaines, even while fully knowing that he turned a blind eye to another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid?
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Background checks aren't enough
For example, while questioning the need for a denominational database of credibly accused clergy, Southern Baptist president Frank Page pointed out that his own church “requires a nationwide sexual and criminal check on all volunteers if you work with anyone 18 years or younger.”
Several Southern Baptist state conventions recently passed resolutions urging churches to conduct background checks on prospective children’s workers.
And some state conventions have negotiated contracts with private companies for discounted rates on background checks. The Missouri Baptist Convention has a deal that purportedly “allows churches to do a national criminal file check for $5.00.”
Don’t get me wrong. Background checks are important. But they aren’t nearly enough. And if this is all that Southern Baptist leaders are willing to do, it’s pretty frightening.
Most other major faith groups have already recognized the inadequacy of background checks, and that’s why they also use denominational review boards to provide a safe place where victims can report abuse and have their reports considered in a responsible manner.
But Southern Baptists are way behind the curve on this. And since they’re the largest Protestant denomination in the land, their stubborn blindness leaves a whole lot kids at risk.
Why are background checks inadequate? Three main reasons were reported in a Florida news article last week.
- Those familiar with the criminal background screening industry state that, although “numerous companies promise cheap, fast, thorough background investigations” and may even promise "national criminal background checks," the reality is that “there is no such thing as a comprehensive national criminal background check that can be done by a private agency.” [Maybe someone should point out this reality to Frank Page? And I can’t help but wonder just how “national” that $5 check offered in Missouri really is.]
- “A lot of child molesters don’t have a record.” [Over 700 Catholic priests have now been removed from positions of ministry based on “credible accusations.” Most of them have never been convicted of anything. By Southern Baptist standards, those priests would still be able to continue in their ministries, preach from their pulpits, and sponsor kids on youth retreats. After all, they haven’t been convicted of anything, and Southern Baptists don’t even bother with determining “credible accusations.”]
- In reference checks, many previous employers “may not be candid for fear of being sued.” [Not only would many more victims speak up if there were a safe place within the denomination to report abuse, but many more ministers might voice their concerns about suspected abuse. Nowadays, many ministers are afraid to disclose their concerns in reference checks for fear that the other minister will sue for ruining his career.]
Background checks are nothing more than the bare basics of good business practices.
Most other faith groups are doing a great deal more than the bare basics.
Why aren’t Southern Baptist kids entitled to the same sorts of protections as Presybterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Lutheran kids?
Friday, November 30, 2007
Prevention and compassion
After all, how will people find out about clergy child molesters if victims are turned away and intimidated when they try to report their abuse?
For Southern Baptists, their leaders are still way behind the curve compared to the leaders of other faith groups.
Southern Baptists don’t even provide a safe place to which victims may report abuse. So most victims don’t try.
Why should they?
Why should Southern Baptist abuse survivors risk being re-traumatized by the process of reporting clergy abuse when there is no denominational system for responsibly handling their reports?
Why should they risk the horrible hurtfulness of hearing Southern Baptist leaders shoo them away with that “all churches are autonomous” line while their reported perpetrators stand smiling in their pulpits?
Why should they even attempt to speak of something so profoundly painful with church leaders, who typically have neither the training nor experience to properly hear it, and who are almost always predisposed to circle the wagons around the accused minister?
Why should they risk being threatened with lawsuits by church attorneys, and shamed and vilified by pastor-loving congregants?
Why should they try to report their abuse when they can barely speak about the pain of what was done to them in the past and when reporting it will almost certainly mean having additional pain heaped on by still more religious leaders?
Why should they try to report their abuse when they know that, more than likely, nothing will come of it, they will receive no help, and their perpetrators will remain in their pulpits anyway?
The answer is this: They shouldn’t. Rationality would dictate against it.
Yet, extraordinarily courageous victims defy rationality and try to report their perpetrators anyway. Even in the face of so much heaped-on hurtfulness, they cling to a tiny thread of hope that their action might make someone else safer.
Usually, their efforts are futile. Church and denominational leaders still do nothing.
Why should anyone believe that Southern Baptist leaders will be able to prevent abuse by clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about when, day in and day out, they do nothing about the clergy child molesters they’re specifically told about?
Until the victims themselves are received with compassion and until there is some system for hearing their reports and assessing them, other steps will never be adequate. No amount of Lifeway brochures or subsidized background checks can substitute for the need to treat the victims with compassion and to hear what they have to say.
If there were a system for receiving clergy abuse victims with compassion and for responsibly hearing their accounts of abuse, many more would take the risk of reporting their perpetrators. Then we might eventually learn who many more of the clergy-perpetrators are.
Perhaps that is exactly what some Southern Baptist leaders don’t want people to find out.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Good Samaritan holds lesson for treatment of clergy abuse victims
Let’s just assume that other major faith groups, who have seen the need for record-keeping on “credibly accused” clergy, are all wrong, and that Southern Baptist leaders are right in believing this wouldn’t help with preventing abuse in the future.
Would that be the end of the matter?
What about the people who have already been wounded? How should they be treated?
What is the moral and Christian response that religious leaders should make to individuals who report having been sexually abused as kids by Southern Baptist clergy?
These are people who often bear grievous psychological and spiritual wounds. As kids, they were stripped of humanity and dignity by men they were raised to trust unconditionally. They were violated in unspeakable ways by men of God, with words of God, and often in the house of God.
The trauma from this sort of abuse is so devastating that many victims never speak of it at all, and those who do, often wait many, many years.
When clergy abuse victims are finally able to report their perpetrators, is it enough for religious leaders to shrug off their reports by telling them “all churches are autonomous”?
Is it moral for religious leaders to simply ignore such wounded people even while knowing that accused perpetrators remain in their pulpits?
Is it Christian for religious leaders to sermonize such wounded people on forgiveness while doing nothing to help them?
Through no fault of their own, clergy abuse victims are stripped of everything dear and then left wounded, naked, and bleeding in the dirt of a spiritual desert. Years later, when they have finally crawled to the edge of the desert road, they will sometimes still muster a breath of hope to reach out to the faith community from which they came and seek help. Tragically, for Southern Baptist victims, their experience usually winds up being similar to that of the wounded traveler in Luke 10.
Southern Baptist leaders look down from their high donkeys and pass right on by. The wounds of clergy abuse victims are too ugly, and so they avert their eyes. If Southern Baptist leaders allowed themselves to actually see those grievous wounds, they would have to face truths that do not flatter them, and this is something they apparently lack the intestinal fortitude to do.
After all, these are not just any wounds. These are wounds that were inflicted by Southern Baptist clergy themselves. These are wounds that transform the victims into untouchables within the faith community.
So Southern Baptist abuse victims experience the reality of the good Samaritan parable. We thought religious leaders would surely help us, but they wind up being the people who almost never do. Instead, they run their donkeys right past us and sometimes right over us. They leave us bleeding in the dirt, and do nothing to bind our wounds.
If help arrives, it almost invariably comes from unexpected people.
Southern Baptist leaders are so focused on the letter of their religious law of church autonomy that they neglect the spiritual components of compassion and care.
Yet Jesus Himself rejected the letter of the religious law of his day and called people to a life of the spirit. He called people to the sort of life exemplified by the action of the good Samaritan -- a life of compassion put into deeds.
Though the good Samaritan owed no obligation to the wounded stranger in the desert, he still got down off that donkey and did something. He went to the wounded person. He heard his moans and saw the wounds up close. He bound those wounds and he cared for the person.
It’s time for Southern Baptist leaders to get down off their donkeys and grapple with the question of how to make a Christian response to people who have been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy.
At a minimum, shouldn’t there be some place within the faith community where the cries of the wounded can at least be heard?
Jesus would point Southern Baptist leaders to the story of the good Samaritan and tell them, “Go and do likewise.”
Monday, November 26, 2007
SBC president gives reason FOR predator database
Page’s answer was revealing. Take a look:
Q. You've had to deal with the issue of sexual abuse (with advocates for victims seeking stricter policies against abusers in the ministry). Can you tell me your feelings about whether the convention should adopt a registry or a policy on sexual abuse?
A. I can only tell you that the Executive Committee is dealing with this. I have met with them on more than one occasion. I have met with our general counsel, the attorney who's in charge of the subcommittee that's dealing with this. We continue to look for ways to empower churches to deal with these issues. The issue of a registry is still under consideration, but (we have been told) that a national registry is not the way to best protect children. For example, if we were to have a national registry, what we know happens with true abusers, they just switch to another denomination that doesn't access a denominational database. We have stated over and over that a local church is where abuse occurs, and the local church is where protection must be strongest….
Though Page indicates his view that a registry is "not the way," he then proceeds unwittingly to give the reason for why there SHOULD be a registry.
If perps switch to denominations that don’t have a database, and if Southern Baptists persist in not having a database, then perps will gravitate to Southern Baptist churches.
By refusing to keep records, the largest Protestant denomination in the land is essentially opening its doors to clergy child molesters.
Over 700 Catholic priests have been removed from ministry based on "credible accusations" but have never been convicted of anything. What’s to prevent them from switching to the Southern Baptist faith and working as ministers in Southern Baptist churches? Conceivably, if they could get a foot-hold as a volunteer youth minister in a small church, they could start the process of moving from church to church and there would be no denominational database to track them.
And if Page is so concerned about the possibility that Southern Baptist perps might simply switch to denominations that don’t have registries, why couldn’t Southern Baptists make their database available to people in Bible churches, or in independent Baptist churches or in other groups?
Does Page’s answer make any sense? Does anyone really believe that the reason Southern Baptist leaders don’t want to establish a predator database is because they’re worried that Southern Baptist clergy-perps may simply switch to other denominations that lack a database?
When Southern Baptist leaders give such nonsensical excuses, it’s obvious something more is going on. I think Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, may have been on to them when he said that if the SBC “acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits.”
Is this the real reason why Southern Baptist leaders don’t implement oversight measures similar to what other faith groups have done?
Are they simply choosing to protect themselves against the risk of lawsuits rather than protecting kids against clergy child molesters?
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Coping with Baptist slurs
It’s not hard to guess which state convention that was. I figure it’s probably the same one that likes to brag so much about how enlightened it is on clergy abuse. Laughable, huh?
Their “that woman” slur is a stupid one. It reflects poorly on them, shows them for who they really are, and makes them seem like cartoons.
But of course, plenty of other Baptist leaders have said plenty of worse things. Mean things. Hateful things. Hurtful things. Ignorant things.
So here’s the truth about how I cope with it.
I put on my headphones, plug in the Bruce Springsteen playlist, and crank up the volume about as loud as I think my eardrums can stand. Then I head out for a run.
By the end of the run, I’m usually feeling pretty good. And I’m starting to get stronger on the hills. Guess I ought to say thanks to Southern Baptist leaders for that. Turns out their insults are a motivational force.
“No retreat, Baby, no surrender.” (Bruce Springsteen on Born in the USA)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
There are far too many who do not survive the profound wounding that is inflicted by the sexual abuse of a trusted religious leader. Often, it is the collusion of still more religious leaders that seals off the dark tunnel, leaving victims trapped within and void of hope.
Every clergy sex abuse story is tragic, but the stories of those who successfully commit suicide are among the most heart-wrenching of all.
Many other clergy abuse victims survive in body, but are lost down a myriad of dark chasms. Lost to alcohol. Lost to drug addiction. Lost to rage. Lost to self-mutilating behaviors. Lost to chronic depression and mental illness. Lost to anything that might dull the pain.
I am grateful to have come out on the other side of that dreadful darkness, still alive and sane. But I have never forgotten the power of that darkness. I once woke up in my own vomit and felt only surprise at being alive and disgust at my ineptness.
Today I give thanks for my ineptness and for the goodness of this life that is mine. Whatever pain I may feel when I speak of this trauma, I am grateful for the capacity to feel that pain, and for the ability to speak.
I also give thanks for all of you. I am grateful for your lives, your goodness and your courage.
Sexual abuse is the most underreported crime in the nation because of the severity and duration of the trauma. Most victims never seek help or make their experience public in any way.
Wherever you are in your journey, if you are looking at this blog, you have probably at least stepped past that “no turning back” milestone of seeing the reality of the abuse in your own head. That alone is an act of enormous courage.
Godspeed in your journeys!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Oprah sends clear message
Oprah’s response was swift. The accused dorm matron was immediately suspended.
The headmistress at the school claimed she had no knowledge of the girls’ allegations, but the headmistress was also suspended. Oprah has now announced that the headmistress’ contract will not be renewed, reportedly indicating that complaints from the girls were ignored.
When the allegations first arose, Oprah immediately went to the school in person. She took her own investigators and counselors. She set out to get to the bottom of it, and she assured the girls of her unwavering commitment. She apologized to the girls and their families.
Though Oprah herself was not responsible for hiring at the school, she still took responsibility and she took action. After all, the school bore her name.
“I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls becomes a safe and nurturing and enriched setting,” she said.
With such strong and immediate action, Oprah sent a clear message.
To the girls, her message says that what was done to them is a matter of consequence, and that their humanity and dignity are precious.
To perpetrators and those who turn a blind eye, her message says that they will indeed be held accountable if they work at an institution that carries the Oprah Winfrey name.
What would it be like if the actions of Southern Baptist leaders sent the same sort of message? It’s hard to even imagine because, so far, they simply don’t choose to take action.
But by their inaction, they also send a message. It is a very different sort of message and one that makes a heresy of the Southern Baptist name.
By their inaction, Southern Baptist leaders tell clergy-perpetrators who carry that name that, even when their horrific deeds are brought to light, they will not be held accountable. By their inaction, they tell other Baptist leaders who turn a blind eye that they will not be held accountable either.
By their inaction, Southern Baptist leaders tell clergy abuse victims that what was done to them is a matter of no consequence, and that their humanity and dignity carry no worth.
These are tragic messages that are being communicated daily by the inaction of Southern Baptist leaders.
Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders provide churches with a professional investigatory body that would responsibly look into clergy abuse allegations?
Why don’t they reach out to those who report clergy abuse and treat them with dignity, compassion, and care?
Why aren’t they just as committed as Oprah to assuring that Southern Baptist churches are safe and nurturing settings?
Why don’t they care as much about the Southern Baptist name as Oprah cares about her name?
Monday, November 19, 2007
The second time I heard it, I realized I was probably hearing the official party line from the Baptist building in Dallas. I think this is what they’ve come up with to rationalize their horrific handling of my clergy abuse report. They’ve wrapped up their ugly complicity in a tidy biblical phrase and redefined it as “good stewardship.”
“Once lawyers get involved, all holds are off and we have to leave it up to them,” they say. “It’s just good stewardship…we have to protect our resources.”
Of course, the BGCT has lawyers involved from the get-go. And the BGCT refers churches to legal counsel and even provides counsel to churches faced with clergy abuse.
Numerous publications from Nashville and state conventions tell churches that the first thing they should do on receiving a clergy abuse report is to consult with legal counsel.
So lawyers are involved. Make no mistake about that. The state convention, the church, and the SBC will all see to it.
Clearly, they aren’t opposed to consulting with lawyers. They keep their own lawyers at the beck ‘n ready. Their complaint about lawyers is only if the victim consults with one.
Here’s why I figure they’re dishing out their silly “good stewardship” rationalization to me.
When I first started dealing with this, I did what I usually do when confronted with a problem: I started reading a lot of stuff. In my research, I ran across the name of a woman who had testified to the BGCT’s clergy abuse task force back in 1999. Deborah Dail had met with the committee-members and talked with them when they were putting together the BGCT’s policy booklet, “Broken Trust.”
I was thrilled when I found her. I figured she would know exactly who I should contact at the BGCT for making a clergy abuse report. And I figured she would know exactly how I should present it so as to be consistent with BGCT policy.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much I cared about trying to be inoffensive and nice.
Of course, first of all, I contacted the music minister at the church I grew up in -- i.e., the minister who knew about the other minister’s abuse of me as a kid. I felt certain he would be happy to hear from me and would want to help. “People are better educated nowadays,” I thought.
How wrong I was. He didn’t want to help. He wanted to talk with an attorney. And even in a second conversation, after he had time to talk to an attorney and to think about it, he still insisted that there was no good reason for me to bring it up.
After that, I got Dail to help me make my clergy abuse report to the BGCT. I wanted to do it right.
Between the time of her 1999 testimony to the BGCT and the time I came along, Dail had become a lawyer. But she was happy to help me make my abuse report, and she didn’t make any sort of legal demand. She acted more in the role of a Christian conciliator than a lawyer.
My abuse report didn’t threaten any lawsuit. It didn’t ask for money. I simply asked for the same amount of counseling that, by published policy, the BGCT provides to clergy perpetrators to restore them to ministry -- i.e., two years’ worth. (It seemed reasonable to me to think that, if they were going to provide counseling to perpetrators, they should also provide counseling to victims.) I also asked for some public symbolic gesture, such as a small sculpture or meditation garden, dedicated in prayer for the healing of clergy abuse victims. And I asked that the BGCT warn people in the communities where my perpetrator worked.
Despite my effort to make my report fit their policies, and even though I asked for so little, the BGCT’s long-time attorney responded by threatening to sue me on behalf of the church. And then they put me through a long-continuing hell because of my request that they take action to warn people about my perpetrator.
And now…presumably because Dail happened to have been an attorney….BGCT leaders have come up with a post-hoc rationalization for their abysmal conduct. They spin it into a package called “good stewardship.”
But here’s what’s really in their “good stewardship” package: bullying and intimidation of those who report clergy abuse, leaving perpetrators in their pulpits without warning people in the pews, and leaving kids at risk of harm from known clergy child molesters.
It’s obvious the BGCT’s “good stewardship” song-and-dance is just a rationalization, because it’s not as if they do any better for victims who don’t have a lawyer. Oh…they may dish out a pastoral pat on the head, but if the victim actually wants them to DO something -- i.e., to warn people about a clergy child molester -- it ain’t gonna happen.
If the BGCT wants to talk about “good stewardship,” why don’t they concern themselves with “good stewardship” of the next generation of kids? Why don’t they do everything possible to warn people in the pews and to protect kids against reported clergy child molesters? That’s what would really be “good stewardship.”
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
It ain't moral just cuz it's legal
One of those grey areas is the area in between zealous advocacy and overstepping the bounds.
Some lawyers will use the threat of a lawsuit as an intimidation tactic. It’s a way to shut someone up. It forces them to spend a lot more money and it lets them know that they’re going to be in for a whole heckuva lot more headaches if they don’t back off and shut up. So that’s exactly what a lot of people do.
Recently, such a tactic was used against bloggers who wrote about the religious violence of the “Left Behind” video games.
Personally, I consider such intimidation tactics as overstepping the bounds. But some lawyers might shrug and call it zealous advocacy.
I got to experience similar intimidation tactics when I tried to report a Baptist clergy child molester. Much like a doctor who gains a new perspective on hospital policy when he himself becomes a patient, I felt the full brunt of it, not with the professional detachment of a lawyer, but as an ordinary wounded person trying to protect others and trying to get some denominational help.
Worse than a body blow, it felt like an evisceration. I curled up on my bed in a ball, and tried to make myself small, as though if only I curled tightly enough, I might be able to disappear.
I could not believe that the faith community I grew up in would do such a thing. Why would they threaten to sue me when the music minister had already admitted his knowledge of the other minister’s abuse of me as a kid?
I could think of only one reason: to shut me up.
What finally brought me out of my fetal ball was the knowledge that this lawyer had been working for the Baptist General Convention of Texas for over a decade and the realization that, if he used such intimidation tactics on me, he had probably used them on a whole lot of other clergy abuse victims as well. I figured his tactics probably worked exceptionally well with clergy abuse victims, given how reluctant most are to talk about it anyway.
Ultimately, I couldn’t let go of wondering how many other clergy abuse victims had been shoved right back into silence by such bald Baptist bullying tactics, and how many perpetrators had been left in their pulpits as a result.
I expect the BGCT’s long-time lawyer thought he was engaging in zealous advocacy. But I would say he was treading a very dark grey area. Some might even call it witness intimidation.
Whatever you call it, the real question is why the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country seems to condone such tactics. He’s THEIR lawyer, and he’s also the lawyer to whom the BGCT often refers churches when they're confronted with clergy abuse.
Just because such tactics may be legal doesn’t mean they’re moral.
The same is true of Baptist leaders’ use of confidentiality agreements to silence clergy abuse victims. Not long ago, the BGCT’s lawyer publicly described such agreements as being “standard.”
You got that? He was essentially justifying the practice of throwing a few thousand dollars at clergy abuse victims in exchange for their signature on a contract saying they’ll never again speak of it. It’s an abhorrent practice that perpetuates the secrecy of sex abuse and leaves predators in their pulpits.
Back in 2002, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted an express policy against the use of confidentiality agreements with clergy abuse victims. But Baptist leaders are still using them.
Even if such agreements are legal, they sure as heck seem mighty immoral when they silence the wounded, keep predators in pulpits, and leave other kids at risk.
Just because something may be within the bounds of the law doesn’t mean it’s within the bounds of morality. The two are not one and the same. If anyone should realize that, it should be religious leaders. But apparently not.
And don’t just blame the lawyer. He may indeed be treading the grey on the very dark side, but Baptist leaders are the ones who insist on the wrong question.
Instead of asking “Is it legal?” Baptist leaders should be asking “Is it moral?”
They should be asking whether such silencing tactics reflect what Jesus would do if confronted with a clergy abuse victim. They should be asking whether such tactics are consistent with the mission of their organization.
By comforting themselves with the easy balm of a grey legality, Baptist leaders abdicate their OWN moral obligation.
[Incidentally, the BGCT’s lawyer on clergy abuse issues is the same one who advised the BGCT on the Valleygate mess. See a pattern? Looks like the BGCT may feel right at home in shadowy grey terrain.]