Sunday, January 14, 2007

Joe Trull, Southmont & "Overlooked Issues"

In the most recent issue of Christian Ethics Today, editor Joe Trull writes about "overlooked issues" in connection with "clergy sexual misconduct." What extraordinary irony!

Even as Trull was putting this article to press, his own church, Southmont Baptist in Denton, TX, was covering up for a pastor reported to have sexually abused a 14-year old girl. Other leaders knew about the allegations at least as early as last June. Yet the pastor remained in the pulpit. In mid-November, EthicsDaily reported that the pastor had paid hush money to end a sex-abuse lawsuit. Yet the pastor remained in the pulpit. At a Thanksgiving church banquet on Nov. 19, the pastor discussed the lawsuit’s end, and said he "made a terrible mistake" and a "lapse in judgment" that caused "one of our parishioners great harm." He also said, "I confess that proper boundaries were not kept," and that he was "apologizing." Yet, the pastor remained in the pulpit.

Even if only a few church leaders knew of it earlier, after that Thanksgiving apology in front of numerous church-members, why was there no one who insisted on knowing exactly what the "terrible mistake" was? Why did no one insist on more information about the "boundaries" that were crossed by their beloved pastor? Why weren’t Southmont parents told that the "boundaries" involved a 14-year old? Why was it all just "overlooked"?

Not until there was full-scale media exposure did that pastor finally leave the pulpit. And even up to the last minute, Southmont's administrative minister, James Crittenden, tried to keep the child molestation report hushed-up by telling the newspaper it would be destructive to "the cause of Christ" to publish the article.

Why is no one calling for accountability for minister James Crittenden and the other church leaders who knew about it earlier and kept quiet?

Joe Trull describes himself as having extensive "experience, training and focus of study" on "clergy sexual misconduct." He speaks on this topic at seminars. If someone like Trull can’t see the cover-up going on in his own church until it’s published in the newspaper, there is little reason to think that an ordinary victim will ever be able to get the real facts about a clergy perpetrator put in front of a congregation. Church leaders often won’t allow the facts to reach the congregation, and congregants often don’t want to see such ugly facts about a beloved pastor.

This is why there must be some sort of independent, objective denominational review board to which reports of clergy sex abuse can be made and from which congregations could then obtain the unbiased information they need to make responsible decisions.

And let’s not forget: Documents show that the Baptist General Convention of Texas knew for at least six months about this pastor and the child molestation allegations against him. Why didn’t the BGCT tell Trull about the reported child molester in his own church? After all, Trull is the BGCT’s go-to guru on this subject. In fact, the BGCT is the organization for whom Trull wrote "Broken Trust," the much-lauded BGCT booklet of guidelines for handling clergy sex abuse.

Broken Trust” is broken....and probably was from the beginning. It's just words on paper. Those of us who have tried to report clergy to the BGCT know that, and the Southmont scandal demonstrates it once again. If Joe Trull still thinks the BGCT is serious about ridding the ranks of clergy predators, isn't Trull himself "overlooking" some serious issues?

Update 2/19/11: After noting some recent interest in this posting, I plugged in some updated links and noticed this statement in Joe Trull's Christian Ethics Today article: "Major denominations vet clergy credentials and have elaborate systems of guidelines, policies, and procedures that, to a large degree, protect parishioners and discipline errant ministers." This is true of most major denominations EXCEPT the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest of the Protestant denominations. This failure is exactly why Baptists are so far behind the curve in protecting against predatory preachers.

More info on the Southmont case >


Mr6 said...

A lapse in judgement? It never fails to amaze me how they explain these things in terms you'd use to describe, say, a car wreck?

Okay, maybe one time, but over and over and over again? And it's the same apologies heard at Trinity, Southmont and other places. Do they have the same person writing their talking points?

That's not a 'lapse in judgement'. That's 'let's keep a low profile and hope no one will catch on!'.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled at this behavior on the part of the church officials, the baptist hierarchy, and Dr. Larry Reynolds.

I have spoken personally with people who tell me that Reynolds admitted having sex with her. And honestly, do I believe for a second that this man would have settled out of court if he were innocent? He had a flock of loyal followers, they would have done anything for him. If he were innocent, he would have stood up on Sunday morning, told his congregation that the claims were baseless, and fought no matter what.

I live LESS than 1/2 a mile from Southmont Baptist church. My child's elementary school is adjacent to the church's property. And, I am nauseated every time I look at it.

Just because someone is "repentant" or "sorry" doesn't make their behavior forgiveable or excusable. I am truly sorry for the woman who went through this, and her parents. I'm afraid I would put my shoe (high heeled one, too) up the a** of anyone who touched my child, but especially someone I "trusted".

Christa, keep up the good work! Without you, I don't think people would realize this is such a prevalent issue.

Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting that in such a case as this anything the accused does is used against him. If he defends himself he is lying, and a dim light as any that support him would be. If he agrees to a settlement, one that more than likely was proposed by the accuser, and for sure agreed to by the accuser it's hush money. To those that say if he was innocent he would have fought regardless: The outcome would have been the same or worse. When the "killing machine" is out to get you they will succeed. Talking points....they are more prevalent on your side Christa! The statement....probably written by the accuser and at least accepted by the accuser. If he does not defend himself, he is also considered guilty. Church coverup....I think not. The article was released on the day a church meeting was schecduled to occur. The article...full of accusations. Ugly, unproven, allegations. Allegations are not truth! Allegations are anything I want to say about you, or you about me. There does not have to be a shred of truth. To the lady that walks by and is nauseated...I feel sorry for you that you condemn an entire congregation on the "supposed" actions of one person. Have you been in the building? Do you know many of the people? Do you know Larry Reynolds? Anybody that knows anything about lawsuits knows that sometimes a settlement is the best course of action. They also know this does not mean admission of guilt. If I am a 59 year old minister I might settle at a fixed cost to avoid bankruptcy. He did not avoid loss of career as it is, and has been branded a predator without any real proof whatsoever! Christa, I am betting that you know Kathy and you have been in on this from the beginning. Truth has not mattered. This is just another chance for you to bring down another minister and continue your crusade. Did you advise her attorneys as to what charges(regardless of truth) would shock the city and ruin this man's career and reputation. Did you advise them to have a confidentiality agreement...they at least had to agree to it, so that you could use that against him also. That also allows speculation as to "huge amounts of hush money" which also is improbable. He stepped down to protect the church, yet stepping down is an admission of guilt also. You would never want to admit that he "took a bullet" for us. That would send you over the edge! Also, it just occured to me, if the case was so truthful, why was the church and the Baptist hierarchy released from the suit? Shouldn't all be destroyed...that seems to be your operational structure.
I can already see the future....I will be branded as dim, mean to the victim, blind, etc. All who disagree with you are wrong, but it is you who are wrong. If you are going to destroy people, at least make sure they are guilty of the accusations!

P.S. Now you are after James Crittenden. Hold him accountable for what? Read the statement for what it is. You falsely read between the lines and assume coverup and worse. His statement has come true. No good has come of the article. Many people believe the lies and the cause of Christ has not been promoted. Is this a cause you believe in, or are you so out of control that you have no compass guiding your life?

Thanks for the opportunity of expressing a dissenting opinion.

Christa Brown said...

Reportedly, it wasn’t just a settlement; it was a secrecy agreement, precluding the parties from talking about it or showing any of the evidence about it. I believe such agreements are immoral when what is being kept secret are allegations of child molestation. There must be an objective independent review to determine whether the allegations are credible. That is essential in order to assure the protection of other kids. Because I am aware that Baptist leaders have been using these kinds of agreements, I hand-delivered a letter to SBC leaders in Nashville last Sept. 26 specifically asking that they adopt a resolution against the use of secrecy agreements by Baptist churches. You can see that letter on my website. In 2002, the U.S. Catholic Bishops adopted an express policy against the use of such secrecy agreements. Baptists should do likewise and quit using them.

I don’t know Kathy. I have never met her. I have never spoken with her, not even by phone or email.

I care greatly about the truth, which is exactly why I have put so much energy into trying to get the SBC to create an independent objective review board with experienced professionals to review clergy sex abuse allegations. Congregations are not capable of objectively deciding such things about pastors they love and trust. They need to be able to obtain objective review from another source. Other denominations are instituting such procedures. Why not Baptists?

I think Crittenden should be held accountable if he knew about the allegations against Reynolds, and did not insist that Reynolds step down pending investigation and did not fully inform the congregants and did not take steps to obtain an independent investigation. I believe all of those things should have been done. In recent news: at Bellevue, a Memphis megachurch, the pastor stayed quiet for 6 months after having information about allegations of child molestation involving another minister. Not until it was reported in a blog did he finally say something. The President of Mid-South Baptist Theological Seminary recently called upon that pastor who kept quiet to resign. Why? Because allegations of child molestation, even when it occurred many years ago, as is alleged at Bellevue, are something that cannot rightly be kept secret. People in the congregation are entitled to know about the allegations - completely and fully - and there needs to be some objective process for determining whether the allegations are credible.

Christa Brown said...

Just to clarify - I don't know Roush personally but I did know of her case because of my work.

Lindon said...

I find it very sad that a 59 year old minister of our Lord's gospel is commenting anonymously on this matter.