Friday, March 30, 2007

Broken Trust at the BGCT

A few days ago, someone asked me about the “Broken Trust” booklet at the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “Do you think the BGCT has made at least a well-intentioned effort to address clergy sex abuse?” It’s not a simple question: here’s the gist of my answer.

Do I think some of the individuals who sat on the committee that put together that booklet were well-intentioned at the time? Yes.

Do I think the BGCT as an organization is well-intentioned in seeking to effectively address the clergy sex abuse problem? No.

Words are not the best indication of intention. At some point, you have to look at what the organization is actually doing. When I consistently see actions that are more focused on silencing victims than on exposing perpetrators, I conclude that the silencing of victims is indeed exactly what the BGCT intends. If they didn’t intend that, they wouldn’t keep acting in ways that promote that....but they do.

So the answer is “no.” An organization whose deeds show a pattern of silencing victims while leaving perpetrators in pulpits is not an organization that I consider to be “well-intentioned” in addressing clergy sex abuse.

What deeds? Using a hardball lawyer who threatens suit against a victim even while knowing that the victim’s report of abuse is substantiated by another minister...and the child-molesting perpetrator is left in the pulpit. Using a lawyer who repeatedly tries to get victims to sign secrecy contracts saying they’ll never speak of the abuse with anyone other than their therapist....and the child-molesting perpetrators are left in their pulpits. Refusing to provide victims with assistance for counseling unless they sign secrecy agreements....while using BGCT funds to provide counseling for clergy-perpetrators to “restore” them to ministry. Having an “intervention specialist” like Sonny Spurger who repeatedly gives no help when contacted by clergy abuse victims but who refers churches to the BGCT’s hardball lawyer when they need help in handling a victim.

“Well..maybe they don’t know what their lawyer is doing,” you say? They know. I made sure of that because I myself simply couldn’t believe that any Christian organization would tolerate such a hostile response to someone reporting clergy abuse. At my own expense, I flew to Dallas and sat in a room with Jan Daehnert and Sonny Spurger, and I showed them the letter from their attorney threatening recourse against me after I reported my perpetrator. Nothing changed. Not only did their lawyer continue with his hardball tactics against me and with trying to get me to sign a secrecy agreement, but even after my case was done, he continued with similar tactics against others. He didn’t lose any business over how he handled things, and he has been the BGCT’s lawyer for over a decade. I think the only reasonable assumption is that his hardball tactics against victims who report abuse are exactly what the BGCT wants. So the answer is “no.” I do not consider that to be a well-intentioned response to the problem of clergy sex abuse.

“Broken Trust” is broken...and I think it probably was from the beginning. The BGCT never really got behind it. They put together a committee who put some nice words on paper, and that was all the BGCT needed for the sake of appearances. But for the sake of ridding the ranks of perpetrators and caring about victims, it will take more than words on paper.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prayer of a clergy abuse survivor

Help me
To stitch
The pieces of my life
Into a many-colored quilt
That will cover kids
Against clergy evil.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sexual Abuse Accomodation Syndrome

Studies estimate that 30 % of people sexually abused as kids NEVER disclose the abuse to anyone, not even in adulthood. So great is the distorted psychological weight of shame and self-blame. When victims do report, they often do so many years after the abuse occurred. If the perpetrator was someone the kid trusted, such as a minister, disclosure of the abuse is even less likely.

Sexual Abuse Accomodation Syndrome is a model that is sometimes used to explain the hindrance to disclosure. It is not a diagnostic tool but rather a clinical tool to assist in putting abuse victim behavior in context. As explained in the 2004 John Jay study, the Syndrome is used in discussing those abused at ages younger than 18. And, contrary to what many might think, a couple studies indicate that older child sex abuse victims may be less likely to disclose than their younger counterparts. Why? Because the younger kids sometimes disclose accidentally, and because the older kids may be better able to "anticipate unsupportive reactions."

Here are the components of Sexual Abuse Accomodation Syndrome: Secrecy (the abuse occurs when the victim and perpetrator are alone, and the perpetrator encourages the victim to maintain secrecy); Helplessness (kids are obedient to adults and will usually obey the perpetrator who encourages secrecy); Entrapment and Accomodation (once the kid is helplessly entrenched in the abusive situation, he or she assumes responsibility for the abuse and begins to dissociate from it); Delayed Disclosure (because the victims who report child sexual abuse often wait long periods of time to disclose, their disclosures are subsequently questioned).

Sound familiar to some of you?

Happy St. Patrick's Day! The Irish endure. So do clergy abuse survivors. Keep on healing and raise heck when you can!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Gutless wonders

Here's an example of the sort of emails I get these days, apparently from men who don't like my speaking out about Baptist clergy sex abuse. This one isn't the worst, but it’s typical.

Of course, almost none give their names. Gutless wonders. If they want to stone me, they should at least take off their hoods and do it with some integrity. This charming little lecture is from - and my responses are below.

"From what I have read from your web page and Baptist Press, you certainly did represent yourself and SNAP with a vengeance. Your way of expressing yourself just made everyone angry. You do not conduct yourself with dignity and kindness. You are abrasive.

Everyone knows by now that you were a victim of sexual molestation by a Baptist pastor… But nothing is going to help you recover until you can forgive this man….Evidently you feed off that anger and that is what keeps you going each day. (1)

From your writing and decorum (if there was any), you even show anger and hatred toward those who would want to hear from you and, at least, try to help. You parse words and sentences from letters you adamantly stated you didn’t receive…but DID receive. (2)

…You were granted the privilege to address the meeting. But your website still puts you at odds with the very ones from whom you desire assistance and action. Have you ever read the child story..”give a mouse a cookie”? You need to..You are never satisfied with each want more, more, more… RIGHT NOW!!! (3)

You are an angry activist. Have you ever heard ..”you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? Try it sometime…(4)

…I agree with you that child molestation is awful….Yes, there needs to be a way of warning other churches of this when it has happened….Unfortunately, most SBC churches don’t do background checks and no one can make them do that. (5)

Like I told you before….there is no hierarchy in the SBC. You can’t get that through your head. (6)

…If I had been in that meeting, I would be so angry at you I wouldn’t want to give you the time of day." (7)

1. No amount of my forgiveness will serve to make kids any safer, and I'm content to leave forgiveness in God's hands. It’s actually two things that keep me going: (a) wanting to know that church kids in the future will be safer than I was, and (b) the constant emails from other Baptist abuse survivors whose stories haunt me, who remind me of how pervasive the problem is, and who express gratitude for my speaking out about it.

2. If anyone wants to read something other than the Baptist Press version, here’s a start. And here is SNAP’s actual apology, the SBC’s response letter of 9/29 and SNAP’s letter of 9/26. I think most people could simply compare the tone of SNAP’s 9/26 letter with the tone of the SBC’s 9/29 letter and get a pretty clear picture.

3. At the meeting, I expressed my appreciation for being allowed to speak, but I also made very plain that I was looking for deeds on their part. I have indeed read the children’s story “Give a mouse a cookie.” And what I don’t understand is why every other Baptist parent who has had the privilege of reading that story – or any other story to a kid – doesn’t see the urgency of doing everything possible to protect kids. You’re absolutely right on this point, mustang,….I want more….I want real and effective action to make church kids safer…and yes….I want it RIGHT NOW!!! And furthermore, I won’t apologize for wanting that.

4. Oh yes…I get the “catch more flies with honey” line rather redundantly these days. I wish you guys could come up with some different clich├ęs.

5. The fact that most churches don’t do background checks is more than “unfortunate.” It’s dangerous. But even that is just one small part of what needs to happen. As you rightly recognize, “there needs to be a way of warning other churches” when child molestation has happened.

6. I've heard the "no hierarchy" bit plenty of times from you and plenty of others. But what I just can’t get through my head is how it could ever be possible in any moral world for the ecclesiological legalism of congregational autonomy to preclude effective action to rid the ranks of clergy predators who use spiritual authority to savage the souls and bodies of kids in ways that are unspeakable. Besides, I don’t see how it would violate congregational autonomy if the SBC were to provide congregations with the resource of an objective independent review board.

7. Well, you weren’t at that meeting, mustang. That much is obvious. In any event, your rather ridiculous anger is the least of my concerns.