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.

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