Friday, April 27, 2007

The dynamics of denial

When Southern Baptist president Frank Page was interviewed by 20/20, they told him the SBC’s website had at least 6 convicted child molesters listed on the ministerial registry. How did he and other Baptist leaders respond to that information?

Ironically, they responded in much the same way that Baptist churches respond when confronted with information about clergy sex abuse. Those of you who have tried to report abuse will recognize the patterns.

Did Page immediately ask 20/20 who those convicted molesters were? As best I can tell, he didn’t. And he certainly didn’t go straight to Nashville and take care of the problem. The first response appears to have been “do nothing.” Sound familiar?

Then, when that segment of the interview actually aired on national TV, and it looked unseemly, people started scrambling. Were they scrambling to effectively address the problem or were they scrambling to protect appearances? Looks like the latter. Sound familiar?

SBC official Augie Boto immediately put out a press statement defending the inclusion of those names on the SBC’s ministerial registry. It’s a brash tactic. Just blindly insist that you’re in the right. Religious leaders carry the mantel of spiritual authority, and so they’re better at pulling this off than us ordinary folk. We’ve seen similar tactics in churches where ministerial colleagues circle the wagons and simply proclaim that Pastor John could not possibly have done anything wrong. Sound familiar?

Next, Frank Page starts pointing fingers. Instead of doing something about the problem, he blames 20/20 for “yellow journalism” and accuses the victims’ support group of being “opportunists...seeking personal gain.” It’s similar to how church leaders so often look for ways to blame the victim. “She always was a troublemaker....she wore her skirts too short...she didn’t come from a good family anyway...he got arrested on drug charges and so why should we believe him...she should learn to forgive...etc. etc.” Sound familiar?

Finally, even the faithful loyalists start finding the pettiest of ways to try to discredit the messenger who brings this unwanted news. A Baptist blogger tells people that I sent him a “flood” of unsolicited, negative email....even though I didn’t. A blogger attacks SNAP and me for “building walls,” even though it was actually the SBC who wrote SNAP that “continued discourse will not be positive or fruitful.” (Talk about a wall!) Then the blogger blames me because I personally didn’t somehow see to it that the SBC got those names off the though the SBC’s website was somehow my task....and even though Boto had already defended the SBC’s inclusion of the names. (And rather than blaming me, why didn’t this Baptist man himself see to it that the names were taken off the list?) None of it makes any sense, but it’s part of the usual pattern. However contrived they may be, the more reasons the faithful loyalists and congregants can find for discrediting the outsider, the less they have to consider the much more uncomfortable question of whether their much-trusted leaders let them down. Sound familiar?

How can SBC leaders imagine that churches can appropriately handle abuse reports when they themselves demonstrate the same dynamics of denial in handling the much-easier-remedied news of perp-names on their website? If clergy sex abuse is such a difficult topic that SBC officials can’t even do a good job of handling names on a list, why do they imagine that churches can do a good job of handling reported perpetrators in the pulpit?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Thanks to Baptist minister Kevin Bussey

Ministering can sometimes happen in ways unexpected. When I saw this "na na hey hey" YouTube posting on Southern Baptist minister Kevin Bussey’s blog, I laughed and laughed. And a good laugh was exactly what I needed.

If you read Kevin’s post, I suspect he probably wasn’t feeling particularly pastoral when he posted it. Yet, from across cyberspace, that funky sound reached out to me. I’m groovin’...I’m grinnin’...I’m in gear...I’m just gettin’ started.

Many thanks, Kevin.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Are these guys for real?

Have you followed Southern Baptist leaders’ responses to the 20/20 report on clergy sex abuse? I couldn’t make this kinda stuff up if I tried. Are any of you good at political cartoons? Send me one. This stuff is well-worthy of caricature.

First, SBC official Augie Boto defends and justifies the inclusion of convicted child molesters on the SBC’s registry of Southern Baptist ministers. Huh? What planet are these guys from? (In any event, it looks like Boto was wrong about it being a local church issue. After still more media - an EthicsDaily article and a SNAP press release - the convicted perps were finally removed from the list.)

Next, SBC president Frank Page whines about “yellow journalism” and says 20/20 was “an intentional slice-and-dice effort” to portray them as “uncaring and uninformed.” Well...duhhh...when you keep convicted child molesters on your registry of ministers, it just doesn’t look very caring or informed to most ordinary people. (And a few Lifeway brochures aren’t gonna change that.)

Then, Page complains that he didn’t get enough air-time given that he had “a two hour interview.” Uhhh....that’s how these shows work. In a 16-minute segment, you can’t expect to monopolize it. You only get to do that in your own pulpit and in the Baptist Press. (Must be nice...I guess people get used to such deferential treatment and come to expect it...) I was interviewed for a couple hours as well, but you don’t hear me whining about short air-time.

But hey...Frank Page isn’t done yet. On Thursday, he talks a bit more about the 20/20 thing and publicly trashes the “advocacy” groups, calling them “opportunistic persons who are seeking...personal gain.” Huh? It’s pretty sad when the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the land chooses to publicly attack a self-help support group for victims of child-rape and sexual assault. We’re crime victims, not opportunists. I think many good Baptist people would be appalled by such a mean-spirited kick-the-messenger statement.

And finally, just when I thought these guys couldn’t possibly dish out any more weirdness, one of the Baptist bloggers accused me personally, Christa Brown, of putting him on my email list and sending him such a flood of email that he had to block me. Yet, before yesterday when his blog posting came up on a google alert, I had never heard of the guy. Neither his name nor his email address are anywhere on my system. When I posed this mystery on his blog, he did a little side-shuffle and said he was “receiving SNAP email.” Well....geewhiz...that’s a little different, isn’t it? I have no clue who he’s getting such a flood of email from or why, but I know this. I get heaps of vitriolic emails from people who claim to be Southern Baptist ministers, and I don’t go around blaming Frank Page individually...or Art Rogers individually...for all those “Southern Baptist” emails.

What’s with these guys? When will they stop kicking the messengers and start actually doing something about the problem?

With over 101,000 Southern Baptist ministers in this country, there’s likely a kid somewhere right now who’s being groomed for abuse.

Every day, I hear the weeping of people wounded by clergy sex abuse. Why don’t Southern Baptist leaders hear that weeping? Maybe it’s because they’re too busy being politicians instead of good shepherds.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Reporting Baptist clergy sex abuse

Wonder what it's like to try to report clergy sex abuse to Southern Baptist leaders? looks sort of like this. Still wondering why Baptist abuse survivors might hesitate to speak up?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Churches need help handling clergy sex abuse reports

I’ve gotten one too many missives from this guy, Brian Robertson ( When someone repeatedly sends this sort of bile-spewing...and then has the authoritarian arrogance to say “this is between you and me”...well...I don’t think so.

I just love how you put pictures of people on your website and almost guarantee their destruction. "Credible allegations" are not truth. I could probably find someone to "credibly" accuse you of murder....I think any real predators should be destroyed, and I equally think that anyone that would falsely accuse or label an innocent person a predator is just as bad as the predator. In fact, the person that does this is just a predator of a different type. You need to be stopped. I’m afraid any good you might be doing is being overshadowed by the harm to innocents. Your treatment of a good and innocent friend of mine is shameful. You have destroyed his career and reputation and continue to pound on him. I bet you do not sleep well at night, Trust me, it is not because of what happened to you or other victims, it is the incredible guilt that even your small conscience must feel by knowing that you will destroy a person's life with no facts at all....This is between you and me. Do not publish this….
Based on his prior comments, I think this guy's upset that I recently posted on my website a photo of Larry Reynolds with a Denton Record-Chronicle news link. Reynolds was pastor of Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, TX. Katherine Roush sued Reynolds, alleging he had molested her when she was a 14-year old girl. Reportedly, the suit was settled with a confidentiality agreement (a secrecy tactic that Catholic bishops formally disapproved in 2002 but Baptists still use) and with Reynolds making an apology before the church. He said “I made a terrible mistake” and confessed that “proper boundaries were not kept.”

Ordinarily, that might have quietly brought an end to the matter, but when EthicsDaily and the Chronicle began looking into it, things got messy. Another Southmont minister, James Crittenden, told the Chronicle it would be destructive to “the cause of Christ” to publish the news. Thank God for courageous and conscientious journalists. Reynolds resigned after the press coverage.

The Southmont story provides a good example of why it’s so delusional for Southern Baptist officials to think churches can handle clergy abuse reports on their own. We’re supposed to imagine that someone like Katherine Roush could have simply gone to a church like Southmont and said, “I need to tell you about what your beloved pastor Reynolds did to me when I was a kid,” and that the church would have been receptive even though she is now an outsider to them, and that it would have compassionately and conscientiously considered her report with open minds.

Given that ministerial staff apparently didn’t inform the congregation even after a lawsuit was filed, and even after EthicsDaily published news of it, why should anyone assume the staff would have attempted to bring the truth to light based on Roush’s mere report? Given that minister Crittenden tried to convince the Chronicle not to run the story, why should we assume he would have shown any concern for ferreting out the truth of a report from Roush? Given the sort of hostility shown by Brian Robertson, why should we assume that congregants would have been able to objectively consider Roush's allegations (assuming staff had ever told the congregants)? Given that this church had a resource most don’t – a member who professes to be an expert on clergy sex abuse, Joe Trull – and yet church leaders apparently didn’t bother to consult with their expert, why should anyone assume that any other church would handle it any better than Southmont did? And given that, even after all that happened, Southmont gave Reynolds a $50,000 "love offering" upon his departure and still keeps one of its buildings named after Reynolds, why should we assume that, on its own, such a congregation would be capable of seeing such a possibly dark and ugly thing about a minister whom they so revered?

A person trying to report clergy sex abuse is often doing so many years after the abuse occurred. That’s what is normal because the nature of the crime causes victims to stay silent. (Cases that get reported sooner are atypical and are usually cases in which the victims’ parents found out.) It is unrealistic to imagine that, years later, a clergy abuse victim can go before a church as an outsider and tell them something so awful about their leader, and expect to be heard. Yet, victims need to be heard, because it’s the only way clergy-perpetrators can be exposed. This is why an independent objective review board is needed.

Such a board could also be a resource for congregations. It’s a shame the people of Southmont weren’t allowed to know every bit of available information. What was in the alleged letters from Reynolds to Roush? And what was in the medical records at Roush’s rehab center where witnesses say Reynolds made an appearance? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I think the members at Southmont were entitled to know, and that’s information a denominational review board could have possibly given them. As it is, many at Southmont are left to wonder about what was true and what wasn’t, and about who was being straight with them and who wasn’t. Better to have the truth made transparent than to be left wondering.

Friday, April 6, 2007

SBC is unresponsive to clergy sex abuse problem

will spotlight Baptist clergy
sex for it...

It’s been 7 weeks since the SBC Executive Committee meeting, and they’re still trying to stone the messenger instead of taking action to make kids safer. In the April issue of SBC Life, Baptist leaders once again distort SNAP’s public statement by saying SNAP apologized “for making false accusations.” This is the same garbage they threw out in the Baptist Press six weeks ago.

It must be nice to have your own well-funded press arm where you can cast whatever twisted spin you want. This blog is all we’ve got. So let us be very clear.

SNAP stands by its statement that Southern Baptist officials are unresponsive to the serious problem of clergy sex abuse. We have NOT apologized for that or backed down from it one bit. We apologized for the fact that an SBC brush-off letter was misplaced at SNAP’s Chicago office, NOT for saying that SBC officials were unresponsive to the clergy sex abuse problem. [SNAP’s press statement; SNAP’s apology]

So who’s really being “false” here? Frank Page says the SBC made “every effort to communicate with SNAP.” Yet, what the SBC actually said in that misplaced letter was this: “Continued discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful.” This is apparently Page's notion of “every effort to communicate.” Some might consider his statement “false,” but I think it simply shows him to have a one-sided notion of what it means “to communicate.”

These guys also seem to have a one-sided notion of apologies. They don’t make them, but they expect them from others.

Where is their apology to me for writing that the SBC had no record my perpetrator was still in ministry…even though he was really in children’s ministry at a Southern Baptist church in Florida? Though I bore no personal fault, I took on the burden of organizational responsibility and apologized for the fact that the SBC’s brush-off letter sat in a pile in Chicago. Why aren’t THEY taking on any burden of organizational responsibility? I expect they would say it wasn’t their job to know where that minister was…and that the SBC only has records of what churches choose to give them (or don’t choose to give them). But it wasn’t my job to go up to Chicago and personally look for a letter either…and yet I took on organizational responsibility and made an apology for the fact that I didn’t know about it. Where is THEIR organizational apology?

And which organizational mistake had potentially greater consequences? A misplaced brush-off letter…or a misplaced child-molesting minister that people weren’t told about?

What a perfect system Baptist leaders have for avoiding accountability! The buck literally stops nowhere for these guys.

And consider Frank Page’s statement last Monday that Baptist clergy sex abuse isn’t a large-scale problem though “there have been several reported cases.” Several??? Even if you only count the last 6 months of publicly reported cases, it’s still a lot more than “several.” That’s such an understatement that some might call it “false.” But what it really shows is institutionalized denial and blindness. Tragically, it’s a blindness that leaves kids at risk. Until Baptist leaders see the full reality of the clergy sex abuse problem, they aren’t likely to effectively combat it.