Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Don't ask don't tell - the Baptist version

Another survivor forwarded me an email she got from the Missouri Baptist Convention. She had written them to ask how she could report the minister who sexually abused her when she was a kid. She told them she had reason to believe the minister had also abused others. It was a painful and courageous letter for her to write.

A director of the Missouri convention wrote back and said, “The Missouri Baptist Convention is an autonomous network of churches....” His response was so cold and obtuse that it seems almost alien. (But of course even Spock would at least put forth the effort to feign some feeling of care.) The gist of the exchange is sort of like this:
Question: “Hi, I was raped by a Baptist minister when I was a kid, and I think he abused others as well. Please let me know how to report him.”

Answer: “Baptist churches are autonomous.”
Amazingly, the Missouri director didn’t even bother to ask the name of the minister.

I’ve got a very similar email that was sent to a different survivor by a director at the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It’s sort of like this: “Molested as a kid? Oh...that’s too bad...Baptist churches are autonomous....bye.” And again, he didn’t even bother to ask the name of the minister who did it.

I guess Baptist leaders think that, as long as they don’t ask the minister's name, they don’t have to take ownership of knowing who the child molesters are. And since they don’t even bother to ask, you can be sure they aren’t going to tell anyone else. Not a good system for making kids safer, is it?

I can’t help but wonder whether SBC president Frank Page followed a similar sort of “don’t ask don’t tell” protocol. While interviewing him, ABC’s 20/20 told Page there were convicted child molesters on the SBC’s ministerial registry. Did Page try to get the names of those convicted child molesters? It doesn’t look like it.

Several weeks later, when the show actually aired, the convicted perps were still on the SBC’s registry. No one had removed them. Perhaps Page thought that, if he didn’t insist on getting the names, he wouldn’t have to take ownership of knowing, and the perps on the registry wouldn’t be his problem. And perhaps he was right. If that portion of Page’s interview had been left on the cutting room floor, it’s likely those names would STILL be on the SBC’s registry. They only wound up becoming a problem because 20/20 chose to actually air that portion of the interview, because EthicsDaily listed the names in a subsequent article, and because SNAP then listed them in a subsequent press release.

Churches often do the same sort of “don’t ask don’t tell” two-step. When a person reports abuse, church leaders don’t ask too many questions. They don’t really want to know too much about what happened because they don’t want to take ownership of knowing. If they don’t actually “know” anything, then they don’t worry as much about what to tell another church when it requests a reference. It’s a whole heckuva lot easier just to let the accused minister go on his way without sorting it all out. It’s easier not to know.

Easier for church and denominational leaders maybe. But what about for kids? The Baptist version of “don’t ask don’t tell” is a disaster for kids’ safety.


Anonymous said...

Did the response say anything about contacting police or the church where the abuse occurred?

Why not release the emails (while protecting the identity of the abused)?

What would have been a proper response?


Christa Brown said...

At a bare minimum, the response should have included a genuine expression of compassion. This would mean some willingness to genuinely hear what the person needs to tell, to be of help, and to take on some of the burden. This would be so under almost any circumstances, but particularly for people who carry the burden of having been sexually violated by religious authority figures, it is imperative that other religious leaders extend themselves to try to take on some of that burden and help with healing. "How can we help you?" would be something nice for clergy abuse victims to hear (but of course it must be genuine and can't be just talk). "We would like to look into this, and to be able to inform congregations." That would be helpful if there actually were a credible process for doing that - and that's really what most victims want is to feel assured that the person can't hurt someone else. "Please let us help you find an appropriate counselor - we have a referral list of people in your city who have experience in dealing with clergy abuse." That would be nice. "We're concerned about you - please let us help you find a counselor and we'd like to help with the cost of counseling." That would be even nicer. (At the point in time when clergy abuse victims are attempting to report the abuse, they are often at a psychologically fragile place and in desperate need of professional counseling. Pastoral counseling isn't enough and isn't appropriate in most of these circumstances. You can't expect someone who was raped or molested as a kid by a minister to easily put their trust in another minister for counseling. This is a crime that causes serious psychological injury, and people need independent, professional help.)

The reality is that almost anything would be better than the cold do-nothing responses that are now being dished out, and so I could go on and on. There is so much more that could and should be done and said. Of course, it would also be good if they would encourage victims to put a police report on file.

I asked permission from the survivor to print the rest of the Missouri convention's email. Here it is:

"Your email concerning clergy abuse was brought to my attention. The Missouri Baptist Convention is an autonomous network of churches, however, we have no governing authority over the churches. In all of our training materials, we explain to our churches how to do background checks on each position in their church. It is up to each individual church to take the tools we make available and follow through. In addition, the Southern Baptist Convention also provides resources for preventing child abuse. The web site for the SBC is www.sbc.net. Resources are listed under Local Churches/Abuse Prevention. I hope the above information has been helpful."

The abuse survivor did NOT find this helpful.

Anonymous said...

Christa, this is Curt Szajnecki, and I once belonged to the United Methodist Church, the third largest church in the country, behind the Southern Baptists. The UMC advertise on the Internet that the Book of Discipline is the church's policy and procedure rulebook. The book calls for an immediate suspension of a reverend accused of clergy sexual misconduct and to send him through a church trial, run by the clergy members of the UMC with a UMC jury. I first reported the reverend that sexually harassed my four daughters in 1996, and although I was promised they'd get right on it, no one helped. Then I again reported to the new bishop in 2003, Bishop Linda Lee. I brought my sister as a witness to a face-to-face meeting with the administration team to hear their plan of action to help my children. My four daughters have lived in danger of further abuse ever since, because we are still waiting for the Church's response team. My daughters' "religious civil rights" have been denied, as there was no conversation with them, no calls or letters, and no response team ever showed up, as advertised on the UMC website. The reverend was put into one year of therapeutic counseling.
I feel that the UMC Book of Discipline is the best book of rules and regulations around, and the Southern Baptists should immediately adopt such a rulebook for handling reports of abuse to the church. But it is only a starting point, because with no follow through, it's useless.
SNAP sent a letter to the United Methodist Church calling for an outside agency to perform an independent investigation of my family's complaints. The church also ignored that letter by SNAP in May of 2005. So you see, Christa, you are not alone in your battle to raise awareness of clergy abuse, and the administrations that play games with children's lives and mind games with adults. They can be part of the problem, or part of the solution.
I feel that it's time to join forces and petition the Supreme Court to place an emergency order to appoint an outside agency to conduct all investigations of clergy abuse complaints. Our nation is in danger, and the public has a right to know. The power must be taken away from churches to conduct any make-believe investigations.
Please keep up the great work. Only a victim knows what you're up against as you continue to bring awareness to the crime of all crimes, clergy abuse. Bravo to you! It was only a few weeks ago that I did not know who you were, and then I was alerted to the 20/20 segment from a posting on Advocate Web. I have been a member of that group for over 8 years now, and I am also a member of SNAP since 2003, and a member of the Hope of the Survivors. These groups all help victims of clergy abuse. They have been a big support in listening to my family's pleas, and I thank them.
The media has the power to influence change, and the public has the right to know when they are in danger at church. Why go to any church if you have no right to report abuse, or worse yet, if you make a report and have no one show up to conduct an investigation on behalf of the victim instead of just the church? It has been my experience, as well as two other cases I'm aware of, that the church gives no response to the evidence provided, but they instead go on the attack of the messenger. Welcome to the world of religious abuse. The administrators that try and cover up the dirt that's reported are not religious, in my opinion, but they are agents of Satan.
The Southern Baptists' excuses for non-action when it comes to clergy abuse borders on the bizarre, if not totally insane. It is truly a no-brainer. How do they justify their policy of allowing clergy to do as they please and having no one to whom to report abuse? These clergy members are out of control, and the world needs to know this!
My family fell victim to the United Methodist Church, although they have good policies in place regarding clergy misconduct. They just don't follow their own policies. A few years ago, the Teresa Norris trial against the United Methodist Church was held on Court TV. The servants in cloth testified under oath that they also are autonomous, but the jury voted 12-0 in Teresa's favor. She was supported and aided by a family member who was a retired UMC clergy member.
A former United Methodist Church Deacon, Joy Singer, here in Detroit, has an ongoing case against the UMC. The UMC attorneys went to the court judge and placed a gag order on Joy to not speak about her case. Joy's alleged perpetrator is an existing and active reverend in the Detroit Conference. It is tragic what the Church has done to one of their own, and if Joy Singer's name is Googled in, you can read what they have done to her. Basically, they have eaten her up and spit her out, supporting the alleged perpetrator instead of the victim!
A church can have the polices in place, but this does not mean that they will investigate any allegations brought by a victim. The Godly members of the Southern Baptist Church, and the United Methodist Church need to understand that they must not only demand that published rules and regulations of clergy abuse be available for everyone, but they must also insist that an outside third-party agency for all churches be brought in to conduct an investigation of clergy abuse claims. It is unrealistic that a fair investigation can take place if it is left up to church administrators who are only interested in protecting their inflated salaries and the bottom line. In my opinion, these administrators are an evil entity with so much power and money that most victims seeking help in times of despair can't touch them. This must be stopped through public awareness and legislation! We hope our upcoming book on clergy abuse is helpful and will give others the hope and strength to continue our fight as agents of GOD. Visit us at www.innocencebetrayedbyclergy.com We would appreciate your comments and opinions. It's our GOD given right.