Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On a sunny sidewalk at the SBC

by David Clohessy, SNAP National Director

This time of year, some people come home with a great tan, thanks to a few days on a coast at the beach. This week, I came home with one, thanks to a few days on a sunny sidewalk at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio.

Many return reinvigorated by a few days communing with Nature. I returned reinvigorated by a few days communing with clergy sex abuse victims.

Over two days, brave men and women who were raped, sodomized and molested by clergy (like I was) handed out almost 2,000 fliers to the faithful attending the nation’s largest gathering of Southern Baptists.

We invited them to pray with us at a vigil.

We urged them to ask their friends and families “Were you ever molested when you were young?”

We encouraged them to prod abuse victims they know to get professional help.

We begged them to report anything they know about child sex crimes – no matter how small or old the information – to law enforcement.

And we asked them to vote YES on a motion that could someday lead to a nationwide, public, accessible data base of dangerous and potentially dangerous individuals – proven, confessed, and credibly accused Baptist clergy.

And, we were heard.

We were heard first by a brave handful of strangers, who read our fliers, paused, then took a courageous risk: they disclosed to us they too had been molested as kids. . . by ministers, teachers, relatives. They hugged us, we hugged them, and we all felt a tad less lonely knowing that others struggle with the same life-long, debilitating effects of horrific, unjustified childhood sexual betrayal.

We were heard again, however, by an even larger group: the full body of delegates (or "messengers" as Southern Baptists call them). That motion – to study the creation of a database of predators – passed by a nearly unanimous margin.

And in the process, our skin grew darker and our hearts grew warmer.

Lest anyone think I’m a Pollyanna, I’ll be the first to admit we experienced some overt hostility. (Someone, presumably one or more Baptist officials, called the local police and had them shoo us out of the shade and onto the public sidewalk, making it harder to hand out fliers to convention attendees. Some passers-by were, shall we say, less than Christ-like.)

We also experienced some cold shoulders.

But that’s not important. Action, not words, is what protects the vulnerable and heals the wounded. And the delegates/messengers took action. They said “let’s look at warning parents, neighbors, employers, congregants, and (most important) parents about dangerous and potentially dangerous clergy, so that kids will be safer from horrific sex crimes.”

Within hours of this historic vote, we began hearing from skeptics. They’re skeptical for good reason: they’ve been sexually violated by trusted, charismatic, powerful ministers, and (usually) shunned or ignored or rebuffed by callous or cowardly church and denominational bureaucrats.

“This should have been done ages ago.” “This is a no-brainer.” “This is a tiny, tiny step.” “This is just a ‘study;’ it guarantees nothing.” “Because of recent media attention and the Catholic sex scandal, the Baptists HAD to do something.”

All of these statements are, of course, true. All of these sentiments are, of course, valid. All of this skepticism is, of course, understandable.

Yet, there’s more to this story.

Days before the Convention opened, some top Southern Baptist officials essentially said “Few Baptist preachers molest kids.... Besides we’re powerless to do much about it.” But on Tuesday, thousands of Baptist believers essentially said “That’s either not true or not relevant. We’ve got to do more to protect kids.”

Anyway you look at it, this is encouraging. . . . . .


Anonymous said...

While I am unable to attend the convention this year because of family reasons, I have been watching some of the proceedings via the webcast. Specifically, I was watching to see what would happen on this particular issue.

While our "leaders" have adopted a siege mentality over this, the lay members of the convention are much more open to taking action. This was reflected in the vote yesterday.

I do hope that everyone understands that these things take time. While I think that we (the SBC) are finally on the right track, we still have a long way to go.

Christa Brown said...

Welcome to the blog and thanks for posting. You're right - the leadership adopted a siege mentality on this. I have long believed that ordinary Baptist people in the pews would be appalled if they could really see the unproductive harshness of how SBC leadership was responding. Given that the vote from the Convention was nearly unanimous, I hope the SBC Executive will perceive that as a compelling mandate and instruction to them to take real and serious action as opposed to still more circling of the wagons.

We'll be watching...and I'm glad you will too...because you're absolutely right...the SBC still has a long way to go.