Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Catholics are doing way-better than Baptists

Do you want to know which priests have had “credible allegations” involving sexual abuse of a kid? In Tucson, you can just go to the diocese’s website. These men haven’t been convicted of anything, but the diocese removed them from ministry. And as the Arizona Daily Star reports, the priests’ names are now available to the public.

Do you want to know which Southern Baptist ministers have had “credible allegations” involving sexual abuse of a kid? Dream on. No one keeps records. And there’s no such thing as a review board to determine which allegations are “credible.”

The Baptist General Convention of Texas, which purports to be doing more than any other statewide Baptist organization, started keeping a confidential file on ministers reported by churches back in early 2000. But the BGCT doesn’t bother with keeping track of abuse allegations made by mere victims. (Or if it does, that’s just one more secret it’s keeping.) According to its policy, the BGCT bothers with record-keeping only if a CHURCH reports its minister.

As you might imagine, it’s a pretty rare event for a minister’s name to get into that file. Even the BGCT knows that churches almost never report clergy sex abuse. “In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret,” admitted Joe Trull, the man who helped the BGCT set up its secret file.

So given how rare it is, you might imagine that when a minister’s name actually DOES get into that file, someone would do something to assure kids’ safety. Dream on. The BGCT still keeps it secret and doesn’t notify congregations where the man worked, or even where he currently works.

According to its policy, these are ministers who are reported BY A CHURCH and for whom there is a confession or “substantial evidence the abuse took place” as determined by the BGCT’s own lawyer. Yet, their names remain secret and they are able to continue in ministry.

My own perpetrator was in that secret file, and he went right on working in children’s ministry. Even though the BGCT determined there was a confession or “substantial evidence the abuse took place,” the BGCT didn’t stop him from continuing in ministry and it didn’t warn the congregations where he worked.

This is the statewide Baptist group that publicly pats itself on the back and claims bragging rights on the clergy sex abuse issue. Pretty scary, huh?

It's not uncommon for Baptist leaders to brag a bit. But when braggarts puff themselves up while leaving kids at risk, it looks pretty ugly.

It’s been reported that there are 11 ministers in the BGCT’s secret file based on sexual abuse of kids. Since they keep everything secret, I guess we just have to take them at their word on the number. But even if we only worry about the 11 they admit are there, WHO ARE THOSE 11 MEN?

What’s the difference between Catholics and Baptists? For Catholics, reported clergy child molesters get removed from ministry if a VICTIM’s allegations are determined to be “credible.” For Baptists, the VICTIM’s allegations are inconsequential, and even if a CHURCH’s allegations have “substantial evidence,” the man can STILL remain in ministry.

With Catholics, people complain that no one monitors a credibly accused priest after he has been removed from ministry….but at least he’s been removed from ministry. With Baptists, no one bothers with figuring out whether an accusation is credible, much less with removing the guy from ministry.

Is it any wonder that I worry about the safety of kids in Southern Baptist churches?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Crocodile tears or no tears?

Crocodile tears” are fake. They’re a hypocritical display of emotion.

The expression comes from an ancient story about how crocodiles weep in order to lure their prey, or that they cry for the victims they are eating. (Crocodiles DO have tear glands, but I doubt they feel any real remorse.)

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is good at doing crocodile tears. “We care greatly about clergy abuse victims.” That’s what they say to the press. And then they brag about being a “leader” in addressing clergy sexual “misconduct.”

But from the reports I get, all that “we care greatly” talk is just that…nothing but talk. And their claim of being a “leader” reminds me of a guy who’s been lapped on the track and crosses the finish line thinking he has bragging rights when, in reality, he hasn’t a clue.

(I mean….duhhhh….how much longer do you think it’s gonna be before they finally figure out that “misconduct” isn’t the right word choice for describing clergy child molestation and child rape??? Do you think they have a clue how minimizing and hurtful that is? These guys are slow….really, really slow.)

All that bragging and “we care greatly” talk presents a phony front, and winds up luring clergy abuse victims into believing that the Baptist General Convention of Texas will actually do something. So, it’s sort of like the crocodile. It just sets victims up for even greater wounding and betrayal.

Victims go to the BGCT, thinking someone there will surely help them. (After all, they “care greatly”, don’t they?) But from the accounts I hear, help just doesn’t happen. No one helps the victim find the perpetrator. No one helps the victim warn the man’s current congregation. No one helps the victim with counseling.

That’s the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that the BGCT sends out its Mr. Wolfe-style guy to help the church take care of the problem…and that typically winds up in a WHOLE lot more hurt for the victim.

I don’t think other Baptist state conventions are doing any better. From the reports I get, it seems that many other Baptist state conventions don’t even bother with crocodile tears for victims who report abuse. They just ignore the victims or send back a perfunctory “all churches are autonomous” note. That’s pretty cold, but I don’t think crocodile tears are any better...at least not for the victim.

Crocodile tears just give the Baptist General Convention of Texas a better public image. But it’s not about any real caring for the victims.

So what do YOU think? Is it better to get crocodile tears or no tears at all? As best I can tell, that seems to be the only two options Southern Baptist leaders have to offer for clergy abuse victims.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More threats and crocodile tears

Madeleine Manning, whose fully-alive words of truth I posted a couple days ago, sends out to clergy abuse survivors this favorite quote from a Hopi elder: “WE are the ONES we have been waiting for.”

I like that. And I've been thinking about some of Madeleine’s other words. She said this: "They undercut, demeaned, twisted every word exchanged - and that was when they weren't downright lying. All, of course, with apologies and even crocodile tears in their eyes.”

Those words sure call to mind my own experience in dealing with Baptist leaders. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is particularly good at that “crocodile tears” thing.

Not long ago, they put out still another public statement saying “we care about clergy abuse victims.” Yeah, uh-huh. They made that statement right about the same time their long-time lawyer was calling up an attorney friend of mine to suggest that, if I didn’t rein it in, I might find myself facing a lawsuit or a state bar disciplinary proceeding. He didn’t like a couple of my blog postings. Poor baby.

This is the same guy who responded to my initial report of abuse by threatening to seek recourse against me - i.e., he threatened to sue me. He made that threat even though he had already talked with the music minister in the church who KNEW about the abuse when I was a kid. He made that threat even though what I asked for was the sort of help that the BGCT’s own published booklet says is appropriate. (Obviously, the booklet is nothing but words on paper.) He made that threat even though the only monetary help I asked for was a stipend for 2 years’ worth of counseling. (Back in 1990, the BGCT started providing a 2-year counseling program to “restore” clergy who commit “sexual misconduct” (and they lump child molestation in with “sexual misconduct”), and so it seemed reasonable to me that they should also support 2 years of counseling for clergy abuse victims … but obviously they saw it differently.)

So, after having started out by threatening me 3 years ago, this same long-time BGCT lawyer recently decided to threaten me again. (I guess when you get in the habit of bullying wounded people, it winds up being a hard habit to break. Has no one at the BGCT realized that threatening victims who talk isn’t exactly conducive to finding out about child molesters who are still in the pulpit?)

My friend Elana tells me I need to work at accessing my “Buddha-nature” so that I can let Baptist rubbish like this roll off my shoulders. She’s right, of course, but I’ve probably got too much Irish in me. I’m ticked off and fed up with these hypocritical Pharisee-like eejits.

I don’t know whether, on this particular occasion, this jerk was acting at the behest of someone at the BGCT or whether he was acting at his own behest. (As pastor Ben Cole pointed out, Baptists have a sort of “Cosa Nostra-style” organization, which makes it easy for leaders to pretend ignorance, wash their hands of misdeeds, and shift responsibility.) What I know (from having talked with other Baptist survivors) is that this same jerk has been the BGCT’s lawyer on clergy abuse issues for over a decade.

So here's what I've got to say to this wonder-worm: Don’t use my friends as intermediaries to pass on your low-life cowardly threats. If you’re determined to threaten me (for whatever ridiculous reason you come up with), put it in writing and send it to ME, and then I'll let you know who my attorney is.

Well…I’ve got a lot more I could say about the BGCT and their “crocodile tears” but that’s enough for today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Madeleine Manning is a survivor of childhood clergy sex abuse. She couldn’t attend the recent SNAP conference, but she sent some powerful words that I want to share. I’ve edited them only slightly.

If you’re a clergy abuse survivor, and you’re working on dealing with it, and you find yourself here at this blog-site, I hope you’ll take Madeleine’s words to heart.

I am now 4th (final) stage ovarian cancer, diagnosed January of '03. I had two metastases recently - brain in December, bladder in March.

But I am living, not dying. Sure, I am terminal. Sure, sometimes cancer wins the day. But I am alive and vital and joyful. A major reason this is so is because I fought the church and emerged a winner.

No, I didn't change them. No, I didn't get all I asked for or deserved. And I got nothing without bare-knuckle fighting for every shred. They undercut, demeaned, twisted every word exchanged - and that was when they weren't downright lying. All, of course, with apologies and even crocodile tears in their eyes. It is no thanks to them I emerged a winner.

I won because not a single step of the way did I let their terms control my actions. I refused to meet on church property (their turf), I refused to communicate verbally, which could not be documented, only via email or snail mail. I confronted each lie and distortion as it occurred. When they triggered uncertainty, shame, and the "need" to forgive, I was able to firmly return to them the seeds of those destructive emotions they had instilled in me, and to act from certainty and pride in who I am.

My route of dealing with the complex of scars, cellular level damage, developmental stunting, broken relationships, rage and fear will not be your route. Each of us must find our own road. But our road must be taken if we are to live. Our road must be taken if others are not to fall into the pit which was ours, and be impaled there as we were.

It does not matter if your voice is quiet and undramatic, perhaps spoken only to one other, or confided only in your journal pages. It matters that you speak your truth.

Catherine of Sienna says it well: “Speak the truth in a thousand voices; it is only Silence that kills.”

So, after a lifetime of dying every day, I am now living - fully, healed, whole and holy - every day of my dying. It is worth every ounce of pain along the way.

I am not exceptional. PLEASE don't hide behind the illusion that the people you think are heroes and heroines are different, stronger, or made of better stuff than you. You too are a hero. Walk into that role until the reality of it seems obvious, fits like a glove, IS you.

You may think you are here seeking courage, hoping it will rub off from others. Well, it will - but only because YOU brought your own courage in the very act of being here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cosa Nostra style Southern Baptists

Pastor Ben Cole told the Texas Observer he “learned a lot about being a Southern Baptist from The Sopranos.” It’s “the whole Godfather thing,” he said.

Cole ought to know. As part of Southern Baptists’ “inner circle,” he learned about such things as “enlisting the media in disinformation campaigns and spying on enemies.”

“From the highest levels of denominational leadership to the smallest church…we are a convention of half-truths, hidden agendas, and careless misrepresentations,” said Cole. “Sometimes we operate like the Cosa Nostra.”

In fairness, I should point out that Cole seemed to say this with love. He wholly embraces his faith group and isn’t afraid to speak candidly. I respect that. (I’m also grateful to Cole because he gave me a good laugh with his own blog postings and YouTube videos about the homemaking degree that’s offered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I myself learned to sew on a vintage Kenmore just like the one in Cole’s video. Think I could get an honorary degree?)

Still, I couldn’t help but think that Cole may have been closer to the truth than he realized with his Cosa Nostra analogy. If that’s what Southern Baptists seem like to someone on the inside of the organization, can Cole possibly imagine how those of us on the outside get treated? Those of us who refuse to “pay, pray and obey”? Those of us who try to bring to light the ugly misdeeds, crimes and cover-ups of this “Cosa Nostra-style” organization?

Well, I can tell you, it gets pretty unpleasant. These are people who expect respect on their own terms, who are accustomed to getting it on their own terms, and who know how to inflict pain on those who don’t abide. (Columnist Roddy Stinson evoked the same mafioso analogy in describing the “no-holds-barred tactics” of Southern Baptist bosses, but Stinson wrote with less affection.)

In Texas, the Baptist leadership even has a guy who reminds me of “Mr. Wolfe”….you know…Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction...the guy who "takes care of problems."

If a clergy abuse survivor doesn’t politely accept their pastoral pat on the head, and then go away and keep quiet, the Baptist General Convention of Texas sends out this Mr. Wolfe-like guy to make sure the mess gets cleaned up. (It’s apparently part of the BGCT’s “crisis guidance” for churches. Sounds more and more like the job Mr. Wolfe did for the crime-boss, doesn’t it?)

So, the BGCT’s Mr. Wolfe-like guy tries to scrub it, whitewash it, spin it, and make it all go away. He’s very good at what he does, and just like the movie’s Mr. Wolfe, he does it with a surreal air of pseudo-civility.

But of course, if you actually ponder what’s getting whitewashed -- clergy child molestation and child-rape -- then it starts to make your stomach turn. I figure that’s why the BGCT keeps “Mr. Wolfe” at the ready. He takes care of such problems, and that way, the Baptist bosses can wash their hands of it and not have to personally contemplate the ugly realities too much.

I like to imagine that the redeemed Jules might have a thing or two to say to these blind-eyed Baptist bosses. Remember Jules? He was Pulp Fiction’s scripture-quoting assassin who left behind the life of a knee-breaker when he finally recognized truth. Maybe Jules could help even these Cosa Nostra-style Baptist dons to see the truth of what they’re doing and to embrace radical change.

Well…that's the optimist in me. Jules is fiction; Baptist bosses are real; and in Roddy Stinson’s words, they have a history of “cutting off ears, punching noses, cracking spines and giving a huge black eye to the Christian faith.” For too many Baptist clergy abuse survivors, that metaphor seems painfully close to the mark.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Clergy rebuke SBC head"

“Zero-tolerance is measured by what is done, not what is said.”

Amen to that!

Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre, professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, was explaining why he signed the clergy letter to Southern Baptist president Frank Page. The letter, spearheaded by Father Gary Hayes in Kentucky, was sent to Page on Thursday, July 19. As reported yesterday in the Christian Post, clergy from 5 denominations chided the Baptist president for his harsh rhetoric about clergy sex abuse victims. “Your comments…are misguided and misinformed,” they wrote.

Page, who has castigated support groups for victims raped as children by clergy, continues to toss out his rote line: “Even one instance of sexual molestation is one too many.”

Nice-sounding words, but we all know the problem is really much, much bigger than “even one instance,” don’t we? Page should know that as well. So why does he keep trying to minimize it?

How long will it be before Page acknowledges the truth? There have been countless instances of child molestation committed by Southern Baptist clergy, and in far too many of those instances, the minister was allowed to move from one church to another even after there was serious cause for concern.

What’s it going to take to stop this tragic pattern?

Dr. De La Torre had the answer. He knows what Dr. Page can’t seem to grasp. Nice-sounding words aren’t going to protect kids. What’s needed are deeds.

How much longer will it be before Southern Baptist leadership steps up to the plate and takes action similar to what other mainstream denominations are doing?

Listed below are the clergy who signed the letter to SBC president Frank Page. After Father Hayes had already sent off the letter, Rev. Karin Kilpatric asked that her name be added, and so I included her on this list.

  • Fr. Gary R. Hayes, Pastor, St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, Owensboro, KY
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Granzen, Moderator of Elizabeth Presbytery, Elizabeth, NJ

  • Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre, Associate Professor of Social Ethics & Director of the Justice and Peace Institute, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO

  • Rev. Karl Harman, PhD (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Pastor of Dallas Center United Methodist Church, Dallas Center, Iowa

  • Rev. Mark J. Powell, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN

  • Rev. Aaron Turner, Minister of Worship, New Beginnings Baptist Church (SBC-affiliated), Longview, TX

  • Rev. John Harrison, Ordained Southern Baptist minister, retired, Tecumseh, OK

  • Rev. Gene Scarborough, Ordained Southern Baptist minister, retired, Rocky Mount, NC

  • Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Victims' Advocate

  • Rev. William H. Edwards

  • Rev. Karin Kilpatric, First United Church of Arvada (UCC), Arvada, CO

Friday, July 20, 2007

Barbarism with no consequences

A 17-year old boy received oral sex from a 15-year old, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Today, the Georgia Supreme Court is hearing arguments in his appeal.

A 29-year old married Southern Baptist minister orally raped a 16-year old, and he moved on to become a prominent children’s minister at First Baptist Church of Atlanta. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Yet, even though another Southern Baptist minister knew about that man's “sexual contact” with a minor, and even though the Baptist General Convention of Texas determined there was “substantial evidence” the abuse took place, and even though 18 Southern Baptist leaders in 4 different states were notified of it, the man was able to still stand in the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church.

A seventeen year old faces 10 years. An adult Southern Baptist minister faces continued power, prestige, respect, and a good salary at one of Georgia’s most prominent churches. Strange world, huh?

Not only did the perpetrator face no consequences, but the men who knew and kept quiet didn’t face any consequences either.

Yet, I’ve had to face plenty of consequences, and they’re the sort that would make Dante’s inferno look like paradise. To this day, I relive pieces of the trauma in a “no exit” nightmare. Unable to move, unable to scream, and suffocating, I have died a thousand deaths in that dreaded dream.

There was nothing loving about what was done to me.

It was brutish barbarism with a sick biblical twist. He said it would get easier and that I would get used to it, and he told me how much God loved me.

What was done to me in a Baptist church – in the name of God and with words of God – was utterly blasphemous beyond what most people can even imagine. Certainly, it was way beyond my own capacity for understanding when I was an adolescent church girl. Besides, I wasn't supposed to even try. "Lean not unto thine own understanding."

I bet that 17-year old boy wishes he could have just said some catchy Bible verse and gotten off the hook. But of course, the land of no consequences seems to exist only for Baptist ministers.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Latest perp is in Memphis, but real problem is in Nashville

It’s a story we’ve seen over and over: A Baptist pastor is accused of sexually abusing a kid...people know about it...no one does a good job of looking into it...the pastor stays in the pulpit...more kids are molested.

The latest story in Memphis is nothing more than that…just the latest in a long sad string of stories showing the blind-eyed do-nothingness of Southern Baptist church and denominational leaders.

A decade ago, when one kid reported this pastor’s abuse, a few of the church people wanted something done. But apparently the rest of the congregation couldn’t believe their beloved pastor could do such a thing. So nothing happened…and now there are reports that at least 10 more kids were molested.

If there had been an objective, professionally-staffed denominational review board, perhaps all those additional kids could have been spared the horror of being sexually abused by a trusted minister.

And what about that kid who, a decade ago, mustered enormous courage to try to talk about what was done to him? What do you imagine went on in his head as, year after year, he continued to see that man still standing in the pulpit?

And what about the other kids who, over the course of a decade, saw that man still in a position of respect and trust…still spouting Bible verses from the pulpit?

Sexual abuse is plenty bad enough and has a life-long traumatic impact. But betrayal by your entire faith community? That’s also traumatic.

“What have they gone through all these years?” asked one reporter in the TV video clip.


It’s so easy to point the finger at the perpetrators and think therein lies the problem. But the far greater problem is in the silence of the many…in all the others who turn a blind eye…and in the institutionalized do-nothingness of the denomination. If Southern Baptist officials want to understand the problem, they need to start looking in the mirror. That’s why the picture up there isn’t a picture of the latest accused Baptist perpetrator. It’s Southern Baptist headquarters in Nashville.

How long will it be before Southern Baptists implement the same sort of protective measures as most other mainstream faith groups? How long will it be before Southern Baptists establish denominational review boards and start keeping records on clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse? How long will it be before Southern Baptist officials make protecting kids the priority instead of merely protecting themselves and their power?

How many more kids will be molested by Baptist ministers before Baptist leaders finally take action?

Monday, July 16, 2007

In the desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is a thorny, sun-bleached, jagged terrain. But when it gets rain, the desert blooms with colors few ever see.

Last week-end, I thought it might be a chance to see some of those day-glo blossoms, and so we hit the highway to West Texas.

At the bottom of Modesta Canyon is a spring, and it’s usually the only water around. But this time, a small stream gurgled along the entire length of the canyon. So, we hiked that desert trail with the sound of water as a backdrop.

I couldn’t help but ponder the beautiful incongruity of that water-sound in the midst of the stark desert stillness.

Banished from the faith community of my youth, I feel as though I escaped into faith’s dry badlands. It’s a sparse and rough terrain, but it’s also void of all the power structures, polity, pontifications, and pompous Bible-thumping.

Some days, I think my faith is so sparse that there is simply nothing left. It dried up and withered away amidst the blasphemous abuse and the continued callous blindness, self-serving ignorance, and small-minded meanness of so many Southern Baptist men.

But then comes the sound of water, and I hearken to the pure, incongruous beauty of it. Perhaps what remains for me is a faith that blooms in the desert, where the sparseness itself holds sanctuary.

From what I’ve seen, if Southern Baptist leaders are exemplary of how “men of God” behave, then theirs is surely a God that I want no part of. I will find my God in faith’s badlands, amidst the ocotillos and the javelinas.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tip of the iceberg for Baptist sex abuse

Recent Episcopal news has me still pondering Marv Knox’s editorial. He said the Baptist General Convention of Texas has been “appropriately reticent to publicize names of accused perpetrators unless the charges have been substantiated.”

But this begs a couple questions.

What about the cases in which clergy child molestation charges HAVE been substantiated? What about cases like mine in which the BGCT determined there was “substantial evidence that the abuse took place”? Why hasn’t the BGCT been informing people about clergy-perpetrators such as that? If a man with a claim having "substantial evidence" was a children’s minister in your church, wouldn’t you want to know?

And whose job is it to look for evidence on whether an accusation can be substantiated? The BGCT puts the entire burden on the back of the victim, who has already been plenty burdened enough in dealing with the fall-out from the abuse. Shouldn’t the faith community itself have some interest in determining whether an accusation of clergy child molestation can be substantiated?

Compare the lack of action by Texas Baptist leaders with recent action by Texas Episcopal leaders on a clergy child molestation accusation. (1) Episcopal leaders hired an outside organization to investigate, and in doing so, they found three more persons who made similar abuse accusations. By contrast, Baptist leaders don't even help a victim in finding the perpetrator’s current church, much less in finding any other possible victims. (2) Episcopal leaders sent out a letter to people in the church where the priest had worked, informing them that the claims of abuse “have substance.” By contrast, Baptist leaders leave the information sitting in a confidential file even when they have determined there is “substantial evidence that the abuse took place.” (3) Episcopal leaders made a PUBLIC statement about the abuse claims, and in this way, reached out to the larger community and also acknowledged the wounds of the victims. By contrast, even when a claim is so readily substantiated that it requires no investigation, and even when it's been determined there is “substantial evidence that the abuse took place,” Baptist leaders still don't warn people in the pews of the perpetrator’s church, and they certainly don’t make any public statement acknowledging the claims.

A Baptist leader recently disclosed that the BGCT’s confidential file contains “about 11 cases involving clergy abuse with minors.” These are “just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “because churches don’t have to report cases” to the BGCT (and the BGCT doesn’t accept abuse reports from mere victims). But even this substantiated “tip of the iceberg” remains secret. Who are the Baptist clergy-perpetrators in those 11 cases? Why aren’t the parents of kids in Baptist churches entitled to know? And why doesn’t anyone in Baptist leadership care enough to peer beneath the water line at the biggest part of the iceberg and to find out whether all those other clergy abuse allegations may be substantiated?

Finally, having stated my disagreement with Marv Knox, I want to also state my thanks. With the Baptist Standard, Knox has often sought to shine light on the clergy abuse problem. Just a month ago, the Baptist Standard, along with the Associated Baptist Press and the Biblical Recorder News jointly published an extraordinary series of articles on clergy sex abuse. Kudos to all three of these publications for working to raise the level of dialogue on this issue!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

James A. Moore and FBC-Farmers Branch

In a recent editorial, Marv Knox suggested we “hold churches accountable for abuse” by publishing the names of those who allow an abusing minister to move on without warning others. Nice thought...but I’m not holding my breath waiting for anyone in Baptist leadership to actually do that.

Typically, neither the churches nor the ministers who turn a blind eye are ever held accountable. Just a few examples: pastor Steve Gaines is still in the pulpit at Bellevue; minister James Crittenden is still in the pulpit at Southmont; and music minister James A. Moore is still in the pulpit at First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch.

In fact, music minister James A. Moore was much-lauded recently. He was presented the Texas Choirmaster Award, which is the most prestigious award given by the Texas Choral Directors Association. He is described as “a person who has exhibited unparalleled leadership in the choral field.”

Is he deserving of such an award? Probably. He always did have an incredible voice.

But he should also be known for his lack of leadership in protecting kids and for his role in concealing clergy child molestation.

Moore knew about another minister’s “sexual contact” with a minor, and didn’t warn others. (See church’s court-filed acknowledgment of music minister’s knowledge in ¶ 16) He knew, not only because I told him when I was a kid, but he also knew because the perpetrator himself talked about it. (Moore’s sworn affidavit at ¶ 4) Yet, Moore kept it quiet. And the perpetrator moved on to another church where he continued as a children’s minister.

Years later, Moore had a second chance to do the right thing. He failed all over again. He made excuses. He said he didn’t know “details.” But he knew there was “sexual contact” – shouldn’t that have been enough? He said it was “consensual.” Isn’t that frightening? This is a man who spent his career working with high school kids as a choir director. How can he even imagine that a 29-year old married minister could have “sexual contact” with a 16-year old girl, and that it could somehow be “consensual”? That’s pure, raw, dangerous, arrogant ignorance.

That’s something James A. Moore should also be known for.

And the church Moore works for – First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch – should also be known. It should be known for what it allowed in the past, for what it covered up, and for what it continued to try to cover up many years later. Its pastor Sam Underwood is a man who himself was reported to have sexually abused an adult congregant. (Maybe that helps to explain why secrecy seemed to be his style, even when the report involved clergy child molestation. Just a bad habit?) This blind-eyed church continues to keep both Moore and Underwood as its leaders. Maybe it should be called the church of no accountability.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On my 16th birthday...is that when it started?

On my 16th birthday, I stopped by the parsonage after a day of watching the Ganzer kids. The youth and education minister had invited a bunch of us to his house as a sort of impromptu party. But there wasn’t any cake, and we didn’t play croquet like I thought we would.

We played flag football. I wasn’t athletic and had never played any kind of football. But I didn’t want to whine.

Somehow, over and over again, I wound up face down on the ground with the minister on top of me. He was about 9 inches taller than me, and weighed a lot more, but somehow he couldn’t manage to just pull the flag.

It felt awful. He was all over me and always slow getting off. But I didn’t want to whine. I didn’t want to seem like a wuss. Besides...everyone else seemed to be having a good time.

Is that when I became prey? Is that when it started? I don’t really know.

The kids in the youth group used to play Twister. Somehow, every time my turn came, he would step in, and the next thing I knew, he would be all over me. Maybe that’s when it started...but of course, it was just a game.

Maybe it started when I used to practice the piano in the sanctuary. He started coming in to talk to me. I didn’t really mind, but it made it hard to get my practice time in. Besides, the reason I liked practicing in the sanctuary was because I liked the solitude and the full whole roundness of the sound going into the stillness. So after a while, I just quit practicing at the church as much.

Maybe it started when my dad had back surgery. The youth minister offered to let my sisters and I sleep at his house while my mom stayed overnight at the hospital. It was right after my 15th birthday. The three of us slept in a double bed with my youngest sister in the middle. Did he leer at me while I slept? Or worse?

Was there ever anything at that Baptist church that was just good and clean and wholesome? Or was every bit of it some piece of the minister’s set-up for sexual abuse?

Every memory I have is tainted....every retreat, every bible drill, every camp-out, every mission trip, every choir trip, every prayer group, every ping-pong game....all of it.

But even though the taint bleeds wide, it’s my birthday that always fills me with dread. Even the anticipation of it carries a dark sense of doom.

I don’t really know when I became prey for that Baptist minister. Probably sooner. But it was on my birthday that my brain imprinted a neural link to something really bad...and I think that was it.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Denial (poem of exile and anthem of resistance)

by Giorgos Seferis (translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley & Phillip Sherrard)

On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.

On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life.

Giorgos Seferis (1900-1971) was born in Urla, near Smyrna in Asia Minor. In September 1922, Smyrna was recaptured by the Turks after a two-year Greek occupation, and its Greek population, including Seferis' family, fled. Seferis would not visit Smyrna again until 1950.

I think this poem carries with it a sense of exile. Many of us who are clergy abuse survivors, and survivors of blind-eyed church shaming tactics, feel a sense of exile as well. We often feel exiled, not only from our churches, but also from the entire faith community, and even from that part of our own selves where a strong faith once resided.

After the coup that overthrew the Greek government in 1967, many of Seferis' poems were banned. This one - Denial - was set to music and became an anthem of resistance.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Denial and the BGCT (part 2)

The Baptist General Convention of Texas likes to brag that it does more than any other statewide Baptist organization to fight clergy sex abuse. So what does it do? It keeps a confidential registry of ministers who are reported by churches for sexual abuse. The hitch is that it accepts reports only from churches (not from mere victims), and churches don’t report abuse, and everyone knows it.

Joe Trull, a former seminary professor who helped the BGCT set up the registry, recently confirmed this reality: “Churches don’t have to report abuse cases to the registry and aren’t likely to. In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret.”

So...the BGCT knows that, “in the normal scenario,” churches just try to keep it secret. Yet, when a victim tries to report abuse, what does the BGCT say to the victim? “Go to the church.”

This is an example of DENIAL in action. The BGCT knows the truth, but it refuses to act based on that truth and instead acts based on a fantasy world in which churches behave as the BGCT wishes they would...all the while knowing that, “in the normal scenario,” they don’t.

This sort of DENIAL is hurtful. When the BGCT tells victims to “go to the church”, while knowing that, in reality, most churches try to keep it secret, the BGCT is effectively setting up the victim to be bullied, shamed, intimidated, and silenced by the church all over again. This is what happens in “the normal scenario” because churches “just try to keep it secret.”

Why does the BGCT tell the victim to do something that, “in the normal scenario,” it knows will serve only to revictimize them and cause them greater pain? Because the BGCT is steeped in DENIAL, and rather than acting based on the reality it knows, it acts based on a fantasy that it continues to hope for despite all evidence to the contrary of how churches actually behave “in the normal scenario.”

Not only does this oblivion to reality cause victims of abuse to be revictimized, but it also keeps predators in the pulpit. Clergy predators are made known only when victims speak up. Yet, when victims muster all their courage to speak, only to be bullied back into silence by churches who “just try to keep it secret,” the victims often sink further into despair and further back into their quiet corners of shame. And then they have learned their lesson....and they often don’t try again.

If clergy predators are going to be exposed, then victims’ reports of abuse must be received by people who have the appropriate education, training and experience...and who are outside the accused minister's circle of influence. That’s not happening in Baptist churches, and the BGCT needs to deal with that reality.

Consider this example. Eighteen months ago, a victim tried to report her abuse to the BGCT. Courageously, she spilled forth an account of horrific child sex abuse committed by a Baptist minister. In response, a BGCT honcho sent her a terse email saying essentially that “Baptist churches are all autonomous.” She wrote back, pleading for help because her perpetrator was still in the pulpit and she was afraid he might hurt someone else, but this time, she got no reply at all. The BGCT just ignored her. I guess she was supposed to accept the BGCT's single perfunctory email and go quietly back to her corner.

But she didn’t do that. She has desperately tried to protect others by persisting in her efforts, and she finally filed a civil lawsuit. Yet, still clinging to her hope that the BGCT might someday put deeds with its words, she wrote to the BGCT again just a month ago, pleading once more for help in protecting others.

This time, a BGCT person wrote back that, if she would call their office, a staff member could explain to her “the process of talking to your church so they can file a report.”

Huh? Why tell a victim this when the BGCT already knows that “in the normal scenario,” a church isn’t likely to file any report?

The victim called me up and asked essentially the same question. “How can they be so dense? After all that I’ve been through...after all that I’ve told them...how can the BGCT still imagine that the church is going to do anything? It’s crazy!”

What it is....is DENIAL. Rather than acting based on what it knows to be true, the BGCT acts based on a fantasy. So long as the BGCT continues to engage the fantasy instead of the reality, kids in Baptist churches will not be made any safer from clergy predators.