Friday, September 28, 2007

Baptist guidelines leave kids "by the wayside"

Last week, SBC spokesman Roger “Sing” Oldham told the Tennessean that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to “develop recommendations and set up guidelines” to combat clergy sex abuse.

That’s nice talk, but we’ve heard it before.

Back in 1994, a terrible case of clergy child molestation got a lot of press in Florida. It involved Southern Baptist minister Keith Geren, who eventually admitted to abusing at least 17 boys at three different churches: Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, First Baptist Church of Lakeland, and Park Avenue Baptist Church in Titusville. Even after Geren admitted to Wayside’s senior pastor that he had abused 10 boys, Geren wasn’t fired. And even though he told a minister at Park Avenue about his “temptation” to abuse teen boys, no one stopped him from working with boys. In fact, he was cleared to be a guardian at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, a residential center for troubled teens.

When this story came to light, the Southern Baptist Convention said in 1994 that it was “working on guidelines for just such situations.”

Fast forward to 1998, when the press covered abuse allegations against several prominent Southern Baptist pastors in Texas. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said “it’s clearly a widespread and growing problem.” He told the press that his commission “will formulate suggestions for a possible denomination-wide response.”

And the Baptist General Convention of Texas reacted to those 1998 headlines by having a task force develop “guidelines” for churches and “suggested procedures for hiring and screening clergy.”

Now fast forward to 2007. The Southern Baptist Convention tells ABC’s 20/20 that the problem is “neither widespread nor systemic.” Southern Baptist president Frank Page says he doesn’t believe it’s a “large and systemic” problem.

So does this mean that the admitted “widespread” problem of 1998 has been addressed? No. It just means that Southern Baptist officials have stuck their heads in the sand even deeper.

In the intervening years, countless more kids have been molested, raped and sodomized by Southern Baptist ministers. Countless more congregants have been betrayed and countless more families torn asunder. There have been many, many more headlines, and there have also been many traumatized victims who barely whispered the abuse and didn't make headlines.

Richard Land was right back in 1998 when he said “it’s clearly a widespread and growing problem.” It’s a problem that clearly hasn’t gotten any better.

What good did the SBC’s so-called “guidelines” from 1994 do?

What became of that “denomination-wide response” that Richard Land talked about in 1998?

And why should we think that the SBC’s current plan for “guidelines” is going to be any more effective than their 1994 and 1998 plans were? Are more brochures on “screening procedures” going to have any greater impact now than they did back in 1998? Is all of this just still more talk from denominational leaders who have already shown themselves to be big on talk and small on action when it comes to clergy sex abuse?

It is long-past the time when Southern Baptist leaders should have realized that, to rid their ranks of clergy predators, it will take a lot more than a few brochures with “recommendations and guidelines.”

There is no better place to start than by warning parents about ministers who are proven, admitted, or credibly accused child molesters.

If Southern Baptist officials won’t even warn people about the clergy child molesters they’ve been told about, why should anyone imagine that they’ll be able to stop the clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about?

They can issue “guidelines” from now to kingdom-come, but if they fail to warn people about identified clergy child molesters, all the guidelines in the world will amount to mere window-dressing.

Fast forward to a decade in the future. Will Southern Baptist officials still be talking about “guidelines”? How many more kids will have been horribly hurt while this denomination’s leaders bragged about a few brochures?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Religious rape and cult-like thinking

Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted of rape-by-proxy for forcing a 14-year old follower to marry her 19-year old cousin.

Across America, many are probably wondering how someone like Jeffs could develop such a following. Why do people surrender themselves to such a cult-like sect? It’s now clear that Jeffs is a criminal, and his followers look like gullible oddballs.

But I have sympathy for his followers. I know first-hand what a powerful weapon religion can be. I learned that lesson among Southern Baptists.

When Southern Baptist ministers use scripture for their own perverse purposes to rape adolescents, is it so very different from what happened in the FLDS church? And how much different is it when countless other Southern Baptist leaders use their own twist on the autonomy doctrine as a religious excuse to do nothing about those ministers who rape the young? This also seems pretty cult-like to me.

Perhaps it’s a little different from the FLDS scenario, but not much.

Dozens of Southern Baptist abuse victims have told me about how their perpetrator insisted that what they were doing was sanctioned by God. Others were told that they were “already married in God’s eyes.” Still others were told that it was a “test of faith.” Many were told all of that….and more…by Southern Baptist ministers whom they were raised to believe were God’s mouthpieces.

I’ve heard similar stories so often that I sometimes wonder whether there’s a seminary course that teaches this sick stuff. I can just imagine the course title: “Biblical Rape 101: How to twist the scripture to get young flesh and silence them when you’re done.”

And what about all those other Southern Baptist ministers whose inaction makes them a sort of accomplice to the crime? In my own case, the music minister knew that Gilmore was abusing me. Gilmore himself had talked about it with the music minister! Yet, the music minister did nothing and, as a result, Gilmore grew more emboldened and the abuse became more severe and I wound up being far more traumatized. Why should that music minister not be considered an accomplice to rape?

With so much sexual abuse and so many cover-ups and so many religious excuses, why should Southern Baptists consider themselves any better than the FLDS people? Southern Baptists may seem more mainstream, but their religion is also being widely hijacked for perverse purposes.

Religious rape of the young has nothing to do with the intelligence or stupidity of the victims. And it sure as heck has nothing to do with immorality on the part of the victims -- as so many of them are so wrongly told. It has to do with faith and trust.

In Southern Baptist churches all across America, trusting faith-filled young people have been given over as sacrificial lambs to scripture-quoting clergy-predators. Meanwhile, the other shepherds look the other way and refuse to hear or see that anything is amiss. If the wounded lambs dare to bleat, the shepherds lash out at them with still more religious doctrine. Autonomy. Autonomy. Autonomy.

I don’t understand. I don’t think any rational person would. It takes cult-like thinking to elevate the protection of autonomy over the protection of kids.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kudos to Baptist abuse survivor Debbie Vasquez!

In a Bible drill, Debbie Vasquez would definitely beat me. She’s a woman who loves the word of God and loves her faith.

She’s also a Southern Baptist clergy abuse survivor who finally got fed up.

Debbie’s story is especially close to my heart because she first contacted SNAP after seeing TV news coverage about my own case. When I see how strong and outspoken Debbie has become, it allows me to think that perhaps the pain of going public with my own case was worthwhile.

I’m embarrassed now to admit how impatient I once felt with Debbie. Like so many other clergy abuse survivors, she wanted desperately to believe that her experience could be used to make other kids safer. And for such a long time, she persisted in believing that the Baptist General Convention of Texas would want to help her. She tried and tried to communicate with the BGCT, and she couldn’t believe they wouldn’t do anything to warn people about her perpetrator, who was still in the pulpit.

Of course, part of why I felt so frustrated with Debbie was because the persistence of her belief in the BGCT was so similar to what I myself had once felt. Watching how things unfolded with Debbie was like watching my own history re-enacted. The Baptist General Convention of Texas was just as big on talk and short on action as it had always been. People there weren’t any better educated than before, and kids in Baptist churches were still being left at risk. Nothing had changed.

But as time went on, something did change. Debbie changed.

She grew weary of the easy talk of Baptist leaders.

Debbie stood with me at a press conference in Dallas during last year’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She carried a print-out of pertinent Bible verses in her hand.

She then stood by my side as we talked with a BGCT leader who rambled on about how most ministers who commit “sexual misconduct” are mere “wanderers” and not “predators.” When I pointed out that Debbie and I were abused as kids, such that there could be no doubt about the predatory nature of it, his eyes simply glazed over. I guess we didn’t fit his abstract theory, and so he just continued his monologue.

Months later, when Debbie saw press statements of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, proudly saying how they were “cracking down” on sex abuse, Debbie called it what it was – “a publicity stunt.” She knew it was just talk and that kids were still just as much at risk.

She wrote to Frank Page and Augie Boto at the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, and for a long time, she kept their responses confidential. But again, she ultimately grew weary with the lack of action.

When Debbie realized that Boto was the SBC staff person assigned to assist the committee on the clergy sex abuse study, she wondered how Boto could possibly be the right person for the job, given the things he had said. Last week, she turned his emails over to the press. Bravo Debbie!

Shouldn’t that committee have assistance from someone who doesn’t have such a negative attitude? That was Debbie’s essential question, and it’s a good one.

Given that 8600 Southern Baptist messengers voted for the predator database study, shouldn’t the committee be getting advice from people who aren’t already biased against it? Doesn’t the vote of 8600 Baptist believers deserve at least that much respect?

You can read more about Debbie’s story in the Denton Record-Chronicle and in her own words. Be sure to notice Dickie Amyx’s quote at the bottom of the Chronicle story: “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

It’s a sad day for Southern Baptists when that’s the sort of excuse their ministers put up…and nobody does anything.

Debbie says the abuse began when she was 14, and I know for sure which person I believe. But even if you take Dickie Amyx at his own word, if you’re a parent with kids in a Southern Baptist church, wouldn’t you like to think that someone in leadership would DO something about this? Yes? Well that’s what we want too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Test of Faith

A young man testified that, when he was 15, Southern Baptist pastor Steven Haney convinced him to have sex as a “test of faith.”

I winced.

The same “test of faith” tactic was used by my own Southern Baptist clergy-perpetrator.

In the beginning, I said “no” and resisted. What he wanted made no sense to me. But he told me I wasn’t supposed to try to understand, and that God wanted me to live by faith.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

He barraged me with Bible verses. They were his weapon of choice.

Sometimes he would quote from Song of Solomon. As a kid, what was I to think? After all, it was in the Bible.

Nowadays I can’t even open to that book without tasting vomit in my throat.

Every step of the way, he insisted it was God’s will.

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch over your souls.”

As a 16-year old girl, who was I to question a man of God? My role was to be submissive.

He said he had prayed long and hard about it, and that it was all part of God’s plan. I was to be a helpmate for him.

I didn’t understand, but he said men in the Bible sometimes had more than one wife and even had concubines.

The Mary argument really confused me. “Where would we all be if Mary hadn’t trusted God even when her special role was something she couldn’t understand?” he asked.

Eventually, I set aside attempts at understanding. I began to feel special and chosen.

When he stressed the importance of keeping it secret, he explained that it was because others were less mature in their faith and wouldn’t understand. With juvenile arrogance, I felt proud to be a more mature believer.

As the abuse escalated, I would still balk sometimes. But he would chastise me with “Oh ye of little faith.”

He said God was testing me, and I wanted to ace God’s test with a gold star.

“Wherever He leads, I’ll go.” I sang it with such fervor. I was a girl who would have laid down on that altar without so much as a whimper and let Abraham plunge in a knife.

When I was compliant, he would tell me how much God loved me. That blasphemy was the worst and still haunts me. I wanted so badly to be pleasing in God’s eyes.

But when I cut my hair, it made him angry. He said I should have asked permission.

Perhaps because of his anger, or perhaps because the music minister knew about the abuse by then and did nothing, he was emboldened. His final assault was particularly degrading and brutish.

But physical degradation wasn’t enough to satisfy him. He wanted complete spiritual degradation as well.

He repeatedly told me that I was “the serpent” and “Satan’s ally.” He said that I had allowed Satan to enter in and that I had Satan living within me. I was terrified. I believed I would burn forever in a literal hellfire.

He directed me to kneel in his office, and while I cried on my knees, he stood over me, praying for God to cast Satan from me and cleanse my soul.

I didn’t feel cleansed. I felt as though I was so low and evil that I should slither away on the ground.

And so I crawled under a rock and hid. I hid from everyone. I hid from myself.

A cocoon of darkness enshrouded me, and I didn’t feel even a hint of God’s presence again for a long, long, long, long time.

The Bible-backed test of faith led me straight to hell.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Disappointment with religious leaders

Since the meeting last Monday in Nashville, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been running through my head. Maybe thoughts of MLK were triggered by nothing more than the fact of sitting in that all-white, all-male room of Southern Baptist officials. Maybe they were triggered by some of the things that were said there by men who profess to care about clergy sex abuse.

These are excerpts of MLK's Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He was answering criticism from clergymen.

"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate....who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"...; who constantly advises to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed... before it can be cured.

More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love.... Was not Amos an extremist for justice.... Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel.... The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.

I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents...and too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

In the midst of blatant injustices...I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love....Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body....

I hope the church...will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not...I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle...even if our motives are at present misunderstood."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Autonomy as tool for evil

"The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is
for good men to do nothing."

When “congregational autonomy” is used as an excuse to do nothing, it becomes a tool for evil.

Southern Baptist leaders claim they’re different from Catholic bishops because they don’t “assign” clergy to new posts the way Catholic bishops do. So, because they don’t actually “assign” ministers, Southern Baptist leaders claim to have no power to do anything about reports of clergy sex abuse. They wash their hands of it and say “not my problem.”

And by doing nothing, Southern Baptist leaders allow child-molesting ministers to move on from church to church. That’s the reality of what happens.

They allow child-molesting ministers to move on from church to church even after victims make desperate attempts to report them.

It’s as though this denomination’s leaders all have “bystander syndrome” when it comes to clergy sex abuse. No one does anything. They don’t want to get involved.

For a clergy abuse victim, it’s as though you can scream “Rape!” into all the windows of this denomination, and its leaders will simply shut the blinds and turn out the lights.

And while you’re bleeding-out in the denomination’s courtyard, your clergy-perpetrator will strut on down the block to a new church with unsuspecting prey.

Southern Baptist officials don’t “assign” clergy. That’s true enough. But instead of looking at it from the perspective of Baptist officials, look at it from the victim’s perspective. What difference does it make whether a child-molesting minister is “assigned” to a new church or simply “allowed” to move to a new church?

A kid who is molested isn’t going to hurt any less because the clergy-perpetrator was “allowed” to move to his church instead of being “assigned” there.

The physical pain will be just the same. The psychological wound will be just as profound.

The trauma of being sexually abused by a trusted minister won’t be some over-intellectualized pseudo-theological abstraction for the kid. It will be very, very real.

“Allowed” or “assigned.” What difference does it really make?

By using “autonomy” as an excuse to do nothing, Southern Baptist men give evil all that it needs.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Retraumatizing horror of Baptist leaders' complicity

In Ruth’s new Survivor Story, she tells about how she got lost going home from church, even though she lived just a few blocks and even though she had been going to that church for 25 years. She couldn’t believe how horribly her church had handled a clergy abuse report, how church leaders had covered things up, and how they had minimized such serious offenses.

I could really identify with Ruth’s disorientation.

When I finally started coming unraveled, I managed one day to back into my own car in my own driveway. The car at the end of the driveway was parked exactly where it was always parked, and yet somehow, I forgot it was there, and when I looked in the rearview mirror (which I swear I did), I somehow didn’t see it. I backed the car in the garage straight into that car in the driveway.

It was pretty humbling.

This stuff really messes with your head, and my brain just wasn’t holding it all together during that time.

It had been eight months since I reported my perpetrator to church and denominational leaders, and then I found him still working in children’s ministry in Florida. Despite the SBC’s letter saying they had no record of him, he had actually been in ministry all along, and at very prominent Southern Baptist churches. Despite another minister’s confirmation of my abuse and despite the BGCT’s determination that there was “substantial evidence,” no one did anything to stop that man from working with kids. That realization pretty much unglued me.

Then when I actually heard his voice, recorded in the pulpit of still another Florida church and telling them how blessed he was to be working with them in their children’s ministry, I threw up on the spot. I was sick for weeks.

About that time was when I started seeing fear in my husband’s eyes, and I knew I had put it there. I hated that. He was doing everything he could, but the fear was still there. He knew I was too close to the edge, and he wasn’t sure whether I would keep my grip or let go. I wasn’t sure either.

The reason I came unraveled during that time wasn’t only because of what the perpetrator did to me when I was a kid. I came unraveled because I then realized how many other Southern Baptist leaders had ignored me, misled me, and threatened me….when all the while he was still working in children’s ministry and no one ….NO ONE….thought it mattered.

It was bad enough when it was just a matter of church and denominational leaders treating ME awful. But when I realized that he had actually been in children’s ministry all along, and that no one was going to protect those kids either….I could hardly handle it....

I was retraumatized by it. The original trauma was re-triggered and enlarged by the horror of realizing that no one even thought it mattered enough to do anything. It wasn’t just about the perpetrator. It was about all the other Baptist leaders.

The silent complicity of the many. The cowardly cover-ups. The blind-eyed do-nothing response of so many leaders. THAT is what keeps kids from being safe in Southern Baptist churches. And THAT is what inflicts such greater wounds on so many abuse survivors.

It is so much easier for Southern Baptist leaders to simply blame the perpetrators and never look beyond. But if this problem is going to be effectively addressed, Southern Baptist leaders must also look in the mirror and see their own part in this pattern of horror.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Running both ways at once

I’ll be making another trip to Nashville next week. So, I am weighted with the thought of again standing in that room with men who mostly seem profoundly uncaring and oblivious. I dread it. It’s painful. Yet, I have come to the belief that this reality must be shoved in their faces until they eventually see it.

In repeatedly choosing to put myself in front of them (and it IS my choice), I sometimes feel as though I have chosen to run straight into an oncoming train.

That train carries not only the trauma of my own experience, both near-past and far-past, but also the trauma-filled stories from so many of you. They are stories that I now carry with me in my head and heart.

I am consciously choosing over and over again to confront this train of horror full-front and head-on. Wouldn't any normal person run the other way?

I don’t think most of those men in Nashville have any clue about the extent to which they themselves are part of that train of horror. They think it’s about the perpetrators. But what so many of us know is that the horror is also about them – the ones who do nothing. It’s why the train is so big and powerful.

It’s not the perpetrators that haunt me. I know they’re out there. You know they’re out there. Plenty of them are standing in Southern Baptist pulpits. That’s the evil reality that I can wrap my head around and grasp.

What haunts me is the silence of the many. That’s the evil reality that I cannot wrap my head around. It’s too big. It’s too pervasive. It’s too powerful.

So many Southern Baptist leaders have known about perpetrators and found excuses to stay silent. So many Southern Baptist leaders have chosen to do absolutely nothing when so many of us tried to report abuse. So many Southern Baptist leaders have answered reports of abuse with uncaring "not my problem" responses at best and with appallingly ignorant responses at worst. Either way, they were horrifically hurtful responses. And all of it is an evil reality that I simply cannot accept.

So...I continue to run head-long into this a though by forcing them to see me, I can force them to see themselves and the horror of what they’re allowing in Southern Baptist churches.

But sometimes I think maybe the train will finally just run me down. Given how entrenched the pattern of denial is in this denomination, that seems more likely than the train hitting the brakes or switching onto a different track, doesn’t it?

Maybe that’s why I’ve started doing more real running lately. Psychologically, I keep running head-long into the train, but physically, I’ve started running harder and longer as though I could simultaneously run away from it. It feels as though I’m running both directions at once.

Maybe I’m trying to outrun physically what I can’t outrun psychologically. Maybe I’m trying to outrun my own nightmare. Maybe I’m just running.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The man who unlocked the cathedral

My friend and long-time mentor, Dan O’Donnell, died on September 11, 2005. I’ve changed his name to preserve his children’s privacy, but it’s still a story I want to share.

As a wounded Marine on Iwo Jima, he heard a chaplain whisper, “If today is to be your last, you should begin it with a prayer.” As was his nature, Dan took the words to heart. So he spent the rest of his life starting every day that way.

Dan was surely the all-time oldest and longest-enduring altar boy. Every morning at precisely 5:25 a.m., he turned the key in the lock at the downtown cathedral and set about the humble task of making things ready for the early morning mass. Then he said his own prayers. A lot of people didn't know about this quiet habit of his.

Dan’s faith was profound and constant, but never, ever arrogant. His wife of over 50 years was agnostic, but Dan didn’t doubt God’s love for her. He would have thought that presumptuous.

He was the son of an impoverished shoe salesman, and he never forgot his origins.

Dan began his career as a journalist, and even did some speech-writing for LBJ. But he decided to become a lawyer after covering the efforts of a young woman to get into law school in the 1950s. That strong-willed woman eventually became his wife. He loved her with the same constancy that he loved God.

Dan wasn’t one to shirk from a fight. He took on more high-risk cases than any lawyer I ever knew. He took on one or two that even I tried to talk him out of, not because the cause wasn’t true and right, but because I could see how the law stacked up and could figure the odds. Sometimes the dragon just has too much fire.

But Dan was willing to go after almost any dragon even if it meant getting burned. Lots of trial lawyers ease up when they’ve made some money, but Dan was just the opposite. The more successful he got, the more he felt like it was his duty to take on the kinds of cases no one else would. “How will the law ever get any better if we don’t try to push it some?” he’d ask.

Of course, he was Irish, which helped explain his attitude. I loved that about him. He always signed papers in green ink, and he kept Bells of Ireland in his office.

Dan was a lion of a lawyer. During cross-exam, he could grip the throat of a lying corporate executive and rip the truth right out of his mouth. It was something to see.

When Dan died, the news articles talked about what a flamboyant lawyer he was. Combative and controversial, they said. But that wasn’t how I thought of him.

The man I remember is the man who turned the key in the lock at the cathedral every morning. The man I remember is the man who loved people – really loved them. He knew the name of everyone who worked at the courthouse, and the names of their kids.

The man I remember is the man who was equally at ease talking to Presidents as he was to paupers, and he might have found a pauper more interesting.

He loved the poor. He loved truth and justice. And he fought for underdogs.

Sure, he was a great lawyer. But most of the good he did – and he did a mighty lot of it – was quiet and behind the scenes.

The bagpipes played Amazing Grace and Danny Boy.

I miss him.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Episcopal example of action

The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday on how the Episcopal diocese of Texas handled a report of clergy sex abuse involving a priest who worked at Episcopal schools and churches in Austin and Houston. Here is what the diocese did:

  • It hired an independent investigatory firm, with experience in clergy sex abuse investigations.
  • It took on the burden of tracking down people whose school years coincided with the priests' years of employment.
  • It also notified parishioners in both cities “in an effort to determine if there were any other victims and to offer the Church’s assistance.”
  • It mailed letters to faculty, staff and church families, informing them of the sexual abuse allegations. It also mailed letters to former students and families.

As a result of the diocese’s outreach efforts, others brought forward accounts of abuse. A total of nine made written reports, and the diocese received anonymous phone calls from still more people claiming abuse.

  • Two high-level church officials personally contacted those who reported abuse and offered assistance, along with an apology.
  • Finally, the diocese made a public apology. Here is part of what it said:

“Despite the passage of time, the diocese has a moral and ethical obligation to seek out the truth, deal appropriately with past misconduct, and aid all who were hurt by Tucker’s actions and the actions of the Church.”

For all of you who have attempted to report abuse to Southern Baptist church and denominational leaders, can you even imagine what it would be like to hear someone say such a thing and then act like they meant it? I can’t.

Do Southern Baptist leaders even recognize any moral or ethical obligation with respect to clergy sex abuse? Do they ever make an outreach effort to try to find other victims? Do they ever freely offer assistance to the wounded?

I haven’t seen any of those things happen in Southern Baptist circles.

I’ve heard from so many of you who have tried to report abuse, not only to church deacons and national leaders, but also to Southern Baptist officials in state conventions all across the country - from Florida, to Georgia, to Missouri, to Texas, to Oklahoma. The immoral, do-nothing response seems to be the same everywhere among Southern Baptist leaders. I have yet to see a single instance in which an abuse survivor was given assistance. Nor have I seen any effort anywhere in this denomination to try to reach out and find other victims. Reported perpetrators stay in their pulpits, and no one seems to care whether there might be other victims.

Instead of helping the victims, they preach to them about “forgiveness.” They lecture them on “autonomy.” They shame them and call them “divisive.”

Even worse, girls have been called “tramps” (and other things I simply won’t say). And adolescent boys sodomized by adult Baptist ministers have been sermonized on homosexuality when they try to report it.

I would not have believed such extraordinary self-righteous ignorance was possible in this day and time, if I hadn’t heard so many similar accounts.

The Episcopal diocese ended its statement by saying that “the Church remains committed to its mission to seek justice, peace, and healing.”

As best I can tell, those are not values that Southern Baptist leaders hold dear. They may say “peace,” but in truth, “there is no peace.”

Friday, September 7, 2007

Myth of the money-grubber victim

Until recently, most priest abuse lawsuits in Missouri got resolved for between $15,000 and $40,000, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday. This is the typical amount in most states, and my rough impression is that it averages even less in cases involving Baptist clergy.

People hear more about the big settlements in the few states that have favorable laws – states such as California. But these Missouri numbers are what it’s like in most places.

Well…$20,000 or so isn’t exactly chump change. Is that what you’re thinking?

Consider this. To even get started, the victim often has to put up several thousand dollars or more of their own money in investigatory costs, court costs, and court reporter fees. (It’s not as if the church or denomination is going to help you find the guy.) Then, if you wind up getting some amount from the lawsuit (and many get nothing), the attorney will take about 40 percent (and more-than-likely it will be well-earned since church lawyers, who get paid by the hour, tend to make these cases as difficult as possible). What’s left after the expenses and the attorney’s percentage is usually not even enough to cover the victim’s counseling costs. Maybe around $8000.

Once again, Baptist victims are at a disadvantage to Catholic victims. Most dioceses now provide funds for counseling as a matter of moral obligation and regardless of what may happen in any lawsuit. But for Baptist victims, any money for counseling comes out of the lawsuit’s recovery.

So why bother? For Baptist abuse victims, it is virtually the only way to bring a clergy-perpetrator into the light and warn others. The denomination provides no means for reporting abuse; the perpetrators’ churches are almost always hostile to the victim; and Baptist leaders consistently turn a blind-eye and do nothing.

This leaves the victim with a lousy choice. (A) You can finally just accept that Baptist leaders aren’t going to do anything, give up, and walk away while your perpetrator stays in the pulpit with other kids still looking up to him and trusting him. (B) You can put yourself through the misery of filing a lawsuit about something profoundly personal and deeply traumatic, and with little chance of success.

If you choose (A), you’ll continue to have nightmares about him doing it to others, but maybe the nightmares will wane after awhile…or maybe they'll just blend in with your other nightmares...or maybe you’ll be able to numb yourself to it somehow. If you choose (B), church lawyers will probably make your life a living hell, but maybe the lawsuit will allow you to gather enough documentation or testimony that a reporter will write about it, allowing you to expose your perpetrator and warn others.

I don’t blame victims whichever choice they pick. I blame the denomination for refusing to provide any other choice.

If you do file a lawsuit, then you’ll be castigated by people who say you’re doing it just for the money…even though the reality is that there is seldom much money to be gained. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out, state laws make it almost impossible for victims to win, and churches know this. It has nothing to do with the truth of the victims’ claims. It’s just because the psychological trauma makes most victims too slow about bringing their claims.

In Texas, many victims can’t even find lawyers who will take their case if they’re older than 28, which most clergy abuse victims are by the time they’re talking about it. For most lawyers, it’s just too obvious that these aren’t likely to be money-making cases.

But still the myth persists that victims are in it just for the money.

So ask yourself this. If you’re a parent, is this an opportunity you would want for your kid -- to be repeatedly molested, raped or forcibly sodomized by a trusted minister for the lucky chance to possibly recover $8000 in counseling costs many years later in their traumatized life? No? Then how much would it take? What amount would be enough to make you think it was a good opportunity?

That’s a question Southern Baptist president Frank Page ought to ask himself the next time his brain-disconnected mouth decides to publicly attack clergy abuse victims as “opportunists.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Write to the Committee

“The Southern Baptist Convention does not have the power to prevent what you have described.”

Those words were in a recent email from the SBC’s long-time attorney, Jim Guenther. It was forwarded to me by an abuse survivor, who had written the SBC to tell about the sexual abuse inflicted on him and another boy by a Southern Baptist minister, about its effect on his life, and about the fact that other church and denominational leaders knew and did nothing. The reported perpetrator is still in ministry.

The survivor wrote to the SBC addresses on the StopBaptistPredators website, and I guess it got forwarded to Guenther because no one else wanted to address it.

Guenther’s words should be cause for serious concern. He is a much-respected adviser for the SBC’s committee that is supposedly addressing the clergy sex abuse issue.

If Guenther believes that the SBC “does not have the power to prevent” clergy sex abuse or church leaders’ blind-eyed responses, then it seems unlikely that Guenther will be urging the committee to take strong action. If he believes what he says, I imagine he will be telling the committee that the SBC simply “does not have the power.”

With advice like that, nothing is likely to change within this denomination. Clergy child molesters will continue to move from church to church, and kids will bear the price of leaders’ professed powerlessness.

This is why it is critical that the committee-members seek advice from outside sources. For starters, they need to talk with leaders in other faith groups who have already been down this road and who found ways to institute accountability measures, even when faced with similar sorts of “no power” excuses.

It’s clear that ordinary Baptist believers want something done about this problem. Over 8600 messengers supported Rev. Wade Burleson’s clergy predator database motion at the convention. Yet, if the committee hears only from its usual advisers, it doesn’t seem likely that anything actually will get done.

Here’s what else Guenther said to this survivor: “Just as you had no power to control the man you say abused you, nor the churches who may have decided to employ him, you, like the Convention, have no legal liability either for anything he may have done.”

Did you get that? He’s comparing the SBC’s purported lack of power to the lack of power that a kid has -- a kid who was intentionally and deliberately groomed and abused by a clergy child molester. And while Guenther disclaims power as a way of disclaiming “legal liability,” I can’t help but think he may be overlooking the more important issue of moral responsibility.

In any event, do you really believe this huge organization has no greater power to prevent clergy child molesters than does a kid? I certainly don’t. But my view hardly matters. What’s important here is that Guenther apparently believes this, and he’s a person advising the committee.

Write to the committee members. Tell them to invite advice from others and to seek guidance from outsiders.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The inbred overbred autonomy doctrine

For 6 years, a convicted child molester was pastor and minister at FBC-Romeoville. Deacons knew. Other ministers knew. A denominational official knew. Yet, nothing was done until a minister anonymously contacted SNAP, and SNAP got the media involved. Meanwhile, kids were marching into Vacation Bible School at a church with a registered sex offender in the pulpit.

You might have thought that, when this sordid story came to light, Southern Baptist leaders would publicly voice their outrage and rebuke the church. You might have imagined that Southern Baptist leaders would try to figure out where their system went wrong and how a registered sex offender could stay in a Baptist pulpit for so long with so many people knowing.

But nooooooo – none of that happened.

There should have been a huge, collective “OUCH” from Southern Baptist leaders, but instead they shrugged and recited their mantra of “Baptist churches are autonomous.” We have “no authority to intervene,” they said.

In letters to the editor and blog comments, people outside the faith group expressed outrage. But many who self-identified as Baptist simply yawned and said “nothing can be done.” The contrast was dramatic.

All religions have beliefs that to the outside eye seem odd. But for Southern Baptists to elevate church autonomy above kids’ safety makes autonomy into a faith-tradition that is not only odd, but dangerous.

In essence, Southern Baptist leaders are contending that the Bible dictates church autonomy and therefore, that the Bible gives denominational leaders the right to say "not my problem" when clergy child molesters stand in Baptist pulpits.

But where exactly in the Bible does it say that autonomy trumps kids’ safety? Where does it say that Southern Baptist leaders get a Biblical pass to turn a blind-eye to clergy child molesters?

What kind of god would carve that in stone? Huh?

And where exactly are the precise Biblical parameters of this oh-so-sacred autonomy doctrine?

If that Romeoville church had put an openly gay pastor in the pulpit, would other church and denominational leaders have turned a blind-eye for 6 years? No way.

So….if autonomy doesn’t prevent Southern Baptist leaders from taking action against churches that hire gay pastors - or churches that hire women pastors - why does autonomy prevent them from doing anything about churches that put convicted child molesters in the pulpit?

It looks like their version of autonomy is really just a manifestation of their own agenda. When it serves their ends, they side-step autonomy, but when it doesn’t, they use it as an excuse to do nothing. This degrades their own doctrine when Southern Baptist leaders pervert it to protect themselves instead of protecting kids.

Such a self-serving version of autonomy isn’t Biblical or Christian. It’s just an inbred, overbred hairless creature that they call a “dog,” but any true dog-lover can see that it’s really a mutant of their own making.