Thursday, October 18, 2007

The BGCT's self-delusion

"If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly." - Ronald Reagan

The Baptist General Convention of Texas knows their system for dealing with clergy sex abuse doesn’t work. Yet, they continue with it. What kind of madness is that?

It’s an intellectual disconnect. It's self-delusion. It’s denial.

Of course, it’s easier to countenance that madness when the issue is an abstraction and doesn’t involve you.

But what does it feel like when it’s not an abstraction? What does it feel like when it is “you” who are gaping in wonder at men so mad as to tell you to report your clergy-rapist to his ministerial colleagues and cronies at the church where everyone loves him?

This is sort of like telling a rape victim that she should just go talk to the guys’ buddies who hang out at the bar on the corner. “Just go on down there and tell them all about it and they’ll straighten him out.” Uh-huh.

Or imagine telling a man who woke up to a cross burning in his yard that he should just go talk to those guys in white hoods. “After all, they’re good men – they’re leaders in our community - I’m sure they’ll do the right thing.” Uh-huh.

It makes so little sense to those of us who try to report clergy perpetrators that we sometimes try to suspend belief when we talk with Baptist leaders. We tell ourselves that they just don’t understand. We tell ourselves that we just haven’t found the right person to talk to. We tell ourselves that, if only we try hard enough, we’ll find the right words to make them understand. We tell ourselves that surely they won't leave a child-rapist in the pulpit with no warning to people in the pews. We tell ourselves that surely they’ll come to their senses and choose to protect kids instead of engaging this obvious delusion.

But then....when we finally give up, the air closes in on us like a coffin lid. The darkness surrounds us, and we realize that no one – NO ONE – in this denomination is going to help us.

Either they just don’t really care about protecting kids, or they simply care a great deal more about protecting their own power structure. Either they just don’t really care about helping the wounded, or they simply care a great deal more about helping their colleagues avoid scandal. Why else would they keep turning away wounded victims who attempt to report clergy child molesters and insist that they must go to the church where the perpetrator is the most beloved one?

I don’t pretend to actually know the BGCT’s motivations. I simply know the reality of what is happening.

But of course, they know the reality too. That’s what makes it so bizarre. As the BGCT’s Executive Director Charles Wade expressly said: “When churches discover such behavior, it is frequently swept under the carpet and kept a secret, thus doing further damage.” (Broken Trust at p. 5)

So BGCT leaders know full-well that churches “just try to keep it secret,” and yet BGCT leaders keep pretending that something other than that is going to happen. It’s a very dangerous delusion that causes a lot of damage.


Anonymous said...

My experience at the next church we went to after the abuse was that we were not allowed to be in any leadership role again because we talked about the previous abuse in a public forum away from the church. We were told it might offend a prospective member. That is like being abused again. That promotes the secrecy.

Anonymous said...

My family and I attended a church for about 5 years. During that time an x-rated movie was shown in the chapel on a staff member's lunch break. A church member walked in, reported it and it was dealt with immediately. Another time there was a drug problem and an undercover operation took care of that. When sex abuse was reported at an SBC church, I had no reason to think it would not be handled quickly. Boy was I wrong. It was swept under the carpet. I made the comment that God would only put up with dirty housekeeping for so long. I had not heard of Charles Wade or the book called Broken Trust yet.

Christa Brown said...

will c.: So many abuse survivors start out thinking the same as you - that they'll report it and it will be properly handled. But sadly, they're usually wrong. It seems to be the very nature of the group dynamic on clergy sex abuse that churches circle the wagons around the accused minister and vilify the accuser. And denominational leaders either join the circled wagons or head for the hinterlands, leaving the abuse survivors to fend for themselves all alone.

anonymous: Dozens of abuse survivors and survivor families have told me similar stories. Good Christian people, good long-time Southern Baptists, wounded people trying to do what's right, and they're the ones who get punished and shunned for talking about the abuse rather than church leaders doing something about the perpetrators.