Sunday, October 28, 2007

Help for clergy victims like taxis to Mars

When I heard the recorded voice of my perpetrator telling a congregation about how blessed he was to work with them in their children’s ministry, I threw up on the spot.

He had been working in children’s ministry all along and no one had stopped him. He had been working in children’s ministry despite my report of being abused and raped as a kid. He had been working in children’s ministry even though my report was substantiated by another minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid. He had been working in children’s ministry even after 18 Southern Baptist leaders in 4 different states were informed about my substantiated report of abuse. He had been working in children’s ministry even though the SBC had told me it had no record of him being in ministry. He had been working in children’s ministry even while the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ lawyer threatened to sue ME instead of doing anything about HIM.

All of those facts were more than I could bear, and I began to slowly unravel.

My friend Elana noticed. She saw how much I was struggling, and she wouldn’t let up about trying to get me to see a counselor.

I contacted several. But each time, it was so difficult that I would back off and wouldn’t try again for weeks.

I even went to a couple appointments, but I didn’t think the person I saw had a clue about clergy abuse, and I became even more discouraged.

It felt as though I was cutting myself open and bleeding all over the place just to try to tell someone even the bare gist of why I needed a counselor. I couldn’t figure out what to say, or how to say it. My throat would clutch and I couldn’t get words out. Even calling for an appointment became an impossible task.

Elana offered to call counselors for me, but I wouldn’t let her. I wanted to be able to hear their voices and get some feeling about them.

So finally, Elana flat-out put the words in my mouth. “Trauma response.”

“You need someone with experience in trauma response,” she said. “That’s what you should ask about."

On our weekly walks, Elana insisted that I practice saying the words: “Do you have experience with trauma response?” It seemed silly, but I did it. I said the sentence over and over until I could get the words out smoothly. I liked it because, that way, I didn't have to start out saying anything at all about church, sex, religion, or ministers.

Finally, I found a good counselor with the right sort of background and experience, and I began to make progress. (I considered myself fortunate to be able to afford counseling. That would be still another problem for many people, but that’s another topic.)

When I realized what a huge hurdle it had been for me to even find an appropriate counselor, and when I thought about how difficult it must also be for others, I asked the Baptist General Convention of Texas to put together a referral list that they could give to clergy abuse victims who contact them. I asked them to simply make a list of counselors in the major cities of Texas who had experience with the dynamics of clergy sex abuse.

I thought a referral list could at least give clergy abuse survivors a starting place for getting help. And it wouldn’t have cost the BGCT one dime. Just a list. A simple list.

They wouldn’t do it.

I might as well have asked them to provide taxis to Mars. That’s how difficult it is to get denominational leaders to provide any help for clergy abuse victims.

The reality of the victims’ suffering has not penetrated the consciousness of Baptist leaders. Until they allow themselves to see that reality and to feel the suffering of the wounded, there will be no effective change in how Baptist leaders address clergy sex abuse.

They must be changed in their hearts before they will change what they do about it.


Anonymous said...

It is amazing that we all live long enough to be able to call ourselves survivors. It is so easy to get stuck in victim mode. Sometimes you feel it would just be better if life would end -- not that you want to die, or not that you do not want to live. Just sometimes the pain can be so overwhelming and crippling and it can take your breath away, that sometimes you just want something, anything, to take the pain away.

Christa Brown said...

Say it loud and say it proud: We are survivors! I believe every abuse survivor who brings him or herself to the point of seeing and confronting such an ugly reality shows courage the likes of which most Southern Baptist leaders can't even imagine. After all, they STILL cannot bring themselves to actually see the full hideous horror of the violence, abuse, and rapes that are committed in their churches and by their ministers. Instead, they find a gazillion ways to minimize, deny and trivialize it, because if they were to actually allow themselves to see it, then the pure raw horror of it would indeed compel action, and that would take some courage and some alteration of the status quo. So their brains wimp-out and go for the easy route of denial instead.

gmommy said...

You're right Christa. Just by facing it, calling it by name,even acknowledging the pain... we ARE showing courage that those in denial cannot.

A minister in the know from my former SBC church recently commented to me that he is blessed by people like me that won't be bullied.
I said...I HAVE been bullied...even broken. But some things are worth the cost.

Those in denial aren't willing to be made uncomfortable or pay the price required to face this evil head on.
It's not a comfortable thing to do. It would then require taking responsibility.

Better to let those already "bullied" by SBC ministers continue to carry the responsibility of this secret sin in the SBC churches.

Anonymous said...

Depending on their circumstances, some people are not able to be made uncomfortable and face the evil head on. You have to get to a certain point yourself. As long as I lived in Memphis around my perpetrators, I still could not even admit there was a problem. I lived in DENIAL until I was 40 years old. It took leaving Memphis and getting me away from those who hurt me, to be able to deal with my childhood abuse.

Christa Brown said...

I believe denial is a normal human response to horror. For those of us who personally experienced such traumatic things, it's how our brains protect us so that we CAN survive.

If people like Phyllis, who personally experienced such trauma, can nevertheless show the extraordinary courage to lift that veil of denial, then why can't Southern Baptist leaders who have NOT personally experienced it show a similar sort of courage? Shouldn't leaders act like leaders? And there should be systems of accountability in place that take into account the normal human response of denial.