Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Protecting the Innocent"

Next Monday, at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Sonny Spurger will lead a workshop called “Protecting the Innocent.” He'll talk about “how to keep your own children and those in your church safe against sexual predators.”

It seems surreal that Sonny Spurger would be the person to lead such a workshop. He's "all hat no cattle."

In handling clergy sex abuse, Sonny’s role is like the “good cop” role in a twisted sort of good cop/bad cop routine that the BGCT plays with clergy abuse victims. Sonny dishes out pastoral pats on the head and effectively says “oh boo hoo.”

But Sonny also acts as the BGCT’s crisis intervention specialist for churches. In that role, he often refers churches to the BGCT’s attorney, who then goes to work to try to make the “problem” go away. In effect, Sonny is a sort of front-man for this other guy who plays the “bad cop” role. (The BGCT’s attorney reminds me a lot of the Mr. Wolfe, character in the movie “Pulp Fiction.” Remember him? The guy who “takes care of problems.”)

How does the BGCT’s attorney try to make the problem go away for the church? One way is by threatening to sue the victim. He does that, even while knowing that the victim’s report of clergy child molestation is substantiated by another minister. He does that, even while the known clergy-perpetrator continues working in children’s ministry.

Does that sound like a good way to “protect the innocent”?

If the threat of legal recourse doesn’t silence the victim, then the BGCT’s attorney tries to get the victim’s signature on a secrecy agreement. We’ve talked with enough people to know that he’s actually been doing this for over a decade with clergy abuse victims. But the BGCT’s attorney doesn’t try to deny it. He is so blind to how morally reprehensible this is that he himself recently described these sorts of agreements as being “standard.”

So his “standard” method is to wear down the victim, who is usually a person in desperate need of counseling, and then get them to sign a secrecy agreement. That silences the victim and saves the church from scandal. All too often, it also allows the perpetrator to stay in his pulpit.

Does that sound like a good way to “protect the innocent”?

For Sonny Spurger to talk about “protecting the innocent” while, in reality, the BGCT continues to engage this good cop/bad cop treatment of clergy abuse victims is disingenuous.

For Sonny Spurger to talk about “protecting the innocent” while, in reality, the BGCT fails to warn people in the pews about reported clergy child molesters is duplicitous.

For Sonny Spurger to talk about “protecting the innocent” while, in reality, the BGCT continues to keep a secret file with the names of child molesting ministers against whom there was “substantial evidence” is downright dangerous.

If the BGCT won’t even warn people in the pews about the clergy child molesters they’ve already been told about, why should anyone imagine that the BGCT will be able “protect the innocent” against the clergy child molesters they don’t yet know about?

Spurger’s co-leader for the workshop is Emily Prevost, who is on the BGCT’s congregational leadership team. When the BGCT announced today that Spurger will be retiring next January, Prevost praised Spurger as being “the presence of Christ for churches in times of distress.”

As someone who has personally experienced Spurger’s handling of clergy sex abuse, I absolutely disagree with Prevost.

I believe the actual "presence of Christ” would have been very different in those churches. Christ would have loudly turned the tables upside down in some of the churches where Spurger chose to quietly intervene. But of course Christ wasn’t much concerned with appearances and public relations the way the BGCT seems to be.

And Christ would have gone to work to help heal the wounded, not to revictimize them with strong-arm tactics and silencing strategies.

And Christ wouldn’t just talk about “protecting the innocent.” He would actually do it.


Anonymous said...

Silencing the victim is so ugly. Silencing the truth was not something Jesus did, but it was something His enemies tried to do.

Anonymous said...

BGCT's website also says: The BGCT also has a team of people who can help churches prevent clergy sexual misconduct and respond appropriately if it does.

When I think of their response to you and others, I hope that means some changes have been made as to what they think an appropriate response would be. If not, that is scary.

Christa Brown said...

As best I can tell, there has been no change in what they think constitutes an appropriate response. Almost a decade ago, a BGCT committee put out its booklet "Broken Trust," and the courageous abuse survivor who testified to that committee wanted desperately to believe that it would have a real impact and change things. It didn't. It was just words on paper. I came along and it was all too obvious that nothing had changed - that they were still mired in the mud of their own entrenched denial and still engaging in tactics that silence victims and leave perpetators in pulpits.

I too wanted desperately to believe that my own effort at dealing with the BGCT would educate them and cause them to handle things differently. It didn't. As best I can tell, it didn't make any difference at all. After me, the experiences of Debbie Vasquez and Katherine Roush showed how little of nothing had changed.

And the ones I mention here are merely ones whose stories have been made public. There have been others. I can't tell that the BGCT has done much of anything that will actually serve to make people safer. If anything, my perception is that it has back-pedaled some in order to try to better protect ITSELF against the possibility of liability. It has shown itself to be more concerned with protecting itself than protecting kids.'s very scary indeed.