Monday, November 5, 2007

Kudos to the Alabama CBF!

The Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has adopted a new policy for reviewing reports of clergy sex abuse. It's a policy that is light-years ahead of any policy in any statewide Southern Baptist group, including the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It sets an example for how faith groups with a congregationalist polity can nevertheless make a moral, Christian, compassionate and effective response to individuals attempting to report clergy abuse.

Here are some of the noteworthy features of the Alabama CBF policy:
  1. It allows individuals to report abuse, not merely churches. (Since the well-known pattern is that churches are too often unable to lift the blinders of denial, this is a critically important policy advancement.)
  2. It establishes a 5-person review committee at the Alabama CBF.
  3. The committee will have 2 non-Baptists, with strong consideration given to people with psychological or counseling experience so as to bring both outsiders and people with expertise to the committee.
  4. It requires at least 2 people of the same gender as the accuser on the committee.
  5. The committee will engage in good-faith investigatory action. (In other words, it doesn't leave the entire investigatory burden on the shoulders of the individual to substantiate his or her own report.)
  6. The committee will allow the accused to respond and to appear personally.
  7. The committee will determine whether the allegations of abuse are credible.
  8. The committee will provide information about its decision in writing to the individual making the report, the accused, and 2 church officers.
  9. The Alabama CBF will keep a file with the names of those for whom there has been a determination of a credible abuse allegation.

I was very honored and very grateful that Brent McDougal and the Alabama CBF afforded me the opportunity of consulting with them in their policy-making process.

Is it a perfect policy? No. And ultimately, policies are only as effective as the individuals who implement them. But policies are a starting place, and this is a good one. For the sake of preventing abuse in the future and reaching out to those wounded in the past, I hope other Baptist groups will adopt similar policies.

The Alabama CBF is a small group, but this policy carries the potential to be a seed that bears good fruit. The American Baptists also have a system of review boards for clergy abuse. As review board policies are adopted by smaller Baptist groups, and perhaps eventually by the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, it may become more difficult for the Southern Baptist Convention leadership to keep standing on the sidelines spouting “autonomy.”

To each and every one of you who have shared your story or supported StopBaptistPredators in any way, I hope you will give yourselves a huge pat on the back. Your stories, your work, and your care have helped to raise awareness of Baptist clergy abuse, to keep the issue in the news, to reach out to still more victims, and to educate others. YOU are the people who have made this bit of daylight possible.


Anonymous said...

This is amazing; I am pleased and very surprised. What a great start though. It looks like "this little light of mine" might become a roaring fire in time. You did not hide it "under a bushel" and you did not let Satan(I won't name names!) blow it out!

Now, if they will just do what they say they are going to do -- it could hopefully influence other groups. The difference in this group and the SBC is that they appear to want to be transparent and honest and real. That is almost unBaptist!!


Christa Brown said...

Funny how I always still sing that little song in my head. I was one of those 5-year olds who always shouted really loud on the "OH NO" part -- "Hide it under a bushel - OH NO - I'm gonna let it shine."

Of course, I notice that you aren't exactly hiding under a bushel either these days! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if this new AlabamaCBF policy applies to any minister currently serving in the AlabamaCBF, regardless of in what state or convention the abuse took place.

Christa Brown said...

anonymous: Yes, my understanding is that the policy will apply to any minister currently serving in an AlabamaCBF-affiliated church, regardless of whether or not the minister was in an AlabamaCBF-affiliated church at the time of the alleged abuse. For example, if the church was SBC-affiliated at the time of the abuse, but later became CBF-affiliated, the policy would apply. (That's a likely scenario because the CBF is a relatively new entity.) Also, the policy applies not only to ordained clergy but to any ministerial staff.

Anonymous said...


Lastweek I was dealing with a lady who was sexually abused while at work. While I was talking to her another lady, who knew I am a retired minister, started telling me about her grandmother who witnessed her pastor husband sexually abuse their daughter. She said her grandmother eventually left her grandfather but lived the rest of her life alone, hurt, and with a feeling of guilt for getting a divorce. When I told her about SNAP she was able to calm down a little and she told me that I was the first minister who seemed to understand the trama the victims experience.
I want to thank you again for the light you give to so many hurting people who honestly feel that no one else cares or understands.
I am currently working with the granddaughter because she is close enough to her grandmother that she may be able to help. The criminal has died so there is not an opportunity to confront him. Any suggestions?

Christa Brown said...

I wouldn't want to make "suggestions" because I just don't know enough, but I can express some thoughts. My heart goes out to all of them - the grandmother, the daughter, and the granddaughter. Sexual abuse not only traumatizes the direct victim, but it tears up whole families, and often causes harm whose impact is indirectly felt by the next generation as well.

My guess is that, at the time she divorced her pastor/husband, grandma probably had to deal with the divorce and the emotional aftermath of it all on her own. In the typical scenario, I would expect that her network of support was probably all connected to the church, and the church probably rallied around the pastor. I would guess that grandma was ostracized and alienated, while the pastor may have even been elevated for what congregants may have perceived as HIS difficulty in having an "unchristian wife."

If I had a dollar for every clergy abuse story I've heard in which the spouse knew about it and did nothing, I'd have enough for a really nice espresso machine. My perception is that clergy spouses are some of the most silenced people on the planet. Against that backdrop, I hope grandma will someday be able to look back and see her own courage in divorcing that man and removing her daughter from that environment. She did more than what a great many other clergy-spouses would have done. She tried to DO SOMETHING - and even in trying, that's more than what most do.

I'm sure it must have been extremely difficult for her. Despite their monstrous deeds, clergy perpetrators aren't usually monsters. It would be so much easier if they were. If he had been a complete monster, grandma probably wouldn't still feel guilt about the divorce. But instead she is left with also remembering the good in him. The reality is that, despite their monstrous deeds, perpetrators are human beings who are often greatly loved by others. They are human beings who often do many good things in their lives. None of that can ever lessen the monstrous nature of what they do to kids, but it does make it far more difficult for others whose very nature is to want to see the good in someone they loved and to remember that goodness.

I would guess that grandma's feelings of guilt may also be mixed up with feelings of guilt about what her daughter had to experience. When love and trust have been utterly shattered, how do you ever put all the pieces back? So people sometimes focus on just one or two pieces.

Thank you so much, John, for working to try to minister to these people and to help them.

Anonymous said...

Christa, as I hope you know I am always behind you in your efforts but I have to differ with you greatly in your last post.
All of these perpetrators are imposters, monsters who portray ministers in public and reveal their true selves when with their victims.
What's in the heart is what counts and I fail to believe that anyone who can do these kinds of acts can ever be capable of normal thought or action without a hidden agenda behind it. The actions of the perpetrators are not spur of the moment urges, they are well thought out strategies to satify their satanical selves yet conceal their secret identities.

Christa Brown said...

I absolutely agree with you that perpetrators are imposters and that they live double-lives. I also know for sure that their deeds are not spur of the moment urges. They groom their victims for long periods of time, and their tactics are very, very calculated, crafty and intentional.

At the same time, however, I think that if we view them as "monsters," we risk dropping our guard against them. They are not monsters. They are human beings who, for all appearances, look and act like other normal human beings. To the people who love them, they do indeed seem like loveable human beings. They do good works. They try to provide for their families. They visit the sick in hospitals, conduct lovely weddings, give good sermons, and care for the grieving. They look and act like ordinary ministers - and sometimes better. They can be very charismatic and very likeable. I believe that if we hold in our heads a view of them as "monsters", then we will somehow expect them to look different or be different and we will be more likely to fail to see that a person we trust greatly could indeed be a child molester.

Incidentally, it's the very fact that perpetrators can be so strategically crafty, as you point out, that makes me so frustrated when I see some of the programs and materials handed out in state convention workshops on preventing clergy sex abuse. It's often stuff about having a ministerial code of ethics (as if a determined child molester is going to be stopped by a code of ethics - heck - he'll help you write the code just to further his false front). And stuff about guarding the minister's marriage - as if they just happen to "wander" or "fall into" an abusive "situation" - and if only they have a scheduled date-night with their wife, then these things wouldn't happen. It's bunk! All bunk! And it's dangerous bunk because it so naively underestimates how a predatory mind works.

Anonymous said...

A few random thoughts on this:

1) The CBF is small and younger than the SBC, therefore it is going to respond quicker tooutside suggestions.

2) The SBC leadership despises the CBF (trust me, they do). The CBF doing something like this is not going to influence the SBC to act any faster.

3) The Florida Baptist Convention (SBC) had their annual meeting this week. One of the speakers railed against bloggers airing "dirty laundry." I have no idea if they were referring to you or to someone else, or what.

4) The CBF is made of (mostly) of SBC or former SCB churches who disagree with the SBC leadership, most notably on the issue of church autonomy. The CBF churches are more adamant than the SBC churches that congregations should be free to do as they please. For example, there are a number of CBF churches with women pastors. (I'm not sure if there are any openly gay pastors in the CBF or not.) Given that, it's interesting that the CBF acted while the SBC drags its feet.

5) Did the CBF make any mention of how they would respond to churches that called someone who was on the list? Just curious.


Christa Brown said...

Chet: Interesting that you say "The CBF churches are more adamant than the SBC churches that congregations should be free to do as they please." So the CBF is every bit as focused on the autonomy of local churches as the SBC, and yet the CBF found a way to take action.

The Alabama CBF policy makes no mention of how the CBF would respond to a church that called someone who was on the list.