Sunday, February 10, 2008

Conference of the Lambs

I’m still absorbing all that I heard at the Conference of the Lambs. I was honored to be invited as a speaker, but I feel as though I learned more from the people there than they could have possibly learned from me.

It was a joy to meet several who have emailed me over the past year, and I was thrilled to meet Kaye Maher and her husband Bill. They have been a constant source of support. Kaye used to work as a church secretary for my perpetrator when he was at First Baptist Church of Oviedo. Because of all the vile things she saw, heard and experienced there, Kaye never doubted the truth of my story, and she reached out to help me.

Many of the conference-goers were former members of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville. It’s the church in which 22 people have said they were sexually abused as kids by founding pastor Bob Gray. Others have said they were abused by former Trinity leader, Tony Denton.

Worst of all, letters and testimony indicate that current pastor Tom Messer and other key Trinity leaders knew about the abuse of children, and did nothing to warn or protect others.

I have followed the published news accounts of the Trinity saga for about 18 months. But yesterday, as I talked with people at the conference, I realized that the full horror of the Trinity scandal is really only beginning to unfold. I thought it couldn’t get worse, but it undoubtedly will. I expect there will be still more molestation victims who will speak up and there will be still more evidence of a long-enduring cover-up by key Trinity leaders.

I looked at those courageous people in that conference room and wondered what made them different. Why were they able to see the terrible wrong of what happened at Trinity, when so many others still turn a blind eye? Why were they strong enough to refuse any silent complicity with such evil while so many others still sit in Trinity pews and give their support to church leaders who betrayed the safety of children for the sake of image and power?

The people in that conference room were all ordinary-seeming salt-of-the-earth sorts. Some were parents of kids who were abused, but some were not. Some were there purely in support of those who were abused and because they grieved for the church they once loved and for the continuing blindness of those who used to be their friends and fellow-congregants.

The people in that conference room were people who had built their lives around Trinity. They had worked at Trinity, in both the church and the school. They had raised their families at Trinity, and they had given sacrificially of their time, money and energy to Trinity. Yet, when the ugly truth about clergy abuse and cover-ups came to light, they did not shrink back from it. They looked at it squarely and saw it for the terrible travesty and betrayal that it was.

What about the thousands of others who still sit in Trinity pews? Why don’t they see it? How do they blind themselves to it? Why do they not oust Tom Messer? Why are they so willing to stay with the status quo of church leaders who betrayed children rather than standing up for what is right?

Do they not realize the message that their silent pew-sitting complicity sends to the many Trinity child abuse victims? It’s a message that says, “No big deal.” It’s a message that says, “What happened to you doesn’t matter enough for any of us to want to rock the boat.”

Why are thousands of people sitting in Trinity’s pews willing to have their own silent inaction send such a sad message of complacency about clergy sex abuse and cover-ups? It’s a mystery to me.

The perpetrators have perverse drives that push them to prey on kids. I get it. The church leaders who cover-up for them are driven to protect their own power and image, along with church coffers. They’re acting based on shabby corporate principles rather than on Christian principles. I get it.

But what about all the countless other ordinary people who silently sit in the pews of churches where there have been child molestation cover-ups? That’s the part I don’t get at all.

Why do good people do nothing when confronted with evil? It’s an age-old question and it arises in lots of contexts. Thousands who sit silently in Trinity’s pews should look in the mirror and ask themselves that very question.

Don Boys, evangelist and former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, says that the truth about Tom Messer and Trinity will eventually come out and will “expose the disingenuousness, deviousness and dishonesty – all euphemisms for a simple word – cover-up.”

It would be so much more meaningful – and so much more Christian – if Trinity leaders would come clean on their own, fully and completely, instead of waiting for the sordid details to be drawn out document by document, deposition by deposition, witness by witness, victim by victim.

So much has already been revealed that there’s no excuse for the continuing inaction of the many people in those pews at Trinity. When still more details make their way into the public eye, will those Trinity pew-sitters finally see the tragedy of their own silent complicity or will they simply shrug their shoulders?

I think about the courage of those Trinity people who sat in that conference room with me, and I wish I could somehow extract from them a serum and inject it into those thousands of silently complicit Trinity pew-sitters. They need something that will immunize them against the “disingenuousness, deviousness and dishonesty” of their own religious leaders.

Stay tuned: At the Conference of the Lambs, Jeri asked me to speak to the subject of "Forgiveness and Justice-seeking." I'll post the gist of my remarks.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for taking the stand that you have Christa! I for one will continue to stand right along with you and support your every move in this battle for justice!
Yes it is a crying shame that there are so FEW clergy, who are willing to confront the evil that flows like a river through so many of our churches today! All for the sake of what?? Momey, power, prestige?? All I can tell you is it makes me absolutely sick and I thank God for people like you and Jeri, who are working so hard to fight this enormous and sometimes overwhelming problem.
Thank you Christa!

Jeri said...

Christa, I thought your presentation on confronting/repentance/forgiveness was just brilliant--such a unified and articulate explanation on why, even for the love of those who harm us, it is disastrous to settle for "cheap" forgiveness that simply excuses sin and thus leaves the sinner in his sin, never offering a way out by repentance and forgiveness.

I was so blessed by your insights on these crucial truths. And yet also see, from those who commit these sins and those who cover them up--they believe in a repentance-free salvation. So if salvation itself is reduced to merely "1-2-3-Repeat-after-me," no wonder they are angry when their victims expect true repentance for their sex crimes and cover-ups.

Christa Brown said...

And many thanks to you, Jeri, for your labor of love in sponsoring the Conference of the Lambs! Everyone I spoke with told me how much the conference meant to them.

Gloria said...

Thank you Christa for speaking at the Conference of the Lambs and for all you do to expose these evil/wicked pastors. I so much enjoyed hearing you speak. What a blessing!

Thank you Jeri for the teaching and studying of God's Word at the Conference. So much good information. It is evident the deep burden that you have for these victims. Thank you for having the Conference of the Lambs and for having it in Jacksonville. What a great ministry!

Thanks to both of you for all you are doing to help all victims of clergy abuse and for your continued support to all victims in their pursuit to seek justice.

Both of you are in my prayers and God Bless you.