Monday, February 11, 2008

Forgiveness and Justice-seeking (part 1)

"And from prophet to priest, every one deals falsely. They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace."
Jeremiah 6:13-14

I often think of this verse when I hear the “forgive and forget” refrain that church leaders so often dish out to clergy abuse survivors.

It comes in different shapes and forms. “Move-on.” “Let it go.” Or “leave it in God’s hands.” How many times have we all heard these lines?

Whatever the words they use, the message is the same. It’s wrapped up in a faulty forgiveness theology that essentially says "put on blinders and pretend it never happened."

This is dealing falsely. The wounds are not healed. There is no peace.

When church leaders do this, what they want is a false, premature sort of forgiveness. They want to cover over the wound... lightly... before there has been any healing. And then they walk away and say "all is well" - "peace" - but in truth, "there is no peace."

We are the ones who KNOW that.

It’s a pretend sort of peace. It isn’t real. It isn’t authentic.

Saddest of all is that this sort of premature forgiveness throws away the possibility for real understanding and authentic human connection. And that’s the possibility that holds the hope for genuine forgiveness and for genuine reconciliation.

Their notion of premature forgiveness is self-serving. It’s a version of forgiveness that frees them from guilt and fosters a sense of impunity. Impunity for the perpetrators. And impunity for the cover-ups.

It’s also a sort of forgiveness theology that causes many clergy abuse victims to suffer even more. What it tells victims is this: It’s not enough that you were betrayed by a trusted minister, and it’s not enough that you endured abuse to your sacred body, and it’s not enough that you were again betrayed by other church leaders who sought to keep it secret. You must also carry the burden of preserving the good reputation of the very people who did the wrong and of the institution that kept it quiet. It's a terrible burden.

This turns forgiveness into nothing more than the shovel that digs the hole that buries the whole thing. And then it just becomes a rotting, stinking mess of decay that worms crawl through. This cheapens the very notion of forgiveness and turns it into nothing more than a tool for self-serving secrecy.

Obviously, I am very critical of church and denominational leaders who foist this sort of faulty forgiveness. But I also think this is something that WE, the survivors, must guard against for ourselves.

I remember how very much I wanted to immediately forgive my old piano teacher - the music minister who knew about the other minister’s abuse of me as a kid. He knew about it. He told me not to talk about it. He didn’t tell my parents or the police. And he allowed the perpetrator to move on to another church.

But I felt so certain that he would be older and wiser and better educated now, and that he would be glad to hear from me, and would want to help me and would feel badly that he hadn’t done more when I was a kid. I was certain of it. Absolutely certain.

So anxious was I to extend forgiveness that I held it there with the door wide open before I even had a clue what was going on. I wanted desperately to simply shake his hand, look him in the eyes, and say "All is well."

I told my Catholic friends, "Oh’s not going to be like it was with you. This is a man who has raised a daughter of his own by now. He’ll understand. He’s a good man. You’ll see. He’ll help me."

I was wrong. He didn’t give a hoot about any forgiveness from me. He only wanted me to go back to being quiet about it. Quiet about the perpetrator and quiet about the fact that he covered it up.

It took me a long time to see that. When I finally did, what I also saw was that I myself had been too desperately wanting of reconciliation .... when there wasn’t any reconciling going on. It was all one-sided. I had been too anxious for peace...when there was no peace.

If we forgive prematurely, before justice is done, before others are protected, before truth is made transparent, then we too become part of the process of simply looking for the easy way out.

Seeking to readily forgive is what feels comfortable to us. We grew up with forgiveness as a basic tenet of our faith. It’s a concept we’re comfortable with.

By contrast, confrontation is NOT something that most of us are comfortable with. Most of us were raised to be "nice." We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We don’t want to speak poorly of anyone. We grew up with moms who told us, "If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all."

For most of us, it is emotionally very, very difficult to even think about confronting our perpetrators or about confronting other church leaders who turned a blind eye. When we think about doing THAT, we push the boundaries of our own comfort zone. It feels uneasy. It doesn’t feel "nice." And so we shrink back from it.

And forgiveness provides us with a ready rationalization to avoid those confrontations. To avoid getting outside our comfort zone. To avoid doing what needs to be done.

Of course, we’re often so hurting and so wounded that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a real forgiveness or a false forgiveness. We can convince ourselves it’s real. And we just want to forgive and move on.

Church leaders tell us to "move on." And that’s exactly what we WANT to do. We want that more than anyone.

But of course, lots of clergy abuse survivors have tried to forgive, have wanted to forgive, have believed they did forgive, and HAVE forgiven.... only to find that years later, the ugliness of it reared its head again and they wanted something more. They wanted truth-telling. They wanted truth-hearing. They wanted accountability.

A premature forgiveness is just that. It’s premature.

These are deep wounds and they cannot be healed... "lightly." Without truth-telling and accountability, there is no peace. And it only prolongs the anguish if we say "peace" when, in truth, there is no peace.


Anonymous said...

you have some false information posted under "survivor stories" (d. vasquez). i am a family member of someone who attends the church that ms. vasquez sued. the accused pastor has not been in the pulpit for over a year. he was placed on administrative leave, required to get counseling and other various other restrictions while the case was being investigated.

the suit against the church has been dismissed. it seems ms. vasquez has a habit of giving false statements. her story and the falsities didn't match up to the records.
it is people like ms. vasquez who
cause folks to question the validity and authenticity of alleged abuse victims.

it is sad that you would keep the misinformation of this "survivor story" on your blog. there are many true victims who suffer because of people who make false accusations.

Christa Brown said...

How dare you anonymously and publicly accuse Ms. Vasquez of "giving false statements"? That's slander. I would be inclined to simply delete your slanderous charge, but I want people to see the low depths to which people connected to some of these accused perpetrators stoop. Who the heck do you think you are, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous?? At least D. Vasquez has, from the very beginning, had the guts and gumption to use her own name, which is a great deal more than I can say for you.

People who want to know about pastor Dickie Amyx can read about it here - including his own sad statement that "I did not have sex with her when she was 16 or under." Of course, most child molesters don't tell the whole truth about what they did and when it started, and Debbie says the abuse started when she was 14. Personally, I believe Debbie, but even if people take Dickie Amyx at his own word - is that the kind of pastor people in that church want? A man who justifies what he did by saying "I didn't have sex with her when she was 16 or under." It's tragic and pathetic.

And as I recall, he wasn't removed from the pulpit and placed on administrative leave until AFTER there was massive media attention. Before that, no one at the BGCT or at the church did diddly-squat. Vasquez's survivor story was written before that.

To say that the suit has been "dismissed" gives a false impression - which perhaps is what you intended. (The "it's been dismissed" line is the same ruse that another Denton pastor, Larry Reynolds, tried to pass off to his congregation - as you can read about in the above-linked story.) So let me clarify. As I heard it, the suit was dismissed on the ground that it was too late and was barred by the statute of limitations. That doesn't mean that the abuse didn't happen. It simply means that too much time has passed for a court of law to do anything about it. And apparently no one in the church or the faith community will do anything about it either - and that is perhaps the saddest part of all.

Christa Brown said...

and one more thing...though Mr. Anonymous seems to be greatly concerned about "people who make false accusations," experts say that only about 1 to 4 percent of all sexual abuse reports are fabricated. When Baptist leaders start worrying as much about protecting kids against the 96 to 99 percent of clergy sex-predators who are correctly reported as they do about protecting the careers of the 1 to 4 percent who may be falsely accused, then kids in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer. Perhaps the only thing worse than being falsely accused is being sexually abused by a trusted minister, being shamed, shunned and ignored when you attempt to report him to other religious leaders, and then seeing him still stand in the pulpit while no one - NO ONE - in the whole denomination is willing to do diddly-squat about it.

gmommy said...

anon said
it is people like ms. vasquez who
cause folks to question the validity and authenticity of alleged abuse victims.

No, actually it is "people like YOU" who DELIBERATELY cause folks to question the validity of "ALLEGED" abuse victims.

People like YOU use the term alleged victim.

People like YOU want to shame and silence people like Ms Vasques, myself,Christa, and anyone that dares to burst your FALSE little church bubble.

People like YOU aren't outraged by a so called minister who would have sexual contact with anyone outside his marriage bedroom.

People like YOU split hairs and deflect away from the sin and crime of a sexual deviant minister.

Decent, compassionate,protective, HONEST, CHRISTIAN people wouldn't care the exact age of the one taken advantage of....
only that a minister in a position of trust and supposedly above reproach....
would dare harm Anyone... or bring shame on himself, God , or his church.....

administrative leave!!!!
I'm familiar with that particular FALSE way of dealing with this crime against God's Word.

People like you are vipers that are as guilty as the abusive minister.

Sorry a victim dared to shake your shallow church world.

While victims suffer the consequences of betrayal and emotional and physical abuse for the rest of their addition to dealing with mean spirited PEOPLE LIKE YOU...
you're bothered that your little world has been made unpleasant.

What a good Christian example YOU PEOPLE are.

gmommy said...

I told her many times I never meant to hurt her, and if I did, I’m sorry. And she always said that it was OK.”

—From Dale “Dickie” Amyx’s Nov. 14, 2006, sworn statement

what comes out of the mouth of this predator is simply a picture of what's in his heart.

Only people like anon would want someone with such a twisted heart in the pulpit....a confessed sexual abuser.
This man thinks he is better if his victim was 17 than if his victim was 15....

And please explain what ALLEGED VICTIM means to this anonomous deceiver who defends so called ministers who have CONFESSED to sexual crimes against young girls?!

Christa Brown said...

And still another charming fact about this Southern Baptist pastor that Mr. Anonymous is so anxious to defend: Pastor Dickie Amyx of Bolivar Baptist Church in Denton, TX didn't pay child support until he was ordered to do so by a judge when the kid was 9 years old. That's a fact established by his OWN sworn testimony in a deposition. And I personally have also seen the paternity judgment that was rendered against him. And people call this guy a "man of God"?? A man who had to be court-ordered to support his own kid!

But even as disgusted as I am by the likes of Pastor Dale "Dickie" Amyx, what is even more troubling is that no one - NO ONE - at the Baptist General Convention of Texas or the Southern Baptist Convention will do anything about ministers like Dickie Amyx.

gmommy said...

Is this predator or the other one discussed in the same article STILL in a pulpit??? Or WORSE, in the SAME pulpit??
If so, God HELP the people (and their children) who would allow men as UNGODLY and with such dark hearts stand and preach anything from the Bible....
real trust worthy men....

and the SBC power brokers do NOTHING to protect those that sit under men like these...
unthinkable from my mother's mind.... especially from a scriptural perspective.

Say something twisted about forgiveness now, anon....
I've got your bogus script memorized by now.

Anonymous said...

To "anonymous family member of someone who attends the church that Ms. Vasquez sued":

Why are you not angry that a "pastor" got a teenager pregnant and repeatedly violated his position of trust and relationship with a teen church member? Why are you not angry that the pregnant teen was told to tell the congregation that she was an unwed mother but was told to keep it secret the "pastor" was the father to the child? Why are you not angry that the "pastor" who fathered the child thought it was fine for him to keep standing in the pulpit and preach every week on how to be like Christ. Why are you not angry that the "pastor" did not financially support the child for the first nine years of the child's life? If the "pastor" was negligent in that area of raising the child, in what other areas was he negligent? Why are you not angry that this "pastor" has still not been held accountable for his actions? In my opinion, this "pastor" is no pastor, no man of integrity, and has no business being in the pulpit preaching to anyone. He either doesn't know right from wrong or doesn't care. Make sure you know who the victim is. It is not the "pastor".

Christa Brown said...

gmommy: As far as I know, pastor Dale "Dickie" Amyx is still the pastor at Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, TX, and he is still listed as their pastor on the Denton Baptist Assn website.

The other minister reported in that article above, Larry Reynolds, subsequently "retired" from Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, TX after the media attention made things uncomfortable. But get this...the church gave him a $50,000 "love offering" as a send-off and named a building after him! So, I can't help but think that, if he wanted to get another pastorate, he probably could. (If his prior church would give him $50,000, they'll probably give him a good letter of reference, don't ya think?) And this is a guy who confessed to making "a terrible mistake" and publicly admitted that "proper boundaries were not kept." (Those "boundaries" involved a 14-yr-old.) A grainy clip from his confession was included in the 20/20 show last April, and you can see it here.

David Brown said...

Christa: I would ask you to read my most recent post on the NBBCOF. I am coming to Texas in April, in fact April 17th for a confrontaion at SWBTS with Steve Gaines and Paige Patterson. It is way past time with these men. People in the Metroplex and SBC need to hear from us. I am calling all that can to please join us. And I mean all, make a sign or at least just join us.

These are men that are supposed to have been called of God that make excuse after excuse for not doing something. I sick of their "uncharted waters" or "I never encountered this before" comments. If they are truly called of Christ then follow Him, not manna.

It is beautiful in Texas that time of the year. So please my brothers and sister consider joining me/us in confronting these men.

It is time the SBC stop the study and do the work. Scipture tells us faith without works is dead. Is the SBC really that dead? And before everyone hates me I am a faithful member of the SBC and have been for over 27 years, many at Bellevue Bapitst Church.

Lets go to Texas!

David Brown
SNAP Director for Memphis and West Tennesee

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog and this story this morning. What a tragedy for Ms. Vazquez.

I am a former devout Catholic who left the church after researching these abuse stories and reflecting on them. I was an altar boy, and although never abused myself, I served mass every morning for a priest who was found guilty and convicted for numerous counts of sexual assault perpetrated against young boys.

Thanks for taking the time to blog. We need people like you to bring the truth to light.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christa,

I wasn't abused within the Baptist church but a different denomination. I have extended family from the South who are deep in the Baptist church (politics and pulpit, both) so I'm very touched reading your journal. I've read it for a long time and have sent anonymous comments spattered here and there. I hope to speak out when the opportunity presents itself for my own denomination. Because my family has such close ties to the Baptist church and my ex-denomination is within the Anabaptist grouping I've found more similarities here than with the scandal in the Catholic church (which I've followed obsessively, and also took a great deal of comfort from in listening to so many speak out). It just means a terrific amount to me to have this internet nook, to be able to curl up with a phosphate and get it through my head that I'm not alone. Thank you again.

To Ms. Vasquez,

I have alot to learn from you. I'm touched and encouraged to hear your story. It makes me so angry to think how you and so many others including Christa, have been treated. I'm just so sorry you've been hurt so much. A great deal of what spurred me to action in my own denomination was realizing I wasn't the only one being treated that way. It breaks my heart thinking about this, and I hope my heart keeps breaking. I believe you 1000 percent, and I know what it feels like to be called a liar. You're so strong. ***hug*** It's nice to know that this one place we DO have, and people will stand up for us here and at SNAP.