Friday, February 29, 2008

My childhood church

First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch just celebrated its 138th birthday. That’s my childhood church in a Dallas suburb. It’s the church where a minister, Tommy Gilmore, repeatedly molested, abused, and ultimately raped me in the sanctuary, in the choir loft, in the balcony, and in his office.

It’s the church where another minister, Jim Moore, knew about the abuse and stayed quiet. He first learned about it from the perpetrator himself, but didn’t stop it, and so he allowed the abuse to escalate. He didn’t tell my parents. He didn’t report it to the police. And he didn’t help me in any way.

It’s the church where minister Moore finally told the perpetrator to move on only after I myself, as a kid, broke down crying uncontrollably. Gilmore did move on, but his career as a children’s minister continued.

It’s the church where, as a kid, I was made to apologize to minister Gilmore’s wife just before he left. And I did.

It’s the church where minister Moore told me it would be better if I didn’t talk about it with anyone else. And I didn’t.

It’s the church where, after Gilmore moved on, pastor Glenn Hayden told me I should rededicate my life to Christ. And I did.

It’s the church where, as a kid, I was obedient and submissive to a sickening fault.

But the story of this church didn’t end when I was a kid. This is also the church where the same Jim Moore is still a minister. When I finally broke my silence and again sought his help, Moore said I had no business bringing it up.

It’s the church that responded to my clergy abuse report by threatening to seek recourse against ME… as a sort of preemptive strike, I suppose. It was hateful. This is the sort of leadership that was provided by the church’s current pastor, Sam Underwood, a man who was previously reported for sexual abuse of an adult congregant.

It’s the church whose current deacons wouldn’t even meet with me in person until over a year after I submitted my written clergy abuse report, and only after I filed a lawsuit.

It’s the church where, before I filed that lawsuit, I put a letter on cars in the parking lot, telling about what happened to me there as a kid and about the sort of help I was seeking. Naively, I hoped that congregants might call their deacon-body to task and insist that something be done (and thereby save me from filing a lawsuit). But of course, it made no difference.

It’s the church whose lawyer insisted, after I filed the lawsuit, that it wasn’t even the same church as what it had been when I was a kid. So why should I bother these people with my problems? After all, he said, these were different people and they had nothing to do with what happened to me as a kid.

Ironically, I was the one who argued that a church is an enduring body and not just a bunch of people at a particular point in time. It was the church’s attorney who wanted to minimize the meaning of “a church,” and I was the fool who still thought the concept of “a church” held meaning. (Of course, the church’s attorney was also ignoring the fact that the same music minister, who was very much involved in what happened to me as a kid, was still there.)

In light of this recent history, I can’t help but see some hypocrisy in the church’s birthday brag about how it has been a congregation for 138 years.

And I can’t help but feel revulsion at pastor Sam Underwood’s reflections on “the children” and his pondering on “What kind of church am I going to leave them?”

Here’s the answer, pastor Underwood. You’re leaving them a church that, from beginning to end, turned a blind eye and a cold heart to clergy child molestation.

You’re leaving them a church that chooses to keep a minister who admittedly knew about another minister’s sexual contact with a kid, but who allowed that minister to quietly move on and work as a children’s minister in other churches. By retaining the minister who kept quiet, the message your church sends is “no big deal.”

You’re leaving them a church that, then and now, chose to protect itself rather than to protect kids.

You’re leaving them a church that, long ago, broke covenant with the next generation and that continues to break that covenant by retaining leaders who treated clergy child molestation cavalierly.

You’re leaving them a church that is premised on little more than a self-serving pretend game. Why should anyone imagine that anything you profess holds any true meaning if you don’t even care enough to protect the safety and well-being of kids?

Recently, I watched the movie “Forrest Gump” again. Remember the scene where Jenny throws rocks at the house she grew up in where her father abused her? Remember how she fell to the ground in front of it, crying and flailing? Remember how, after she died, Forrest Gump bulldozed that house into the ground?

That’s how I feel about First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch.

Perhaps some feeling of goodness could have been retained if only the church had readily chosen to do the right thing in the here and now. If only the music minister had not again chastised me for speaking about it. If only the deacons had been willing to sit down with me face to face. If only the church had not tried to silence me by threatening to sue me.

As it is, I see nothing good in that church. Every molecule is polluted just as all my memories are. Every church service, every Sunday School class, every youth retreat, every bible drill, every camp-out, every Vacation Bible School, every mission trip, every choir trip, every prayer group, every ping-pong game....all of it.

If you go there, you’ll see a building with a sign that says “First Baptist Church.” But it’s not real. It’s an illusion.

There isn’t any church there. It’s just a phony facade.

What’s really there is a barren wasteland.


Anonymous said...

I would not feel like celebrating if I were at FBC Farmer's Branch. When they reflect on the children and what kind of church is being left to them, Sam Underwood, Jim Moore and others could have made it a safer place. Would Sam Underwood and church members not feel like bulldozing the sanctuary, choir loft, balcony and former office of Tommy Gilmore? I would not want to stand in the place where sexual assaults and rapes by a church staff minister took place. Who wants their church to be like that?

Jeri said...

I'm so sorry that all of this happened to you, Christa. You're right. It's not a church. It's one of the whited sepulchres where people can go and play at church.

Anonymous said...

I am so sad for you. This must continue to break your heart. How do you ever, any of us, get over the pain inflicted by the very people you grow up trusting. As adults how are any of us able to trust anyone.

Several things really bother me though -- that is that not one person came to your defense. The hideous abuse was bad enough, but the big COVER UP by the pastor, making you apologize to your abuser's wife, sending your abuser on to years of ministry with children in other SBC churches -- this is insanity. This is evil. This is not a Christian turning a blind eye. These are a group of evil people pretending to play Christian. I am sorry. But I don't believe there is a Christian among them. Which I think is a big part of the SBC problem. Many of these people are just playing at being followers of Christ.

I could go on and on because I am already seething, but I am afraid I will resort to not being NICE and APPROPRIATE so I had better quit while I am ahead.

Please know my thoughts and prayers are always with you and all our other sister and brother survivors.

Much love to all of you,

gmommy said...

What happens after sexual abuse occurs to a human being is crucial.

It's difficult to say the least, to work thru why the creator who "fashioned us and planned our days" would allow the sin against body and soul to happen in the first place.

It's difficult to understand why God wouldn't then make the sinner pay the consequences for the damage done to the innocent one who trusted that God would be God.....rather than allow the wounded ones to continue to be assaulted and degraded.

It's difficult to grasp how cruel and cold "the world" can be.

It's almost impossible to grasp how someone with a "regenerated heart" would respond to the wounded with such coldness and cruelty.

One of the first Bible stories I learned was the good Samaritan. He happened upon a wounded human being on his journey to where ever he was going. The wounded man didn't have to ask for his help.

The good Samaritan stopped, felt and exercised compassion.... he gave of himself to show kindness and to bring healing to the wounds of a stranger.

It's difficult to understand that the people pastoring churches, the leaders in the SBC, and the people in the pews don't have the capacity in their hearts to at least be a good Samaritan.

Why do they go to ANY mission field when these "Christians" ignore their own that are wounded on the road. They not only walk over them but spit on and kick them.

While Paige Patterson (and his cronies)are flying around to share their grand puffed up stories of manly adventures and godly achievements at $5000 a pulpit, using money entrusted to them for leading and protecting.....
they are refusing to acknowledge the wounded clearly calling out for compassion, validation, and kindness.

These people that turn a blind eye are liars and frauds.
They do not believe ...much less obey... the Bible they carry and use as a weapon against others.

But WE are suppose to continue to believe and hope when God allows these ministers and leaders to continue to make a mockery of everything God is suppose to be.
Difficult to understand.

Jeri said...

As I recall, the Lord jesus ran into the exact same type of religious leaders: men who broadcast how good and godly and conservative they were, while they destroyed widows and orphans. Let's not forget what such men did to God come in the flesh when they clearly beheld His graciousness. But He certainly surprised them, when all was said and done.

Anonymous said...

I guess if we are able to truly keep our eyes on Christ and the cross and what He did for us, we can get past what man/woman did to us. That is so difficult though. Sometimes it is really hard to separate Jesus/God/Holy Spirit/His Church from man/woman/church when we grew up with it all thrown together and were taught they were one and the same.

Jeri, your words offer a certain amount of comfort. Thank you for that.


gmommy said...

they do?????
I heard no comfort. I'm not Jesus.sorry

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about? Who said you were Jesus? I don't understand.

gmommy said...

sent you an email.

Jeri said...

I'm not trying to affront you gmommy, but the way of this sinful world is that unsaved, evil men play at religion and are even able to deceive God's elect. Abel was the first victim and the first martyr. Caine killed him because God found Abel's sacrifice acceptable, and Caine, rather than repent and join himself to true fear of God, killed his righteous brother to eliminate him.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his wicked brothers who resented his visions and his meek, obedient life. But they wanted to continue to play at the game of pretending to be faithful sons to their grieving father, whose heart they broke. They didn't learn to fear the God who fulfilled Joseph's dreams until the end of their lives, when they came crawling and begging to him to spare them, after their father died.

Job's false friends came to him and held up external religion as the measure, and then accused him again and again while he suffered. And then Elihu, accompanied by the presence of God, silenced them, and God made them literally pray to Job before God would forgive them.

Isaiah was sawn in two by religious leaders who hated his prophesy.

Righteous Uriah was killed by the adulterous David, who stooped to murder to preserve his religious front that covered adultery (and God never removed the sword from David's house after that).

Naboth, faithful to the covenant, was murdered by Ahab and Jezebel.

The Lord Jesus Christ was killed by the religious leaders of his day.

The thread of the public face of religion being false, while "religion of the heart": (to fear God and be contrite before Him) is genuine, runs throughout the entire Bible. No, the SBC does not teach it because it is a really inconvenient truth in a religion that is trying to control American politics and finance.

Christa Brown said...

Thanks to all of you for your words of compassion. Isn't it interesting that we the survivors find care among others in cyberspace rather than from religious leaders? Indeed, religious leaders seem to be the very LAST place we find it. As you point out, Phyllis, not one person came to my defense, then or now, and I often think THAT is an even bigger travesty than the abuse itself. But of course, saddest of all is how commonplace we now know this pattern is.

gmommy: Like you, I have often pondered the story of the good Samaritan, and I always wonder, "Didn't these guys go to Sunday School?" When did their own personal power and prestige blind them to the lessons we learned as children in Sunday School - lessons like that of the good Samaritan?

jeri: I like your reminder of the graphic metaphor that Jesus himself used when he spoke of the religious powers of his day - "whited sepulchres." It paints a picture of something appearing clean and pure on the surface, but rotten and full of decay on the inside.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing so much of your emotions and feelings. YOU had to apologize to the wife????!!!! What about HER apologizing to you? (So similar to an incident here.) These incidents are almost beyond description in the English language. You hit the nail on the head - every molecule in these pretend "churches" are polluted and will be until there is true repentence and TRUTH on the part of the leadership as to what has happened and absolute shame and humility as to how these innocent kids have been treated. What "barren wastelands" so many of our churches have become - WHITED SEPULCHRES!!!! They look good externally and are full of filthiness, deceit and corruption on the inside while they protect they reputations and egos. Our prayers continue to be with you - thank you so much for what you are doing. THEY ARE SCARED OF THE TRUTH!

Anonymous said...

Hi Christa,

I am writing anonymously again, just to say how sorry I am that you were hurt so much. As a fellow survivor from another denomination, I stand behind you 100%.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Hear ye', hear ye' (for any committee members that may browse this blog) I say throw the book at 'em (the perp) and do it right away. Hit 'em like a sledgehammer, so hard they don't get back up in the ministry. The law stands. If a crime has been committed by a man professing to be a man of God and there is certain evidence of that crime, then he should, according to man's law, be justly punished. And the consequence resulting isn't rocket science, church committee members. That person/minister should be immediately dismissed and cut off from the ministry once and for all, as well as appropriately disciplined within the legal system.

And let it be a lesson for all men (and women) who dare to answer the call of ministry lightly, thinking they will not be held to a higher spiritual and conduct standard.

Not enough people (ministers) fear the Lord out of genuine respect and awe. God's justice IS perfect, this I know, where our legal justice fails. "And not one letter of the law shall pass away..." (Jesus)

Those that have been unjustly accused or victims that have been abused, even by those so-called men of God, their day will come. If it doesn't come in this life thru our legal system or otherwise, it will certainly come on Judgment Day. "And woe to the man through whom these things come..." As Jesus says in Matthew 18:7.

Matthew 18:5" is better for a man to tie a millstone around his neck and drown himself in the depths of the ocean than to harm a little one (child) such as these."

Ministers should be held accountable and regulated by all sound, discerning judgmental bodies in Christ Jesus, as far as church government goes. The churches bylaws should outline this specifically and if it doesn't then should amend them accordingly.

When a doctor violates his hippocratic oath he is sued for malpractice and thus disciplined, possibly to the point of having his medical license revoked. When an attorney screws up he can be sued for legal malpractice and potentially stripped of his license to practice law. When a Baptist minister screws up, he's just forgiven, changes churches if he's lucky, and moves on to sexually re-offend. And statistics show that these type sexual predators (whether officially/criminally labeled or not) do re-offend. Take that both ways if you like.

Throw the book at 'em church committee members. Forgiveness is one thing. Accountability and consequences are another. Please learn to distinguish between the three.

Do I hear an Amen?

I saaaaiiddd, Good Lawd!
Do--I--heeeeaaarrrr-ahhh -an--amen!!

I can't hear you, my sis-tuhs.

Peace be with you.

Posted by a Reformed Batholic.

Christa Brown said...