Friday, February 15, 2008

What would Jesus say?

“What would Jesus say?” That’s the title of yesterday’s Nashville Scene article about how the Southern Baptist Convention has been responding – and mostly not responding – to clergy sex abuse.

One thing speaks out loud and clear in that article. Jesus would NOT say the sorts of uncaring, compassionless things that were said by the Southern Baptist officials who were quoted in the article.

The worst remarks were from former Southern Baptist president, Paige Patterson. That's him in the picture. He is now the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and so he's in charge of teaching young, upcoming Southern Baptist pastors how it’s done. Look at the sort of example he sets.

A woman who was raped by a Baptist minister as a 15-year-old girl contacted Patterson because she was so concerned about the news of how dismissively he treated women who previously tried to report the sexual abuse of a pastor who has now been accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to teens.

Patterson responded by immediately going on the defensive. “Debbie, what more did you want me to do?” he asked. “Would you feel better if I shot him?”

I’ve seen these emails. So let me just point out that Debbie’s immediate response to Patterson was to say this: “I would not want you or anyone else to shoot anyone…. What I do want you can do. You can help to bring about some changes.”

It’s what all of us who are Southern Baptist abuse survivors want. We want changes to try to make other kids safer than what we were. We want changes so that other families in Baptist churches will be better protected. We want changes so that the faith community will reach out to minister to those who have been wounded by clergy abuse instead of shunning and shaming them.

That’s why we join together in a support network, SNAP. The faith community isn’t helping us, and so we try to help and support one another. In the process, we also hope to join our voices to bring about change.

It’s obvious that Paige Patterson doesn’t view our support network that way. EthicsDaily reported on still more of the harsh things he had to say about SNAP, and about Debbie for turning to SNAP.

He referred to us as “evil-doers.” And he suggests to Debbie that her “mind is made up to do wrong” because she “protects evil-doers.”

Did you follow this? Despite numerous efforts on her part, the Southern Baptist faith community extended zero assistance to Debbie. She got no help from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, no help from the Southern Baptist Convention, and no help from any of the preachers and Southern Baptist officials she contacted. And her perpetrator remained in the pulpit.

So what did she do? She turned to SNAP, a support network of people who have been molested, raped, and abused by clergy.

For that act of trying to seek help and healing for herself, and of trying to find a way to protect others, she gets accused of protecting “evil-doers.”

That’s harsh. I can’t imagine that it’s what Jesus would say to someone like Debbie.

But, as the EthicsDaily article makes apparent, Patterson was just getting started.

He went on to state that SNAP is “just as reprehensible as sex criminals” and have “just as little integrity.”

What kind of man accuses child rape victims, who reach out to one another and try to shine light on the problem, of being “just as reprehensible as sex criminals”?

I don’t think it’s the kind of man Jesus was. Jesus would NOT tell people raped as kids by clergy that they’re “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”

Finally, here is the part that really turned my stomach. Patterson tells Debbie, “If you please God…He will make it up to you in ten thousand ways….But he will not bless if you allow your sorrows to cause you to join false accusers.”

How many of us had clergy-perpetrators who said things similar to this? Remember that kind of talk? Trusted ministers told us it was a “test of faith,” and that “if you please God,” then God will smile on you for your faithfulness.

Clergy-perpetrators use lines like this as weapons for manipulation. In a different way, manipulation is also what Patterson uses that line for. He’s trying to convince Debbie to turn away from her involvement with SNAP, the group of people who tried to help her.

In talking with EthicsDaily about Patterson’s remark, I said this: “I don’t imagine for one second that Paige Patterson has a clue about whether or not God will bless Debbie or me or anyone else. Who does he think he is telling Debbie that God will ‘not bless’ her? God will decide whether to bless us, not Paige Patterson.”

I stand by that statement, and it’s no false accusation: Paige Patterson doesn’t have a clue about who God will or won’t bless.

What would Jesus say to a clergy abuse survivor such as Debbie? I believe the words of Jesus would not bear even the remotest resemblance to the words of Paige Patterson.


Anonymous said...

What would Jesus say to a clergy abuse survivor such as Debbie?

Jesus might not be able to speak at first because he might be weeping. If he overturned the moneychangers tables in the temple and ordered everybody out, I would tremble if I was a clergy abuser or pastor who was a part of coverup to clergy abuse.

Thank you,Debbie, for your courage and sweet spirit in dealing with this. You have been much more gracious than I would be. And thank you, Christa, for not backing away in the face of threats and hateful comments from those that were happier when abuse was covered up.

Anonymous said...

Much of the problem is modern one. The seminary model is dated and needs reform. No grades were ever the criteria for such education prior to the last century which required that a mentoring/apprentice relationship was necessary for the equipping of a minister (which would hold them accountable). The fundamentalists are fooling themselves and are in a state of over correction rather on trivial matters and not taking serious conisderation to weightier ones like yours.

gmommy said...

How fitting that Paige Patterson will stand in the pulpit of Bellevue Baptist Church this Sunday.
Paige Patterson did nothing to prevent the harm done by BBC during the cover up by Steve Gaines for the predator minister Paul Willimas.
Now he gives his unspoken endorsement by preaching there this Sunday and Gaines can feel smugly justified in his ungodly treatment of the victims of the perverted minister he covered for.

Even tho thousands have left BBC broken hearted ...Patterson will stand in the pulpit and glorify the criminal and heartless behavior of the BBC leadership with his words and presense.

Then later in the year, Gaines will stand in the pulpit of Patterson's empire seminary.

How "fitting" that these so called men of God take care of each other but not the many wounded by SBC ministers.

Christa Brown said...

anonymous: I mostly agree with your remarks, but in light of the long controversy between Southern Baptist "fundamentalists" and "moderates", I want to point out that, on the clergy abuse issue, BOTH groups fail abysmally. This is very tragically an issue where they stand on common ground in failing to minister to the wounded and in failing to warn people in the pews about clergy-predators. The Baptist General Convention of Texas, which is the largest of the state-wide Southern Baptist conventions, is a self-described "moderate" group, but they do no better than Nashville leaders.

I could not possibly agree with you more, anonymous, in what you say about how "trivial" so many of their other debates are. Compared to the urgent need for protecting kids against clergy-predators, the Southern Baptist hyper-debates about such lesser subjects as private prayer language seem to me like debates about how many angels are on the head of a pin.

gmommy: You have summed up the situation well - "...these so called men of God take care of each other but not the many wounded by SBC ministers."

Anonymous said...

I read an article at entitled "Does God Protect Some Disaster Victims But Not Others", dated 02-15-08 by authors Brittani Hamm and Adelle M. Banks. The article talks about the tornado disaster that hit Union University and other areas in the southeast recently.

I thought after reading the article that just as people respond to help victims of tornadoes and other natural disasters, clergy sexual abuse victims need help. But it is puzzling that no one responds. The Southern Baptist denomination is not responding. Church leaders may try to discredit the ones who speak out against the abuse, shame the victim, intimidate and even sometimes threaten, ridicule or use twisted theology, etc. Church members may become angry at the victim because they want to protect their beloved minister or think it will hurt the church. When the one who did the damage is a respected and trusted minister in a position of authority in the church, what does a victim do? That minister may be respected on local, state and national denominational levels. The clergy abuse victims are asking for help, showing a need for changes to be made and the denominational and church leaders are crying foul, calling a support group "evil doers", and "just as reprehensible as the sexual criminals" themselves.

Tornadoes are natural disasters and we have warning sirens, meteorological forecast, emergency relief efforts, outpouring of churches helping, and neighbors helping neighbors. Who helps the one assaulted by SBC ministers, assaulted on so many levels as Debbie Vasquez and Christa Brown and so many others? Thus far, it has not been the Southern Baptists. That saddens me.

Anonymous said...

the 12:43 post articulated this issue so beautifully.
Thank you ....I hope you will keep sharing this "word picture" so people will open their eyes.

Anonymous said...

Debbie, you are and have been so brave. So has Christa. So has everyone who has stood up to this very powerful group of RELIGIOUS people, religious not spiritual.

It is so sad. It really breaks my heart. It really is hard to leave the Baptist church. It is where I grew up, it was where I thought I was comfortable. I do love and miss the music. But it is full of Steve Gaines types and Paige Patterson types and all manner of other people who cannot see or choose not to see the evil that resides within the very doors of the place where they worship.

How tragic for all involved.