Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Start with this one

The story of Debbie Vasquez, reported in the Nashville Scene, caused some Baptist leaders to voice outrage. I heard from several via email and I saw comments on Baptist blogs.

So they’re outraged. Or at least they say they are. But what will they actually do?

So far, they haven’t done anything, despite Debbie’s numerous letters and emails. Meanwhile, other kids remain at risk and Debbie continues to suffer.

So here’s what I propose for Southern Baptist leaders: “How about helping just this one person? Even if you aren’t ready to effectively address clergy abuse as a systemic problem, why can’t you help just this one Baptist abuse survivor? Perhaps if you helped just this one, it would begin to sensitize you to the anguish of all abuse survivors.”

As a teen, Debbie became pregnant with the child of pastor Dale “Dickie” Amyx, a man nearly twice her age. She obtained a paternity judgment against Amyx when the child was 8. Debbie also has a 2003 tape-recording of a conversation in which Amyx talked about high school girls who were telling him “about their sexual exploits.” He talked about a girl who was said to be “in love with him,” and when Debbie expressed concern, Amyx said, “If something happens between me and these kids, I doubt she would be telling anybody.”

With that sort of evidence, a paternity judgment and a tape recording, Debbie tried repeatedly to get help from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She was desperately worried that Amyx would abuse other kids.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas didn’t do diddly-squat.

So finally, with great reluctance, Debbie filed a lawsuit against Bolivar Baptist Church and pastor Dickie Amyx. It seemed like the only way to bring some attention to the matter. She didn’t want money. She just wanted to protect others.

In his deposition, pastor Amyx admitted to having had sex with Debbie between 20 and 40 times, but said this: “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

When Debbie was a kid, the age of consent in Texas was 17, not 18. So Amyx was defending himself by claiming that Debbie was at the age of consent. (Nowadays, it’s a felony in Texas for a clergy person to use a position of spiritual trust to sexually exploit another, regardless of age, but that’s another posting for another day.)

Debbie says the abuse began when she was 14 and that Amyx raped her when she was 15. For myself, there isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind. I believe Debbie.

But suppose Southern Baptist leaders prefer to believe Amyx. Fine. Take pastor Dickie Amyx at his own word. This is a minister who rationalizes the abuse of a church kid by saying, “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

Southern Baptist leaders, I ask you: “Is this the sort of minister you’re willing to have carry forth the ‘Southern Baptist’ brand into the world?”

Since you aren’t doing anything about it, the answer to that question appears to be “yes.”

Oh but you’re outraged, you say?


The Nashville Scene reported that Debbie’s lawsuit against the church is over because of the statute of limitations. That’s what happens in most clergy abuse cases. “By the time victims are capable of coming forward, the law lets predators escape through the statute of limitations – again and again.”

But Debbie did enormous good just by bringing that lawsuit. It allowed her to get Amyx’s sworn testimony and it afforded the opportunity for press coverage. Amyx is still a pastor, but at least some people in the community may have been able to see the truth about him.

The good that Debbie did came at a cost. She had to give her own deposition and relive the horror of what Amyx did to her under hostile questioning from the church’s lawyer. She has continued daily to worry desperately about the safety of other kids during these past two years. And she has received no counseling for herself.

Shouldn’t there have been some better way that wouldn’t have required such hell for the victim and such an extended period of leaving other kids at risk?

Now, here’s the kicker. Because her suit against the church was dismissed, Amyx’s church is claiming that it’s entitled to collect $20,000 in court costs from Debbie with 7.75 % interest. (Yes, you read that right. I’ve got a copy of the February 19th letter from the church’s attorney, Brian T. Cartwright of Alagood & Cartwright in Dallas.)

Can you possibly imagine the additional anguish and worry this causes to Debbie, especially after all that she’s already been through? Hasn’t she suffered enough?

If this is what Baptist abuse survivors have to go through to try to expose clergy-perpetrators, then most survivors will remain silent. And if abuse survivors remain silent, people in the pews will not find out who the perpetrators are. This means kids in Baptist churches will remain at risk.

So how about it, Southern Baptist leaders? Isn’t your help overdue on this? Why don’t you begin addressing the clergy abuse problem by starting with this one person? Help Debbie.

Write to the deacons of Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas, and let them know how outraged you are about the fact that Dickie Amyx is still their pastor.

Tell the deacons how egregiously immoral it is for their church to seek $20,000 from a clergy abuse survivor who tried to bring the abuse to light.

Suggest to the deacons that they might do better to take up a collection for Amyx’s kid so as to make up for the fact that he didn’t pay child support for the kid’s first 8 years.

You say you’re outraged. If you really are, how about issuing a press release, publicly expressing your outrage and publicly denouncing the church’s continued retention of Amyx? In fact, why don’t you publish your outrage in the Baptist Press and the Baptist Standard as well?

What about telling the church that it will be disfellowshipped from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention if it continues to retain Amyx?

Baptist General Convention of Texas: You had the chance almost 2 years ago to step into this situation and protect other kids. You did nothing. How about doing something now? By published policy, you have long provided counseling for clergy perpetrators. How about providing a counseling stipend for Debbie? Provide it with no strings attached so that she can choose her own independent counselor.

SBC Executive Committee: For your next meeting, why don’t all 81 of you stay at a moderate hotel instead of a luxury hotel? With the extra $100 per night in savings of SBC dollars, you could direct those dollars to instead provide a counseling stipend for Debbie. After all, do you really need that fancy lobby?

If you guys really wanted to effectively address the Baptist clergy abuse problem, surely you could find a way. Why don’t you start by helping just this one abuse survivor? Help Debbie.


Jeri said...

Great suggestions, Christa! But then, the first step is to actually acknowledge the reality of the tragedy, and how many SBC leaders really want to do that? (You've heard the joke, "how many so-and-so's does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Here's a new one: How many SBC leaders does it take to acknowledge a tragedy? ANSWER: What tragedy?

Dark humor for dark days. But still, I believe that the Lord is working among His abandoned and forsaken people who have been harmed by Big Baptist Business As Usual.

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you Christa, thank you. Faced with mounting bills as a blue-collar worker in relation to my own PTSD treatment, I am floored by the difficulty Debbie must overcome. The SBC owes this and untold more.

gmommy said...

I am personally outraged that I was ever part of any so called Christian denomination that would abuse another human being to the extent that they have Debbie.
They are ALL GULITY!!!

HOW DARE they ask her to pay THEM 1cent yet allow that perverted freak to remain in the pulpit.
What a "church"!!
Debbie has more strength and courage than 50 Baptist ministers!!!
Takes "real men" to beat down a single mom made pregnant by a perverted MARRIED MINISTER...

NO MATTER what her age was.... this so called pastor CONFESSED to being immoral and DNA proved he fathered her child.

Does Paige Patterson still want 2 witnesses that watched the perverted freak molest, rape, and defile Debbie to come forward???
The way the SBC works....there probably are 2 other pastors that watched!!!
What liars and deceivers these people are...

Debbie....you have more guts in your little finger than 50 Baptist pastors in pants!!!

Why can't we start a fund for Debbie like Wade Burleson did for the female professor that Paige Patterson fired inappropriately????

Can't depend on the good ol boys in the SBC...too many trips to exotic places to pay for and doggie head stones to buy!!!!

Anonymous said...

Is it time yet to take the issue to Oprah for national/world news coverage?

I shared with a friend why I was thinking of leaving the SBC. To my surprise, the friend understood. There were no blinders. If only the SBC leadership understood so easily. What my friend did not understand is why the SBC leadership has not already taken action against clergy abuse. And now, once again action is taken against the victim.

Debbie, you are in my prayers. You have been so courageous, even though you have suffered more than anyone should have to because of inaction by the SBC. Christa has come up with several great ideas and I hope Baptist leaders will take them to heart.

Christa Brown said...

Great idea! Here's where you can email suggestions for what you'd like to see on the Oprah show. Write in and suggest a show on Baptist clergy sex abuse and cover-ups. It's NOT just the Catholics, and WE are the ones who know that. I'd love to take this to Oprah, and I'd love to have some of you there with me! Shine on survivors! Let's shine on Oprah!

Jeri: Thanks for the dark humor. I need more laughs!

gmommy said...

Getting Oprah involved is the best idea I've heard!!!! I put the word out on our blog. Will pass the word to my friends to write in.

Christa,this is the platform we need. Wonder if Paige Patterson would want to appear on the show and behave towards the victims the way he has in the past.
I'd like to see that...I might even laugh.

Anonymous said...

If anyone feels we should not be on Oprah because of New Age reasons, just remember we are borrowing the vehicle, not jumping on the bandwagon. We need to get the information out there in a big way. There may even be many more suffering alone and not know where to turn. That was the way I was until I was told about a story in the newspaper, referring to Christa's lawsuit.

Christa Brown said...

National media can be a vehicle for reaching many thousands more wounded people and letting them know they are not alone. It can potentially protect many more kids and families by letting them know that this is also a Protestant problem and that they need to be ever-vigilant, even in their churches. And national media attention can put more pressure on SBC leadership to effectively address the problem. With those goals in mind, I would be thrilled beyond all measure to be able to take this story and this issue to the Oprah show.

"Like soldiers in the winter's night with a vow to defend... No retreat, Baby. No Surrender....
Like brothers [and sisters] in the stormy night with a vow to defend... No retreat, Baby. No Surrender."

[Bruce Springsteen is still in my head...just came in from a run.]

Unknown said...

How can any of us cast stones on anyone. I believe that none of us know all the facts of this story. I believe yes, the adultry is worng. Yes, the decit is worng.
Have anyone of you stopped to think what the family of the accused is going through and what they have gone through before all of this. Ok so some poor judgements were made on his part in his younger years but isn't our walk with God constant learning. Learning from our mistakes and making them right. This is a man who has done nothing but help is community, friends and family for as long as I have known him. To walk with God is to forgive those in our path that is what we are taught. It is 2008 and who has met someone in this lifetime who has never sinned. We all sin. I believe that when you can look in the mirror and truly believe that you have never sinned, then express your opinion till then all need to hold their tounges. This is a story that is about a man who not only taught me God's word on Sunday mornings but he has pulled me form darkness many, many times in my life. I will stand by him and his family through thick and thin. As Christians our walk with God is a daily struggle. The devil is around every corner. God's hope is that even though we may sin but learn from that sin. A sin is a sin weather i steal a peice of gum, gossip about my neighbor, or shoo someone in anger in God's eyes they are all the same and we are taught that all we need to do is ask for forgiveness and it is forgotten. Don't you believe that. I believe that and i believe that he has done that. Let's let everyone please get back to their lives and stop the gossip.

Anonymous said...

You know I can not tell you how many times I have heard. What are you doing to the family can you not see the family is suffering. Well let me tell you as a victim of sexual clergy abuse. I was a single parent tryng to raise my daughter and trying to keep my job because I worked at a Baptist Church. When the abuse happened to me He did it. Evidence on tape caught him doing his act and still I am to blame what his family was going through. I did not do this to his family. He did it to them. There is evidence to prove he did it to me and his family.
Did anyone ever think of the fact I to had a family even though we did not have a dad or husband living with us, My daughter and I are a family. Was it okay for the trama, hurt, backstabbing way my family was treated because I chose to tell the truth. He chose to abuse. He did it to me and his family.
A lot of people think we do this to get money. That is never an issue to most of the people I talk to. I could have sued the church, deacons and whoever else I wanted to but I chose to let God handle them and in order to get the abuse out so someone else would not get hurt I went public and have suffered ever since then but I know I did right and God is good and He will take care of the rest. No thanks to the Baptist Association of anykind.
I do not know where I belong anymore but I know where I do'nt

To Sharyn I say stop the gossip yes but the truth keep it going and it sounds like this is where the Baptist churches end. As far as getting back to our lives, ask a person who goes through abuse what kind of life they get back to. Just keep it quiet. Do not tell. I am so tired of this psychology
Thank you Debbie for your courage for all you have done. You have done a wonderful service to help many others know that If you do not come forward it will be not known and they will continue to get away with the abuse.
Why do you want us to say quiet.I pray that this never happens to your children, mothers, or daughters. Then and only then will you understand.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that my statement may have been taken wrong. I do feel for those that have been abused and I am one of thoses victim's. It does suck and it is hard to get on with our lives as normal people. The question is always in the back of our heads,"What did I do to make him do this." My abuser was not a man of God, yet that makes no difference, just as I said before a sin is a sin. Well, abuse is abuse( physical, mental, or sexual.) There is still damage from whom ever it came from, and we are stuck with the recovery. My statement in my earlier blog was for someone to get the facts on this story of Debbie, try looking into her past and seeing what she is about. This woman has caused so much pain to the family of the accused and hasn't even blinked an eye. She has gained sympathy from people all over the United States for something that truly happened before this man was ever teaching any of us God's word. That is why I stated "yes the adultry was wrong" It was not a forced act it took two. I do applogize to all those that this has happenend to and my statments are not to hurt anyone. Mainly the people that are struggling with this issue. I just can see someone that is craving attention and the only way that she can get it is through lies and decit. I do believe that there is karma in this world and what goes around comes around.