Monday, April 14, 2008

Congregants stand by their man

In early March, I did a posting about Debbie Vasquez and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Dale “Dickie” Amyx, the pastor of Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas. (That’s him in the photo.)

A few days ago, “Sharyn” left a comment expressing her support for pastor Amyx. “I will stand by him and his family through thick and thin,” she says.

Because Sharyn’s comment is revealing and few are likely to see it on the old posting, I’m reposting it here.

“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 adultery is wrong. Yes, the deceit is wrong. 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 his 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 tongues. 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 from 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 whether I steal a piece 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.”

I’m sure many of you could go through this comment line-by-line, and address the flaws in Sharyn’s thinking. We’ve seen these sorts of minimizations and rationalizations countless times before, haven’t we? All the talk about forgiveness, casting stones, and “sin is sin”… as though any of it could possibly excuse a minister’s sexual abuse of a church kid.

Sharyn’s comment illustrates why Southern Baptists need the resource of a professionally-staffed, independent board to review clergy abuse reports. Congregations CANNOT do this on their own. They are incapable of it. People who love and trust their minister cannot objectively assess whether he has committed sexual abuse.

Even when confronted with extraordinary evidence, congregants typically find ways to mentally minimize the truth. Why? Because they love their minister and because believing in his goodness is fundamental to their own sense of well-being in the world.

What Sharyn sees in Dickie Amyx is “a man who has done nothing but help his community, friends and family for as long as I have known him.” She clings to her memory of “a man who not only taught me God’s word…but…pulled me from darkness many, many times.”

I don’t doubt Sharyn’s memories. Dickie Amyx has probably preached many a good sermon, visited many a sick person in the hospital, stood by the side of many a grieving widow, married many couples, and ministered to others in countless ways. But no amount of good can lessen the harm that is done by the evil of clergy sex abuse.

If a man does good 360 days a year, but molests kids for 5 days a year, do the 360 days outweigh the 5? Of course not. This is not a balance that anyone has the right to strike.

You cannot offset the horrible harm done to a kid when a trusted minister molests her by weighing it against the good that the minister may do in other parts of his life. That scale will not balance. You cannot ignore such terrible evil no matter how much good is stacked up on the other side.

But that is exactly what congregants are inclined to do, and it is why clergy abuse reports must be assessed by persons outside an accused pastor’s congregation.

Finally, for those of you who haven’t followed the Debbie Vasquez story, let me just point out that, contrary to what Sharyn suggests, the evidence against pastor Dickie Amyx went way beyond the level of mere “gossip.” This is a minister who, in sworn testimony, admitted to having sex with Debbie 20 to 40 times but defended his actions by saying “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

Debbie says the abuse began when she was 14 and that Amyx raped her when she was 15. I believe Debbie, but even if people choose to believe Amyx, it’s wrong to keep a Southern Baptist minister in the pulpit whose only defense against sexual abuse is to say “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.” Someone needs to tell those people that. It’s wrong.

As other evidence, Debbie obtained a tape recording of Amyx talking about it and she also has a paternity judgment against Amyx. Yeah… that’s right… she had to go to court to get this so-called man of God, pastor Dickie Amyx, to even support his own kid.

But congregants will almost always find ways to overlook and minimize such evidence. They cannot escape their natural inclination to “stand by their man.” It’s exactly why outsiders must be brought in to assist when allegations of clergy sex abuse are raised.


Anonymous said...

Clergy sexual abuse is not sin; it is evil. That's just one distinction many in autonomous congregations do not understand.

It doesn't matter what an individual in any congregation feels toward an accused pastor. The reality is scripturally and morally, any pastor who engages in harming innocent parishioners is no longer qualified to be a pastor. Pastors who do this betray their congregation.

Thank you, Christa, for posting Sharyn's comment. The SBC needs to step in to help congregants understand CSA, as well as help the victims.

Unknown said...

I totally agree. The SBC needs to step in to help congregants understand CSA. Part of my healing has come because I have realized that the retraumatizations I have received by other Christians was not because they were purposely being mean, but because they just don't understand. Of course, most of the leaders of the SBC don't understand, either.

And unless one is victimized by a pastor, it is easier to keep the thought of "my pastor is a good pastor, he just made one mistake." To feel otherwise would be to acknowledge to self that you've been fooled by a wolf in sheep's clothing. Then you would have to question everything you were taught by that pastor, and allow yourself to go though that anger, and that might hurt...

So people turn a blind eye to avoid feeling that pain and uncertainty, and in the meantime, the victim gets victimized more by the blindness of the congregants, and more people get victimized. It's a very sad situation. And in Sharyn's comment I see a woman who is doing what she must to not the pain and uncertainty of betrayal. And in doing so, Debbie gets hurt more.

Anonymous said...

Over the years I have met a lot of church members who say and do what the writer said concerning their Pastor and his "mistakes". For those of us who make a serious effort to avoid what is called "preacher worship" these events cause us a lot of pain and stress. I am convinced that a true man of God will want his people to worship only the Living God not some poor substitute of a human.

Whenever I see this type of "forgiveness" logic [which is actually a lack of logic] I am reminded about the man who was faithful to his wife "most of the time". I might forgive someone for breaking into my house to steal my TV but I do not have to give them a key to my house and let them know that I have purchased another one. The abuse of the doctrine on forgiveness has become a weapon of abuse and a justifier of sinful conduct. Even Jesus told the woman at the well to "Go and sin NO MORE". David's sin brought forgiveness but he lost his son and was denied the privilege to build the temple because of his sin. We must teach people that sin is forgivable but the consequences are not removable.

Christa, I really admire your staying power. I know it must be difficult and only eternity will reveal how much you have helped others and the difference you have made with your life. God bless.

John Harrison, retired SBC minister

Christa Brown said...

"The abuse of the doctrine on forgiveness has become a weapon of abuse..."

Amen. Well-said. Thanks, John.

gmommy said...

Thank you John.
I was too tired to say ..yet again...what you expreessed so well.

Not only are there consequences with sin but in the case of abuse...the sin of these men cause LONG TERM consequences on the victim.

In every case when we are told to forgive the predator minister...there is no discussion or concern about the consequences the victim must suffer alone with no support many times...and for many years.
It totally boggles my mind how
"Christians" think and treat the wounded.
Especially those who are to set the example and be above reproach.

Anonymous said...

Your blog has become an excellent educational tool about CSA. I hope more people will read it and learn the errors in their thinking.


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.

[Charline just posted this under Sharyn's original comment, and since her remarks are so worthwhile and also appropriate here, I cut & pasted them. CB]

Anonymous said...

There is something completely disturbing when a woman reasons about an abuser in the generalization of "I don't know who has not sinned." This pastor has completely disqualified his office therefore his ofice should be taken away from him. Sharyn has been seduced by his charm not delivered by the truth. Forgiveness does not mean you leave the fox in the hen house.

Anonymous said...

You know, in the Catholic church, the Pope just met with the victims of abuse. I'm just sayin, thats all. Cough. ( I was really impressed with that, is all I'm sayin.)

LMcC said...

I'm so baffled about how people can talk about pastors having affairs, molesting children, and coercing women in crisis into sex like they're six-year-olds who just "made a mistake".

A fender-bender is a mistake. Spilling one's drink on the keyboard is a mistake. Forgetting a birthday is a mistake. Deliberately going against one's wedding vows, breaking laws against sexual contact with a minor, abusing the power that comes with the office... those are not mere mistakes, but willfully chosen evil acts.

It's time for the denial to stop and for those in denial to learn the difference between mistakes and deliberate wrong and illegal behavior.

Danni said...

"If a man does good 360 days a year, but molests kids for 5 days a year, do the 360 days outweigh the 5? Of course not. This is not a balance that anyone has the right to strike."

The parable of the leaven comes to mind...

This is a clear reminder of why it's necessary to keep on saying it over and over and over. Keep it up!

-- Danni