Monday, April 7, 2008

On the side of grace

Pastor Wayne Stockstill says he “erred on the side of grace” when he kept quiet about a deacon’s molestation of children in his church.

“Grace.” It burns me that Stockstill would even use the word. What an extraordinary perversion of something divine.

Whatever happened to the notion that grace was the gift of God?

When did so many Baptist pastors start thinking it was their own gift to bestow on child molesters?

Stockstill is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Hesperia, California, a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He bestowed this “grace” on a church deacon who abused two girls over a four-year period.

Some anthropologist should probably do a study on this. But among the tribe known as Southern Baptists, this amazing “grace” appears to be nothing less than the “grace” of quiet complicity with child sex abuse. Leaders of the tribe bestow this “grace” on other leaders.

Stockstill’s invocation of this bizarre “grace” ritual is just one example among many in this tribe.

The same sort of “grace” was extended by Pastor Steve Gaines at Bellevue Baptist, when he stayed quiet about minister Paul Williams’ abuse of a kid.

The same sort of “grace” was extended by music minister Jim Moore at First Baptist Farmers Branch, when he kept quiet about minister Tommy Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid.

The same sort of “grace” is extended daily by the Baptist General Convention of Texas as it continues to keep a secret file with the names of ministers reported by churches for child molestation.

The same sort of “grace” was extended by minister James Crittenden when he tried to hush-up the news about pastor Larry Reynolds’ abuse of a kid.

The same sort of “grace” was extended by pastor Mike Roy when he allowed minister Shawn Davies to continue working with kids even while knowing that Davies was under investigation for child molestation.

The same sort of “grace” was extended by Glenn Akins, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, when he fired a Baptist journalist for reporting on pastor Leslie Mason’s sexual abuse of a kid.

The list could go on and on.

If Southern Baptist leaders saw some other tribe protecting those who molest children, they would righteously wag their fingers and rail against it. But when it happens in their own tribe, they invoke “grace.”

And the people in the pews say “Amen.” They themselves extend this amazingly perverse style of “grace” when they quietly tolerate their leaders’ mute complicity in clergy child molestation.

Eleven years later, and only after deacon Roy Long was finally arrested, Pastor Stockstill reportedly admitted that he “made an egregious mistake.” But so what? Does the tribe impose any consequence for such a “mistake”?

Apparently not. Pastor Stockstill is still the pastor at First Baptist Church of Hesperia. The people in the pews choose to keep him as their leader despite his lack of leadership in confronting a church official’s child molestation.

The same is true of Gaines, Moore, Crittenden and a host of other Southern Baptist ministers who stayed quiet about clergy sex abuse. There are no consequences. The churches simply keep these ministers who are complicit with clergy child molestation… as though it were no big deal.

An anthropologist might point out that this amazing “grace” functions in a way that allows tribal leaders to perpetuate their own power and to preserve their own place at the top of the pecking order within the tribe.

And indeed it does… which brings me back to my original question.

When did divine grace get so debased as to be nothing more than a tool for preservation of the powerful?

Update: I just learned that pastor Wayne Stockstill was a 2-term president of the California Southern Baptist Convention in 2003-04. So, he's a high-honcho Southern Baptist leader. Yet he couldn't figure out that he should call the police about a report of child molestation??? Tells you something about the leaders of this denomination, doesn't it?

Stockstill is also an adjunct professor at California Baptist University where he teaches the next generation of Baptists.


WatchingHISstory said...
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Unknown said...

One sided grace, that's the absolute antithesis of grace for the victim. Wow. This is post is something that should be in all the Baptist blogs.

I wonder how many people in the pews in the SBC in general know how widespread this kind of crap is in our denomination. I think not many.

Christa Brown said...

I ponder the same question all the time, Elisabeth. If people knew how widespread this is, wouldn't they do something? Wouldn't they be outraged? Maybe people in the pews haven't yet grasped it, but I believe state and national leaders DO know how widespread this is. And it remains unfathomable to me that they still do nothing.

Lin said...

Christa, People are not outraged. They keep these pastors and will say they are wonderful. It comes from years and years of wrong teaching on authority, forgiveness and grace. Too many believe there are no consequences after 'human forgiveness' nor do they understand about the 'least of these'.

The more I see, the more scared I am that the average person in the pews is not outraged. Somehow, their situation is 'different'. Their pastor not a monster for overlooking this heinous crime on a child. And we are all hateful and bitter for not just forgiving them and 'moving on'.

We have dumbed down sin to this level. And I think I know the reason: People are awed by what they think is 'spiritual authority'. They don't know scripture well enough to know they are following a wolf and that we are all 'ministers' in the Holy Priesthood. We are putting mere men on pedestals and they know they are pretty much safe up there because they have taught people not to question. There is no clergy/laity class system in scripture. We allowed men to invent that. And now, we even see them rail at us for bringing this up. They say, look at all the false accusations. And they weave grand stories about it to dismmiss even discussing the rise of this crime in our churches.

Watch your children folks. Even at church.

Christa Brown said...

Lin: I see the same thing - people always think "their situation is different." They come up with excuses, rationalizations, reasons, blame-casting and all manner of mind-twisting to work it out in their heads for why what happened wasn't really so bad, for why their pastor is a godly man who's being maligned, and for why we should all just move on and stop talking about it.

I know I'm no biblical scholar, and never will be. Too much of things connected to "religion" are tainted for me and conjure horrible feelings if I even begin to go down those paths. So I try not to. And yet, I retain a very small core of faith and belief. I expect some would say that it's a very simple-minded core. But within my small, simple core of belief, I still retain the notion of the priesthood of the believer. And I look with wonder at Baptists today and ponder what in the world happened to that notion?

Anonymous said...

Fear and the need for security happened. It's easier to let somebody "up there" do all the work, tell us how it's supposed to be. It's hard work to develop and grow on our own, to really own the responsibility for one's own soul. So, when someone that seems to have great authority says "just listen to me, just follow me and everything will be okay" - it's easier to just do it and not to question. And when you start to question, you have to question EVERYTHING you ever knew and that is terrifying. So we follow, like sheep, listening to the voices of false shepherds, only concerned with themselves and their positions of power which they will never give up willingly. So, when the shepherds don't want to give up their power, and the sheep don't want to wake up - how does anything change?

Christa Brown said...

"When the shepherds don't want to give up their power, and the sheep don't want to wake up - how does anything change?"

Great question! Thanks for posing it in such an insightful way, Renae.

Lin said...

" know I'm no biblical scholar, and never will be. Too much of things connected to "religion" are tainted for me and conjure horrible feelings if I even begin to go down those paths."

The Pharisees were 'religious'.
You guys have probably read these but I would like to recommend 2 books that explain a lot of what we see today:
Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. By a guy with a long name like Vonvander or something.

Both explain a bit of what we are seeing today and how it what we see today is nothing like the early church.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with Lin, "People are not outraged. They keep these pastors and will say they are wonderful. It comes from years and years of wrong teaching on authority, forgiveness and grace." I have pictures in my mind of pastors I have had who were supposed to be perfect men of God.

What you said, "Watch your children folks. Even at church", I'm afraid I have come to believe that you should watch your children, especially at church!

Renae, I agree with you one hundred per cent. Especially what you said, "it's easier to just do it and not to question. And when you start to question, you have to question EVERYTHING you ever knew and that is terrifying." That is so true and so difficult. We were raised not to question -- parents, pastors, anyone in authority -- just do it. So, when you start questioning you also start wondering what is wrong with me, why can't I just be a good Christian and believe every word that is spoken from the pulpit, I must be an awful, awful person to question everything I have ever been taught. Very difficult process.


Christa Brown said...

When "you have to question EVERYTHING you ever knew," it is truly terrifying. That's why I have such enormous respect for the courage of abuse survivors. Whether they speak with small voices or big voices, every abuse survivor who reaches that point in their own head of really seeing the truth is a person of great courage. I often ponder the irony of the fact that some of the same people who criticize abuse survivors for failing to speak up sooner are people who can't yet even bring themselves to see the ugly awful reality about men of God who abuse, molest, rape and exploit the young and vulnerable, and who are protected by others who keep quiet. If they themselves can't muster the courage to lift their denial and step outside the security of their safe bubble- world, why do they not realize how much MORE difficult it is for those of us whose bodies and minds internalized that awful reality.

Anonymous said...

How many of the SBC churches have become like cults when the people in the pews look at their pastor, listen to what he says, and obey as if what he says is coming from God himself? Perhaps they think of their pastor as like God. How many people in the pews no longer think for themselves or seek the truth for themselves, merely believing everything told to them, knowing if they should voice disagreement, they would be considered divisive and perhaps have to leave the church or at the very least not be allowed to serve as a deacon, committee member or other position.

Grace is cheap if it is used to excuse sexual molestation and abuse when there is no repentance, no restitution and no restoration. There is nothing cheap about God's grace when He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself to die on the cross and was treated so horribly for our behalf.

This senior pastor erred all right, as have so many others when they look the other way and keep silent in the face of sexual abuse. Their actions show grace to be an ugly word. That is just one example of how twisted they have made things pertaining to God.

Anonymous said...

Phyllis, NOTHING IS WRONG WITH YOU FOR QUESTIONING! We should be teaching every kid in the pew to question everything and not to have to be afraid in the questioning. Lean into the questions - they will take you where you need to go.

And Christa - I think a small core of faith and belief is often much more profound than the industrial sized systems so bogged down with rules and power plays that just keep people enslaved. Hang on to what you have.

Lin said...

BTW: The people in these churches are lying to themselves that they are a 'church'. They are not. They are buildings with people in them. But they are NOT churches and they do NOT worship in Spirit and Truth. They have NO ministry and NO witness of truth.

I know that is a bold thing to say and many will be offended. But it is true. They need to search their hearts. They cannot stay there silent and worship a perfect, holy and just God in Spirit and Truth when this evil lie is there.

They really need to understand this and get into the Word and their prayer closets.

Christa Brown said...

Just learned that this guy, Pastor Wayne Stockstill, was a 2-term president of the California Southern Baptist Convention in 2003-04.

Unknown said...

Maybe it's time for those in the SBC to be a bit more Southern and a little less Baptist. I think it is more appropriate to tar and feather these guys and run them out of town on a rail, as they did in the old days, than to cover up crimes under the guise of "grace". A couple of rounds of that and some of these predators might think twice about trying to prey on SBC kids.

Some might think this is extreme, but I promise you, if you touch my child, there won't be a trial and you will not have to opportunity to become a repeat offender. I will protect my child. I am from the South and there are something worth fighting for.

Anonymous said...

"Erring on the side of grace?" I saw the Wilberforce movie Amazing Grace. In the movie, John Newton compelled Wilberforce to not give up with tenacity in his voice to see to it that the slave ships would cease form sailing anymore trade. Grace empowers to do the right thing!!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I don't attend that church anymore!

I knew Roy Long pretty well and I sang in the choir with his wife when I was in high school. My dad was a deacon with Mr. Long, but my dad never knew a such a horrid thing like this was going on. Mr. Long seemed like such a nice "grandfatherly" man that I couldn't believe it when my mom called me and asked if he ever did anything to me.

Thankfully the most he ever got from me was a hug during the meet and greet part of church. Now I shudder when I think of it.

My aunt and uncle still go to that church and are considering leaving since Pastor Wayne didn't do anything about this. they have mentioned that church attendance has dropped significantly and that they have to get rid of two pastors because they can't afford to keep them on anymore since they have had to pay out the nose for legal fees.

I hope the people of the church can see that this is NOT OK to keep hidden under a rug and when something like this happens, the church needs to take immediate action.

Sorry for the long post. I was just talking to someone about this case over the weekend, so it's all fresh on my mind.