Monday, November 17, 2008

Three-legged stool

Clergy abuse survivors in other major faith groups have three possible ways for exposing their perpetrators and warning others: (1) criminal prosecution, (2) civil litigation, and (3) ecclesiastical process.

Think of it as a 3-legged stool. It’s not a very pretty stool; it’s not a piece of Shaker craftsmanship. But for other faith groups, the stool at least has three legs.

For Baptists, it’s a stool with only about one and a half legs. In effect, it’s not any stool at all, and that’s why kids in Baptist churches are at greater risk.

The first leg: criminal prosecution. It’s good if you can get it, but for most, it’s not possible. The very nature of the psychological damage usually renders a child sex abuse victim incapable of speaking about it until many years later when it’s too late for criminal prosecution. Nationwide, district attorneys recognize this basic reality that most child molesters escape criminal prosecution because of short statutes of limitation. So, while criminal prosecution is an important leg, it can’t possibly hold up the stool.

The second leg: civil litigation. It won’t put the offender in jail, but it can at least bring the offender’s deeds into the light of day and help protect others. Civil litigation gives reporters something they can write about, and so it can bring information about clergy perpetrators to people in the community.

Clergy abuse lawsuits face similar time limitation hurdles as criminal cases, but depending on the state, there is sometimes a measure of flexibility for a civil lawsuit that isn’t available for a criminal case.

However, lawyers considering Baptist abuse cases face even more hurdles than just the time-lag problem. In Baptist cases, lawyers also struggle with finding a line of responsibility because, in the autonomous system of Baptist churches, the buck stops nowhere. By contrast, with Catholic cases, there’s a clear line of responsibility. Penn State professor Philip Jenkins has observed that the “relative ease of litigation against Catholic dioceses” helps to create the public misperception that clergy abuse is “a Catholic problem,” when in fact, it’s just as big a problem for other faith groups. (Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles & Priests, at p. 51 (Oxford U. Press 1996).

Baptist cases can face still more hurdles that lessen the likelihood of litigation and insulate the denomination from court scrutiny. While most Catholic dioceses endure virtually forever, Baptist churches have no trouble in dissolving, reorganizing and renaming themselves. This too can make it more difficult to pursue civil litigation in Baptist clergy abuse cases. And without litigation, reporters will be less likely to write about it, and people in the community will have less chance of finding out about Baptist clergy child molesters.

So, for Baptist clergy abuse survivors, the civil litigation leg of the stool is really only about half a leg as compared to other faith groups. Because this leg is so much smaller for Baptists, you won’t read about as many Baptist cases in the newspapers, and Baptist clergy child molesters will stay more easily hidden.

The third leg: ecclesiastical process. In most other major faith groups, some sort of ecclesiastical process provides the third leg of support for the stool. Other faith groups provide a systematic process for assessing clergy sex abuse reports. They don’t wait for a minister to be criminally convicted, because they know that at least 90 percent of clergy child molesters will slip through the cracks with that approach. So instead, leaders within the faith group take on the responsibility for deciding whether abuse allegations are substantial enough that a man should not be allowed to continue in a position of high trust as a minister.

Decisions made by ecclesiastical processes – or church trials as some call them – are also something that reporters can write about. So they provide still another way of getting information about clergy sex abusers into the light of day and of warning people in the community. Recent news accounts provide ready examples of how church trials brought information to the public about credibly-accused Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergy. In fact, for these faith groups and others, this is the strongest of the stool’s three legs, because it has been the means by which the most credibly-accused clergy child molesters have been removed from ministry.

But this possibility doesn’t even exist for Baptists. These sorts of stories never see the light of day for them because there is no ecclesiastical review process for the 101,000 Southern Baptist clergy in this country. There is no third leg.

Unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists have no systematic process for objectively and professionally assessing clergy sex abuse reports. There is no committee, no panel, no review board. There is no safe place to which clergy abuse survivors can report their perpetrators. There is no one in leadership who will take on the responsibility of assessing clergy abuse reports or of providing information to people in the pews.

So... imagine what happens to a 3-legged stool if you take away one and half legs. Southern Baptists simply don’t have any stool of support for protecting kids in Baptist churches.


Anonymous said...

I know that there is no database but there is no review board in this area either? I thought that they had a commmittee on ethical violations at the state level.

Anonymous said...

I am stunned and perplexed. I don't get this, Crista. When Paige Patterson went up against Bill Clinton for his antics in applying church discipline in the late 1990at the state level, I thought the conservative movement was into some serious reform.

Christa Brown said...

When it comes to clergy child molestation among Southern Baptists, there is no serious reform. There is only status-quo do-nothingness draped in different colors of curtains. Some state conventions have had committees. The national organization had its committee. Nothing changes. They offer only what has failed in the past and shows no sign of working in the future. That's what's real.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that Paige has no control over the BGCT in Texas. His area of "expertise" is the SBC and we can all see how well that has worked out. The BGCT has managed to foul it up all on their own. I do find it interesting that the "moderates" aren't willing to stand up and do something worthwhile about this problem.

Most of his cronies hang out with the Southern Baptists of Texas group and you won't get any information out of them for sure.

Anonymous said...

Yea, I actually went to the SBC site and noticed how that churches are commended to use state databases. Here in lies a problem with state databases and why state convention review boards are essential. A state convention review board would acutally be better to assess a pastors misconduct and also provide a better way for a church member to file any clergy misconduct.

Anonymous said...

Why would you set up any kind of base when you just do not beleieve there is a problem?!

Anonymous said...

But there is no ETHICS review board period? I thought that at the state level ETHIC boards existed.

Christa Brown said...

Anon 11:05 - I suggest you write some letters to officials in statewide Southern Baptist conventions. Ask these questions: To whom may an individual who was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist minister report that minister? Who exactly will actually look into the matter and be accountable for making a responsible assessment? What credentials, experience, training do they have? By what standard will they assess the abuse report? Will someone help the abuse victim track the minister and find out what state and what church he's in now? Will they keep a record of the abuse report? Will they disclose their assessment and warn people in the pews at the man's current church? Will they reach out to try to find other possible victims of the perpetrator and help them? Will they provide independent counseling for the traumatized victim who was nevertheless courageous enough to try to speak up and report the abuse? Where is the data about clergy abuse reports in that state being kept?

If you find some statewide Southern Baptist convention that's actually doing these things, please send me the documentation.

And of course, mere words aren't enough. Some states may indeed have committees that use the word "ethics" in their title, but without deeds, it's just a word. After all, Richard Land himself carries the important-sounding title of President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. But I haven't seen any indication that Richard Land and his "ethics" commission will actually do diddly-squat to help someone who is trying to report clergy sex abuse or to warn people in the pews about credibly-accused clergy-perpetrators.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Christa, for bringing this problem within the SBC churches to light and continuing to shine a light. Without your efforts, all of these cases would have continued to be kept hidden. We need to shine the brightest light we can on this evil within the churches. As one who has personally seen and been traumatized by clergy abuse, coverup, coertion, and persecution, I can never be silent again. My eyes were opened and I have been changed forever by it. Who knew that my path and trauma would intersect with yours in such a personal way because of the same minister. And the other children's minister that traumatized me is still on staff. He has been pulling the wool over the eyes of his senior pastor and fellow ministers for years. If this children's minister did what he did to me to the wife of a staff minister, he would have been gone that day.

Kaye Maher

Anonymous said...

There is another leg...the blogosphere, media and word of mouth. We simply must speak out and we must consider those who coddle perverts as dangerous as the pervert!

That means I think Patterson is as dangerous as Gilyard and Gaines is as dangerous as Williams.

People need to know they are not in a 'real' church when it does not discipline or even deal with perverts.

If only they knew scripture. If only they would study 1 John. IF they did, this would scare them from supporting or overlooking such a henious crime.


Christa Brown said...

Kaye: I am ALWAYS so happy to hear from you! You encourage me, probably more than you realize.
And I too find it more-than-coincidental that our paths intersected. I grieve for what brought our paths together, and for all the pain that I know has been inflicted on you.

Kaye worked at the church of my perpetrator (after he moved from Texas to Georgia to Florida). She made a report of sexual harassment and sexual abuse involving 2 staff ministers at First Baptist Church of Oviedo, Florida. (It's the church of former Florida Baptist Convention president Dwayne Mercer.) One of the ministers she reported for harassment was the same minister who abused me as a kid in Texas. Kaye was treated horribly.

You can read the tiniest tip of the iceberg of her story here.

Lin said...

Kaye, I was so sorry to read about what you went through. I know from reading that short account it was MUCH worse because I know how they operate. I, too, was subjected to the same kind of treatment (for another reason) while on staff at a mega church that could have cared less about truth. All they cared about was saving face and no bad media. The intimidation tactics are right out of Orwell.

These are NOT churches. Everyone is fooling themselves if they think they are.

I am thankful you told the truth and made it public even though you were treated horrible. That is the ONLY thing that might have a chance of protecting others.

Ramesh said...

I think "Ethics Daily" site has been hacked and seeded. Check the link Christa suggested and scroll to the bottom.

At least, Google did not warn me that site is seeded with malware yet.

If any of you know the site owners, you can inform them about this. I have seen other links that go their have been poisoned too.

Anonymous said...

Yes I think of stools when I think of religious power brokers. They sit on their bar-stools while they get drunk on their self-percieved power. Then thewy go to their milk-stools to extract more money and resources from the faithful to support their outragious salaries, perks and ideas. Then there is the toad-stool that they fera because it reminds them that in reality they are becoming more and more like a fungas. And lastly there is the tolet-stool where most of their proises to do the right thing on ministerial abuse end up.

Ramesh said...

Very interesting. "Ethics Daily" link infection only shows up in Google Chrome browser. My guess is the tag words are embedded in the web page and not visible in other browsers.

I did send an email to But they might disregard my email, if they can not see the infection.

If any of you know Bob Allen (if it's the same Bob Allen, the reporter), please talk to him on the phone and ask a professional web developer to check his site for hacker infections.


Christa Brown said...

John: Love the imagery! Bar-stools... milk-stools... toad-stools... toilet-stools. Perfect picture.