Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hush money and cockroaches

How many more?

That’s the question people should always ask whenever they hear about a church buying a clergy abuse victim’s silence with hush money.

It is the very nature of such agreements that they hide in the dark. That’s the reason for them. By design and function, they keep troubling news quiet. Most of the time, they work. The people never talk, and you never hear about the hush money or the reason for it.

So, when you do wind up finding out about a hush money agreement, you can feel pretty confident that there were likely others -- others that stayed in the dark.

They’re sort of like cockroaches. When you see one, you know there are more. They nest inside the walls in the dark spaces.

I figure the New Life Church probably has so many hidden cockroaches that the only way they’ll ever get things clean is if they tear out those walls and start fresh.

After all, this is a church whose leaders not only paid a young man to keep quiet, but then they effectively denied doing it. Instead, they had the sickening gall to claim they were trying to help the young man. “Compassionate assistance,” said Brady Boyd, the senior pastor.

When church leaders are so morally compromised – and so blind to the reality of their deeds -- I think you have to figure that those dark spaces are going to harbor a lot of cockroaches.

And why wouldn’t they? If you think cockroaches constitute “compassionate assistance,” then you aren’t likely to see any problem with their presence.

So how many cockroaches were New Life leaders willing to tolerate for the sake of covering up Ted Haggard’s dirty deeds? They’ve recently admitted that there were “several others” who reported “inappropriate behavior” by Haggard. Did the church pay them hush money too?

Maybe the fact that New Life hushed up such foul deeds is why Ted Haggard was able to deliver a guest sermon at an Illinois church as recently as last November. Maybe another church would have been a little less likely to put Haggard in the pulpit if they knew he had preyed on people looking up to that pulpit.

I wish the New Life cockroaches were a unique species… but they’re not. Baptist churches also harbor cockroaches in the dark. They use hush money agreements to silence clergy abuse survivors, including child molestation victims. And they often leave perpetrators in the pulpit when they do it.

Consider the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It’s the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country, and tragically, it’s the statewide Baptist organization that claims to be doing more than any other on the subject of clergy sex abuse. Yet we know that, over the course of almost a decade, their long-time lawyer repeatedly tried to use hush money agreements.

This was the lawyer that the Baptist General Convention of Texas would send out to churches to “help” them when they had to deal with clergy sex abuse. “Help” sometimes came in the form of teaching the churches how to pay hush money.

In 1998, Deborah Dail was offered “assistance” for therapy from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. But the offer came with strings. To get the “assistance,” she would have to agree to never “talk to the press nor make her story public.” She refused.

In 2005, the same BGCT lawyer, helping the church, tried to get me to sign a hush money agreement. I wouldn’t.

In late 2006, the same BGCT lawyer was one of the attorneys in a case in which the victim actually did sign a hush money agreement with the church. The victim didn’t speak of it, but in unusual circumstances, others did and the agreement eventually came to light.

In May 2007, the same BGCT attorney wrote on the Spiritual Samurai blog that I was wrong to complain about Baptists’ use of such agreements with clergy abuse survivors. He said they were “a standard provision” and that I should know that. So obviously, this guy doesn’t see anything wrong with hush money in clergy abuse cases.

Given his “standard provision” attitude and given our knowledge of 3 specific cases in Texas alone, people should ask, “How many more?”

How many Baptist clergy abuse survivors have been silenced with hush money?

How many Baptist clergy perpetrators have been left in Baptist pulpits because their deeds were hushed up?

How many cockroaches are hiding in the darkness of Baptist walls?


Incidentally... guess what pastor Brady Boyd is going to preach about at New Life Church this coming Sunday? Forgiveness. Pathetically predictable, huh?

Hear Haggard’s recorded phone call telling the young man, "I'd be happy - happy - to try to find some money for you somewhere...."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Haggard scandal isn't about gay sex

The headline was an eye-grabber:
“Pastor Ted Haggard faces more gay sex accusations.”

But the more I delved into the January 24th Associated Press story, the more I knew it wasn’t really about “gay sex.”

It was about pastoral abuse and exploitation.

It was about a mega-church cover-up.

This was different from the 2006 story involving Colorado Springs celebrity pastor Ted Haggard and former prostitute Mike Jones. That story elicited little more than a yawn from me.

Another religious leader caught with a prostitute? Ho-hum.

Sure, Haggard showed hypocrisy to the hilt, but in the work I do, I see such an endless stream of pulpit pounders' hypocrisy that I get inured to it. So I try to concern myself with the more egregious stuff like clergy sex abuse and child molestation.

That’s why this new story about Haggard’s sexual “relationship” with a young male congregant made me flinch.

The young man was in his early 20s. So he was of legal age. But here’s the thing. The young man was part of Haggard’s congregation.

Haggard was his “pastor.” That’s not just an empty word. A pastor occupies a position of high trust toward the members of his congregation.

That’s why what Haggard did was so abusive.

It wasn’t merely “inappropriate,” as the church describes it. Rather, Haggard’s conduct was abusive of another human being.

It is inherently manipulative for a minister to use a congregant -- even an adult congregant -- for his own sexual ends. In some states, such conduct might even be a felony, just as it would if a psychologist sexually exploited a client.

What makes Haggard’s conduct all the more troubling is the fact that other church leaders were apparently willing to engage in a complicit cover-up.

Back at the time of the first Haggard scandal, a church board member reportedly said there was “no evidence that Haggard had sexual relations with anyone but Mike Jones.”

Yet, we now learn that this young man spoke with church officials in 2006, and church officials concluded there was an “overwhelming pool of evidence” to support his story.

So what did the church leaders do with that “overwhelming pool of evidence”? They hushed it up. They paid the young man some money with the condition that he not discuss the matter publicly.

And based on the Associated Press report, it appears that, even now, church officials are trying to spin their hush money payment rather than owning up to the wrong of it. They’re opting for gloss rather than transparency.

The money “wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet,” said Brady Boyd, the new senior pastor at the church Haggard founded.

Yet the money that Boyd claims wasn’t to make the man be quiet is money that nevertheless carried the requirement that the man keep quiet.

It’s a fine display of double-talk. That’s what religious leaders often do when they’re trying to defend the indefensible.

But many people outside the church will surely see the pay-off for what it really was -- morally compromised hush money.

Thank God the young man decided to talk anyway. In today’s report, we learn his name: Grant Haas. He’s the one who brought the truth to the table, not the pious church officials.

But for the courage of Grant Haas, the 10,000 members of New Life Church would still be in the dark about the pastor they so greatly trusted and the complicit church officials who covered for him.

Of course, church members may choose to remain in the dark anyway. You can put the truth in front of people, but you can’t make them open their eyes. And when the glare of truth gets too harsh, people often clench their eyes all the tighter.

Even after all this, I expect most people at New Life Church will probably go right on trusting whatever their church leaders tell them. They’ll choose the easy road of seeing this as a “gay sex” problem rather than seeing the betrayal of their pastor’s abuse and their church leaders’ cover-up.


Ted Haggard is 52 years old, married, and has 5 children. From 2003 through 2006, he was president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization with about 45,000 affiliated churches.

Thanks to the Religion News Service for publishing my original version of this commentary.

See video of young Grant Haas, talking about the effect of what Haggard did and about the church's effort to silence him. In a recorded phone conversation, hear Haggard telling Haas: "It is better to forgive."

Read what Ted Haggard said on Oprah.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't ask don't tell, Baptist-style

Last Wednesday, former Southern Baptist minister Marshal Seymour pled guilty to molesting three boys. Police said they were aware of eight more boys, but as part of the plea deal, the police agreed not to press charges related to the additional “known victims.”

Eleven boys. My heart breaks for them.

They were middle-school and high-school age boys who attended one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches in the country, the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Florida. That’s where Seymour was working as a volunteer youth minister.

Eleven boys. And that’s just the ones the Florida police know about. Seymour probably hurt many more kids, not only in Florida, but also in Alabama and Mississippi.

That’s what makes this story all the more gut-wrenching. Those eleven Florida boys could have been spared.

Marshal Seymour never should have been allowed to work with kids in that Florida church. He could have and should have been stopped a lot sooner.

In the early 1990s, Seymour worked at an Assembly of God church in Biloxi, Mississippi. While there, he was caught three times in “inappropriate situations” with boys from the church. Reportedly, he went skinny-dipping with kids; he pulled down the “britches” of a boy while shooting baskets; and he was found alone with a boy, giving him a massage. Despite these incidents, the church allowed Seymour “to leave in good standing.”

Seymour went to Mobile, Alabama, where he was hired as a youth pastor at another Assembly of God church.

In 1999, Seymour was arrested in Mobile on charges of sodomy and sexual abuse of a 16 year old boy.

The Alabama case was plea-bargained. Seymour pled guilty to a lesser assault charge and the sodomy charge was dropped. His one-year jail sentence was suspended and Seymour moved to Florida.

That very same year, in 1999, Seymour began working as a volunteer youth minister at the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland.

Even as Seymour went right on working with kids at the Florida church, a civil lawsuit went forward against his Alabama church. Lawsuit papers alleged that Seymour had molested a boy at least 9 times. The suit was settled three years later.

So here’s the question: Why did the First Baptist Church at the Mall allow this man to work with kids despite the multiple allegations against him, despite a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, and despite a prior conviction?

Why didn’t the First Baptist Church at the Mall find out about Seymour’s sordid past?

After all, that’s exactly how Southern Baptist leaders claim that Baptist churches will be able to protect kids. Local churches can conduct background checks and talk to ministers' prior churches, they say.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t work because churches don’t ask and churches don’t tell.

Of all the 43,000 Southern Baptist churches in the country, you might think that surely this one would be capable of getting it right. First Baptist Church at the Mall has 8,000 members and extraordinary financial resources. Its senior pastor, Jay Dennis, was the 2001 president of the Florida Baptist Convention.

“If a church such as this one couldn’t manage to uncover prior allegations and charges against a minister, how likely is it that other churches can?" That's what I told the Associated Baptist Press.

After all, most Southern Baptist churches would probably consider it a good Sunday if they had 100 people in the pews, and their financial resources would pale compared to First Baptist Church at the Mall. So why in the world do Southern Baptist leaders imagine that ordinary Southern Baptist churches can do any better at protecting kids than this Florida megachurch did?

I know what some of you may be thinking. You want to believe that the failure at First Baptist Church at the Mall was somehow exceptional.

Consider this: The church of the 2002 Florida Baptist Convention president also managed to hire a children’s minister who had sexually abused a kid in a prior church. Dwayne Mercer's church, First Baptist of Oviedo, hired Tommy Gilmore as its children’s minister. Did they not check with Gilmore’s prior Dallas church where there was a music minister who knew about Gilmore’s abuse of a kid? Or did the Dallas church not tell them?

The megachurch of former national Southern Baptist Convention president Charles Stanley also hired Tommy Gilmore as a children’s minister. Again… did Stanley's First Baptist Church of Atlanta fail to check with Gilmore’s prior Dallas church or did the Dallas church not tell them?

And consider the saga of former Southern Baptist pastor Doug Myers, who was allowed to move from church to church, always under a cloud of suspicion but with no one stopping him. He left a Maryland Baptist church “amid issues with three teenage boys.” Then, at his Alabama church, he liked to go skinny-dipping with the 10 to 12 year old boys, and the chairman of deacons ultimately told Myers that his behavior with a particular boy was “unacceptable.” Myers moved on to Florida, and while at his second Florida church, a woman turned him in for molesting her grandson. Myers was sentenced to seven years. According to a pending civil lawsuit, the Florida Baptist Convention itself had recruited Myers as a “church planter” to start up new churches in the state.

So… did the Florida Baptist Convention fail to check with Myers’ Maryland and Alabama churches, or did the churches fail to tell?

And let’s not forget about the First Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s the megachurch pastored by Wendell Estep, the 2001 president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. It’s a church that tragically allowed a deacon to work with kids even though the deacon had a prior child molestation conviction in Maine.

Such dreadful failures in such prominent churches demonstrate how delusional it is for Southern Baptist leaders to persist in expecting local churches to ferret out clergy predators on their own.

When the leaders themselves can’t get past the “don’t ask don’t tell” roadblock, why do they imagine that ordinary pastors will be able to do what they themselves cannot?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 by white Baptists who supported slavery. For 150 years, it remained a faith group that was hostile to black progress, and its leaders often used words of religion to justify their belief in white supremacy.

Not until 1995 did the Southern Baptist Convention issue an apology for its history of bigotry and for “condoning and perpetuating individual and systemic racism.”

It was a nice gesture, but it was decades late.

Where were Southern Baptist leaders back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s? Where were they when Martin Luther King Jr. and others were marching for civil rights? Where were they when standing up for an oppressed group might have required of them a bit of courage?

Martin Luther King himself pondered that question and expressed “deep disappointment” in the “white religious leadership.” Rather than helping in the cause of justice and human dignity, many white clergymen criticized King and claimed that his actions, “even though peaceful must be condemned.”

While sitting in a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King answered them. He penned a letter that was smuggled out on toilet tissue and in the margins of newspapers. “My dear fellow clergymen,” he began, and he went on to speak of how “too many have been more cautious than courageous.”

“In the midst of blatant injustices,” he said, “I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

Much the same could now be said about Southern Baptist leaders’ lack of courage in stepping up to the plate to effectively address clergy sex abuse. Instead of taking action, they stand on the sideline, mouthing “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” about “autonomy” and “polity” … as if any of that could possibly be more important than protecting kids against clergy who molest and rape them.

If Southern Baptist leaders expect others to view them as champions of morality, then they need to start acting like champions and go to battle to clean up the mess in their own ranks.

Where are Southern Baptist leaders when standing up for those oppressed by their own clergy would mean actually doing something?

Once again, Southern Baptist leaders are showing that they will likely be decades late at doing the right thing.

Though virtually every other major faith group in the country has begun implementing review boards to assess the credibility of clergy abuse reports, Southern Baptist leaders continue to sit on the sidelines and “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

More words from Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind: “I hope, sirs, that you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Baptist pattern

As an adolescent girl, Rebecca Maxfield was sexually abused by the youth pastor at her Baptist church in Connecticut.

Several years later, she broke her silence. As reported in The Herald, Rebecca told her “most trusted religious leader,” Senior Pastor Jim Townsley.

But rather than receiving help, the nightmare continued.

“Like many victims of the clergy, Maxfield found herself suspected of having done something wrong.”

Senior Pastor Jim Townsley talked to the youth pastor, James J. McCoy, whom people called “Pastor Joe.”

  • Pastor Joe “admitted to inappropriate behavior.”
  • Pastor Joe “denied having done anything more than kissing and fondling.”
  • Pastor Joe “suggested that the fault was with Maxfield.”

So, what did Senior Pastor Jim Townsley do after hearing those admissions? Not much. Apparently, Townsley didn’t think Pastor Joe’s “kissing and fondling” of a church girl was any big deal. And of course, that’s just what Pastor Joe admitted to.

Townsley didn’t report it to the police.

Instead, Pastor Joe was allowed to read a letter of resignation to about 200 people at the church. He “admitted having a relationship with a young female church member” and he “apologized and asked for forgiveness.”

So 200 more church-people knew about the abuse at that point. You might imagine that someone would do something to help Rebecca, right? Wrong.

One church member “accused her of lying.” And a family reportedly “left the church because SHE was not reprimanded enough.”

James J. McCoy (“Pastor Joe”) was allowed to simply move on. He went with his wife and kid to Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

And he almost got away with it.

Not until eighteen months later did a Connecticut police detective receive an anonymous phone call about McCoy. And the detective followed up on it.

McCoy was arrested, tried and convicted. Kudos to the police detective!

In talking to police, Senior Pastor Jim Townsley claimed that the church “attempted to deal with the problem in a biblical and caring but firm procedure.”

In other words, he justified the church’s handling of it.

Townsley also claimed that McCoy had “led him to believe that Rebecca had feelings towards him.” Huh?

So… if an adolescent girl has “feelings,” then she’s fair game for an adult married minister’s sexual abuse? Is that how these guys think?

I’d say the perps aren’t the only ones who are sick in the head.

But hey… apparently the congregation of Central Baptist Church sees nothing wrong with Senior Pastor Jim Townsley’s way of thinking. Apparently, they’re okay with such grotesquely irresponsible leadership. According to the church website, Jim Townsley is still the senior pastor.

No consequences. No accountability. No oversight.

That’s the Baptist pattern.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alabama CBF: the good and the bad

The pastor of a Baptist church was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. People in the community were shocked and baffled. In two separate news articles, the accolades went on and on in the small local paper. He “enlightened everyone’s life”…. “touched so many lives in so many ways”… was “very much loved and respected”… “a friend’s friend” … “dedicated to his community and church”… was “everything to everybody” … “a perfect gentleman and perfect friend.”

That’s just a small sampling. The pastor was a prominent citizen. He was on the school board, taught in the schools, was active in local politics, and worked at a mental health center. What could possibly explain his untimely death?

Well, consider this. The pastor had been reported to the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for sexual abuse of an adolescent boy, and that report was under review. Under its policy, if the Alabama CBF committee had arrived at a final determination that the abuse allegations were credible, it would have provided a written statement of its decision. The written statement of a denominational review board is the sort of thing reporters can write about. I can’t help but think that the pastor may have realized that.

I was told that a second victim had recently given a statement to the Alabama CBF committee, and that the committee had confronted the pastor. So the pastor had reason to be upset.

Right about now, I’m guessing some of you are probably thinking that it’s pretty low of me to talk this way about a suicide victim. I’ve wondered the same thing myself. Why not let the dead rest in peace?

Here’s why: A perpetrator’s death doesn’t automatically bring peace for his victims.

It was almost 2 years ago that “Bill” first contacted me and said he had been sexually abused by this prominent Alabama pastor. He filed a police report, but as is typical, too much time had passed for prosecution.

When I realized that the pastor’s church was dually affiliated with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I decided to try to nudge the Alabama CBF to adopt a policy that would allow individuals to report clergy sex abuse to an independent review board. The Alabama CBF is a relatively small organization in Baptist life, and so I hoped it might be more open to change than the big-business-as-usual SBC.

In late 2007, the Alabama CBF adopted a policy and instituted a process for reviewing abuse reports about any minister in an affiliated church. I consulted with the Alabama CBF in the development of its policy, and I applauded them on its adoption. Though the policy was far from perfect, and though it was less than what some other faith groups do, it was nevertheless a big step for a Baptist entity. After all, if the church had been solely affiliated with the SBC, the victim would have been left on his own to try to report the much-loved pastor’s abuse to the pastor’s own church. That’s what Southern Baptist leaders say clergy abuse survivors should do. It’s not realistic.

“Bill” received what I wish all Baptist clergy abuse survivors could receive -- the opportunity to report the abuse to people who will listen and do something about it. Because of the Alabama CBF policy, Bill didn’t have to bear the retraumatizing effect of trying to confront the pastor himself or of trying to present the pastor’s abuse to the pastor’s own church. And because the Alabama CBF’s policy allowed for abuse reports from individuals, and not just churches, Bill didn’t get the bullying run-around that so many other abuse survivors get when they seek help from state and national Southern Baptist leaders, who insist they can’t help individuals. So that much was good about what the Alabama CBF did.

But the Alabama CBF still guarded the secret. And secrecy is what gives perps power -- even dead perps.

When I saw the first article in the small local paper, I contacted the religion writer in the nearest big city -- a reporter with more savvy than the local guy. I admit I hesitated; a suicide is troubling. But a possible factor in a prominent citizen’s suicide would typically be newsworthy. And a Baptist body’s clergy sex abuse review should also be newsworthy. You can read about plenty of clergy review determinations in other faith groups, but for a statewide Baptist body to conduct a review is something unusual. The big-city religion writer was interested. But when he contacted the Alabama CBF, he couldn’t get any confirmation that they had been conducting a review on the pastor. The Alabama CBF wouldn’t say one way or the other. And without confirmation, it’s hard for a reporter to make a story.

By then, the second article in the small local paper had come out, heaping even more praise onto the dead pastor. That pretty much put Bill over the edge. How should he feel when he sees the pastor whom he reported for rape repeatedly lionized as a local hero?

Bill shut down. At first, he was ready to provide all his documentation to help get the “real story” out. He had a police report, letters from the Alabama CBF to him and the accused pastor, and his own lengthy statement to the Alabama CBF. But in the span of just a few hours, Bill shifted to a hunker-down, self-protective mode. Can you blame him? I can’t. I was extremely disappointed because a huge amount of time and energy has been spent on trying to get the truth about this pastor into the light of day, and because whenever one clergy abuse survivor speaks up, others are often strengthened. But I always tell abuse survivors to protect their own psychological well-being, and that’s what Bill did by hunkering down.

For those of you who are still thinking the pastor’s death should put an end to the matter, here’s the thing: It doesn’t end for the victims. Bill’s hunker-down reaction is exactly why this was an important story to try to get out. It’s why the Alabama CBF should have taken on the burden of publicly disclosing the information that two people had reported this pastor.

It’s easy to imagine the pain of the dead pastor’s family. A suicide is always a tragedy. But there’s another chasm of pain, and though it’s less obvious, it’s no less real. It’s the pain of the victims who endure the salt in the wound of seeing their pastor-perpetrator endlessly praised and glorified.

Given that there were two reported victims for this pastor, there were almost certainly many more. Not only did the man have a position of trust as a pastor, but he also had access to especially vulnerable people through his work with the mental health clinic. Others have likely lived for years in undue silent shame because of this man, and they too may double-over in pain when they see the heaped-on praise for him. But they will also see the futility of trying to speak of their horror when the consensus about the man is already set in stone: he’s a hero.

The Alabama CBF should complete its review and take a stand for the truth. After all, this pastor effectively carried a seal of credibility from the Alabama CBF. So the Alabama CBF should be the one to bear the burden of seeing to it that such important information makes it into the light of day. In addition, the Alabama CBF should publicly, proactively and immediately reach out to other possible victims with an offer of support and counseling. If the truth isn’t told, the pastor will probably be permanently lionized with a school named after him.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The great ghetto of Baptist-land

Imagine a country with 16 million people -- a country the size of Chile or the Netherlands. Marauders roam among the population, raping the young and vulnerable… and no one stops them.

Worst of all, the marauders carry the government’s seal of approval. They wear badges. No one can tell they’re marauders. In fact, they look like trusted government officials. So, their victims are much more easily lured.

Despite ample resources and an annual budget of $200 million, the country’s highest leaders refuse to do anything about the marauders.

That’s what’s happening in Baptist-land.

With 101,000 ministers and 43,000 churches, Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination. They're like a whole country.

But unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists have no system of oversight for their clergy.

So, when someone says, “That minister molested me when I was a kid,” no one pays attention. There's no system for anyone to do anything. The leaders turn their backs. No one will even bother to look into it or to see whether the accusation can be substantiated. In fact, if they do anything at all, it’s far more likely that they’ll stone the person who says it rather than assessing whether it might be true.

And with a porous network of 43,000 churches, it’s easy for accused ministers to simply roam from church to church, finding new prey at every stop.

There isn’t even any system of record-keeping on accused ministers in Baptist-land. No one can tell you which ones have been accused and which ones haven’t. And no one can tell you how many accusations a minister has had.

If the landscape gets too hot, the marauders just move on... from church to church and state to state.

A system without oversight asks for abuse. And a system with no consequences fosters even more abuse. That’s what happens in Baptist-land. The marauders are simply left at large to find more victims.

A knowledgeable expert estimates that about 3 percent of those 101,000 ministers are pedophiles. It’s a conservative estimate. Some would place the number higher, at 4 to 6 percent.

But even if the marauding pedophiles in Baptist-land are only 3 percent, it would still mean that 3,030 of those 101,000 ministers are pedophiles.

Most people who sexually abuse kids have multiple victims, often dozens. But again, let’s calculate this on the conservative side. Even if you count only the currently active 3,030 Southern Baptist pedophile ministers, and even if you only count 3 victims for each of them, that’s still 9,090 kids who will be molested and raped by Baptist ministers.

In Baptist-land, the leaders don’t seem to think those kids are worth protecting.

And what about all the countless thousands of more abuse victims who were molested and raped by Baptist clergy in the past?

If we all stood in one place, we would fill a great ghetto. Would the high-n-mighty Baptist-land leaders see us then? Or would they simply build a fence around us and hide us?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Obedience and Authority

Most ordinary people will obey the instruction of an authority figure, even when the instruction requires action that is morally repugnant. That was the conclusion of the famous Milgram experiment, conducted at Yale University in the 1960s.

In the experiment, the participants delivered what they believed were painful electric shocks to those who gave wrong answers on some questions. The perceived voltage went up in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer, and most of the participants delivered shocks all the way up to the maximum 450 volts.

People will inflict great pain on others and will even cause physical harm to others if an authority figure directs them to do so.

Stanley Milgram summarized his study this way: “Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study…. Ordinary people… can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

This psychological research was recently replicated, and though additional safeguards were in place, the experiment again showed the same troubling human tendency. Most people obey authority, even when the authority directs immoral action.

I think this enormous power of authority figures is a big part of the explanation for why so many people do nothing about clergy sex abuse. It’s why they find ways to rationalize, excuse, minimize and deny, instead of taking action.

Even when accusations and information are deeply troubling, ordinary people will choose to trust their pastor. He’s the authority figure.

Most people like to imagine that they will do the right thing when confronted with information about clergy sex abuse. But the reality is that most people trust the authority figure and do whatever he says. It’s human nature.

It’s the same sort of trust that causes kids to obey authority figures even when the obedience leads to sexual acts. The most powerful weapon that a clergy-predator has is the weapon of trust.

It’s why the weapon of trust must be taken away when there are credible allegations of abuse.

It’s why other authority figures must step up to the plate to assure that abuse allegations are responsibly addressed. Even if denominational leaders can’t remove men from ministry, they could at least serve as a competing voice of authority to say, “We believe the allegations are credible.”

See the 5-minute video, “The Science of Evil,” about the replication of the Milgram experiment. Let me know what you think.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Blaze of straw pretends to be the moon

When I saw this 13th century poem, it reminded me of what so many clergy abuse survivors have encountered among Baptist leaders: Words of religion used as bait for abuse; words of religion used as a cover-up for abuse; words of religion used as a rationalization for doing nothing about abuse. We have encountered up-close “those who destroy… by using sacred symbols in their talk.”

We wait while Southern Baptist leaders persist in their pretending. And we watch the farce of how they love their image while sitting in “deep mud.”

But sooner or later, spring will arrive. When it does, it will bring a new kind of “justice” -- a “justice” as natural and true as whatever causes fire to “lighten and rise.”

And with that spring justice will come a new way of being -- a way not bound by the old confining constraints but instead, a way that removes restraint.

May you all find freedom in your souls. Happy New Year.

Green Writ
by Rumi, with translation by Coleman Barks

From behind a thin cloth
a blaze of straw pretends to be the moon.

There are those who destroy soul growth
by using sacred symbols in their talk.

When you fall in love with clothing,
it is like you ride a donkey
into deep mud and sit there.

Even a dog sniffs greasy bread before eating.
Have you ever seen lions
fighting over a piece of bread?
Why are you drawn to a beautiful corpse?

You are a continuous question about soul.
When the answer comes in,
the question changes,

the way a kindness in grape juice
turns it into wine, the way you
were born into this life.

Fire lightens and rises.
You bow when you hear truth.

Fall thieves the garden barren.
Then a spring justice knocks on the door.

You read the green writ
removing all restraint.