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.


Anonymous said...

Things just never, ever change do they. All I can say is that I am just very sorry that this young woman had to experience this abuse -- over and over and over again -- by many different people.

I seriously thought about visiting a SBC church again -- it is what I know -- what I grew up with -- in some sick way it is what I am familiar with. Then I read this and other stories and I was jolted back to reality.

How many of us never go to church again or at least never are involved in a church again because no matter how hard we try, we cannot trust those people. Maybe, probably, most of them are trust-worthy but you just cannot let your guard down when you have been burnt so badly.


Christa Brown said...

" some sick way it is what I am familiar with."

Strange, isn't it, how we're drawn to what's familiar? It is as though the ways of thinking from our childhood call to us. They're ruts, but they're familiar ruts. The sounds, the words, the songs, the beliefs... it is as though all of it tries to call us back home. But for many of us, it's like the siren call to ancient sailors, and it will dash us on the rocks. We feel ourselves safer sailing over the dark edge of the earth than toward that siren call.

Anonymous said...

I honestly do not think pastor's are going to understand their responsibility under the law until someone takes them to court AND LETS A JUDGE EXPLAIN IT WITH JAIL OR MONEY. Having been a police officer and a pastor the law is very simple. Come on pastor's do not just talk about living right, put it into practice where abuse is reported!

BaptistPlanet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

First of all (from what I can read on their website) this is not a Southern Baptist church and it does get a little tiring to think Southern Baptists are responsible for every perverted staff member in America. You can be sure their are plenty of Methodist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal perverts as well so let's quit hollering "Baptist" all the time.

Its hard to believe that any pastor thinks its alright for a married staff member to "only" kiss and fondle a teenager. Both he and the youth pastor should first be castrated and then put in a very special section of the prison reserved for sex offenders. It would sure change their outlook on life.

On the other side of the coin, there must be more to this story because I can't believe any pastor would be so stupid, deluded, or evil. And to have a congregation just as dumb goes beyond comprehension.

The whole thing makes me sick but let's move on from just Baptists all the time. Sex abuse in churches in universal and we need to look at it that way.

Anonymous said...

"just move on" What we want is for the religious community to move forward. The size and influence of the SBC would have a tremedous influence on the religious community at large if they would admit the problem and becpme pro-active in dealing with perps and providing help to those victimized by the abuse of power under the name of God. "move on" - just move please

oc said...

Anon 5:02,

I'm looking at your comment, and here is what I see...

Paragraph 1. Well, others are doing it too.

Paragraph 2. "It's hard to believe...".

Paragraph 3. "I can't believe...".

Paragraph 4. Back to paragraph 1.

And, with the very logic you express, you seem to feel free to come to a conclusion using the very words which allow the whole tragedy to continue... those same hurtful words the victims of Baptist predators keep on hearing...

"move on".

No, there will be no "moving on".
"Move on" is just another way to say "It hurts me, so just shut up, I don't want to hear it."

So I'll just say, too bad.


Christa Brown said...

Anon 5:02 - It's kinda funny how Southern Baptist leaders have long been content to wag their fingers at the Catholics, when all the while they sat on the sidelines doing nothing. They were happy enough to point at others, but now they don't want anyone pointing back at them. And as John points out, if Southern Baptists would set an example, they could have a huge influence on other Baptist groups.

As for Methodists and Presbyterians... well sure they've had clergy-perp problems too. All faith groups do. But at least Methodists and Presbyterians now have denominational review boards for assessing clergy abuse reports. They have oversight systems. They have the sorts of policies and procedures that could provide guidelines for Southern Baptists, if only Southern Baptists would care.

So I think it's long overdue for people to start hollering "Baptist" in connection with clergy abuse. It's the denominational do-nothingness that we're hollering about -- not just the perps.

And as for your inability to "believe any pastor would be so stupid, deluded or evil," I can't help but think what a pretty little bubble-world you live in. I hear these stories all the time - hundreds of them. That's what's so sad. It's not even unusual. It's a pattern.

Anonymous said...

I guarantee you that I know more pastors personally than you ever do or will and I do not know one single pastor who would tolerate or coverup abuse on their staff.

You must know a Baptist world that I don't know--and I've been in it nearly as long as you are old.

Christa Brown said...

"...I do not know one single pastor who would tolerate or coverup abuse on their staff."

You just think you don't.
Odds are good that you probably do indeed know pastors who already have tolerated or covered up for abuse.

And I guarantee you that I do indeed know a Baptist world that you obviously don't have a clue about.

Anonymous said...

Then why would you even go near the Baptist world you so much seem to detest. I do remember somewhere that you said you no longer even attend a church but I'm not positive. Enlighten us.

And I do stand by my statement that I do not know a single pastor who would tolerate abuse on their staff. I don't think there are many out there as you claim.

gmommy said...

anon 11:45,
You are welcome to visit Bellevue Baptist in Memphis Tn and meet a pastor who not only kept a minister on staff for over 6 months AFTER the minister confessed that he was a sex abuser.... but the perp was given a raise before the public got wind of it and the pastor had to let him go.

There are pages of stories on this site documenting not only abusers but pastors and SBC leaders who ignored their little crimes or covered for them.

Bust that unrealistic church bubble and open your eyes to the evil all around you....they claim to be God's men.

Anonymous said...

We talk about Southern Baptists because that is what we were; that is what we know; THOSE ARE THE ONES WHO ABUSED US.

"Because I can't believe any pastor would be so stupid, deluded, or evil. And to have a congregation just as dumb goes beyond comprehension." Just because you can't believe it, does not mean it is not so. Baptists, as a rule, at least those I have known, prefer to look at pastors and church leaders as men called of God who are incapable of doing bad things.

I believe that SBC members, for the most part are masters of denial. It is what they choose to be because they have been taught to accept whatever is told to them from the pulpit. They are taught not to question those in authority -- such as Steve Gaines at Bellevue Baptist Church.

You are right about sex abuse being universal. But, don't give me this shit about moving on. Those of us who have experienced this, do move on -- when we are able. Part of our moving on, though, is to never be quiet again about what was done to us or who did it!

Christa Brown said...

Shout it out, Phyllis! We will "never be quiet again about what was done to us or who did it!"

Anon: I expect that almost all Baptist pastors would indeed say that they would never tolerate abuse. And they would believe that about themselves. But when actually confronted with an incident, human beings often behave very differently than how they imagine they would. They find ways to minimize it, excuse it, deny it, and not see it. They find ways not to define it as "abuse" - and so of course they never tolerate abuse. They find ways to avoid "knowing" anything, and if they don't actually "know", they can't possibly have an obligation to act... or so they tell themselves. After all, their staff minister has never been convicted -- "innocent until proven guilty," right? -- so why shouldn't I just let him move on? -- if it was really so bad, wouldn't she have said something sooner? They find an almost infinite number of rationalizations. That's why Baptists so desperately need the resource of an outside, objective, professional, trained review board to assess clergy abuse reports.

Here are just a few of the bigger cases: Bellevue (the mega-church of pastor Steve Gaines - a church with a great many more resources than most), First Baptist of Greenwood ("Missouri's biggest sex abuse case to date"), Southmont (a highly educated congregation in a university town - if they can't handle it right, who can?), Trinity in Jacksonville (an indpt Baptist mega-church but the pastor-perp was a former Southern Baptist minister with an accusation dating back to his SBC days), Westside Victory Baptist in Fort Worth.

That's just a small handful. I wish I had time to better chronicle all of the endless stories. News articles about both SBC cases and other Baptist cases are archived on the website. Any person with open eyes wouldn't have to scan very many before they see the pattern.

You ask, "Why would you even go near the Baptist world...?" 1) Because it's the largest Protestant denomination in the land and they're failing to take reasonable steps to protect kids against predators, and whether those kids eventually grow up to be Baptist or Buddhist, alien or athiest, they deserve far better protection. 2) Because people who were abused in Baptist churches deserve compassion and care from the faith community (whether they remain Baptist or not)... and for the most part, Baptist clergy abuse survivors are being treated terribly and it makes their wounds all the greater. 3) Because, despite everything, I still hold hope that Baptists carry the capacity to cooperate together for good and that they will eventually rise to become a people who walk the walk of their faith in connection with how they handle clergy abuse.

Obviously, I don't detest Baptists. But you're right about one thing... I almost never attend a church service. I do, however, sit quietly in empty churches from time to time.

Lin said...

hmmm. He was married with children. What about adultry?

But they always blame the female. She enticed him. Men cannot help it. Females are evil and men are victims of them.

That is the message. Thank God a secular policeman thought different and saw it for the crime it was. Too bad the 'pastor' did not.

He called dealing with it in a kind and loving way? For whom? The criminal@

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon,
You want to match numbers try a former pastor. Hey, you want to know why we focus on the SBC because there is a serious problem and nobody seems to care. Hey, you want to do something, start trying to get the SBC to become responsible. If there is no problem there will be no list. If there is a problem children will be protected better that they are now. Hey Anon, let's become part of the solution not a distraction and an unknowing tool of the perps that are here.

Ramesh said...

As per gmommy's request:
"Could you please put a link on Christa's blog for the Tennessean paper showing the article about the declining SBC. I sent it to Christa in an email but don't know how to make links."

Tennessean: Southern Baptists fight decline
Leader tries to reverse drops in membership, baptisms and giving

Christa Brown said...

Thanks ThyPeace. I just posted another link to the Tennessean article at the top of the right-hand column.

Thanks to Gmommy for sending me this article. It provides a concise history of how Southern Baptist leaders "lost perspective."

Ramesh said...

The below two posts are from danimoss:

The “Not Rape” Epidemic
"This tremendously powerful essay was brought to my attention today. I will offer the same warning as the author - it could be a trigger for those who have experienced sexual assault. However, this is one of the best pieces on the subject of unrecognized sexual assault that I have ever read. Every adult should be required to read this essay to gain a better understanding of the nature of sexual assault."
Original Essay: The Not Rape Epidemic
Should Sex Abuse Victims Move On?
"Forgive and forget, right?
Every pastor, every counselor, every parent should read this site and then dare to tell sex abuse victims to forgive and forget.
You will never forget…"

… when you hear it directly From the Child…

Anonymous said...

In having a good friend that was raped by a seminary man, she did not report it in time to the police (within 48 hours) because of the often stunned reactions that tend to follow. The ethics board could do nothing because it was not filed. I mere swat on the hand was all that was given. "One" a song I used to like, now I get so disgusted when hearing it because it is such a plathering one sided approach of a person's transgression toward another and their wounds. Evangelicals need to come to an orthodox application of church dicispine that guards and surround the wounded closly against those who hurt. As Hubamaier has stated no church can exist without the existence of church discipine.

gmommy said...

The "discipline" from baptist clergy is used only on those who have already been wounded and degraded. Their goal is to shame victims into silence. They do a good job most of the time....with their brand of discipline.

Anonymous said...

Dear Gmommy
But that is why mentioned the "One" song as actually demeaning. I get this vibe by some evnagelical leaders that one must be compassionate to all transgressors. They totally undermine the Torah' teaching of inequivalent transgressions in terms of discipline and confuse it with the doctrine on justification. Gilyard should be at least on restraining orders and I noticed that he is not.

Anonymous said...

There is such a great difference between forgiveness and justice. Even with forgiveness there is the element of accountability and restitution. The purpose of church discipline has always been restoration not punishment. However, the burden of change and conformaty has always been on the offender not the offended. Therfore, the offender is obligated to make the first move and the prove his sincerity by a change in behavior and with restitution to the offended as much as possible. To expect the offended to make the first move and then grant full acceptance of the offender without any movement on the offender's part is unbiblical. Even Jesus wants to grant forgiveness to everyone be is only able to do so to those who repent [turn from their ways], confess with their mouths, and turn over their lives to Him. It seems like some would blame Jesus for not forgiveing the sinner who is neither repentant nor sorry.
Forgiveness by the offended is easier to be granted when they feel safe, believed, and assisted in trying to put back together a life that some willful perp destroyed over his desire to overpower and feel in control of someone else.
The first move is that of the offender not the offended. Any other expectation is both unfair and destructive to someone who has already suffered beyond most of our ability to understand.

Christa Brown said...

"Their goal is to shame victims into silence. They do a good job most of the time...."

Well-said, Gmom. Many people imagine that it couldn't get much worse than being sexually abused. But in Baptist churches, they typically make sure that it gets a whole heckuva lot worse for anyone who tries to talk about it.

The perps are such a small part of the problem. It's about all the others... all the others... all the others... That's the part that forever haunts me.

Anon 4:50 - Welcome here to this blog.

"Forgiveness by the offended is easier to be granted when they feel safe, believed, and assisted in trying to put back together a life that some willful perp destroyed over his desire to overpower and feel in control of someone else.

Yes, John, you're absolutely right. The offended ask for so little... to be safe, to be believed, to be assisted. And for such small wants, they get repeatedly and endlessly slapped down.

oc said...

As terrible as it is, it seems to me that in a real way, the worst offense comes after the actual act.
Shame on the SBC.


oc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
darkness2light said...

My question is under the state's reporting laws of sexual abuse -- "Why was the pastor not held accountable for NOT reporting the abuse?" Even though church policy may have allowed him handle it in this manner, why was there not recourse in the legal realm as a "mandated reporter?" Furthermore, did the victim seek legal damages to cover counseling and other financial needs connected to the abuse?

Christa Brown said...

I don't know anything about the reporting laws in Connecticut. However, across the country, even in states with good reporting laws on the books, those laws are seldom enforced or prosecuted under. It's extremely rare.

I don't know whether or not this particular abuse survivor has sought legal recourse in the civil courts to recover counseling costs, etc. People who grow up in Baptist churches are often inculcated with the belief that it's a sin to sue the church (i.e., to sue the body of Christ), and even when they grow away from the church, they often still carry that belief. And generally, my experience is that most clergy abuse survivors don't want to sue anyway because they realize that the process would likely be retraumatizing for them. And they're right - it usually is retraumatizing - because church lawyers tend to beat up on abuse survivors with all manner of overly intrusive questions, etc. It's a tactic to try to deter them and to get them to drop it.

Anonymous said...

First of all, this church is certainly NOT associated with the Southern Baptist churches. It's an independent fundamental Baptist church. Go to the website and see for yourself. Secondly, no victim is 100% entirely innocent. There is always something that allures the abuser be it how she's dressing, acting, etc. I am by no means excusing the abuser's actions. However, there is certainly two sides to this story.

Christa Brown said...

"Secondly, no victim is 100% entirely innocent. There is always something that allures the abuser be it how she's dressing, acting, etc."

This sentence reflects the typical blame-the-victim mentality... and it's wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This girl was 17 at the time of the abuse, and since the perpetrator had been in the church for 2 years prior to that, I would guess that he was probably grooming her even earlier. No matter how she dressed or acted, it's not her fault. She was a kid. He was an adult. He was also a trusted minister, a married man and a father.

What's sad is that, from what I've seen, there are plenty of Baptist men in leadership positions who carry attitudes just as ignorant as this anonymous person on the internet. Maybe that's why Baptists do so little to protect against clergy child molesters - they're too busy blaming the victims.

Anonymous is correct that this was not a Southern Baptist affiliated church - I never said that it was. It's not unusual for me to write blog postings about other sorts of Baptists, including independents, Cooperative Baptists, and National Baptists. In any event, the Southern Baptist Convention is just as weak on clergy accountability as are the independent Baptists.