Monday, March 23, 2009

When the going gets tough...

Clergy sex abuse presents to faith leaders one of the most difficult of all challenges.

How do Southern Baptist leaders use their faith to respond to this challenge?

Do they seek restorative justice for those traumatized by Baptist clergy?

Do they bind the wounds of clergy abuse survivors?

Do they seek to liberate the oppression of clergy abuse survivors?

Do they hear the cries of the wounded?

Do they seek to ascertain the truth?

You know the answers to these questions.

When the going gets tough… when called upon to confront clergy sex abuse… Southern Baptist leaders turn away. Rather than deal with the problem, they leave “the least of these” to the wolves.

Worst of all, they cloak their cowardice in words of religion. Baptist leaders claim they are powerless and they blame it on the Bible.

They claim the Bible tells them that all churches are autonomous. Then they twist it into such a radicalized version of church autonomy that it whitewashes their obligation to protect kids.

How convenient for them. They use the Bible itself as the towel on which they wipe their hands free from the horror inflicted by clergy predators.

How dare they?

How dare they use words of faith to propagate their own small-minded, self-serving power structure? And how dare they do so at the expense of kids?

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Nothing more... "

The immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, was recently appointed to serve on the White House “faith-based” advisory council. Given Page’s abysmal failure in addressing clergy sex abuse and cover-ups among Southern Baptists, let’s hope he displays better judgment in his role on the President’s advisory council.

An open letter:

Dear Dr. Page,

I haven’t forgotten how you publicly castigated the clergy abuse survivors’ support groups by saying we were “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

Those were hateful words coming from the highest leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the land.

They’re words that have stuck with me, as I’m sure they did for many other abuse survivors.

But I wonder whether your words held meaning for you? Or did you simply toss them out as though they were a matter of no consequence?

Did you realize the hurtfulness of your words when you spoke them? Did you realize how such words, coming from a high-level leader, would help to legitimize a Baptist climate of dismissiveness toward clergy abuse survivors?

I have long pondered how any decent person could say such a thing, much less a person who purports to be a religious leader. To this day, it remains a mystery to me.

At first, when I heard your statement, my mind honed in on your accusation that we were “opportunistic.” It was so ludicrous and mean-spirited that I couldn’t see past it. Where was the “opportunity,” I wondered, in being molested and raped by a Baptist minister?

But as time went by, I realized that the real sting of your words was in the “nothing more.”

I try to imagine a religious leader saying that clergy abuse survivors are “nothing more” than swine.

Or “nothing more” than “Polacks.” Or “nothing more” than “potato-eaters.”

Or maybe in Jesus’ day, it would have been “nothing more” than Canaanites.

Pick your pejorative. That’s the effect of your words. You slung a slur and then said we were “nothing more.”

And you did it publicly.

“Nothing more.” Think about what those words mean.

Now, think about what they mean when said by the highest leader of a 16.2 million member faith community.

It’s an age-old hate-mongering propaganda tactic to sling a slur at a disfavored group and then say they’re “nothing more.” Sadly, it's a tactic that can be very effective when used by influential religious and political leaders.

It’s a tactic that is dehumanizing.

Frank Page, you were wrong.

We are more. We are much more. We are infinitely more.

Clergy sex abuse survivors are children of God, just as you and everyone else. We are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. We are friends, spouses, and partners. We are business people, techies, writers, artists, singers, electricians, designers, city administrators, teachers, athletes, nurses, chefs, students, pastors, lawyers, waiters, inventors, volunteers, and on and on and on. We are atheists and agnostics, Baptists and Buddhists, Christians and Catholics, and on and on and on. We are cancer survivors, heart attack survivors, suicide survivors, and on and on and on.

To list all the ways that we are more than your “nothing more” would be endless.

To list all the ways that your “nothing more” was hateful and hurtful would be endless.

So while you’re considering all the “nothingness” of clergy abuse survivors, Frank Page, you should also consider something about yourself. You’re someone who is apparently incapable of hearing the hatefulness of your own words… and of rendering an appropriate apology.

Of course, I know you’re more than that. But however much more you may be, it doesn’t change the fact that you still owe a serious apology.

Christa Brown

Update: “Turning an opportunistic Page,” Baptist Planet, 3/17/09.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another comparison

The San Antonio Archdiocese should have revealed the abuse allegations a lot sooner. But consider this comparison. These priest abuse allegations have now been made public and there’s a record of them. If these were Southern Baptist abuse survivors, none of these things would likely have happened.

“The Archdiocese of San Antonio said Monday that it considers “believable” allegations that three former priests sexually abused a male teenager more than 25 years ago.”

Southern Baptists have no process for making any assessment of whether clergy abuse allegations are “believable” or “credible.” Note that this is the lead line of the news article. The fact that the archdiocese made this assessment is what gave rise to the news story and allowed people to find out about the allegations. That possibility doesn’t exist for Southern Baptists, which is a big part of why you don’t read about as many Southern Baptist abuse stories. It’s not that the abuse doesn’t happen. It’s that there are less possibilities for reporting on it.

“The recent allegations were first made public Sunday in the weekly bulletins at the 15 parishes where the men ministered.”

Can you imagine seeing news about a credibly-accused Baptist preacher-predator in a church bulletin? In the bulletin of every church where the man worked? Doesn’t happen. Not ever.

“...the allegations were also posted on the archdiocese Web site.”

Can you imagine seeing news about a credibly-accused Baptist preacher-predator posted in one of the state-wide Baptist publications or in the Baptist Press? Doesn’t happen.

“The public notices invite anyone with concerns to contact the archdiocese.”

When a Baptist abuse survivor contacts a larger Baptist organization – a regional, statewide or national body – there is no “public notice” and there is no invitation to others. Instead, the survivor is essentially told “good luck with that,” and the information is kept secret from everyone else.

“The victim… requested counseling, which the archdiocese is paying for.”

Southern Baptists have no office to which a clergy abuse survivor could even safely go to request counseling, much less any procedure or policy for actually providing counseling.

“The statute of limitations to file criminal charges or for the victim to file a lawsuit has expired.”

Again, it’s important to observe that it was the archdiocese’s own abuse assessment that formed the basis for the news report, not a criminal prosecution and not a civil lawsuit. The possibility of bringing Baptist clergy abuse reports into the light of day via a denominational assessment simply does not exist for Southern Baptists.

“The victim contacted the archdiocese in light of Pope Benedict XVI's apology to victims of sex abuse by priests during his historic U.S. visit a year ago.”

Just a couple months before the Pope made his public apology to abuse victims, the highest Southern Baptist leader, president Frank Page, publicly called the clergy abuse survivors’ support groups “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” I don’t imagine that did much to encourage any other Baptist abuse survivors to speak up. Do you?

“The pope also called for sex abuse victims to contact Catholic officials.”

Which Baptist official would a Baptist clergy abuse survivor contact if he wanted to? Typically, state, local and national Baptist leaders tell abuse survivors to “go to the church.” But that’s like telling a wounded sheep to go back to the den of the wolf who savaged them. The sheep won’t do it. And for the few who try, they typically wind up being re-wounded all the worse.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Baptist record-keeping

I saw the movie Frost/Nixon recently and was reminded of the fact that, in large measure, it was record-keeping that brought down a president.

Remember those Watergate tapes? If there hadn’t been a record of Nixon’s conversations, he may not have been forced to resign.

Catholic canon law requires record-keeping on priests. That’s been their law for a very long time. And when the clergy sex abuse scandal finally saw daylight, it was the Catholic Church’s own practice of record-keeping that caused a lot of trouble for a lot of dioceses.

Often, it was their own record-keeping that showed how leaders knew about abuse accusations but allowed priests to continue in ministry anyway.

Compare this to how Southern Baptists do things. Usually, they not only allow the accused ministers to continue in ministry, but they don’t even keep any records about victims’ accusations. It is as though it never happened.

It is as though Baptist leaders believe “no records” means “no abuse.”

But of course, a whole lot of us know that’s not true, don’t we? “No records” means “no records”… nothing more.

The records of Catholic dioceses often revealed, not only those who preyed on children, but also high leaders who complicitly turned a blind eye. By failing to keep records, Southern Baptist leaders protect, not only the predatory preachers, but also their own do-nothing complicity. They hide their own complicity behind their lack of record-keeping.

But again… a lack of record-keeping doesn’t mean it never happened. A whole lot of us know that, don’t we?

For Catholic leaders, even when a diocese manages to avoid disclosure of the records, the very existence of the records still has an impact. The fact that the records exist may make some dioceses more inclined to settle lawsuits (and provide counseling money to victims) so as to avoid trials in which the documents might actually see the light of day. They know the records exist, and they’re embarrassed by them, and so they sometimes wind up “helping” the victims as a means to “help” themselves avoid further embarrassment.

Nixon took it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep his records secret. The Los Angeles diocese also went to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s how important records can be.

Both Nixon and the Los Angeles diocese lost. Their own record-keeping wound up hurting them.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist leaders simply don’t keep records. Is that better? I don’t think so.

I’m no Pollyanna. I figure there have probably been plenty of things that didn’t make it into Catholic records, and I figure that incriminating records may have sometimes been destroyed. But even destroyed records carry a risk when the official policy is one of record-keeping.

Remember those 18 ½ missing minutes from the Watergate tapes? Even missing records can become incriminating.

Southern Baptists’ failure to establish any record-keeping policy is a failure that helps to shield the denomination and its leaders from scrutiny.

But no one should get confused. By refusing to keep records, Southern Baptist leaders may keep themselves better insulated against media scrutiny and possible legal liability, but their lack of record-keeping does nothing to insulate kids against clergy sex abuse.

To the contrary, no record-keeping means no safeguard for kids.

Baptist leaders know this. They just don’t want to do anything about it.

Remember when former Southern Baptist president Frank Page tried to explain why he didn’t think a clergy predator database was a good idea? With typical Baptist-leader double-talk, he said this: “What we know happens with true abusers, they just switch to another denomination that doesn’t access a denominational database.”

In his effort to defend the indefensible, Page unwittingly wound up giving the very reason for there SHOULD be a denominational database. Baptist leaders KNOW what happens without a denominational database.

By refusing even the minimal responsibility of record-keeping, the largest Protestant denomination in the land leaves its doors wide open for clergy child molesters.