Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Remember the “what’s wrong with this picture” feature in Highlights magazine? As a kid, I would huddle in a library corner, studying the two seemingly identical pictures and trying to figure out what was wrong with the second one. Sometimes I’d spot a rabbit in the bushes that wasn’t in the first picture, or maybe an additional squirrel scurrying up a tree. Sometimes, the second picture would erase things instead of add things. I’d count the stripes on a girl’s skirt because there might be 8 stripes in the first picture, and only 7 in the second. Or maybe a boy’s hat would have vanished. You had to look at everything very closely.

That’s how I feel whenever I see news on the Arkansas case involving the prominent First Baptist Church of Benton. There is something wrong with the picture.

On Friday, April 24th, Sheriff Bruce Pennington announced the arrest of Southern Baptist music minister David Pierce on one count of sexual indecency with a child. The sheriff himself made the arrest. The sheriff is a member of the church. That was the first thing that didn’t look quite right.

Pastor Rick Grant then issued this statement: "First Baptist Church has terminated the employment of David Pierce, our longtime music minister, as a result of serious moral failures on his part. The events for which he was terminated occurred several years ago, but left the church no alternative other than to dismiss him."

The official Baptist Press hopped on top of this story. That was sure weird. The Baptist Press ignores almost all other Baptist clergy sex abuse stories. So why did they hop on this one?

In not just one, but two articles, they painted a picture of church officials who “immediately” terminated Pierce and who contacted authorities “upon learning of the allegations.” In local media as well, the pastor said the church had terminated Pierce “when the allegations were made.” This claim was repeated so often that it almost looked like bragging… as though the church had done everything right.

But there’s something wrong with this picture.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that three adult men said Pierce had abused them years earlier. According to the Democrat-Gazette, when church leaders became aware of the teen’s claim of abuse, “they contacted authorities and provided investigators with the names of the three adult church members who also said they were abused by Pierce when they were younger….”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Gmommy saw it right away. “I'm wondering why it was the pastor who gave that info to the police after their music minister was arrested,” she asked. Gmommy had seen how things played out at the prominent Bellevue Baptist Church, where the pastor kept quiet for 6 months about a staff minister’s admitted abuse of a kid. So she readily saw what looked like a possible similar pattern at First Baptist of Benton.

I saw it too.

And the Benton Courier gave us still another piece that made the picture look all the more wrong. It reported that, on April 23, the church’s senior deacon, Paul White, spoke with a detective, and “at that time,” deacon White “provided the names of three men who allegedly told the church pastor, Dr. Rick Grant, that as teenagers they had been victimized by Pierce.”

Did you get that? On April 23 -- the day before Pierce was arrested on the charge involving the teen and the day before Pastor Rick Grant issued his rather minimizing statement -- church leaders already knew about 3 adult men who said they were sexually abused by Pierce when they were younger. But their claims were too old to prosecute.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

How did it happen that, at the very moment when Pierce was being arrested on an allegation involving a teen whose claim could still be prosecuted, church leaders were able to readily provide investigators with the names of 3 adults who said they had been abused as teens? When -- exactly -- did church leaders know about the earlier allegations? And if church leaders already knew about 3 others, why hadn't Pierce already been removed from ministry, pending at least a church investigation?

And why wasn’t Pastor Grant totally transparent in his initial statement on April 24th? Why didn’t he tell people from the get-go that others, who are now adults, had also reported abuse by Pierce? Why did he leave people to puzzle over trying to figure out what’s wrong with the picture?

Pierce has now been charged with 53 more counts of sexual indecency with children. The charges involve 4 boys, all of whom are “still teenagers,” and so they’re within the time limit for criminal prosecution. Authorities say the charges are based on “incidents” within the past three years, but that “the kind of activity … is believed to date back as far as 15 years.”

Given that “the kind of activity” can be traced back 15 years, you have to wonder whether there could be victims with allegations dating back even further -- victims who are still quiet. After all, Pierce was at that church for 29 years.

Why aren’t all the FBC-Benton pastors who served with Pierce taking public and pro-active measures to reach out to additional possible victims? A lot of kids were under their pastoral care during Pierce’s 29-year tenure. If you were a Pierce victim, don’t you think it might help if the pastor of your childhood reached out to try to help you?

Pierce had a scheduled court hearing a couple days ago, on June 15th, but the hearing was continued. The attorney needed more time to review “the extensive evidence in the case.”

After the hearing, a member of First Baptist Church of Benton, Greg White, talked to reporters and said this: “I believe it’s important if a Christian brother asks for forgiveness, we as Christians should accept that.” Greg White is also a member of the Benton City Council.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine this: You’re a man who was sexually abused by Pierce when you were a kid. Maybe you even told the pastor about it, as the Courier reported that some did. Are you going to speak up and tell all that you know about how church officials handled your report, or didn't handle it, when you can readily see how the deck is stacked -- a prominent city councilman preaching “forgiveness,” the sheriff himself singing the church’s praise, and the senior pastor giving the scene a lovely feel-good gloss. Are you going to be the one to point out what’s wrong with that glossed-over picture?

Now take a look at some of the comments that people in the community left on this early article about the Pierce case. Stuff like this:

  • “Most out-of-the-family child abuse is caused by uninformed children. They need to know what is appropriate and what is not.” (4/25/09 7:55)

  • “To those who have never met David Pierce you really should not judge. This man has helped many people during his 30 years of ministry.” (4/25/09 8:05)

  • “He should be forgiven because: Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (4/29/09 3:14)

  • “You are now murderers for if you say things y’all are saying you are destroying a church of God in his eyes - you are murdering his people.” (5/1/09 1:30)

  • And allegedly, a Friends of David Pierce account was opened at the local bank to raise money for Pierce and his family. (5/9/09 9:33)

Still think you’re going to speak up if you live in this community? If your parents and family members live in this community? If they still go to this church?

Baptists don’t make it easy for clergy abuse survivors. There’s just way too much that’s way too wrong with the picture.


Anonymous said...

It is barbarity. They care nothing for children unless it happens to their own.

What people will to do protect what they 'think' is a church is incredible to me. We all know that victims, even children, instinctively know that no one will believe them.

Can you imagine what the pagans must think about these 'Christians' in Benton?

Lydia said...

“I believe it’s important if a Christian brother asks for forgiveness, we as Christians should accept that.” Greg White is also a member of the Benton City Council."

No problem. But from behind bars for the rest of his life.

gmommy said...

"Most out of the family child abuse is caused by uninformed children. They need to know what is appropriate and what is not." (4/25/09 7:55)

In response to that STUPID remark, I must break from my usual proper communication style with WTH!!!!!I mean, WHAT could that possibly mean??????
That so sounds like the STUPID remark some Memphis woman said on a local radio station when the story broke that Steve Gaines declared the sexual molestation of a child "under the blood" and no cause to inform authorities or fire the "minister of prayer"from BBC.
I will never forget hearing:
My son was in the height of his rebellious stage then but he was speechless.Who thinks like that???

And just what IS "out of family" child abuse. Is it possible that this stupid person thinks that "in the family" child abuse is OK????

"To those who have never met David Pierce you really should not judge. This man has helped many people during his 30 years of ministry"(4/25/09 8:05)

Alrighty then!!!!
This man is likable!!...and we haven't met him! How dare us care about the victims!!
So where is it in the Bible that as long as you help some can abuse vulnerable,innocent young people and totally screw up their view of God just so a perverted con artist can get his jollies?????
Whatplanet are we living on anyway!

Michelle said...

I can't sleep and came here.

"Most out of the family child abuse is caused by uninformed children. They need to know what is appropriate and what is not." (4/25/09 7:55)

One of my mentors whose daughter was molested by the pastor's son was sued for being a bad mother after suing the church for allowing the son continued access to small girls.

In a wonderful act of vindication, her daughter's case went to trial (tried by Bill Barton) and her daughter won 2,000,000.00. The mother later sued the church for libel and settled.

Clearly juries DO NOT believe the parents are at fault for the actions of rapists.

Here's a legal document on the case:

Jeri said...

Christa, you are my hero. What an excellent capsulization and analysis of this horrible, depraved situation and these depraved church leaders. I am so sorry that so much harm has been done to the innocent.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Anon. 6/17 -- you really think they care for their own? How many times do CHURCH parents believe the ones in authority over their own children. You are right about --CHILDREN KNOW THAT NO ONE WILL BELIEVE THEM. Why do you think there are so many screwed-up, church-hating, angry, bitter adults who grew up from cradle roll on up in the local First Baptist Church. AND, "what the pagans must think about these 'Christians' in Benton?" PLEASE! Who do you consider to be pagan -- the unchurched, the ones who don't believe just like you do, the ones who have not walked the aisle, the ones who commit all the "SINS" you don't commit? PLEASE! I still believe most of the CHRISTIANS don't even go to church -- they can't because it is not safe!

Christa Brown said...

Have you followed the comment stream on the Associated Baptist Press article? It's up to 68 comments. "Slick," who prompted my prior posting about "Harsh words," has just left a new comment. And I gotta tell you, I think Jeri got it exactly right when she said "The very best advertising of the corruption in conservative Baptist churches are the words of Baptist preachers."

gmommy said...

"People who care ought to be encouraging potential victims of forced sex to avoid situations where such things could occur; to be on the lookout for warning signs in encounters with staff members; and to run to the LAW if something untoward happens. Present proof to law enforcement agencies that a crime has been committed and then have it prosecuted in court."


My observation is that Christa The Whiney wants to chop off the heads of anyone who has been accused, whether or not there is an admission or proof of guilt.

And since I would like to chop off more than their heads I will have to calm down before I respond to this JERK!
Please...John the minister or Junk or another man with a heart and brain respond to this idiot!
(taking another beta blocker before I explode!)

Ramesh said...

gmommy, I am also like you. I am always afraid, if I truly speak my mind, I will say something truly rash. So I tend to say little. I did leave a follow up comment, but I have no desire to rebut Slick's comments, for I feel he/she does not wish to face The Truth.

Phyllis Gregory said...

Slick reminds me of the mindset of all the Baptists I grew up with in OK in the 60's -- head in the sand -- totally out of touch with reality.

THY PEACE (9:32 comment) -- I agree with every word you said.

gmommy said...

Good response,Thy Peace! The truth is very hard for most people.

I think one of the things that gets to me is like Phyliss, it feels like people haven't changed much since our childhoods.Children deserve so much more!!

Lydia said...

Ah Christa, Ken and Slick are representative of what is in our churches. They are turning this into a poltical debate. And a contest of whose sins are worse to justify the wicked.

They argue: these sexual predators are just no different than David and look at what God said about him! They call heinous sin a lapse of judgement.

This is such a twisting of scriptural truth that I quake in my boots for folks like this. They are mocking God and His coming Justice for wickedness.

But this is representative of what is being taught in our churches. This cheap grace is reserved for leaders. Has anyone else noticed that?

Lydia said...

They also want us to believe that the Holy Spirit can dwell in a 'spiritual leader' while he rapes a kid. Just a lapse. Just some backsliding.

They could not be more wrong.

help or children said...

My concern is in the ministry the church leaders, that use their role as a powerful leader to have a voice in this such as Gregg Kirksey.
In all reality these persons whom what to help and write letter to the judge for leniency, for a child molester are a danger to our society.
Quoting Kirksey: The writers speak of times when Pierce ministered to their dying relatives, sang at their weddings and planned their loved ones' funerals. A pastor at a large Little Rock congregation, after acknowledging that Pierce's crimes were “sick, twisted and perverted,” asked that Pierce receive probation, or ― in the event he was sent to jail ― be allowed to serve his sentence at a minimum security prison or a treatment facility for sex offenders.

Can you see the danger in this thinking? Is Kirksey going to have Pierce join The Church of Rock Creek when he out in 2012? Because during molesting children he sang at wedding and ministered to dying relatives, my concern is if you believe in what God’s word says and that we live by faith and not by sight, how can you not see that some one may talk the talk but not walk the walk, DP actions show who guided his life and for years. And just because he was standing and sing near you during are happy time or a hard time in your life can not grant him leniency…Does not the word of God say we known by our fruits (Faith in Fact) a wolf in sheep’s clothing, you would be better of with a mill stone around your neck and throw in to the sea then to harm a child!
God’s word is very clear and is a minister to teach us and lead us to walk in faith?