Friday, October 2, 2009

Polanski and Pierce parallels

In today’s Arkansas Times, reporter David Koon ponders the question of why Southern Baptist music minister David Pierce was able to do what he did for so long -- “to sexually victimize scores of boys at the First Baptist Church of Benton over the past 20 years or more.”

“You probably need to look no further than the inch-thick stack of letters" that flooded into the prosecuting attorney's office after Pierce’s arrest, says Koon. “The letters urging leniency for Pierce, some from Benton's most powerful citizens, kept coming in even after he had been booked on 54 counts of sexual indecency with a child; even after it started to seep out that dozens might be involved….”

“Reading those pleas on his behalf, it quickly becomes clear that Pierce was trusted completely by a great many people. It also becomes clear that comprehension of his crimes by those who knew and loved him has only come grudgingly, if at all.”

Here is the gist of the story as reported by Koon. I urge you to read its entirety.

In late October 2008, the father of one of Pierce’s victims, a man now in his 30’s, told FBC-Benton’s senior pastor Rick Grant that there had been “more” to his son’s relationship with Pierce than prayer, and he urged Grant to look into it.

The father met with pastor Grant a second time and reiterated “charges of inappropriate conduct.” Pastor Grant told the father to talk with Pierce.

Then, just after Thanksgiving, pastor Rick Grant heard another “shocking revelation” from the wife of one of Pierce’s victims -- a man now grown who goes by Kurt. “During a series of meetings, Kurt told the pastor everything.”

Grant and another church official met with Pierce, “who didn’t deny any of the allegations leveled against him by Kurt.”

Read for yourself the allegations made by Kurt. It’s pretty sordid stuff. But apparently pastor Grant was able to blind himself to the reality of them and to the fact that Pierce didn't deny them.

In talking with pastor Grant, Pierce characterized the events described by Kurt as “a one time run of bad decision-making.”

And apparently, pastor Grant was willing to accept that explanation.

In early February, Pierce was asked to sign a document saying he would disclose “the names of all the boys whom he’d had inappropriate contact with.” And he was told to “ask for forgiveness.”

Pierce provided pastor Grant “with a list of 12 names.”

Did you get that? Pierce provided Grant with “12 names” of boys “whom he’d had inappropriate contact with.”

And that’s just the ones he readily admitted to.


And pastor Grant still sat back.

Meanwhile, minister Pierce gave Kurt “a devotional pamphlet about forgiveness.”

In April 2009, pastor Grant “received a call from another victim,” a man close in age to Kurt. Though Grant “still believed that Pierce’s dalliances with boys had been confined to an isolated period in the past,” he felt he “had no recourse” but to fire Pierce.

So . . . it took pastor Grant’s awareness of at least 13 victims before he finally felt that he had “no recourse” but to fire Pierce. And, based on what’s been publicly reported, it took Grant nearly 6 months from the time that he was first informed about Pierce.

Grant told the church that Pierce had been terminated for “serious moral failures,” which “occurred several years ago.” So even then -- with all that he knew -- pastor Grant still cast a minimizing slant on Pierce’s conduct.

Apparently, Grant also failed to convey to Pierce himself the consequence of his conduct. After being terminated, Pierce wrote to church officials to ask whether he would be given a severance package.

Though the claims of the adult men were too old for criminal prosecution, a younger victim finally stepped forward, and Pierce was arrested on April 24. Ultimately, Pierce was charged with 54 counts of sexual indecency with a child, In a plea bargain deal, he pled guilty to 4 counts and was sentenced to 10 years.

Yet, despite the seriousness of the charges and despite the number of known victims, so many people -- including the former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and including some of “Benton’s most powerful citizens” -- kept on urging leniency for minister Pierce.

This Baptist news parallels the recent story about the arrest of famous film director Roman Polanski. In 1977, Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, but he then fled the country. On September 26, 2009, he was arrested in Switzerland and will likely be extradited to the United States.

Numerous “European cultural figures, political leaders and show-business personalities” have spoken up on Polanski’s behalf, “insisting that the film director be released.” Sound familiar?

Who would have thought that Southern Baptist leaders would have so much in common with Hollywood celebrities? Yet in the face of child sex abuse, both groups circled the wagons around an esteemed colleague.

In trying to illuminate the Polanski phenomenon, Mollie at GetReligion wrote about a 1944 George Orwell essay on the “morally depraved and yet talented artist Salvador Dali.” The essay talks about how Dali’s fans claim “a kind of benefit of clergy” for him so that he is exempted from the moral laws of ordinary people.

“Benefit of clergy.” Isn’t it sad that this would be the phrase for describing the rationalizations that people use to excuse and minimize the crimes of elites? But given all the people who urged leniency for Baptist minister David Pierce -- and given all that we’ve seen in so many other Baptist cases -- the phrase seems tragically appropriate.

Because clergy are so trusted and esteemed, they can get away with much more than the ordinary person.

And without professional oversight, they can keep on getting away with it -- sometimes for decades, as Baptist minister David Pierce did.

And even when they’re finally caught, their colleagues and cronies refuse to recognize the seriousness of their crimes but instead rationalize and minimize . . . and seek ways to help them avoid consequences. That’s Baptistland.

Once again, parallels from Roman Polanski come to mind. One of Polanski’s most famous movies, “Chinatown,” is a film-noir in which the elite and powerful run things, and there is no justice. Jack Nicholson plays a private detective named Jake, who walks away dejected in the end. His friend tells him: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

It's Baptistland as well. The elite and powerful run things, and there is seldom any justice, compassion, or care for clergy abuse survivors. That’s the way it is.

But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Baptists should use the David Pierce case as a wake-up call. They must wake-up to the alarming reality of how their own lack of clergy oversight renders them vulnerable to covert clergy sex-predators.

My prior postings on the David Pierce case:
1) What's wrong with this picture?
2) Questions need answers in Benton
3) Denial: It ain't just a river
4) Basically brainwashing
5) Remember the boys of Benton
6) A good man who does nothing


Anonymous said...

See? Pastor Grant has disqualified himself from ministry, too.

We all know why. Image. It is more about image of the church than the victims being molested and scarred for life.

Can you imagine what must be going through the mind of kids watching important folks rally around the molester and asking for leniency? They must be asking themselves why bother reporting this to adults? They feel more empathy for the pervert than the victims.

Think about a school official telling a pedophile teacher to say 'sorry' so he can keep his job. Would these big leaders come out of the woodwork to supportthe teacher?

Somehow a crime is thought of as less a crime if important people commit them.

Anonymous said...

It is not the pastors who scare me the most. It is masses who continue to defend and follow them AFTER all this stuff comes out.

It goes to show how biblically ignorant the many who sit in our churches really are.

Christa Brown said...

"It is not the pastors who scare me the most. It is masses who continue to defend and follow them AFTER all this stuff comes out."

Me too. It is the seemingly blind and mute masses who haunt me the most. The silence of the many is something I believe I will probably never understand.

Unknown said...

It's frustrating - and actually that's too tame of a word for it. Too many pastors are totally clueless when it comes to clergy sexual abuse; they take the side of, at best, leniency for the abuser, and at worst, denial anything bad has happened. Then they think the abused is so "ungodly" because they have left the church, or at least want to see justice!

How many ways can I say "clueless?!"

gmommy said...

"Somehow a crime is thought of as less a crime if important people commit them."

Important people(status,money), relatives, and clergy seem to get away with sexual abuse.
People could claim ignorance 30 years ago but what is the excuse today? I am amazed that "Christians" in particular seem to behave the worse. During the PW scandal at BBC it was the secular, "uneducated", and "unchurched" who seemed to respond more appropriately. There is a huge parallel between the celebrity saying it wasn't "rape rape" and a Christian demanding a victim apologize for "their" sin or asking why they took so long to tell. The Christians that aren't appalled by the clergy predator are no better than those who justify a 13 year old being drugged and raped.

George Frink said...

Should I not regard those who seek leniency in these cases as accessories to past and future crimes?

Anonymous said...

Should I not regard those who seek leniency in these cases as accessories to past and future crimes?

October 3, 2009 1:18 PM

YES!!! Very good point. Let's start taking down names and tracking that for accountability.

Anonymous said...

"Too many pastors are totally clueless when it comes to clergy sexual abuse; they take the side of, at best, leniency for the abuser, and at worst, denial anything bad has happened."

I don't believe they are clueless at all. I believe they are more concerned with IMAGE and losing members. This is their career. It is about their income, position and power.

The victims are a nuisance to all those things.

Unknown said...

"a Christian demanding a victim apologize for "their" sin"

Ugh - don't even get me started on the Christians that hold the so-called "bitterness" a victim holds as being worse than the abuse! (Of course, the "bitterness" isn't that; it's a cry for justice.)