Sunday, November 15, 2009

No hand of hope from Texas Baptists

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is convening its annual hoopla November 16-17 in Houston. The theme is “Texas Hope 2010” as they focus on how “to bring hope to the people of Texas” next year.

For the sake of truth-in-advertising, I feel as though they really ought to add some fine print: “Texas Hope 2010 (but not applicable for Baptist clergy abuse survivors).”

Dee Miller saw the hopelessness of the Baptist General Convention of Texas a long time ago.

They may talk the talk of caring, but they won’t walk the walk.

That’s why Dee Miller said the BGCT dishes out “false hope.” And that’s why Dee said she couldn’t recommend that survivors report clergy abuse to the BGCT -- or to any other Baptist agency -- because what they actually do is to re-victimize the wounded.

I agree with Dee that what the Baptist General Convention of Texas does is to re-victimize the wounded. Clergy abuse survivors should be warned: the leaders of this organization will not help you, and they will more-than-likely hurt you.

But Baptist clergy abuse survivors are given few options in their struggle to protect others. Of course they should report the abuse to police, but the vast majority of cases cannot be criminally prosecuted, and all experts know that. (Baptist leaders also know that.)

So, for abuse survivors who are able to get supportive counseling and who are feeling strong, I still believe there may be value in reporting Baptist clergy perpetrators to denominational leaders, including leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Put that mantle of knowledge onto their shoulders.

Oh sure … they’ll likely shrug off the knowledge of a reported clergy child molester as if it were nothing more than a raindrop on vinyl. But their shrug is their own failure . . . not yours.

Over the course of a dozen years, Dee has heard the stories of hundreds of clergy abuse survivors and she knows of what she speaks in talking about the “false hope” of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its re-victimization of the wounded. Dee was one of the first to write about my own story and to use it as an illustration of that “false hope.” Here’s an excerpt from what Dee wrote:

“When C. Brown submitted a written report to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and First Baptist of Farmers Branch in July of 2004, she wasn't totally broken. Victims who bring forward allegations of sexual abuse never are! That's because a totally broken person can't find the strength to make a report. Her requests were for counseling costs, a written apology, and some symbolic gesture of support--something that would show that the church stood in solidarity with victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

“She believed, like all of us who have ever made reports to any denomination, that people recognized by the denomination as authorities, would understand her requests. She believed they could and would immediately take action to protect others who could be harmed. . . . . Taking action looked to Brown like a logical and relatively simple task for people in authority, people who were far more powerful than a local church . . . . She wanted the BGCT to provide guidance to Farmers Branch, guidance that she expected would be designed to benefit survivors and protect others. . . . . “

“When Brown met with leaders of the BGCT four months later... she was not nearly as hopeful because of a threatening letter sent to her in August from … the attorney for both the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, Texas AND the BGCT. [He] suggested that the church might seek “recourse” against Brown if she pursued in trying to expose the abuse and shocking collusion. . . .”

“The inaction of the BGCT, as in every case I've known, is ‘justified’ because . . . the very structure protects ministers from accountability, both the abusers and colluders, and nobody seems to be interested in changing that!! Yet using attorneys who protect the church from taking actions to promote accountability, while re-victimizing the wounded, is in no way a Christian action. . . . ”

“Any belief she had that denominational leaders would care about protecting others was a hope completely destroyed.”

Dee was exactly right in her conclusion: my belief that Baptist leaders would care about protecting others was “a hope completely destroyed.”

Destruction of hope is a natural consequence of how the BGCT deals with clergy sex abuse.


Because the hand that delivers threats and bullying to clergy abuse survivors becomes the hand that burns the bridge to belief in Christian care.

Because the hand that dishes out do-nothing double-faced duplicity to clergy abuse survivors is the hand that teaches the fraudulence of the faith.

Because the hand that shields the institution rather than protecting kids is the hand that shows the cowardice of Baptist belief.

For many clergy abuse survivors, that hand belongs to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Survivors: Please be sure to observe my cautionary words. Any clergy abuse survivor who even contemplates making a clergy abuse report to the BGCT, or to any other Baptist entity, should have supportive counseling in advance and should be feeling strong before starting. And whatever you do . . . don’t go alone.


Jim said...

Please...let's stop encouraging or even suggesting that victims of clergy sexual abuse report it to their churches or denominational agencies. Those are the last places they should contact. They should report it to local legal "authorities" and immediately retain legal counsel to ensure those "authorities" do not minimize or dismiss the report without proper investigation. Since legal fees can be an issue for many victims, is there a foundation or group that can provide or support such representation? If not, perhaps one should be started.

Christa Brown said...

Jim: I certainly agree that abuse survivors should report to the police and should obtain legal counsel if possible. However, the reality is that for most cases, criminal prosecution is NOT possible (because of time limitations), and on the civil side, attorneys are generally more reluctant to pursue cases against Baptist churches than cases against Catholic dioceses and other groups that have clear hierarchies. There are all sorts of reasons for that, but the bottom line of what it means is that Baptist abuse survivors are often left with no viable means of exposing their perpetrators. (Lawsuits are what bring media exposure.) This is why the third-leg of accountability is so critical -- i.e., the possibility of accountability within the denominational structure.

For clergy abuse litigation, attorneys typically cover the costs and pursue the cases on a percentage basis so that the victim does not have to pay anything out-of-pocket. However, the down-side to this is that the costs of litigation can be very high and so attorneys will usually refuse cases in which they don't think they have a high probability of recouping their costs and getting at least something for their time. This is a much more difficult assessment for Baptist cases, in which the church is typically quite small, and in which there is not an obvious hierarchy, and in which going beyond the local church sets up a First Amendment battle. (Meanwhile, denominational attorneys are getting paid by the hour with a seemingly endless supply of Cooperative Program dollars.) Not only is it a matter of attorneys needing to cover their costs and make a living, but it's also true that no good attorney would want to put a sexual abuse survivor through the additional trauma of litigation (particularly knowing the sorts of shenanigans that denominational attorneys pull) without a strong expectation of being able to avoid getting thrown out on a technicality and of being able to ultimately vindicate the survivor through the legal process.

Anonymous said...

While I realize your posts pertains to the Baptists I still want to comment that I found no hope within my dad's denomination as well. As hard as it is for victims of clergy abuse to get justice, it is even harder when the clergy is your father. I've been told things from pastors not only in my dad's denomination but others that: I was to forgive, let it go because I was the only one, my abuse was different because I wasn't a member of the congregation, my dad was annointed so don't touch him and was even told by a school counselor I could ruin his ministry. Not to mention the social worker who showed up and questioned me about all this while my dad sat 1 inch away from me on the couch and I was manipulated and expected to say I lied and she left after chewing me out for lying. There was no leg of accountability for him. Even when I turned to his denomination one last time this summer I believed I'd find justice but did not. I made the mistake of going alone and let me tell you no one should ever go alone. Now that I'm older I don't mind talking about the abuse anymore. I realize I'm not responsible for his ministry. He made that choice the day he violated me on his bed and every time he violated me after that. Sometimes hope for justice seems far away and one is left to wonder why the victims are expected to pay the price for the sins of those who are bad shepherds of God's little sheep.

Christa Brown said...

Cathy's Corner: You are always, always welcome here, regardless of whether your comments relate directly to Baptists or not. In any event, what you've just described certainly parallels what we see in Baptistland -- abuse survivors who are told to "forgive," to "let it go," that they're "the only one," that they'll "ruin his ministry," and that ridiculous chicanery of "don't touch the anointed."

And as for that "you're the only one" line? How would they know? How in the world do Baptist leaders know when they tell survivors this same thing -- i.e., that they're "the only one"? They can't possibly know because no one is keeping systematic records. It's just a line -- a con-job -- to push the talking abuse survivor away.

Furthermore, EVEN IF we accept their line that you were "the only one," it was still a matter of enormous consequence. One abused kid matters. Denominational leaders treat this as though it were a matter of "every dog gets one bite." But it's not. A minister doesn't get one kid. And of course, the "only one" line is almost never true anyway -- they almost always have multiple victims.

Please don't kick yourself for going by yourself to try to talk with denominational leaders. Countless other abuse survivors have made the same mistake. Why? Because we are good people who want to believe the best of others and who assume that religious leaders will behave in ways that are consistent with the faith they profess. This is an honorable mistake. What is NOT honorable is the blind-eyed do-nothingness of denominational leaders. For many, many abuse survivors, it is this additional wounding that winds up hurting as much or more than the abuse itself -- the ultimate realization that no one in the faith of our childhood gives a hoot -- that there will be no compassion or care from the church or denomination.

Some of the most awful and troubling stories I hear are from people such as you whose perpetrator was, not only a religious leader, but also a parent. My heart goes out to you.

Ramesh said...

Off Topic:

Grace and Truth to You [Pastor Wade Burleson] > The Dismissal of FBC Decatur: When Does a Convention Become a Cult?.
During the November 11, 2009 business session of the Georgia Baptist Convention, messengers to the Southern Baptist state convention dismissed FBC Decatur, Georgia from fellowship for the church's calling of Julie Russell-Pennington as Senior Pastor in 2007. The SBC will not establish a data base to track ministerial child abusers out of fear of "violating local church autonomy," but when it comes to a church calling a woman to preach the gospel, church autonomy is slain at the feet of conventional conformity.

Anonymous said...

It did not occur to me as to why this condition exists until lately. A pseudo-psychology has entered the churches to lable such behaviour under the guise of sexual addiction. When a conscience is so perverse and hardly exists little can be done to counsel these guys. A wolf is a wolf and can't be counseled. Show them mercy is to take their teeth out.