Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miracle Land

In California, the youth group leader at Miracle Land Korean Baptist Church in Cypress was sentenced to 90 days for having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Miracle Land is a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to prosecutors, youth group leader Timothy Han smoked marijuana with the girl and had sex with her in the church parking lot. He met the girl at the church.

Nevertheless, his attorney argued that Han did not in any way abuse his position in the church.

So . . . I guess in Baptistland, having sex with an underage church girl in the church parking lot doesn’t constitute “abuse”?

And gee whiz, I guess we’re supposed to just overlook the fact that he also gave her drugs in the church parking lot?

But hey . . . I guess none of that constitutes any sort of "abuse" for a Southern Baptist youth leader.

For his 90-day sentence, Han will do only 45 days in jail and 45 days in a work-release program.

Thirteen Han supporters, including two pastors and a minister, attended the sentencing hearing. No mention is made of any church people who attended to show support for the victim.

Don’t even get me started.

Update 1/1/2010: See BaptistPlanet's 12/31/09 comparative analysis, “Two churchmen sentenced for sex crimes, one so inadequately.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Magic-word Lullaby

“How do these men sleep at night?”

That’s the question I often ask myself about Baptist officials.

How do they sleep when they leave reported clergy child molesters in their pulpits . . . and do nothing?

How do they sleep when they know their own inaction will carry the consequence of countless more kids being molested and raped by religious leaders whom they trusted completely?

How do they sleep when they know that clergy predators can church-hop with ease through the porous Baptist network and yet, though they hold the power, they do nothing to plug the holes?

I’ve pondered these questions so much that I finally came up with the magic-word lullaby that Baptist officials must surely sing to themselves. How else could they possibly sleep?

It’s to the tune of “Lullaby and Goodnight.” Imagine it in the voice of your favorite do-nothing Baptist official.

Keeps us safe
From those evil-doer

They’re just bitter
“Nothing more.”
Means not our chore.

All those kids
And clergy rapes.
Not a worry.

Raped by pastors?
Not our problem.
‘Cause we’ve got

Saturday, December 26, 2009

To serve churches with information

Just before Christmas, GuideStone released a press statement about the 2010 church compensation survey of the Southern Baptist Convention. As the SBC’s financial services arm, GuideStone provides retirement and health benefit plans for ministers. The compensation survey is designed to give churches accessible online information so that they can see how much other churches pay their ministers. Presumably, it also provides ministers themselves with the information to know whether they should pressure their churches to pay them more or go in search of greener pastures.

The survey is being conducted “through the joint efforts of Baptist state conventions, LifeWay Christian Resources, and GuideStone Financial Resources.” All of these are Baptist entities under the big-tent umbrella of the tentacular Southern Baptist Convention.

The chief executive officer of GuideStone, O.S. Hawkins, gave the following explanation as the reason for the survey:

“The 2010 SBC Church Compensation Survey is another avenue by which we all can work together to serve our churches with information to help them adequately compensate their ministers and employees.”

Did you get that? They want “to serve our churches with information.”

That’s fine and good. But how about serving the churches with information that’s even more important than how much other ministers make?

How about serving the churches with information about ministers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse?

For that sort of information, Southern Baptist officials consistently say it would violate local church autonomy. But for information about how much ministers should be paid, they say the information works “to serve” the churches.

I don’t see the difference.

The compensation survey has been conducted every two years for the past 12 years. Baptist officials have explained that the data is made available “with complete respect for the autonomy of each church.”

“How each church uses this information is up to each local church,” they say. “The information can be a useful tool to help a church be more objective in its consideration of staff compensation.”

Wouldn’t it also be “a useful tool” for Baptist officials to provide local churches with information by which they might be more objective in their consideration of clergy sex abuse reports?

Why do Baptist officials view it as “a useful tool” when they provide information to help churches adequately compensate ministers, but as violating church autonomy to provide information that might help churches know whether ministers have been credibly accused of child molestation?

In response to church questions about “what should we do” with the compensation information, Baptist officials said this: “Many churches have viewed the information and intentionally made sure their minister’s compensation is higher than average because they recognize they have an above-average minister serving their church.”

What about ministers who are below-average? What about ministers who are so far below the boundaries of acceptability that they have been repeatedly accused of sexual abuse? What about ministers who hide evil deeds behind a mask of respectability?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if churches could also view information by which they might make sure their minister was not someone who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse?

If Baptist officials can provide information so people in the pews can make sure to pay their ministers enough, why can’t Baptist officials provide information so people in the pews can make sure their ministers haven’t been credibly accused of child molestation? Both are a matter of providing information. Neither violates church autonomy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Southern Babtoys Corporation

Imagine a company called Southern Babtoys Corporation. They market a game-toy that has a pervasive problem. At least 3 out of every 100 -- and probably more -- will blow up in a kid’s hands, hurling tiny fragments far and wide.

Typically, the exploding babtoy injures the kid quite seriously, though the pieces are so tiny that the kid often doesn’t realize his injury at the time. He may see only a scratch on his forehead and doesn’t know that some of the tiny pieces have actually penetrated his skull.

To make matters worse, the tiny pieces contain a radioactive compound that releases slowly and ripples destruction outward. So, over time, the damage in the kid’s brain grows worse. But though the damage is very real, it manifests slowly. So people don’t usually trace it back to the toy.

It’s the sort of toy that kids play with in groups. So a single toy will often hurt dozens of kids.

Southern Babtoys knows this is happening. But they don’t do anything about it.

They don’t institute any sort of quality control measures to prevent it.

When reports about the problem crop up, they issue public statements that minimize it. And they never, ever acknowledge the seriousness of their quality control problem or how widespread it really is.

Instead, they talk about a few “isolated cases” and chalk them up to all sorts of other things. The kid didn’t follow instructions. The parents didn’t supervise. The toy had been altered. The kid is a whiner. They’re just “opportunists” who are trying to get money.

Southern Babtoys has a whole list of these kinds of statements, and their public-relations people rotate through them when they talk with the press.

The flawed toys are actually made by a whole slew of small companies spread all over the country. But to better market them, the companies stick a Southern Babtoys label on the toys. Then Southern Babtoys takes a percentage of the revenue from the sale of the toys.

It’s a sweet deal. The local company sells more toys because people trust the Southern Babtoys name. And Southern Babtoys takes in multi-millions with its percentage. Its executives get super-high salaries, and the company gets the prestige of promoting itself as the largest toy-maker in the country.

But what about the kids who get hurt? It’s not such a sweet deal for them. Or for their families. Or even for their future families. They wind up dealing with the brain damage for a very long time.

The few who try to call the monolithic Southern Babtoys Corporation to account get met with a stone wall. If they persist, they get run into the ground by the mega-monied media arm of the SBC. Because its resources are so enormous, Southern Babtoys can spin things however it wants, and to a large degree, the public sees only what the SBC wants it to see.

If push comes to shove, Southern Babtoys pulls forth its most golden “not our problem” excuse of all.

“The toys aren’t even made by us,” it says. “It’s all those small local companies who make the toys, not us. And the fact that the Southern Babtoys brand is on them is irrelevant. Those local companies are all autonomous, and we don’t have any control over them.”

Most people in America wouldn’t accept such a ridiculous line from a secular corporation. So why do they accept it from a religious organization?

Most people in America would expect the brand-holder, Southern Babtoys Corporation, to bear some accountability for those who make use of the brand.

Why do people let religious organizations off the hook at a LESSER standard of accountability than secular organizations?


This is a revised version of my December 22, 2008 posting.

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Local church autonomy: Theory or Reality?

“All Baptist churches are autonomous.”

That’s the line that Baptist officials hide behind to avoid taking action against clergy predators in their denomination.

It’s a good-sounding line, but is it a true line? Or is it just talk?

It’s a line that has allowed state and national Baptist entities to avoid legal responsibility for a whole lot of years. But is it true?

Let’s take a look at what Dr. Nancy Ammerman says about Baptists’ claim of local church autonomy. Ammerman is a professor in the School of Theology and Department of Sociology at Boston University. (That’s her in the photo.) Ammerman’s book, Baptist Battles, was named the 1992 distinguished book of the year by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. In it, Ammerman points out that Southern Baptists have been “among the most tightly-knit, hierarchically functioning denominations in America.” (Baptist Battles at 270)

So . . . according to Ammerman, while Southern Baptists claim to be non-hierarchical, they are in reality “hierarchically functioning.”

What does that mean? It means that, in reality, Southern Baptists are “45,000 autonomous churches choosing autonomously to do exactly what Nashville tells them to do.” (Thanks to a reader for bringing us this quote from Ammerman’s public speeches.)

In Baptist Battles, Ammerman explains the “how” of this “hierarchical functioning.” The Cooperative Program, she says, means that all funds go through one channel, and that almost all churches shape their identities and activities in a denominationally-prescribed manner.

Ammerman discusses a scale that three sociologists developed for quantifying denominational differences in local church autonomy. The results were reported in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1983. Here’s how Ammerman summarizes what that study said about Southern Baptists:

“Sociologists…have developed a scale with which to measure the degree of parish autonomy that exists in a denomination. But even their questions illustrate the difficulty in making clear distinctions between local and nonlocal control. Of the fourteen questions on their scale, Southern Baptists clearly submit to nonlocal control on only one, the requirement of yearly demographic reports. On five items, power is in local hands (ordination, accounting procedures, the legal officers of the corporation, and the like). But on eight items decisions sometimes (or always) are made in consultation with nonlocal entities. Even the disposal of property, for instance may not be a purely local matter if the church has a loan underwritten by the Home Mission Board. If the church receives Church Pastoral Assistance, it is not in full control of its pastor’s salary (or even choice of pastor). And churches always depend on local and state denominational officials for pastor search help. Beyond the everyday ways in which the denomination shapes local church life, even in these legal and personnel decisions, Southern Baptist congregations are not always autonomous entities.” (Baptist Battles at 260)

Okay . . . so Baptist churches aren’t really so autonomous after all. But what difference does it make? Why is this polity-stuff important?

Is that what you’re wondering?

Here’s the answer.

By now, Baptist officials have demonstrated that, until they are forced into it, they will not implement the sorts of institutional safeguards that other faith groups have for the protection of kids against clergy-predators. Until the law forces them to accept legal responsibility, Baptist officials will not recognize their moral responsibility.

But their steady drone of a mantra -- “all Baptist churches are autonomous” -- is what has allowed denominational entities to avoid legal responsibility. That’s the wall they hide behind, and until the law sees how thin that wall actually is, kids in Baptist churches will not be made safer.

Judges and lawyers must begin to understand that this wall functions as little more than a stage-set. It lets Baptist officials put on their play of “all Baptist churches are autonomous,” but at the end of the show, the set comes down and the churches “do exactly what Nashville tells them to do.”

In reality, the denomination is “hierarchically functioning.” If Baptist leaders wanted to, they could easily use Cooperative Program dollars to establish review boards for the responsible assessment of clergy abuse reports. The fact that they don’t is not because “all Baptist churches are autonomous.” It’s because Baptist leaders are blind to the reality of moral responsibility.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Get him off the radio!

In Lansford, Pennsylvania, people have put together a petition to get a Baptist pastor off the radio.

It’s pastor Jeremy Benack of the First Baptist Church of Lansford, and he’s on the local WLSH-1410 radio station. According to the online petition, pastor Jeremy Benack is also known locally as “The Bad Shepherd,” apparently based on the title of the article that was previously published in the Nashville Scene.

A lawsuit contends that, for several years, pastor Jeremy Benack groomed the young Shayna Werley for sexual abuse, and then, when she turned 18, put a ring on her finger and gave her that line about being married “in the eyes of the church.”

Reportedly, it was not long after that when Shayna’s parents found explicit photos of the pastor on Shayna’s cell phone.

They turned to the Southern Baptist Convention for help, but as the Nashville Scene explained, they found themselves facing “Goliath.”

According to the Werleys, officials at the Southern Baptist Convention created a treatment plan for . . . guess who?


That’s right. Rather than doing something about the pastor, they created a “treatment plan” that was designed “to shame and punish” Shayna.

Meanwhile, pastor Jeremy Benack still stands in the pulpit, and he even gets radio time on the local station.

Nothing unusual about that -- a whole lot of Baptist pastors are still standing in their pulpits despite reports of sexual abuse.

What makes this story unusual is that, when Shayna finally came to her senses and filed a lawsuit, she sued, not only the church, but also the Southern Baptist Convention itself. The suit is pending. There’s a hearing later this month. Focus your thoughts and prayers on that Pennsylvania judge, in the earnest hope that he may find wisdom and see the truth.

It’s not easy for a trial lawyer to decide to invest time and money in going after the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, in the nearly 50 years that attorney Jim Guenther has represented the denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention “has never lost a lawsuit of any kind.” That’s not just sexual abuse lawsuits. That’s “any kind” of lawsuit.

Attorney Guenther offered this prediction on the Werley case: “It is most likely that the plaintiff will voluntarily dismiss her law suit as to the SBC.... That is what routinely occurs when the SBC is sued in these kinds of cases. If she does not dismiss her suit, I expect the judge will dismiss the SBC on its motion for summary judgment….”

Guenther is right. This is what routinely occurs. Clergy abuse survivors don’t even get to go before a jury to let them consider the evidence. A judge simply dismisses the case.

Of course, most Baptist clergy abuse cases arise in the South. And in the South, a whole lot of judges are Baptist men. So, it’s understandable that they routinely buy the argument of Baptist officials. This does NOT mean that the judges deliberately favor Baptist officials. It simply means that the judges are human.

When a man who was raised in the South, who grew up in a Baptist church, and who likely played basketball with Royal Ambassadors, hears an attorney for the Southern Baptist Convention making an argument about how “all Baptist churches are autonomous,” the argument carries a ring of truth that resonates with the profound familiarity of a well-worn song.

That “ring of truth” may be false, but it is what “sounds right” because it sounds so familiar.

And that “sounds right” hurdle is a hard one to leap.

Augie Boto, the attorney for the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, spelled out the odds even more clearly. Here is what he said:

“Though the SBC is named as a party in legal proceedings about twice per year on has not ever had a judgment rendered against it throughout its entire existence (i.e. since 1845). SBC polity is the major reason for its frequent dismissal out of lawsuits on motions for summary judgment.”

Make sure you pay attention to precisely what Boto said there. The dismissal of Baptist clergy abuse lawsuits has nothing to do with the truth of whether Baptist ministers sexually abuse kids, and it has nothing to do with the truth of whether others in Baptist life cover up for clergy abuse. It has to do with “SBC polity.”

It’s that same-old song of “all Baptist churches are autonomous,” and judges just keep buying it.

They have been ever since 1845. No matter the case. . . no matter the facts . . . no matter the egregiousness of it . . . “SBC polity” always wins the day.

But some day, that will change.

In this case, there is not only evidence that Southern Baptist officials could have intervened, there is evidence that Southern Baptist officials actually did undertake to intervene. Indeed, on this very blog, a person who identified herself as “Victoria, the wife in this matter” launched into a little rant about my “Bad Shepherd” posting and then proceeded to confirm exactly what the Werleys have said -- i.e., that a Southern Baptist Convention “representative” had been informed of the situation at First Baptist of Lansford. Victoria also asserted that “the care plan the SBC created” was never voted upon by the church itself.

Now admittedly, “the wife” called it a “care plan” and the Werleys called it a “treatment plan.” But the significance lies in the fact that both parties confirm that Southern Baptist officials created a “plan” to deal with the matter.

They had the power. They used the power. They created a “plan.”

Let’s hope that a judge in Pennsylvania will have the courage to see this sort of evidence for the reality of what it shows about the actual power of Southern Baptist officials.

Let’s hope that a judge in Pennsylvania will have the courage to listen for the truth that lies beyond the familiar refrain of “all Baptist churches are autonomous.”

Let’s hope that a judge in Pennsylvania will have the courage to let all the evidence go before a jury rather than continuing the pattern of routine judicial dismissals.

And meanwhile, as our hearts fill with hope, let’s do what we can to get Baptist pastor Jeremy Benack off the airwaves. Here’s the petition. It requires only your name and email address. And for those of you who prefer a measure of anonymity, you can uncheck a box at the bottom so that your name will NOT appear in the online signature list.

Please add your name to the petition.

You can see a picture of pastor Jeremy Benack and wife Victoria here. And if you scan down the page, you’ll see Jeremy’s father, Dr. Wayne Benack, who went to Southern Baptist seminaries and who is also a pastor at the church. On the church's home page, there is a statement saying they are now a “non-denominational independent church.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Menorahs light the night

Elana's father was smuggled out of Germany as an 8-year-old boy. Her grandparents and other paternal ancestors were all annihilated in the Holocaust. Many on her mother's side were slaughtered as well.

Once a week, we walk a loop together around Town Lake. Though Elana is a decade younger, she often seems centuries wiser than me. Maybe it's because she has long pondered the dark side of humanity. Or maybe it's because she carries an ever-present awareness of mortality -- the result of facing down cancer in her 20's. Or maybe it's just in her genes. Whatever the reason, I feel graced by Elana's pragmatic, eyes-wide-open sort of wisdom.

Amidst talk of kids' colds and Texas politics, we also weigh in on weightier matters. Elana was one of the first people to whom I dared mention that I was sexually abused by a Baptist minister as an adolescent girl.

Elana came to a stand-still on the trail. She immediately saw the significance of my small statement and of the fact that I had never previously spoken of it.

Through the pink crepe myrtles of summer and the red sumacs of fall, Elana continued to listen as my story unfolded. While we fended off angry geese, she watched me work at coming to terms with the blasphemous brutality of what a Baptist minister did to me as a kid.

Elana kept on listening. She heard about my efforts at reporting the perpetrator to church and denominational leaders, and about my frustration at their grotesque oblivion.

Finally, she saw me unravel when I learned that, despite all my efforts, the man was still working in children's ministry. That's when Elana started tossing books my way.

She knows my weakness. I'm a bookaholic.

But the kinds of books Elana was tossing made no sense to me. It was all Holocaust literature--essays, poems, and memoirs. I couldn't imagine how any of it could possibly have any bearing on the problem I was encountering.

"Denial," she said. "You need to understand a whole lot more about the dynamics of mass-scale denial."

I kept reading, but I resisted the analogy. I was uncomfortable with any comparison to the Holocaust because it seemed to trivialize the incomprehensible horror of it.

But Elana insisted. "The most important lesson of the Holocaust is about denial in the face of evil," she said. "If people think they're going to wait to see a genocide before they apply the lessons of the Holocaust, then the lessons of the Holocaust are lost."

Evil is a shape-shifter. Recognizing it with the benefit of hindsight is not so hard. The trick is seeing it when it's there in front of you, and finding a way to confront it at the time.

Why do good people do nothing in the face of evil?

That's the question posed by the Holocaust. It is an ancient question that has arisen in countless other contexts.

Incomprehensible evil is done by trusted ministers who use spiritual authority to violate kids' bodies for their own depraved ends.

Baptist leaders clearly have the power and the resources to cooperatively confront this pervasive evil. Yet they collude through silence and denial.

They blind themselves behind a self-made wall built with a perversion of autonomous polity and a faulty forgiveness theology. It is a wall that shields clergy predators and leaves kids in harm's way. No amount of labeling it "religion" will change what that wall really is.

It is moral and spiritual cowardice. It is denial in the face of evil.

As menorahs begin to light the night, I thank God for the goodness of Elana's life and for the courage of a few individuals who saw evil and took action to smuggle a small boy to safety.

And I wonder how many more seasons will pass before Baptist leaders open their eyes to the evil of clergy sex abuse and take action to keep kids safe from horrible harm.

Reprint of my guest column published in EthicsDaily on December 14, 2006.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Clergy slide in ethics ratings

According to Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics of professions poll, “the percentage of Americans rating the honesty and ethics of clergy as ‘very high’ or ‘high’ is down to 50% in 2009.” This is the lowest percentage it has been in the 32 years that Gallup has measured it.

“Ratings of the clergy dropped from their 2008 levels among both Catholics and Protestants, as well as among regular and non-regular churchgoers.”

Personally, I think it is good that people are beginning to view clergy with a greater measure of skepticism. That sort of skepticism may serve to make kids safer.

And note that the skepticism is rising among both Protestants and Catholics. That too is good. Maybe it is, in part, a sign that people are beginning to understand that clergy sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. After all, the honesty and ethics rating for clergy has now dropped even lower than it was in 2002, the year that most consider to have been the peak of the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis. Yet, the public’s perception of clergy has continued to slide even further downward . . . perhaps because the slide now affects all clergy.

Historically, the problem with clergy has been that people trust them too much. Most ordinary people have a natural tendency to give others the benefit of the doubt -- but only up to a point. With clergy, people often extend that point too far and give them too much the benefit of the doubt. Clergy have been so highly respected that ordinary people give them the benefit of the doubt even past the point of rationality . . . and even when the trust isn't deserved.

Other sorts of professionals recognize the trust and power their status confers, and so they try to protect the public by monitoring members of the profession. For example, a lawyer need not be convicted of a crime in order to have his professional status removed. The profession itself, through review board processes, can consider a lawyer’s conduct and can choose to discipline, suspend, reprimand or even disbar him.

Such a professional review process is what’s needed for Baptist clergy. As things now stand, a Baptist minister can remain in the pulpit unless and until he’s thrown in prison. That’s a remarkably low standard, and it leaves far too many hazardous people in positions of high trust.

Heck … Baptist clergy don’t even have any sort of entry hurdle for the profession. No special training or degree is required, nor any sort of certification. Baptist clergy aren’t even required to go to seminary, like clergy in many other faith groups.

The only thing needed for a Baptist pastor to gain entry to the profession is to convince a group of people that he was “called by God.” Because most of them are, by nature, pretty good talkers -- they are, after all, preachers -- it’s the perfect set-up for con-men.

Of course, most preachers are not con-men. And many may indeed be “called by God.” But surely all of them are not, and it’s unsafe to simply take their word on it, without any system for professional oversight.

After all, the very thing that makes clergy predators so awful is the fact that what they prey on is people’s goodness. Most other sorts of con-men prey on people’s weakness. For example, they might prey on a person’s desire for an easy buck. But clergy-con-men are just the opposite. They exploit the good in people. They prey on people’s faith and trust. They prey on the faith of their young victims in order to abuse and violate them. And they prey on the trust of the congregation to get away with it.

And unlike virtually every other sort of professional, Baptist clergy have no system of oversight. There is no place to turn when things go terribly wrong.

Thank God people are waking up to the need for greater skepticism of clergy! Maybe when the largest Protestant denomination institutes clergy oversight systems, then clergy may be a bit more deserving of trust.

Until then . . . beware!

Update 12/11/09:
See also “Clergy drop in poll rating honesty and ethics of professions,” and in the Sacramento Bee, a timely article on the "increased awareness" of "pastors' spiritual abuse."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Are Baptists hopeless?

Some have criticized me for giving hope where, realistically, there is none.

Some have told me that I should content myself with ministering to the wounded, but that it’s hopeless to try to get anyone in Baptist leadership to actually do anything.


To me, that’s like saying you have a cholera epidemic in Baptistland, and all you can do is put washcloths on foreheads.

I just can’t accept that.

For me, it only makes sense that people should at least try to find the contaminated wells.

How can we not at least try to spare others?

It’s like a preventable disease. Maybe you can’t eradicate it, but you can greatly reduce its incidence.

Because most child molesters have more than one victim, the best way for Baptists to prevent clergy sex abuse in the future is to institutionally listen to those who are trying to tell about abuse in the past.

But that doesn’t happen in Baptistland.

And more and more, I find myself wondering if those who say Baptists are “hopeless” are right.

Maybe they are.

Maybe the Southern Baptist Convention is simply too protected by its self-designed radicalized autonomous polity. And as long as state and national organizations think they can hide behind their radicalized autonomy to avoid legal responsibility, they see no reason to concern themselves with moral responsibility. Nor do they see any reason to concern themselves with the safety of kids.

Maybe Baptists will never institute any clergy accountability mechanisms like other major faith groups, and maybe clergy-predators will continue to roam among them with no one in leadership doing diddly-squat.

Maybe clergy accountability won’t come to this faith group for another 20 years . . . or maybe it will take 200.

Or maybe this denomination will simply die.

Maybe that’s reality. And maybe I just can’t accept it.

Some Baptist abuse survivors have told me they feel just as powerless now as when they were kids. They muster all their courage and they try to tell about their perpetrators . . . and nothing happens.

It’s too late for criminal prosecution; denominational leaders ignore them; lawyers won’t take their cases (because Baptist cases usually have more hurdles than Catholic cases); reporters won’t write about their perpetrators (because there’s no lawsuit or denominational review to report); and without media exposure, the perpetrators simply stay in their pulpits.

I’m sorry.

I can’t make Baptist leaders remove perpetrators from pulpits. I can’t make them listen compassionately to those who try to report abuse. I can’t make them responsibly assess abuse reports. I can’t make them keep records on credibly accused clergy. I can’t make them warn people in the pews.

In fact, I can’t do much at all.

But here’s what I know for sure. Whatever else may or may not happen, I cannot and will not join in the nothing-but-platitudes pretend game that this denomination plays.

I will not pretend that clergy sex abuse is no big deal. I will not minimize it. I will not put a pretty gloss on it.

Clergy sex abuse is ugly and awful. And I will tell the truth about it.

Perhaps I cannot do much. But if nothing else, I will bear witness.

I will bear witness to the horror of what this denomination is allowing to happen to kids.

I will bear witness to the horror in how its leaders treat survivors who speak of it.

I will bear witness to the horror in the do-nothing response of this denomination’s leaders.

I will bear witness.

Friday, December 4, 2009


A Southern Baptist minister at a prominent Florida mega-church is charged with sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

The first line of the first comment under the December 1st Associated Baptist Press article says this: “It’s unfortunate that the person charged and his love interest couldn’t wait a couple of years.”

“Love interest.”

Such extraordinary ignorance . . . or as another commenter described it, “fundamental cluelessness.”

How do you even begin to address people who think like that?

What was done to the 14-year-old in that Florida mega-church -- and what was also done to me in a Baptist church -- is something that doesn’t deserve the respect of even being considered “sexual,” much less “love.”

It’s not love. It’s hate.

And it doesn’t deserve to be called anything other than what it actually was.

I am not ashamed. I refuse.

If my arm were blown off by a terrorist bomb, the shame would not be mine. Likewise, having my brain blenderized by a clergy terrorist is no shame of mine.

And why do they call it “brainwashing” anyway?

It ought to be called “brain-dirtying.” Or “brain-defiling.” Or “brain-desecrating.”

Then, as if it weren’t enough to be molested and raped in the name of God and with words of God . . . to top it all off, the clergy terrorist’s own filth renders the victim untouchable by others in the faith group.

But I am not ashamed. I refuse.