Friday, February 26, 2010

Twelve billion Baptist dollars

“Nearly 45,000 Southern Baptist churches received tithes and offerings totaling more than $12 billion in 2008.” Associated Baptist Press, 2/25/2010.

So . . . twelve billion dollars a year get deposited into Southern Baptist coffers, but not one denominational dime gets designated for ridding the ranks of Baptist preacher-predators.

Twelve billion dollars a year flow into the largest Protestant denomination, but the denomination can’t allocate a single dime to give Baptist kids the same sorts of institutional safeguards as kids in other faith groups get.

More on where the $12 billion goes:

“Churches on average gave about 6 percent of those funds to 42 state and regional Baptist conventions. . . . 2 percent of the total received by churches is forwarded to national ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, which allocates funds to various denominational entities. The largest, the International Mission Board, gets 50 cents of every dollar received at the national level. Between 22 and 23 cents go to the North American Mission Board, and a roughly equal amount is divided among the six SBC seminaries."

“Smaller percentages are allocated to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which receives 1.65 percent of the Cooperative Program pie, and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, which gets one quarter of 1 percent. The Executive Committee receives 3.4 percent of the budget, to be used for facilitating ministries like planning the SBC annual meeting and conducting day-to-day business on the convention's behalf.”

So . . . let's think about this.

If an autonomous church in Kansas can send its dollars to fund a seminary in Kentucky for the purpose of educating future Southern Baptist pastors, why can’t that same autonomous church send its dollars to fund a professionally-staffed denominational review board to assess complaints about Southern Baptist pastors and to inform people in the pews?

And what about those dollars that go to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission? It’s headed by Richard Land and has offices in Washington D.C. and Nashville. Land purports to represent Baptist concerns on public policy issues “in the halls of Congress, before U.S. presidents, and in the media.”

But what do you imagine most parents in the pews care about more . . . Richard Land’s career in the public limelight or the protection of their kids against church-hopping clergy predators?

If autonomous Baptist churches can send their dollars to support Richard Land promoting his view on public policy issues, why can’t autonomous churches send their dollars to support a review board that could provide churches with information about Baptist ministers who are credibly accused of sexual abuse?

Keep in mind that this is the same Richard Land who, a few years back, had the almighty hubris to publicly suggest that Southern Baptists didn’t have the sort of clergy sex abuse problem Catholics had because Baptists had really worked “to focus on this” after just “a couple” cases.

Just “a couple” cases! That’s the sort of non-leader leadership that Baptists are sending their dollars to support. Don’t you think most people would prefer to get objective information from a professionally-staffed review board rather than distorted PR spin from a man like Land?

And what about those dollars that go to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archive? This one is a no-brainer. If autonomous churches can send their dollars to fund an archive that documents the proud history of Southern Baptists, why can’t autonomous churches send their dollars to fund an archive that documents information about Baptist ministers who are credibly accused of abusing kids? If Baptist polity doesn’t preclude cooperative funding for the first kind of archive, how can Baptist polity preclude cooperative funding for the second kind of archive?

Then there’s that 3.4 percent of the national dollars that go toward funding the Executive Committee -- a group that systematically keeps people in the dark about the salaries and compensation packages of their top officials and staff. So, while the Executive Committee is happy to accept the hard-earned dollars of people who sit in Baptist church pews, it won’t tell people in the pews how many of those dollars are being paid to whom.

Do you think people in the pews would prefer to have their dollars go toward funding the salaries of executives who reject even the basic transparency of disclosing how much they’re getting, or would they prefer to fund a review board that could provide all Baptist churches with the resource of objective information about ministers who are credibly accused of abusing the young?

Keep in mind that this is the same Executive Committee that didn’t budget a single dime for doing even so little as a study on the clergy abuse problem, even after 8600 messengers to the Southern Baptist annual meeting directed them to. This shows you how little respect the honchos of the Executive Committee actually have for the Baptist polity they profess. They claim the Southern Baptist Convention is a bottom-up organization; yet when the bottom issues instruction to the top, the top doesn’t bother if it doesn’t want to.

And when it comes to clergy sex abuse, the top doesn't want to do diddly-squat.

But it isn't because they don’t have the money. This is a tentacular organization that takes in more than $12 billion dollars per year.

That’s just annual revenues -- oops, I mean offerings. Let’s not forget that the Southern Baptist Corporation -- oops, I mean Convention -- also has multi-millions (and some calculate more than a billion) in assets.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch the assets of the state and regional Baptist bodies or the assets of the 45,000 churches.

Bottom line: The Southern Baptist Convention has the wherewithal to address clergy sex abuse if only it would choose to do so. The failure is not due to a lack of resources. It’s due to a lack of care and a lack of courage.

Addendum: In 2004-05, the value of congregational property for Southern Baptists was reported at more than $42 billion. (EthicsDaily, 10/19/07)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So Much Hate

“My faith is hanging by a thread. There is just so much hate to deal with.”

That’s what John Doe wrote in his comment to Cheryl.

When I saw his words, I wanted to weep.

If I could get only one wish granted for Baptist clergy abuse survivors, it would be that they might be spared the hell of what comes afterwards -- the hell of “so much hate.” It's where so much greater harm is done.

When most people think of clergy child molestation, they focus on the evil of what the perpetrators do. This is true of many survivors as well.

In fact, when survivors reach the point of being able to talk about it, they often begin their journey by telling themselves something like this: “How bad can it be? No one can possibly do anything worse to me than what’s already been done.”

Somewhere along the road, they realize they were wrong. The abuse itself was only the first level of hell. There are other, deeper levels of hell for survivors who persist in trying to report clergy abuse.

Plenty of people in Baptistland make sure of that.

For starters, there’s the hell of the many who do nothing. It’s the hell populated by the masses who, when it hits close to home, deny and minimize the horror of abuse, and act as though it’s no big deal. “Why can’t you just get over it?” they ask. “Besides, look at all the good Brother Bill has done” . . . as if pastors could use hospital visits to buy dispensation for child molestation.

Then there’s the hell of the pseudo-pious who pontificate on forgiveness, and all the while, heap still more blame and shame on the survivors. With those pastoral voices they learned at seminary, they sermonize on reconciliation . . . but all the while they conveniently forget that reconciliation begins with truth.

The levels of hell go still deeper. There’s the hell of all the double-faced duplicity. It’s the level populated by denominational leaders who, from one side of their mouth, talk of how much they care, while from the other side, they instruct their lawyer to go “help” the church . . . knowing full-well that his “help” will work toward silencing the victim while leaving the perpetrator in his pulpit.

Then there are the even lower levels of hell with all the Baptist church and denominational leaders who deliver name-calling, bullying, intimidation, and threats. Most ordinary people would not believe the levels of meanness to which religious leaders will stoop. Until just a few years ago, I myself would not have believed it. I was incapable of believing in so much hate.

But now I’ve seen that hate. And Baptistland is where I saw it. John Doe has seen that hate too, and so have many, many more Baptist abuse survivors.

“So much hate.” It’s a horrible thing to have to see. . . even more horrible than the pictures in our heads of our bodies being sexually abused.

It’s one thing to try to come to terms with the evil of sexual abuse inflicted by an individual. But it’s quite another thing to try to come to terms with a whole hellish land filled with so many people who, at best, do nothing, and more likely than not, heap on additional anguish for abuse survivors.

In Baptistland, clergy abuse survivors get to see all the ways that humans have of inflicting hate in the name of religion.

“So much hate.” It’s a horrible thing to have to see . . . and it's a hate that's not just about the perpetrators. It’s about all the rest of what happens in Baptistland.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Flummoxed by finger-pointing

Whenever I see Baptists point their fingers at Catholics for clergy sex abuse, I want to hold up a mirror.

But lately, I can’t seem to find enough mirrors.

The scandal in Germany is what prompted the latest finger-pointing. As reported in the German news magazine Der Spiegel:

“The Catholic Church in Germany has been shaken in recent days. . . . Close to 100 priests and members of the laity have been suspected of abuse . . . After years of suppression, the wall of silence appears to be crumbling. . . . Now they are finally revealing their own figures, though hesitantly. According to a Spiegel survey of Germany’s 27 dioceses conducted last week, at least 94 priests and member of the laity in Germany are suspected or have been suspected of abusing countless children and adolescents since 1995. A total of 24 of the 27 dioceses responded to Spiegel’s questions.”

This is ugly news, and the Catholic Church is well-deserving of a heap of criticism. So, I’ve got no bone to pick with what Baptists say about it. My bone is with what Baptists don’t say.

When I see Baptists talk about the “pompous veneer” of predatory priests, I can’t help but wonder why they don’t talk just as much about the “pompous veneer” of predatory preachers.

On the one hand, Baptist leaders point their fingers at the bishops for what they did wrong, but on the other hand, they justify Baptists’ do-nothingness on the ground that “we have no bishops.”

They criticize the bishops for what they didn’t do, but then they use Baptists’ lack of bishops to deflect even the possibility of action in Baptistland.

It’s crazy.

And make sure to notice . . . Der Spiegel got its numbers by delving into records kept by the dioceses themselves. The dioceses revealed “their own figures.”

Meanwhile, Baptist leaders refuse to even bother with keeping records on Baptist clergy.

For Catholics, “it’s our religion” means Catholic bishops must keep records on priests. Catholic canon law requires it.

For Baptists, “it’s our religion” means Baptist leaders don’t keep any records at all on their clergy. They claim that Baptist belief in local church autonomy precludes denominational record-keeping.

When a German magazine publicizes church records of 94 priests and laity who are “suspected” of abuse, Baptists point their fingers. Meanwhile, in Baptistland, there exists not even the possibility of any records on “suspected” abuse, because Baptist leaders flat-out refuse to assess credible accusations much less to keep track of them.

Moreover, even ministers’ criminal convictions seem barely worthy of mention in Baptistland. Most state and national Baptist publications rarely report such news.

But just look at all the Baptist clergy abuse headlines here. And look at all the Southern Baptist ministers named here.

Rather than talking about the 94 in Germany, why aren’t Baptists yelling their lungs out about all these Baptist cases?

And mind you, most of the Baptist cases that get reported involve much more than “suspicion” or “credible accusations.” With Baptists, reporters can usually write only about cases involving probable cause for arrest, criminal charges, grand jury indictments, or criminal convictions. Without church records, there’s little way for reporters to write about the sorts of “credible accusation” cases that they can with Catholics.

That’s one of the big reasons why there is so much more media coverage of clergy abuse among Catholics as compared to the coverage of clergy abuse among Baptists.

Can you imagine what it would be like in Baptistland if we started seeing, not only the news about criminal charges and criminal convictions, but also news about internal complaints and denominational review proceedings? The number of cases coming into public attention would skyrocket.

But of course, that’s not the way it is in Baptistland. Baptists haven’t even yet started keeping records on clergy abuse reports. They’re decades behind.

Here’s the Catholic pattern: keep it quiet, cover it up, transfer the accused cleric to another church, and keep an in-house record.

Here’s the Baptist pattern: keep it quiet, cover it up, allow the accused minister to move to another church, and keep NO record. Is this better?

United States Catholic bishops funded a multimillion dollar study on the extent of Catholic clergy abuse, but Baptist leaders didn’t budget a single dime to study the Baptist clergy abuse problem. Why aren’t more Baptists railing about that?

And when keep-it-quiet men like Steve Gaines and Tom Messer are promoted at Baptist conferences as examples of pastoral leadership, why don’t other Baptist pastors decry it?

And when Baptists’ highest leader fosters a culture of victim-blaming by publicly smearing those who bring abuse to light as “opportunists,” why don’t we hear hundreds of other Baptist voices shouting “No!”

And when we learn that, despite multiple abuse and assault reports, a Baptist pastor was able to advance through nearly a dozen churches and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- until he committed murder and was stopped only for that reason -- why aren’t all good Baptists screaming “Ya Basta!”

So much collusion. So much complicity. So much do-nothingness. All right here in Baptistland.

Yet, Baptists point their fingers at the Catholics.

Related post: More than a Catholic Problem

Friday, February 19, 2010

Polity schmolity

At a recent luncheon, Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, urged Baptist leaders to promote “full cooperation.”

“Cooperation is foundational in everything we do jointly as believers,” he said.

Yeah, right. Everything except protecting kids and ridding the ranks of clergy predators. That’s what Chapman should have said.

After all, it’s pretty much what he’s said in the past.


Morris Chapman is the same guy who said the reason the denomination could not create a database of admitted, convicted and credibly-accused clergy sex abusers was because of Baptists’ “belief in the autonomy of each local church.”

Morris Chapman is the same guy whose Executive Committee put out a 2008 report claiming that the Southern Baptist Convention cannot “bar known perpetrators from ministry or start an office to field abuse claims.”

Morris Chapman is the same guy who, from one side of his mouth, said Baptists must “do everything within our power” to stop clergy sex abuse, but from the other side of his mouth professed that this multi-million dollar denomination is powerless -- we have “no authority” he said.

Morris Chapman is the same guy who, speaking for the denomination, said “we shall not turn a blind eye” to clergy sex abuse, and at the same time, turned a denominational blind-eye by recommending against any system for tracking Baptist clergy sex abusers.

Now, in the face of all those past remarks, look at what he has to say when money is at stake.

At the luncheon, he was urging that a higher percentage of Baptists’ $500 million in annual Cooperative Program dollars should be directed toward the national organization. Why? Because, according to Chapman, Baptists should take “a holistic view of the convention’s ministries.”

Chapman also expressed concern about the trend toward churches’ support of independent mission projects while diminishing their contributions to the national organization through the Cooperative Program. This goes down the path toward “disorganization,” emphasized Chapman.

“We are all yoked together,” he said. “If the convention wishes to jettison central planning and strategically engineered ministry, it will…have to make that call. But doing either would be suicide. . . . “

So . . . when money is at stake, Morris Chapman is all for “central planning” and “full cooperation,” and he says not a word about local church autonomy.

In fact, isn’t it amazing how the national organization already has systems for tracking such extensive information about the giving records of the churches? In Nashville, the national organization has no difficulty in pulling up records on how much local churches give and how they allocate their giving. They can tell you about the dollars.

So, if the national organization can keep data on the dollars, why can’t they keep data on the clergy?

If they can tell you how much money a church gives within the denomination, why can’t they tell you how many abuse reports a minister has within the denomination?

And since Morris Chapman thinks “cooperation is foundational” for ministry efforts, why doesn’t he also think “cooperation is foundational” for protecting kids against clergy predators?

If local churches can cooperatively fund ‘central planning” for mission efforts, why can’t local churches cooperatively fund a centralized, professionally-staffed review board for the assessment of clergy abuse reports?

“The world may never understand our polity.” That’s what Morris Chapman said when he rejected the possibility of Baptists cooperating together for the creation of a denominational database to track admitted and credibly-accused clergy predators.

Polity schmolity.

The world can understand Baptist polity. That’s not the problem. What the world can’t understand is the inconsistency in how Baptists apply that polity in practice and in how they manipulate that polity to avoid clergy accountability.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lora's response to Baptist Bill

“Just look at the facts before you draw any more conclusions.”

That’s what Lora said to Baptist Bill.

And she’s exactly right. It’s what makes the remarks of Baptist Bill on the Matt Baker case so frustrating. The Matt Baker case is one in which we actually have a lot of facts on the table.

We have facts that were judicially established at Matt Baker’s trial -- e.g. he killed a person -- and we have a ton of evidence. For starters, prosecutors said they had 13 reports of sexual abuse and assault against Baker, including four that involved minors. We also have scores of news articles.

Yet, even in the face of established facts, lots of evidence, and confirmed news reports, Baptist Bill still chose to disparage Lora rather than to see the full horror of what happened in Baptistland.

For those of you who haven’t followed this story, Matt Baker is the Baptist pastor who hopped his way through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas despite a slew of sexual abuse and assault reports. No one stopped him. He just kept moving on, until recently when he was convicted of murder.

That’s what it took to bring a halt to a Baptist pastor’s “secret life as a sexual predator.”

Except, of course, that it wasn’t really so “secret.” There were people in authority who knew about reports of abuse and assault, and who should have done something.

But no one in Baptistland did diddly-squat.

Lora made one of the earliest reports against Matt Baker. In 1991, when she was a freshman at Baylor University (the largest Baptist school in the world), she reported a sexual assault by ministerial student Matt Baker.

Then and there, Baylor officials could have done something that might have deterred Matt Baker’s pattern and forced him to face consequences. But they didn’t. They typed up a report and put it in a file. They “took no action.”

Even worse, they dissuaded Lora from taking additional action. As told by Lora and testified to in court, Waco administrators “asked her not to contact the police.”

So here we are, 18 years later, with a dead body and a trail of tears from many other wounded people. And who knows how many more were wounded and never spoke about it?

In the face of all this -- a murder and numerous known reports of sexual abuse -- Baptist Bill chose to disparage Lora rather than to open his eyes to the ugly reality of such a huge institutional failure. In comments on a Baptist blog, he resorted to repeating the words of smear spoken by the convicted murderer himself. Then, Baptist Bill two-stepped all around, minimizing the do-nothingness of Baylor and a Waco church, dancing the autonomy shuffle and the polity prance, and before you knew it, Baptist Bill had turned the whole sordid saga into such an abstraction that he was making pronouncements about “post-denominationalism.”

I guess almost anything is better than actually taking a hard look at what leaders in your own faith group allowed to happen -- leaders in your own Baptist university, leaders in a prominent historic Baptist church in your own town, and leaders in your statewide Baptist convention.

Now don’t get me wrong. I feel 99.9 percent certain that Baptist Bill is probably a very nice guy. He’s also a very well-educated guy. I don’t imagine he had any bad intentions, and he probably still doesn’t understand why I think what he did is so troubling.

But consider this. Given how easily Baptist Bill fell into the pattern of victim-blaming and minimization even in the face of a murder conviction and numerous known reports of abuse, what do you think his likely response would be if he were a church leader confronted with the typical clergy abuse report? After all, most cases don’t arrive with a packaged pile of evidence like what Baptist Bill had here.

Yet, even without a pile of evidence, when a pastor is accused of sexual abuse, shouldn’t there be somebody in religious authority who will treat it seriously?

And if the victim’s claim is too old for criminal prosecution (as most are), shouldn’t she still be able to tell someone in Baptistland about it -- without encountering the sort of victim-blaming attitude that Baptist Bill displayed?

“I respect your loyalty to Baylor and the SBC,” Lora said to Baptist Bill. “I get it, really I do.”

I get it too. Really I do. In fact, I think the kind of remarks made by Baptist Bill are so common as to be banal.

Baptist Bill is human, and he did what most human beings do. Therein lies the problem. Ordinary good people tend to lapse into denial and minimization when ugly allegations involve people and institutions they care about.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. It just means they’re human. It’s why most other professions -- and even most other clergy – have accountability systems that seek to compensate for that ordinary human instinct. They have accountability systems that allow allegations of abuse to be reported to outsiders.

But not Baptists. Nope. They keep telling those who try to report clergy abuse that they must go to the church of the accused perpetrator. It’s like telling bloody sheep to go to the den of the wolf who savaged them.

Ironically, in his attempts to defend the indefensible, Baptist Bill stated his view that, rather than have review systems like other faith groups, “the way to go” for Baptists is a “bottoms up approach that educates people in the pews.”

Yet, Baptist Bill himself demonstrated the very reason why educational efforts will never be enough for dealing with clergy sex abuse. Though education is fine and good, ultimately, you cannot effectively educate most people away from the normal human instinct toward denial or from the tribal tendency to rally around those they already know and trust.

The biggest part of the problem is not a lack of education; it’s an abundance of human nature. This is why most responsible organizations have systems that provide mechanisms to try to override that aspect of human nature.

But not Baptists. And that’s exactly why pastor Matt Baker was always able to slip through the cracks. Other religious leaders behaved in ways similar to Baptist Bill. They found excuses, rationalizations and minimizations. Rather than seeing something difficult -- and dealing with it -- they took the easy road of keeping quiet and allowing Matt Baker to move on. And there was no system to foster a better response.

By now, I know what some of you are probably thinking -- and I’ll be the first to admit it. Yes, I’m having a hard time letting go of the Matt Baker case.

But my own feelings are inconsequential.

The question people ought to be asking is this: Why have Baptist leaders been able to let go of it so easily?

In many organizations, an institutional failure of this magnitude would lead to a serious in-house investigation. Leaders would express their determination to figure out how things went so wrong and their resolve that nothing like this should ever happen again.

But in Baptistland, the leaders just shrug.

Related post: Baptist Bill and the Courage of Lora.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Haiti: Mission team's adviser "may be wanted for human trafficking"

A man who provided legal assistance to the 10 jailed Baptist “missionaries” in Haiti “may be wanted for human trafficking in El Salvador.”

The deputy investigations director of El Salvador’s police, Howard Cotto, told reporters that “the possibility is high” that the missionaries’ adviser, Jorge Puello, is the same man who is “named in an Interpol arrest warrant for allegedly running a sex trafficking ring that lured women and girls from the Caribbean and Central America into prostitution with bogus offers of modeling jobs.” (That’s Puello in the photo.)

Furthermore, the police chief for the Dominican Republic told reporters that, while Puello has no criminal record there, he was under investigation. And the vice-president of the Dominican Lawyers Association said Puello was in apparent violation of the country’s requirement for having a license.

Puello has been quoted as denying any connection to trafficking.

According to the Associated Press report, Puello contacted the missionaries’ church, Central Valley Baptist in Meridian, Idaho, after the missionaries were arrested on January 29 for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without documentation. Church members failed to check his background before working with him. They just assumed good intentions.

This story just goes from bad to worse, doesn’t it?

Southern Baptist churches sent a mission team that “appeared to lack any significant experience with Haiti, international charity work or international adoption regulations.”

Then, when Haitian authorities arrested the team as it attempted to take undocumented children across the border, Central Valley church pastor Clint Henry described the Haitian government’s action as “accusations of Satan.”

It wasn’t a good start. Rather than honestly addressing the team’s own failures and dealing with them, Pastor Henry cast Satanic blame onto the Haitians.

The mission team was headed by a woman, Laura Silsby, who probably should not have been appointed as a leader for much of anything, much less for a project directed toward the “rescue” of children. Reportedly, Silsby was “plagued by financial and business problems” and had told people that she was leaving the country.

Nevertheless, Southern Baptists’ top-dog ethicist Richard Land blustered and bragged about how “churches are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts for the people of Haiti,” and then ranted that it was “outrageous” for the Haitian government to respond in this way to the “obvious good intentions of these honorable Christians.”

Of course, Richard Land wasn’t in a position to actually know diddly-squat. And apparently, even the mission team members themselves had more doubts than Land. After the arrest, 8 of the mission team members passed a note to an NBC producer, saying that their leader, Laura Silsby, was “lying.”

Meanwhile, other high Southern Baptist officials expressed concern for how the arrests might hurt the Baptist image.

And now, we learn that the adviser for the arrested missionaries “may be wanted for human trafficking in El Salvador.”

It’s bad enough that nobody in Baptistland appears to have done any due diligence on whether Laura Silsby should head up a mission team. But it’s even worse that nobody in Baptistland appeared to learn any lesson from that mistake. They accepted the services of an adviser “to help” the arrested missionaries, and they “failed to check his background.”

Lo and behold, look at the questions that are now raised about their adviser -- questions that should have been raised on the front end instead of the tail end.

Given the missionaries’ naivety and the Baptists’ blind-eyed system, Jeri Massi got it right from the get-go when she pointed out that “criminals would have found them easy marks to use to round up children.” Now we are left to wonder whether Jeri’s words may prove true in actuality rather than merely in theory.

Despite the rantings of Richard Land about “obvious good intentions,” the Haitian authorities are the ones who got it right when they said that, at the border, there was “no way to be sure” that the people in the bus had the children’s best interests at heart.

Personally, I believe that at least 9 of those people on the mission team probably did indeed have good intentions, and I hope the Haitian judge will move forward with a decision to provisionally release them. However, my personal belief is irrelevant. So too is Richard Land’s.

At the border, Haitian authorities faced a dilemma and they had to deal with it. The “missionaries” lacked proper documentation to take the children, and Haitian authorities opted to enforce their laws and to err on the side of protecting the children.

The Haitian authorities had every right -- and every good reason -- to detain the Baptist mission team for investigation.

For Southern Baptist officials to call the Haitian conduct “outrageous” is . . . outrageous.

As reported in the New York Times, Jorge Puello may also be a person wanted in the United States. "Police records and court documents in the United States also say that a person with the same name and birth date is considered a fugitive and is wanted by the Miami police, United States Customs and the United States Marshals Service. The name and birth date are also the same as the man being pursued in El Salvador and for whom Interpol has transmitted an arrest warrant. An order is listed in the United States national crime database for a man with that name and birth date to be arrested on sight and reported to United States immigration officials. Those records say he is wanted in connection with crimes including bank fraud in the United States and Canada, and theft of American government property. Police records say he has violated parole."

As reported on BaptistPlanet, “The 10 still-jailed Baptists in Haiti were warned (repeatedly)”.

2/17/10: Eight of the 10 missionaries are released.

3/20/10: U.S. missionaries’ legal adviser arrested on human-trafficking charges, Associated Press (Cleveland Plain Dealer)("He is wanted...for crimes against children; sexual exploitation of minors for pornography and prostitution; organized crime; and human trafficking.")

Related posts:
Intervention of SBC officials shows inconsistency of autonomy
Charged missionary was from church with recent child predator
Child safeguards or accusations of Satan?

Friday, February 12, 2010

More than a Catholic problem

“Why do so many people think clergy sex abuse is ‘just’ a Catholic problem?”

I get asked this question a lot, and I hope to talk more about it in the future. Meanwhile, Philip Jenkins, professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, provides an explanation that basically has to do with the “relative ease of litigation” against Catholic dioceses. Though there’s more to it than that, “ease of litigation” is certainly a big part of it. Here is a broader explanation from Professor Jenkins.

“No evidence indicates that Catholic or celibate clergy are more (or less) involved than their non-celibate counterparts. Some of the worst cases of persistent serial abuse by clergy have involved Baptist or Pentecostal ministers, rather than Catholic priests. Every denomination and faith tradition has had its trail of disasters . . . .

"Sexual misconduct appears to be spread fairly evenly across denominations, though I stress the word appears. Astonishingly, Catholic priests are literally the only profession in the country for whom we have relatively good figures for the incidence of child abuse and molestation. For these other groups, we have to depend on the volume of news stories and largely impressionistic evidence, but based on this, there do not appear to be significant differences in the amount of misconduct. If someone wants to claim that the Catholic priesthood is more prone to abusive behavior than other groups, then the burden of proof is upon that person…. In order to establish a case proving priestly depravity, we would need to compare like samples of clergy from different denominations, with comparable systems of processing complaints and keeping records. No such studies have ever been attempted. As a result, the Catholic connection to abuse or pedophilia remains no more than an unproven assumption . . . .

"As reported cases of priestly abuse proliferated during 2002, the media became increasingly intolerant of protests that the Catholic angle of the affair was being exaggerated. If that’s so, they demanded, why is it we only hear about Catholic molestation stories? Actually, there are several answers to this question, which reflect the intertwined workings of the media and the courts. . . .

"Structural and bureaucratic reasons also help explain the number of Catholic cases that appear in the news. Much of the evidence comes from civil lawsuits involving priests and their dioceses. The proliferation of specifically Catholic lawsuits does not mean that priests are more likely to have offended, but rather that a centralized church with good record keeping and extensive property holdings is a much more valuable legal target than a small decentralized congregation. Catholic clergy lead the list of known abuse cases because they are relatively easy to sue and because civil lawsuits produce a wealth of internal church documents. . . .

"To some extent, the media concentration on Catholic abuse cases represents a kind of self-fulfilling expectation. Because priests are considered likely to offend, any cases that come to light can be fitted into a prepared package of images and issues: the media has a lot of experts handy and know what questions to ask, and those all deal with Catholic themes. If a non-Catholic case comes to light (as it often does), it is usually treated as an isolated case of individual depravity, rather than an institutional problem. . . . Journalists find writing stories much easier when they know from the start exactly what the finished product is going to look like. The more Catholic cases are treated in this way, the more the accumulation of sensational cases confirms the media expectation about the Catholic nature of the problem.”

Quoted material is from Philip Jenkins’ books Pedophiles and Priests at p. 51 (1996), and The New Anti-Catholicism at pp. 142-44 (2003).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We nod and whisper "I know"

With Cheryl’s permission, I’m sharing her email below. I know there are also many of you who “will read it and will nod your head all the while and whisper ‘yes’ and ‘I know.’”

Dear Christa,

I have been reading your blog for over a year...I have never commented, but I appreciate so much the work you are doing and that you never give up. I am just now having the courage to come out of the shadows a bit and it is due in large part to your website and your seemingly tireless efforts to make the truth known.

I grew up in a “regular” Baptist church -- an independent Bible-believing church and was abused there. Nothing was done.

My husband left me four years ago due to the difficulties stemming from the abuse...I won't take the time to go into it, but I am sure the lingering effects are very similar for abuse victims and you could fill in most of the blanks. Sadly, I refused to deal with them. We were in a Baptist church at the time that he left and what happened the next four years is almost as horrific as the sexual abuse that I experienced as a child.

We had been at this Baptist church for 8 years. My husband had been a deacon until a week before he left. ... The good news is that because he left, I was forced to face all that I had been blocking out for so long and I found a godly, safe counselor outside the church that helped me. The bad news... because I would not open up to the counselor at the Baptist church I was attending... because I refused to submit to their authority as men... because I would not trust them with my tender, broken heart nor would I turn on my husband and reveal why he left... I was shut out of this church...horrible things were said about me...I lost all my friends...I could go on and on...all this because I chose to go outside of "them" to get help. Mind you, I was faithfully attending, serving, my kids were in the Christian school...I love the Lord...but the things they wanted me to submit was wrong and again was a completely different kind of abuse, but oh...just as horrific. Oh, this is almost impossible to express or try to explain...but I am sure you understand how hard it is to tell one's story, but how desperately one wants to be heard?

After a year of trying, I received a final letter signed by all the pastors and all the deacons releasing me from church membership. They also released me “to Satan.”

I had very quietly and respectfully requested that I be removed from church membership. I had never breathed a word against the church or its leadership. After all that had happened in the 4 years since my husband had left, my children and I decided we needed to leave. This was very difficult as the church was our life: Christian school, youth group, etc. My kids are teens and we had been there for over a decade. It was a family decision made carefully, tearfully and prayerfully. What I didn’t know was this . . . when you request to be removed from church membership, the ONLY reason you would do this is because you are involved in sin . . .

The pastor hired a private investigator to follow me for a period of weeks to “prove” I was involved in an immoral relationship. Of course this could not be proved as it was not true.

My response from the beginning… was to categorically deny the allegations, request again that they release me from membership, and to ask them to please cease all contact with me. They continued to contact me… every time threatening public discipline.

I would love to say that I just let that roll off my back and that I didn’t care what was made public, but I did care a lot. I cared because of the injustice of it, the unfairness of it and the humiliation of it. The feeling of something being completely manipulated and out of your control . . . well, I can only liken that to the sexual abuse I experienced as a child.

This all culminated in the final letter. . . So I guess that’s the end of the story . . but not really. I am shunned in grocery stores and malls, my kids lost all their friends, I am anxious whenever I leave my house for fear of who I might run into. . . The hardest part is my kids. They are struggling with ‘’religion’ … with trust… with what they believe. I am barely hanging on myself after a lifetime entrenched in this . . . how do I help them?

We are in a new church, but most Sundays as we all get in the car I look around at my children and think . . . “what am I going to do?” I see the same look in all of our eyes that I see in pictures of victims of other atrocities . . . I know to a much lesser level . . . I would never say it’s the same only that I see similarities in the haunted looks.

It is hard for me to put this into words. It is easier to do it here though, because I know that you will read it and will nod your head all the while and whisper “yes” and “I know”. How do I know this? Because it is what I did when I read your story and what I continue to do when I read your blog and read the comments that follow.

Thank you!

I pray for you everyday.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti: Intervention of SBC officials shows inconsistency of "autonomy"

The highest leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote to President Barack Obama, asking him to help secure the release of the 10 volunteer “missionaries” who are charged with child kidnapping in Haiti.

Most of the mission team members are from two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho, and one is from a Southern Baptist church in Texas. Their mission team was an independent one, connected to the churches, but not sponsored directly by the Southern Baptist Convention.

That’s how it works in Baptistland.

The local churches are supposedly totally autonomous and can do whatever they want.

“Local church autonomy.” It’s the reason denominational leaders invariably give for why they can’t do anything about reported clergy predators.

“Local church autonomy.” It’s the line that gets dished out to clergy abuse survivors whenever they seek help from denominational leaders.

So why didn’t the “local church autonomy” line get dished out this time?

Why didn’t denominational leaders tell the local churches, “It’s your mission team – you handle it.”

After all, that’s what they tell clergy abuse survivors: “Go to the local church. He’s their pastor. They have to handle it.”

And we all know what happens then, don’t we? It’s like sending wounded sheep back to the den of the wolf who savaged them.

But if a church’s “missionaries” are in trouble, as opposed to merely a church’s clergy molestation survivors, then the high-honchos step up to the plate.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have a problem with the fact that the SBC’s high-honchos decided to intervene on behalf of the local churches’ missionaries in Haiti. Baptists have a shared identity, and so they should also have a shared burden of care and responsibility.

The part I have a problem with is the fact that Southern Baptist leaders reject the notion of shared care and responsibility when it comes to dealing with Baptist clergy sex abuse.

Why the inconsistency?

An Associated Press article pointed out that Baptist leaders were concerned the Haiti arrests might hurt their image.

Is that the reason for the inconsistency on local church autonomy? Is it really all about concern for image rather than concern for kids?

I couldn’t help but see some irony in the fact that the Associated Press “image” article was picked up by the newspaper in Palestine, Texas.

Palestine: It’s one of those typical East Texas towns where Southern Baptists are so extremely dominant. The article reminded me that there are a lot of East Texas Baptist churches who, through independent efforts, support orphanages in very poor places.

Imagine that one of those orphanages is headed by a charming director whom everyone considers to be a great Christian man. He's a “Baptist.” At the East Texas church that supports him, people love it when their Sunday night service shows videos of the children at the orphanage. They get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about all the good they’re doing by supporting this man’s orphanage. And twice each year, when the director comes to town, he speaks from the church’s pulpit.

Now imagine that you’re someone who grew up in that orphanage and were sexually abused by that director. You’ve gotten a bit older, and you want to protect other kids from the hell of what you went through. So you try to figure out how you can get someone to seriously look into it. There’s no one in your homeland who’s going to look into it. He’s a powerful, wealthy man in that poor place, and in any event, it’s long past any possibility for criminal prosecution. So you decide to go to the people who fund the orphanage and whose “brand” is attached to the orphanage. After all, the director claims to be a “Baptist” and so you imagine there will be someone among “Baptists” who will exercise some oversight. Makes sense, right?

Except that there’s not anyone like that in Baptistland. There is no oversight.

But you just can’t believe it . . . and you keep thinking about the other kids who are still at the orphanage -- and so you can’t bring yourself to give up. You talk to several people, and you tell them that you know of others who can also tell of abuse by the same man if only they can be assured of some reasonable review.

But no one will pay any attention to you. After all, you’re just an outsider. You’re not one of those cute kids in the videos anymore, and nothing you have to say makes anyone feel warm and fuzzy. And the orphanage director -- he’s a great man of God. He’s someone that people have watched on Sunday night videos for years.

So . . . where exactly should this guy go? Who exactly should he talk to?

What system do Southern Baptists have in place to provide even a small measure of denominational oversight for such mission efforts?

The orphanage director carries the “Baptist” name, but who among Baptists will even bother with responsibly assessing the accusations?

The answer, of course, is no one.

So . . . here’s my point. If Southern Baptist leaders are so willing to intervene to try to help those “missionaries” from the autonomous local churches, why can’t they intervene to try to help a person who grew up in a “Baptist” orphanage sponsored by autonomous local churches?

And given that Southern Baptists don’t provide any denominational oversight for the mission efforts of Baptist churches, why should the Haitian government automatically assume that the “missionaries” have “obvious good intentions”?

Should they assume “obvious good intentions” just because high-honcho Baptist leader Richard Land says so?

How the heck would Richard Land know?

And what about the fact that 8 of the “missionaries” now say that the leader of their group, Laura Silsby, is “lying”?

When the arrests were made, Haitian authorities said there was no way to be sure that the American “missionaries” had the children's best interests at heart.

The Haitian authorities were exactly right. There was “no way to be sure.” So they detained the “missionaries” to try to figure out why 33 kids were being taken across the border without documentation.

Southern Baptist leaders could learn a lesson. When the well-being of kids is at stake, it’s not the time for easy assumptions. Nor is it the time for easy talk about “local church autonomy.”

Related posts:
“Charged missionary was from church with recent child predator”
“Child safeguards or accusations of Satan?”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Baptist Bill and the Courage of Lora

Take a good look at that woman. Her name is Lora. She’s the person who reported a sexual assault by ministerial student Matt Baker at Baylor University back in 1991.

At that time, Lora was a freshman college girl. She roomed with Billy Graham’s granddaughter.

Baylor University is the largest Baptist school in the world, and it’s affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. What did they do about the reported assault? They typed up a report and put it in a file.

Lora said they treated her like she was “just some screwed up slut who wanted to ruin the life of a good ministerial student.”

Worst of all, Lora said that “Baylor administrators at the time had asked her not to contact police.”

That’s what she told the Waco Police Department in 1997, when Lora tried a second time to report what Matt Baker did to her. By then, she had decided to ignore what the officials at Baylor told her, and her statement about Baylor administrators asking her “not to contact the police” was included in the police file.

Lora drove across Texas to make that 1997 police report. She was trying to protect others. But she couldn’t. By then, it was too late for criminal prosecution.

Where else could she go? Who else could she tell?

Baptists don’t provide the possibility of any denominational reporting system like other major faith groups do.

So she went home and tried once again to forget about it.

Then, a decade later, Lora learned that investigators were looking into the possible murder of Matt Baker’s wife. She talked to the investigators, and told yet again about what Matt Baker had done to her.

Lora’s story helped to re-invigorate the murder investigation. She was a significant catalyst in helping to bring Matt Baker to justice.

Then, Lora flew in from New York to testify in Texas during the sentencing phase of Matt Baker’s murder trial. She helped to put him in prison.

It’s not easy for people who have been sexually assaulted to talk about it. But Lora kept on trying.

Lora showed more courage than every Baptist official who had anything to do with Matt Baker.

By the time of Matt Baker’s murder trial, prosecutors said they had evidence of at least 13 people who said they had been sexually abused or assaulted by Baptist preacher Matt Baker, including four who were minors at the time.

But nobody in Baptistland had done diddly-squat. Matt Baker hopped from church to church through the Baptist General Convention of Texas living what investigators described as “a secret life as a sexual predator.” And despite the many reports of abuse, at the time of his arrest, he was still working as a minister for students in a job funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Either nobody connected the dots, or nobody cared.

In fact, even after his arrest on the murder charge, nobody in Baptistland did much. They merely suspended him with pay.

If not for the murder conviction, Matt Baker could have likely gone right back to that job as a minister for students. Nobody in Baptistland would have even bothered to say “Whoa . . . you can’t be a minister when you have so many sexual abuse and assault reports.”

To this day, I doubt that anyone in Baptistland has even bothered to revoke Matt Baker’s ordination. When he gets out of prison, he’ll probably STILL be an ordained Baptist minister.

But while Baptist officials did nothing, Lora tried desperately. She showed more courage than all the do-nothing Baptist officials combined.

Yet, even to this day, a Baptist man tried to cast doubt on her in public comments on a Baptist blog.

I don’t have any desire to embarrass the guy (and I’m hoping he might reflect on this), and so I’ll just call him “Baptist Bill.” He has strong connections to Baylor, and it appeared he was trying to stick up for Baylor and rationalize its do-nothingness. In the process, he said this: “Supposedly, the girl had made a similar accusation back in high school, I believe.”


Baptist Bill -- a well-intentioned, well-educated, young man -- was quoting the words of Matt Baker himself to disparage Lora. He was quoting the guy who is now a convicted murderer.

There is absolutely no evidence, nor any statement by anyone else, to even suggest that Matt Baker’s statement about Lora was true.

By contrast, there is now plenty of evidence to suggest that Lora’s statement about Matt Baker was true. Many others have reported sexual abuse and assaults by Baptist minister Matt Baker.

But Baptist leaders failed to connect the dots. In fact, Baptists fail to have any system that even allows for the possibility of connecting the dots.

Yet rather than seeing the cold, hard reality of Baylor’s failure and of other Baptist leaders’ failures, Baptist Bill chose to disparage Lora.

The instant I saw Baptist Bill’s words, I wanted to weep. After Matt Baker’s murder conviction and after 13 known reports of sexual abuse and assault, how could anyone still be trying to cast doubt on the girl who first reported him to Baptist officials back in 1991?

I immediately wrote a comment on the blog. “It seems that you are effectively smearing that college freshman girl based on nothing more than what Matt Baker himself said.”

Baptist Bill took offense and pointed out that he had said “supposedly” and “I believe” -- as though that somehow made the smear more acceptable.

But if I say “Supposedly, Fred is a crook,” do you think Fred will be any less offended by the fact that I softened it with “supposedly”?

And strangely, even though I told Baptist Bill that he was “effectively smearing” Lora, my use of the softening word “effectively” didn’t prevent him from feeling offended.

Frankly, I’m still upset about Baptist Bill’s smear of Lora. In fact, I’m still upset about the whole sordid Matt Baker debacle and what it showed about Baptistland.

Oh sure, I know there are “bad guys” in the world. But it’s the “good guys” that I can never come to terms with -- “good guys” like Baptist Bill.

If clergy sex abuse were just about the “bad guys,” then it wouldn’t be half as bad. But it’s about so much more.

It’s about all the good people who do nothing. It’s about all the ways that good people find to rationalize, minimize and deny. It’s about all the ways good people find to protect their cozy view of people and institutions they love, rather than opening their eyes to the horrible consequence of a system that lacks accountability.

When I see comments like those of Baptist Bill, I realize how insidious this problem is. Even good people can easily fall into the pattern of disparaging those who report sexual abuse, particularly when doing so helps them preserve their own positive view of the Baptist world they know and love.

When I see comments like those of Baptist Bill -- a guy who is part of the next generation of Baptist leaders -- I feel myself inching toward believing what so many have told me for so long: “Baptists are hopeless.”

I haven’t wanted to believe it, but if even a murder won’t wake them up, what will?

Even in the face of a murder and 13 known reports of sexual abuse and assault, Baptists still did their polity prance, and they just danced all around that dead body.

And all those others who were sexually abused and assaulted? Baptist leaders were too deep into their autonomy trance to even acknowledge them.

To this day, no Baylor official has made any public expression of remorse. No one at First Baptist of Waco, a church that had two reports of Baker’s abuse, has expressed any sorrow about letting the man move on without consequence. No one at the Baptist General Convention of Texas has offered any explanation for how someone with so many abuse and assault reports could move so easily through its affiliated churches and organizations. And no one in Baptistland has made even the feeblest of effort to reach out to the many more who were likely wounded by “murdering minister” Matt Baker -- the many who are probably still silent.

That’s how little courage Baptist leaders have. They can’t even muster the gumption to say “oops.”

Thank God for the courage of others -- others like Lora.

Related post with list of places Baptist preacher Matt Baker worked:
“It shouldn’t take a murder.” Photo by Texas Monthly magazine.

Update 2/9/10: See “Using the attacker’s words to blame the victim” on BaptistPlanet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Haiti: Charged missionary was from church with recent child predator

One of the missionaries charged in Haiti with child kidnapping was from a Texas church that allegedly covered up for a child predator.

Jim Allen, from Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, is one of the ten missionaries charged by the Haitian government with child kidnapping and criminal association. The other 9 mission team members are from two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho and a Baptist church in Kansas.

In a statement on the Paramount Baptist Church website, senior pastor Gil Lain cited Matthew 25:40 and said that the mission team’s goal was simply to “take care of the least of these.”

But Paramount Baptist Church had recent problems with taking care of “the least of these” even within its own congregation. (That’s Paramount in the photo.)

A 2007 lawsuit alleged that Paramount Baptist Church “was warned that a Sunday School teacher and paid childcare worker was a known pedophile, and yet did nothing to keep kids safe.”

As reported in EthicsDaily, parents bringing the suit alleged that Patrick Farmer molested and photographed their two young daughters numerous times. Farmer, who had also been a spokesman for Paramount’s Vacation Bible School, ultimately pled guilty to four counts of sexual indecency with children.

The parents said that, for years, numerous other parents and teachers “had complained to church leaders that Farmer engaged in inappropriate sexual touching of children on the church premises.” They said that, on at least one occasion, “parents who complained about Farmer were asked to leave the church.”

“Even after the parents reported their concerns to church leaders,” the lawsuit said, “the church failed to prevent Farmer from working with children.”

“Between the time they reported Farmer’s behavior to the church and his indictment by a grand jury… the parents claim Farmers abused a third victim.” All three of the children were under the age of 10.

Farmer worked as a local school teacher for one year, and according to the lawsuit, when the church contacted the school district prior to hiring Farmer, the school district “recommended against employing him in a position involving children.”

Allegedly, “the church ignored the warning from the school district… just as it ignored previous warnings from parents.”

The victims’ lawyer, Stan Broome, insisted that the church knew about Farmer’s sexual behavior and covered it up. “Paramount Baptist Church lied about what was going on. . . ,” said Broome.

According to the lawsuit, Paramount Baptist Church “did not take even the most basic of precautions to shield children from being molested by Farmer. Instead of requiring multiple adults to be present for children’s activities…the church regularly allowed Farmer to teach Sunday school classes in which he was the only adult present.”

So that’s the kind of history that Paramount Baptist Church has when it comes to taking care of “the least of these.”

Now let me emphasize . . . None of this means that Paramount’s member, Jim Allen, had any intention of kidnapping kids in Haiti. Personally, I doubt that he did.

I don’t know what any of the mission team members actually intended. What I suspect is that the mission team was grossly incompetent, dreadfully misguided, and possibly evangelically arrogant.

However, while Paramount's history with a pedophile does not speak one way or the other as to the specific charges against the mission team in Haiti, it does help to demonstrate why the Haitian government has good reason for being concerned and for enforcing its laws -- laws that were designed to safeguard “the least of these.”

Paramount’s history helps to demonstrate that, just because people call themselves “Baptist” is no reason why the Haitian government should automatically assume that they will be people who genuinely look after “the least of these.”

After all, Southern Baptists haven’t done a very good job of looking after “the least of these” even within their own faith group.

Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist executive committee, complained that the Haitian government and international community immediately interpreted the missionaries’ actions “in the worst light possible.” Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I couldn’t help but think that Morris Chapman might do better if he would address himself to how Southern Baptists interpreted the Haitian government’s action.

Clint Henry, senior pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in Idaho and the church that sponsored many of the missionaries, immediately responded by denouncing the charges as “accusations of Satan.” And Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics Commission, pointed out that churches give “hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts” and that the Haitian government’s response was “outrageous.”

With talk like that, it’s hard to say that Baptist leaders themselves did anything other than view things “in the worst light possible,” isn’t it? If Southern Baptist leaders want others to interpret things in a better light, they should do so themselves.

And if Southern Baptist leaders want others to take them seriously when they say they care about “the least of these,” then they need to put words into action by implementing denominational safeguards to better protect against the child predators in their own ranks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Haiti: Child safeguards or accusations of Satan?

In Haiti, officials arrested ten members of a Southern Baptist “mission team” for trying to take a busload of 33 undocumented children across the border to what was described as a "temporary orphanage."

The Haitian prime minister explained the arrests with these words:

"It is clear now that they were trying to cross the border without papers. It is clear now that some of the children have live parents. And it is clear now that they knew what they were doing was wrong."
Another official said the arrested Baptists were “suspected of being part of an illegal adoption scheme.”

So, the Haitian government is seeking to enforce its laws -- laws that were designed to protect Haitian children and families against child trafficking.

In response, Southern Baptist pastor Clint Henry, urged his congregation to pray to God to "help them as they seek to resist the accusations of Satan. . . . “

Uhhhh … is he talking about the accusations of the Haitian government? Is that what he’s calling the “accusations of Satan”?

So let me get this straight.

When another country’s government seeks to safeguard children by arresting those who take them without documentation, the pastor of some of the arrested “missionaries” publicly denounces the matter as “accusations of Satan.”

Must be nice to always have someone else to blame, huh?

Maybe that’s part of the reason why Southern Baptists are so reluctant to institute accountability systems for their clergy. It’s just so much easier to blame Satan rather than to take a hard look at yourself.

And by the way . . . this guy, Clint Henry, isn’t just some Podunk pastor. He’s pastor of Central Valley Baptist, the largest Southern Baptist church in Idaho. In fact, the combined Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention described him as “one of our finest pastors.”

So this is the sort of example that is set by a prominent Southern Baptist pastor.

His church sends a “mission team” that, according to the Associated Press, “appeared to lack any significant experience with Haiti, international charity work or international adoption regulations.” It was, at best, a dreadfully “misguided approach.” Yet, rather than taking responsibility and dealing with it, the pastor shifts the blame to Satan.

A spokesman for Unicef in Haiti said he was “amazed” that the Baptists thought their actions were acceptable. "You can't just go and take a child out of a country no matter what country you're in. This is not what is done," he said.

And the head of a Canadian group in Haiti said this: “Whether this is trafficking or not, it puts children at risk. Because even well-intentioned people who remove children from their communities and their country, by crossing borders, it makes it almost impossible for us to track them and find their parents and extended families. . . . “

Yet, despite the knowledgeable views of established aid workers, Southern Baptist pastor Clint Henry expressed his disappointment in having his church “dragged into the controversy.” And then he blamed it on the “accusations of Satan.”

How will Baptists ever accept accountability for themselves when they’ve always got Satan to carry the blame?

Jeri Massi did a good job of summarizing some of the apparent problems in this whole scenario, chalking it up as yet another example of the lack of accountability in Southern Baptists’ “radical church autonomy.”

The accountability and tracking of this so-called ministry is, itself, problematic in terms of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the end, there really is no convention-wide oversight of this mission. This is the problem of such radical church autonomy, which is typical of Baptist denominations, coming to surface yet again. Nobody in the Southern Baptist Convention is actually held accountable to the Convention at large . . . .

So, and this has been made quite clear, local churches . . . could have sent down nitwits, incompetents, spoiled little rich kids, or even criminals, on a mission team to Haiti. There is no centralized record keeping in place in the Southern Baptist Convention to tell us, or to certify, that these people were qualified to attempt this "mission" . . . .

If each local church that sent members of the team did not do exhaustive background checks on those people, then nobody did. The Southern Baptist Convention would not require it. Remember, we are talking about a local church pastored by a man, who, when it was announced that his members had been illegally transporting impoverished children after an earthquake, who were dehydrated and ill, first expressed concern and dismay about the reputation of his church, and not the children.

I really do not know if these Baptist "missionaries" had criminal intentions. I doubt that they did, though I can easily believe that criminals would have found them easy marks to use to round up children. Clearly, they are incompetent and short sighted. . . .

But such gross incompetence is wrong. High handed "rescues" that ruin lives are not rescues. They are tragedies. . . . Nobody, no matter what their intentions, has the right to be that incompetent with the lives of others.


Update: As reported in the New York Times: "While the Americans said they did not intend to offer the children for adoption, the Web site for their orphanage makes clear that they intended to do so" . . . "with seaside villas for adopting parents." Haitian parents said they trusted the Americans "because they arrived with the recommendation of a Baptist minister." Laura Silsby, a leader of the "mission team" said, “God wanted us to come here . . . . “

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Over the edge

When I hit the floor, I woke up.

“Jesus! Babe! Are you okay?”

I heard my husband’s voice and knew I was.

I was okay.

Though I haven’t had that dream for quite a while -- maybe as much as a year – it haunted me again last night.

It’s the “no exit” nightmare where I’m forever frozen in place.

Unable to move, I am paralyzed while inexorable doom rolls towards me and over me.

Hundreds of times, I’ve endured this dream. When I’m in it, the fear and darkness go on forever.

Desperately I struggle to scream. But I can’t.

Desperately I try to move. But I can’t.

So the malevolence rolls forward. My endless efforts are futile. And my terror is of no consequence.

The crushing inevitability of my doom is assured.

The suffocating weight overtakes me.

My endless scream never sounds.

But guess what?

This time was different.

I moved.

And it was more than just a twitch.

I propelled my whole body over the edge. I launched myself into the unknowable abyss.

My husband said that, in his not-quite-awake state, he saw me sort of half-sitting for half a second. And then I flung myself over the side.

I’m so happy.

The unknowable is far better than the inevitable. And the knot on my head is nothing.

So why am I bothering to share this inconsequential personal story?

Two reasons: Because I want you to know that I too still struggle, and because I hope you’ll rejoice with me.

Other survivors sometimes write to me and say how “together” they think I am. The heartfelt expressions always mean so much -- more than I can say -- but I also worry a bit that I may be giving out a false impression.

So let me be transparent. People who fling themselves over the edge are not people who are totally “together.”

But however “un-together” I may be, I am grateful for this continuing journey.

I take small victories as they arrive. This time, the victory arrived with a knot on the head.

For the first time ever, in my nightmare, I took control.

I escaped.

I went over the edge.


Wondering about the photo? It’s part of the Peace Fountain that sits in the garden of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It’s a phantasmagoric sort of piece that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. I happened to be there last weekend. The cathedral was mostly empty, except for an organist who was practicing. And though the air was biting cold, the sunlight rendered the windows’ blues into pure brilliance and transformed the stained glass into kaleidoscopic images on the stone pillars. With nothing but the organ’s whole round notes filling the nave, it was . . . divine.