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.


Ramesh said...

God bless Lora, a very courageous lady.

Michelle said...

Hey Christa,

Do you know if Baker is still getting paid by the church?

Christa Brown said...

The last news I saw about his job was the news that, after his arrest on the murder charge, he was put on leave WITH pay from his BGCT-funded job as minister to students at the Baptist Student Union at Schreiner University in Kerrville, TX. I haven't seen any subsequent news that they finally ended his paycheck, but I would just guess that they finally quit paying him after he was actually convicted of murder. But of course, Baptists never cease to surprise me . . . and so who knows? In any event, isn't it pathetic, awful, and amazingly irresponsible that it took a conviction on murder to get this guy out of ministry as a Baptist preacher?

Ramesh said...

Baptist Life Forums > Baptist Faith & Practice Forum > Baptist Pastor Convicted of Murder.

gmommy said...

After reading all that(thanks TP)...I think I need to cry.
Christa, you did an excellent job of articulating the facts and focus without getting thrown by statements that had my stomach hurting as I read.
I appreciate William Thornton very much.
When being a Baptist is so much a part of who I have been, it is very difficult to realize that for many Baptists ...being "Baptist" and protecting it's "polity" is more important to them than being pure, true,noble,or just. More important than the life Christ lived as an example for us.
I guess nothing is new under the sun. Even Paul wrote to fellow Christians: Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!...rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh...
I hope someday people who go to church and think of pastors as their "shepherds" will learn that Jesus is the only shepherd.
I don’t know if the Baptist “polity” is in the Bible.
But I am sure the way clergy sexual predators have been covered up and victims ignored is NOT noble or true to the example of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Still trying to figure out how someone who does not believe in liscensed Christian counselors relied on them to descredit women as hysterical that made accusations against Gilyard back in 1990's.

Christa Brown said...

And of course, that would be "PP," not "Baptist Bill." Different people. Different sort of Baptists. Different places on the theological spectrum. And yet... it often seems to me that, when it comes to clergy sex abuse, the "moderates" and "fundamentalists" have a whole lot in common.

In the Gilyard case, there were at least 44 known reports of abuse in Baptistland before Gilyard was finally convicted on a child sex charge in Florida. Many of those reports were made to former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson, who was then the president of Criswell College (a Baptist school) in Dallas. Yet no one did anything other than to allow Gilyard to move on and to disparage those who tried to report him. Similar pattern.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be prudent for all women in the SBC to know Baptist Bill's real name. He is a man who would protect an institution before he would try and protect women in the church.

Lora Wilson Mueller said...

Hi Christa and everyone else,

I want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of support for me over the past couple of years. Telling my story overr and over was still difficult, but I knew it had to be done. Hopefully, it will give some other survivor the courage to speak out against their abusor.

For "Baptist Bill", I respect your loyalty to Baylor and the SBC. I get it, really I do. But think of how your daughter (and you) would feel if, at 18, in the midst of a media frenzy during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill debaucle, she went forward with a sexual assault charge at a Baptist University. The media would have locked on to that and her life would be public. That was my fear. So, when my then-mentor (who is still at BU), the Athletic Director, and even folks in the President's Office told me they were going to take care of me, I believed them. As did my parents. Plus, we didn't know what it was...what to call it. And while that may seem trivial, it was huge at that time. All I knew was I hadn't been raped so how did I report something that I didn't know what it was? No one knew what to do. We were all in shock and we know that NOW...years later.

Also, Baptist Bill, to this day, I do not know why Matt claims I made the same type of allegation in high school. It is simply not true. I guess it was just his way to try to make me look bad...shift the focus. I get that, too. Just look at the facts before you draw any more conclusions.

For everyone else, I had a moment of great satisfaction at the trial outside of the verdict and sentencing. I saw a young woman, about my age, begin to find closure. As I told many that day, my closure began in 1997 when a detective at the Waco PD told me it was sexual assault. Naming your demon is a powerful thing. But this man also believed me! And having someone outside your family and friends believe something like this helps because you always think no one will believe you. That's the power the abusor has over the victim...the power that keeps them silent.

I watched as this woman told me that he did the same type of things to her. And how she was still afraid to look at him. But now, she KNEW SHE WAS NOT ALONE ANY MORE!!!! Amazing how we both felt so alone with family and friends around! That was such a powerful moment for me. To know that listening to my story gave her back some strength, a way to begin to move on again.

So, for those that still believe in Matt's innocence...Go visit him in prison. I didn't get the indication that family and friends were supporting him a whole lot. Also keep in mind that his own attorney reported that same night on TV that 2 weeks before the trial they found that Matt had lied about many things and tried to get out of representing him. That was reported on TV by the attorney.

To everyone else, if you know an abuse survivor, be there for them. Let them know you believe them and encourage them to talk to someone. They likely need someone outside their immediate circle to listen and tell them it's ok to feel the anger and frustration.

And if you know someone that is abusing, please report it immediately!!! That will be the only way to stop this sad trend!!


Jana Lazarus said...

I agree.... Lora is very brave! And she was a great person in high school that never caused any kind of trouble! Baptist Bill ALARMS me because he is like so many others in the Baptist world.... they want to keep their demons hidden away so no one thinks badly of them!

Very very proud of Lora!

Tiffany Thigpen Croft said...

Lora, Way to go! I am so sorry this happened to you. But you are no longer silenced, your voice has been heard and I applaud you!
You will probably find much healing through this huge step. Many women and girls will gain a little courage from your story and we all hope it causes even just one more to be spared!