Wednesday, March 31, 2010
When police interviewed Eugene Smith, he said that he was a Sunday School teacher, an usher, and a trustee deacon.
He was also the church “candy man.”
As one officer recounted: “When he was telling me about his various duties at the church… one of the things he mentioned was he was the candy man. In other words he passed out candy to the kids when they came in.”
This “candy man” has admitted to child sex crimes, and so far, police know of three reported victims. They are “concerned that there are more victims.”
Yet, despite that concern, “investigators wouldn’t say” which church had the “candy man” as a deacon leader and Sunday School teacher.
So I don’t know whether this guy was a Baptist church leader or some other kind of church leader. Investigators won’t say and, apparently, reporters aren’t ferreting it out.
That’s what bothers me about this. Why is everyone just glossing over the information about which church the “candy man” was at?
If this man were a public school teacher instead of a Sunday School teacher, wouldn’t you expect the media to tell you which school he worked at?
If this man were a priest, or even a Catholic lay teacher, wouldn’t you expect the media to tell you which parish church or school he worked at?
So what am I missing about this picture?
Why aren’t people being told which church had a deacon who “passed out candy to the kids when they came in” and who is now an admitted child molester?
I learned about this case only because a reader sent it to me with his own stated concern that parents should be warned.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"Oh gee whiz, we know it's bad, but for Baptists, our clergy sex abuse problem is mainly about married ministers who 'have affairs.’ At least we aren't as bad as the Catholics whose problem is about priests having sex with kids."
I’ve seen this basic message over and over again in Baptistland. I’ve seen it from Baptist PR people, Baptist academic people, and Baptist state convention leaders.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But when I saw David Gushee spout this same dangerous drivel, I still felt the same dismay.
Gushee’s column began well enough. He talked about how three of the four main factors that have fueled the Catholic scandal are also present in Baptistland: the imbalances of power, the secrecy within the power structure, and the dominance of the sin-forgiveness paradigm.
But then he ended by suggesting that, for Protestant ministers, the problem “more often” involves ministers who “fall prey to heterosexual misconduct, as when married male ministers have affairs….” For Catholics, he said, the problem “more often” is “homosexual or involves the abuse of children.”
This dichotomy is false. It’s the Baptist propaganda.
That doesn’t mean Gushee is being insincere. To the contrary, I think he believes what he’s saying. That’s the problem. Too many good Baptists have bought into their own propaganda.
And as long as they keep telling themselves that clergy abuse of kids is mainly a Catholic problem, they aren’t going to effectively address it in their own ranks.
Child predators prey on kids. Period.
It’s not a matter of heterosexual or homosexual. It’s a matter of child predation.
An adolescent girl who is sexually abused by a pastor is no less traumatized than an adolescent boy who is sexually abused by a priest. Both suffer profound psychological and spiritual damage.
We’ve seen a whole slew of Baptist clergy abuse cases that involved married ministers. If priestly celibacy were the catalyst for child predation, then how should we explain the fact that so many molestation cases involve married men?
Basically, it’s impossible to explain because the assumption that underlies it is wrong. As Penn State religious studies professor Philip Jenkins said: “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.” (Jenkins, 2003)
There is simply no comparative data to support David Gushee’s suggestion that, for Protestants, the problem has more to do with married ministers who “have affairs,” while for Catholics, the problem has more to do with priests who abuse kids. To the contrary, the data that exists -- two decades’ worth of insurance data gathered by the Associated Press in 2007 -- suggests exactly the opposite. It suggests that Baptists likely have every bit as big a problem as Catholics with clergy who sexually abuse kids.
Do I wish we had even better data? Of course. But therein lies a big part of the problem. Baptists don’t bother with systematic record-keeping on reports of clergy child molestation. They say that local church autonomy prevents such record-keeping. Meanwhile, Catholic canon law requires record-keeping on priests.
Most of the media reports about Catholic clergy abuse are accounts that ultimately derive from disclosure of the Church’s own internal records.
But with Baptists, reporters can usually write only about cases involving criminal charges and criminal convictions. Without church records, there’s little way for reporters to write about the sorts of “credible accusations” that they can write about with Catholics.
In the United States, Catholic bishops commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do a million-dollar study on the extent of the abuse problem, and the researchers mined the Church’s own records for their data. Similarly, much of what we know about abuse in the Irish Catholic Church is derived from the report of an investigative body that spent nine years delving into the Church’s own records and collecting individuals’ statements. Now the German Catholic Church has also begun an investigation into abuse allegations.
But who has even attempted to study the extent of the Baptist clergy abuse problem? And even if someone wanted to study it, what data would they look to? Baptists don’t bother with denominational record-keeping on clergy molestation allegations.
Can you imagine what it would be like in Baptistland if we started seeing, not only the news about criminal charges and convictions, but also news about internal complaints and denominational review proceedings? The number of cases coming into public attention would skyrocket.
Maybe that’s exactly why Baptists don’t keep records.
Baptists find it so much easier to spew unfounded propaganda than to do the hard and scary work of assessing their own problem.
Update 3/31/10: David Gushee responded to this challenge by revising his column. In the revised version, he now concludes by stating: "The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view." Kudos to David Gushee for acknowledging this reality!
See also Religious Connections: "Baptist self-delusion about pastor/priest sexual predation."
Friday, March 26, 2010
Lombardi’s comment reminded me of what a Southern Baptist spokesman said. In defending the failure of the Southern Baptist Convention to provide any sort of review process for clergy abuse reports, Augie Boto said this: “The proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials.” (Baptist Press, 2/22/07)
Almost no one even blinked when Augie Boto said it. People just accept that this is how it is in Baptistland: If law enforcement doesn’t throw a pastor in prison, the man is free to stand in a Baptist pulpit. Baptists don’t even keep any systematic records on clergy abuse reports, much less do anything about them.
Thinking about how easily Baptist honchos get away with such a cowardly justification of do-nothingness, I figured the Pope could use a pointer or two. So I decided to write this letter.
To His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI:
I know it must have hurt to see that front page story in the New York Times. And such ugly documents! Those pieces of paper sure came back to bite you, didn’t they?
That’s why I’m writing. If you want to better protect your image, I figure you could learn a thing or two from Baptist officials.
For starters, take a lesson from the Baptists and quit keeping so many records on your clergy. I know you’ve got that pesky little problem of Catholic canon law, which requires record-keeping. But since you’re the top-dog, why don’t you just issue some sort of edict?
You could just say, “No more record-keeping.”
That’s how it works in Baptistland. No records -- no trace -- no trouble.
It doesn’t work out so well for the kids, of course, but it works out great for the high honchos. You might want to give it a try.
In fact, I’d guess that a whole lot of those troubling priest-abuse lawsuits might have never even been filed if you guys weren’t so big on record-keeping. And they sure wouldn’t have brought in the big dollars that some of them did.
The records are the root of your problem. Lawyers know that, with a lawsuit, they’ll be able to force the disclosure of documents, and then it’s what’s in those documents that drives up the dollar cost of the lawsuits, isn’t it?
So just say "no" to record-keeping. That’s the Baptist way and it makes things so much easier. Well … easier for church leaders and denominational top-dogs, but no one seems to have any problem putting on blinders about the kids.
And then there’s the problem of that office you used to head up -- the office that decides whether accused priests should be given ecclesiastical trials and defrocked. It’s the office you call the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
I like the catchy name, but that office has really caused you a lot of trouble.
A Baptist guy once proposed that Baptists establish something called an “Office of Ministerial Accountability and Integrity.” He had in mind an office that would do things similar to what it sounds like your office did -- look into reports about clergy sex abuse -- but since he’s Baptist, he never even considered the possibility of an office that would actually “defrock” ministers. He just thought it might be helpful to have a denominational office where trained people would look into clergy abuse reports and then inform people in the pews about their determinations. But of course, this guy was just dreaming pie in the sky. Baptists don’t have anything even resembling such an office.
You see, once again, that’s where you Catholics messed up. You never should have had such an office to begin with.
If you never had such an office, then no one would have even known where to report all this stuff. And no one would be pointing fingers at you, as the former head of the office, for what you did or didn’t do. And you wouldn’t have all those file cabinets filled with things you guys are probably still hoping no one will see.
Just say “not my problem.” Put up a big, bold-face, all-caps, red-letter disclaimer saying “We don’t endorse any priests.”
Just shrug and say “We leave it totally up to law enforcement.” That’s the Baptist way.
The side benefit is that, if you did like Baptists and waited for the law to throw a priest in prison, then you wouldn’t have such a shortage of priests. Virtually all experts recognize that the vast majority of cases cannot be criminally prosecuted, and so about 95 percent of those hundreds of priests who have been removed from active ministry could be put back into churches. It’s because of your own ecclesiastical processes that they’re gone.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but you might want to think about it. The Baptist system of denominational do-nothingness works out really well for the honchos.
Of course, it’s hell for the kids.
Respectfully and with hope,
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tim Ballard was the high-school principal for Abundant Life School, which is connected to Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church. He was also a coach there.
As shown in a police report, on March 1, 2010, the police received an anonymous phone call saying that Tim Ballard “had been accused of having a sexual relationship with several female students.” The caller gave the names of “some of the females” and “asked that something be done about it.”
The police then contacted Keith Brickell, the senior pastor of Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church, and Russell Eudy, the superintendent of Abundant Life School.
Pastor Brickell said that, on February 24th, superintendent Eudy told him about getting an email from a former student who “gave details to events ranging from her seventh grade year up to her senior year.” The email was sent on February 21st.
Both Brickell and Eudy told police that “this was not the first time they received a complaint against Ballard about inappropriate behavior with a female student.”
“Eudy stated the first was made eleven years ago and the most recent was made in September 2009.”
Eleven years ago!
From the statement in the police report, it is apparent that, in addition to the eleven-year-old report, Eudy knew about at least one more report that was made in September 2009.
Then he received this report on February 21, 2010.
And these are just the ones that are shown on the face of an initial 3-paragraph police report.
How much more did superintendent Russell Eudy and pastor Keith Brickell know? And why didn’t they go to the police with their information?
Even after Eudy and Brickell received the February 21st report, there would probably still be no criminal investigation if it hadn’t been for the anonymous phone call. After all, it was the police who contacted Brickell and Eudy, not vice-versa.
And without a criminal investigation, Ballard could have easily shuffled on to some other school in Baptistland. Who would have stopped him?
Police now say that, since Ballard’s arrest, several more have come forward with similar allegations.
How many more may have been wounded during the past eleven years?
According to its website, Abundant Life School has 465 students. Why wasn’t the safety of those kids the top priority for pastor Brickell and superintendent Eudy? Why didn’t they go to the police with their information?
Maybe part of the answer lies in the “no big deal” attitude that we’ve seen displayed in so many other Baptist clergy abuse cases.
Remember the boys of Benton?
In the Little Rock area, First Baptist Church of Benton is just up the road from Sylvan Hills First Baptist and Abundant Life School. Benton is just one example, but because it’s so close, I can’t help but think about the parallels.
First Baptist of Benton harbored a music minister who turned out to be a 20-year serial child sex predator with scores of victims. Nevertheless, six months ago, when he was finally convicted, some of Benton’s most powerful citizens wrote letters urging leniency for the minister.
Among those who urged no prison time was Greg Kirksey, a former 2-term president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
In fact, Greg Kirksey was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention eleven years ago, during the time that superintendent Russell Eudy says the first complaint was made against Tim Ballard.
Now let me be very clear . . . I am NOT saying that Greg Kirksey knew anything at all about Tim Ballard.
What I’m saying is that, when it comes to clergy sex abuse, there is a dismissive attitude displayed in Baptist life, and it goes to the highest levels, and the example set by Greg Kirksey in the Benton case is illustrative.
Imagine that, eleven years ago, Russell Eudy or some other leader at Sylvan Hills First Baptist may have been troubled by the complaint about Tim Ballard’s “inappropriate behavior with a female student.” What if he had turned to state denominational leadership, looking for guidance?
Given that, just 6 months ago, Greg Kirksey was still so clueless that he urged no prison time for a serial child sex predator, what sort of guidance do you think he would have given eleven years ago when he was president of the state convention?
Given that, just 6 months ago, Greg Kirksey set an example of urging no prison time for a serial child sex predator, why should we be surprised to learn that someone like Russell Eudy didn’t think it important to go to the police with a molestation report?
Given that, just 6 months ago, Greg Kirksey urged no prison time for a serial child sex predator, why should we think much has changed in Baptist leaders' "no big deal" attitude since eleven years ago?
Update: Police say “there could be 10 to 12 other victims.”
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
It’s not enough -- not nearly enough. People are still upset, and for very good reasons.
But consider this. In Baptistland, there has been no apology at all from any high denominational official, nor any rebuke of church leaders who covered up for clergy sex abuse. To the contrary, when the prior president of the Southern Baptist Convention addressed the matter, the people he chose to rebuke were the clergy abuse survivors themselves. He publicly castigated the survivor support groups as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”
That fact alone shows how far behind Baptist leaders are in dealing with this. They’re still so over-confident in thinking their polity makes them untouchable (and so inured to their own arrogance), that they don’t even bother with words that at least sound pastoral. They’re still in a kick-the-victims frame of mind.
“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen…. I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”
That’s part of what was in the Pope’s letter. They’re just words, of course, but at least they’re nice words, public words, and words of acknowledgement.
For those of you who were abused by Baptist clergy, and especially for those of you who have experienced the nightmare of trying to report abuse to Baptist leaders, I ask you . . . Can you even imagine the possibility of a Baptist leader saying such a thing publicly? Putting it in writing in a letter? Insisting that the letter be read aloud all across Baptistland?
Baptists are literally decades behind the Catholics in even attempting to systematically address clergy sex abuse.
This means a whole lot of kids and congregants are at risk.
In Texas alone, Southern Baptists are the equivalent of about half the population of Ireland. Across the U.S., they’re about 2 ½ times as big as Ireland.
Yet, though Baptists have plenty of their own problems, on Monday, Texas Baptists’ “theologian-in-residence,” Jim Denison, took a jab at the Irish Catholic scandal.
How in the world does he justify jabbing the Catholics when the Baptist General Convention of Texas has remained so utterly mute on so many of its own clergy sex scandals?
(But hey … I bet most of you didn’t even know they had such a highfalutin thing as a “theologian-in-residence,” did you? That’s another one of those things they spend God’s money on, apparently thinking that a “theologican-in-residence” is more important than funding a system to track admitted and credibly-accused clergy predators. But I digress . . . )
That’s Jim Denison in the photo. I could have just as easily put up a picture of the Pope, but I figure most of you already know what the Pope looks like. So I decided to show you what a “theologian-in-residence” looks like.
Perhaps Denison’s column just hit me wrong because of its timing. After all, the scandal of Texas Baptist pastor Matt Baker was in the news through all of January, and again as recently as March 11. But we heard no mention of it from the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence”… or from any other BGCT official.
Despite multiple reports of sexual assault and sexual abuse, Baptist pastor Matt Baker moved with ease through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. There were Baptist leaders who knew, but there was no one who cared enough to do anything. So for 18 years, Matt Baker was able to keep moving on.
Not until he committed murder was Matt Baker’s career as a preacher-predator finally ended. That’s what it took in Baptistland. It took a dead body.
And amazingly, even in the face of a dead body, Baptist officials still turned a blind eye.
With such a huge and horrific institutional failure, you would ordinarily expect some high official to make some public statement. You would expect someone to at least offer up words of sorrow and to explain how they were going to get to the bottom of it so that such a thing would never happen again.
But from officials at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we heard only silence.
A prominent Oklahoma Baptist pastor, Wade Burleson, looked at the Matt Baker scenario and was troubled. He posed this question: “You wonder if those of us in a position to do something to stop people like this from advancing in the Southern Baptist Convention, but don’t do anything… if we become accomplices to murder.”
Now THAT would be a good question for a paid “theologian-in-residence.” And since almost all the churches and organizations in which “murdering minister” Matt Baker worked were affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, it would seem that the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” would be particularly well-suited to speak to the subject.
But he’s been mute on that one. I guess a murder and 13 reported abuse and assault victims just aren’t on his radar. He’s more interested in jabbing the Catholics.
And what about the pesky matter of that confidential file that the BGCT keeps? It’s the file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, “including child molestation.” Perhaps the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” should speak to the ethics and morality of THAT . . . of how they leave such ministers in their pulpits without telling people in the pews. While he’s at it, he could also talk about the fact that, unlike Catholics, Baptists don’t even bother with keeping records on abuse reports made by victims themselves.
But no. He doesn’t want to talk about the Baptists; he prefers to talk about the Catholics.
And while the Irish cardinal is under scrutiny for secrecy agreements signed by two clergy abuse victims in 1975, perhaps the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” could address the fact that, as recently as 2007, the BGCT’s own longtime attorney publicly defended such secrecy agreements as being “standard.” (The original source is no longer online, but I kept a print-out.)
But no. The “theologican-in-residence” doesn’t want to look in the closets of his own house, does he?
And while we’re looking at Catholic cover-ups, let’s not forget that former BGCT director Sonny Spurger flat-out acknowledged the long history of Baptist clergy abuse cover-ups. In 2002, Spurger said this:
“For many years, churches seemed to say to offenders, ‘We won't say anything if you won't say anything, and you go on down the road’…” Consequently, churches “ended up passing perpetrators to other churches.”
So make no mistake about it. Baptist leaders know that, for many years, child molesting ministers were passed to other churches. But to this day, they do nothing to track those ministers and nothing to help the wounded.
Oh gee whiz . . . I guess I got on a roll, didn’t I? But the thing is, I’ve barely skimmed the surface. There’s just so much of this stuff that Baptist leaders really ought to talk about. And who better for that task than the “theologian-in-residence”?
But oh gee whiz . . . I guess the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” is just too busy jabbing the Catholics to bother with talking about the moral travesty of his own organization.
Monday, March 22, 2010
According to jail records, Baker was cited for “disorderly conduct, making sexual advances and creating a disruption.”
For this bad behavior, Baker was made to face some consequences.
The consequences lesson is one that Baker never had to learn during his many years in Baptistland. So now he’s learning it in prison.
Remember Matt Baker? He’s the “murdering minister” who, despite numerous reports of sexual abuse and assault, was able to continue his career through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He was always able to simply move on, and no one stopped him.
Not until he was arrested and tried for murder did people in the pews find out about his “secret life as a sexual predator.” That’s when prosecutors announced they had evidence that, during the course of his career, Matt Baker had made unwanted sexual advances and assaults on at least 13 young women, including 4 minors.
Of course, that’s just the ones they were able to find out about.
And now, Matt Baker has shown the same pattern of conduct even in prison, confirming what prosecutors demonstrated in court: “Matt Baker is a sexual predator, as well as a murderer.”
The difference is that, this time, there are consequences.
This time, Matt Baker will face consequences for even an obscene hand gesture. That’s more than he ever had to face in Baptistland even when he was reported for sexual assault of a freshman college girl, for cornering a teen church girl in a closet, and for accosting a female church custodian.
And even though other Baptist leaders knew.
For all this and more, there was no revocation of Matt Baker’s credentials, no suspension of his ministry, no docked pay, no negative letter of reference, no disciplinary deterrent, no nothing of any consequence. In fact, despite the many prior abuse and assault reports, and even after he was arrested on murder charges, Matt Baker’s paycheck still continued. Even at that point, he was merely suspended with pay.
Can you imagine any other job in which someone could repeatedly get away with so much horrific conduct while facing no consequences?
That’s Baptistland. It’s a paradise for preacher-predators.
Not only was there no consequence for the bad conduct of the preacher-predator, but there was no consequence for any of those who turned a blind eye either. And there still isn’t.
That too is Baptistland. It’s the land where clergy sex abuse is ignored, and clergy sex abuse cover-ups are ignored as well.
Baptistland: It’s the land of no accountability.
But now that he’s in prison, Matt Baker is learning that he’s no longer in the magic land of no accountability.
In the world outside of Baptistland, bad conduct has consequences.
For Matt Baker, it’s a lesson long overdue.
Baptists threw kids a rattlesnake, 1/26/10
Complicity of Baptist leaders, 1/24/10
It shouldn’t take a murder, 1/21/10
Guilty! Jury says pastor murdered wife, 1/20/10
Excerpts from the Matt Baker murder trial, 1/20/10
Baptist leaders silent at start of murder trial, 1/12/10
Baptist leaders must consider possible consequences, 6/12/09
Risk: Another lesson from the Matt Baker story, 12/31/08
Baptists at their best? 12/30/08
Why didn’t Baptists bust him? 2/23/08
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Article XV of the Baptist Faith and Message says this:
“We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick.”
So there it is: Southern Baptists’ own statement of faith says they “should work to provide for…the abused.”
It’s a nice thing to say, but where is the doing of it?
When “the abused” are people who were sexually violated by Baptists’ own clergymen, Baptists want nothing to do with “doing.” Denominational deeds are non-existent.
Baptists aren’t working “to provide for…the abused;” they’re working to ensure that “the abused” remain invisible. They’re choosing callousness over compassion.
For those unfortunate enough to be abused by Baptist clergy, there exists only an institutionalized lack of care in Baptistland. The denomination does not seek "to provide for the abused;" it seeks to silence them.
Yet, the Baptist Faith and Message is more than mere words on paper. It is the exact same statement of faith -- or what many call a “creed” -- that Southern Baptist leaders invoke when they want to oust a church for having a woman pastor.
In fact, just last week, when Georgia Baptist officials voted to oust a church for having a woman pastor, their executive director, Robert White, justified it by saying, “We are keeping faith with the Baptist Faith and Message.”
Yet, as a person who was sexually abused as a kid by a longtime Georgia Baptist minister, I can certainly say that Robert White did absolutely nothing “to provide for the abused” when I contacted him. He did not help me in any way.
Given how little he cared about “keeping faith” when it would have involved providing for the abused, I can’t help but wonder why he’s so focused on “keeping faith” when it involves ousting a church with a female pastor.
Obviously, the Baptist Faith and Message is a statement that Baptist leaders treat quite seriously when it suits them.
So why doesn’t it suit them “to provide for the abused”?
It’s bad enough that so many Baptist leaders have covered up for clergy abuse in the past and have failed to protect against clergy abuse in the future. They contravene both civil law and moral law with their cover-ups and do-nothingness.
But now we see that Baptist leaders also contravene even their own self-professed statement of faith by failing “to provide for the abused.”
It is certainly too late for Baptists to claim any honor in having acted quickly for the protection of kids against clergy predators. However, it is not too late for Baptists to avoid the unconscionable denominational disgrace of never having acted at all.
Baptist leaders should keep faith with the Baptist Faith and “should work to provide for the abused.”
Friday, March 19, 2010
On March 16, the convention’s executive committee voted to recommend the ouster of Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta. It’s a historical church for a lot of reasons, but all of its long Southern Baptist history flies out the window when a woman steps into the pulpit.
Reverend Mimi Walker doesn’t even carry the title of “Senior Pastor.” She’s a “co-pastor” and carries the title jointly with her husband, Reverend Graham Walker.
But that’s still too much. The Southern Baptist honchos can’t restrain themselves. They smack down the supposedly autonomous church because of its dreadful sin of having a woman as “co-pastor.”
In the very first comment under the ABP article, a person pointed out the hypocrisy:
“The SBC can dictate who an autonomous church can call as pastor, but cannot maintain a list of pastors/staff who are predators. Go figure.”
That pretty well sums up the reality of Baptistland, doesn’t it?
Autonomy flies out the window when a church puts a woman in the pulpit. But autonomy is the be all/end all when a church keeps an admitted clergy child molester in the pulpit or when a church covers-up for a reported clergy predator.
Southern Baptist officials care more about preserving their image of male-dominant creedal purity than about protecting kids against the reality of church-hopping clergy predators.
Here’s a reminder of how that reality actually works in Baptistland. It’s worse to have a woman than . . .
- A ”senior pastor” who kept quiet about a minister’s admission to sexually abusing his young son, and with that sort of pastoral example, at least 10 more church staff people also knew and kept quiet.
- A former California Southern Baptist Convention president and still-prominent pastor who said he “erred on the side of grace” when he kept quiet about a deacon’s molestation of children in his church.
- An Illinois Baptist children’s home director who urged no prison time for a Southern Baptist pastor convicted of sexually abusing a teen in the church.
- A former Arkansas Baptist State Convention president and still-prominent pastor who urged leniency and no prison time for a Southern Baptist minister who sexually abused dozens of adolescent church boys.
- An Oklahoma Baptist director who did nothing when a former Southern Baptist pastor got a job at an independent Baptist church, despite holding a letter in which the man admitted to sexually abusing a kid.
- A Texas minister who kept quiet about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid, while allowing the minister to move on to work in children’s ministry at other churches . . . and he said the minister’s abuse of the kid was “consensual.”
- A still-in-the-pulpit Texas pastor whose best defense to an accusation of having sexually abused a church girl was to say “I did not have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”
- Texas church leaders who gathered a $50,000 “love offering” to send their pastor on his way after he admitted that “proper boundaries were not kept” and paid “hush money” to try to silence the report that he had abused a 14-year-old church girl.
- An Arkansas pastor who, when confronted with accusations about a staff minister’s abuse of a boy, quietly accepted the accused minister’s explanation that “it was a one-time run of bad decision-making.”
- A former Florida Baptist convention president and still-prominent pastor who harbored a clergy child molester on his staff, apparently without checking with his prior church employer who knew (or else the prior church didn’t tell), and who later “put on trial” a church secretary who reported sexual harassment by church staff.
- A Texas denominational director who acknowledged keeping a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, specifically “including child molestation,” but who failed to warn people in the pews.
- A Florida pastor who, according to news reports and a “smoking-gun” tape-recording, “knew for years” that the church’s founding pastor was a pedophile and participated in covering it up.
- A Texas Southern Baptist church whose officials “said nothing” when other churches called for references even though their former staff minister had been twice-reported to them for sexual abuse.
- A former Southern Baptist president and still-prominent seminary president who, while head of a Baptist college, turned his back on numerous college girls and young women who tried to report the sexual abuse and assaults of a pastor whom the president was mentoring.
In none of these instances was there even so much as a denominational rebuke, much less any denominational action.
The reason for denominational do-nothingness? “Local church autonomy.”
But oh gee whiz . . . let a church put a co-pastor woman in the pulpit and a shout goes up from the Baptist hordes: “Oust them!”
"Southern Baptist autonomy (not for women in the pulpit, for predators)," Baptist Planet, 3/19/2010
"Georgia Baptists oust second church with woman pastor," Associated Baptist Press, 11/16/2010
"Georgia Baptist Convention faithfully follows the SBC path toward decline," Baptist Planet, 11/17/2010
"Georgia Baptists' anger over women pastors," EthicsDaily, 11/22/10
Monday, March 15, 2010
In many of the attacks, the man broke into a victim’s apartment, tied the victim’s hands with a belt or other article of clothing, and raped her while he wore a ski mask.
He was referred to as the “Village Rapist,” based on the apartment complexes he targeted. For several years, his crimes terrorized women who lived in the area.
When he was finally caught, Goben pled guilty to five charges of burglary and five charges of aggravated sexual assault. As part of the plea agreement, he also admitted to six additional sexual assaults.
Someone recently sent me a couple sentences about the Goben case, and it caught my attention because I remembered hearing about the “Village Rapist” years ago. But I didn’t remember that the man was a Southern Baptist minister. So I decided to pull up a couple old news articles about the case.
Lo and behold, not only was the “Village Rapist” a Southern Baptist minister, but he was a minister connected to one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches in the country -- First Baptist Church of Dallas.
Goben was the pastor of a suburban mission church sponsored by FBC-Dallas, and FBC-Dallas provided the funds for Goben’s salary.
So, by day, Goben was a Baptist pastor with a wife and two children, but by night, he was a notorious serial rapist.
All of this came to light in the summer of 1988.
That was about the same time period when officials at First Baptist of Dallas were also promoting a troublesome pastor named Darrell Gilyard.
Gilyard was considered a “rising star” and he was mentored by former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson who, at that time, was president of Criswell College, a school affiliated with and located on the premises of First Baptist Church of Dallas.
In 1987, Gilyard left Dallas’ Concord Missionary Baptist Church in the face of 25 abuse accusations. But Paige Patterson and other FBC-Dallas officials didn’t think those 25 women’s voices were enough evidence, and they continued to recommend Gilyard.
So, Gilyard moved through 4 churches in 4 years, and continued to gather more and more abuse and assault allegations.
Some of the accusations came from Criswell College students – young women who were under Patterson’s charge. But as one woman told the Dallas Morning News, Patterson said “to refrain from speaking about it.”
By the time Gilyard left Dallas’ Victory Baptist Church in 1991, at least 42 known women had reported him to Baptist officials, alleging sexual abuse, assault and rape. But no one took action to remove Gilyard from ministry or to warn people in the pews.
Gilyard moved on to a church in Florida, and in 2009, he was convicted on child sex crimes and put in prison.
It makes me weep to imagine how many women and girls may have been wounded by this man during the years between 1987 and 2009, because Baptist officials turned a deaf ear. It is impossible to look at those Dallas Morning News articles and not see the terrible pattern of denial and victim-blaming that officials at First Baptist of Dallas engaged in.
But here’s the thing that now shocks me the most in this whole sordid saga. Why didn’t Paige Patterson and First Baptist of Dallas officials learn something from their experience with the “Village Rapist”?
Why didn’t their 1988 experience with the “Village Rapist” compel Paige Patterson and FBC-Dallas officials to do a better job of dealing with Darrell Gilyard in 1989, 1990 and 1991?
The “Village Rapist” turned out to be one of their own ministers. Surely they were shocked. But shouldn’t that experience have taught them the terrible truth that ministers can sometimes wear masks?
Yet, in the years immediately after that, Baptist officials still refused to see the mask of pastor Darrell Gilyard. Despite literally dozens of sexual abuse and assault reports, they allowed Gilyard to move from church to church with ease . . . and no one treated the allegations seriously.
Apparently, FBC-Dallas officials learned nothing from their experience with the “Village Rapist.”
And to this day, we have no reason to believe they learned anything from their experience with Darrell Gilyard either.
The photo is the neon sign of First Baptist Church of Dallas.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
“Royal Lane Baptist Church is an inclusive, multi-generational congregation joined in Christian community. We are a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations and denominational backgrounds.”
With this additional statement on its website, the church winds up at odds with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“The convention has been clear in its belief that the Bible teaches homosexual behavior is sinful,” said Randel Everett, the BGCT’s executive director, who is shown in the photo.
So Everett is going to go talk with the church’s leadership. Sounds like a trip to the woodshed.
After all, the BGCT previously excluded an Austin church for similar action. And it placed the threat of exclusion on the table for a Fort Worth church.
For Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, what began as an internal church dispute over whether to include gay couples in the church directory escalated into a denominational controversy when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee decided to investigate the church.
Those Nashville high-honchos wouldn’t accept the church’s statement that it had “never taken any church action to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” Instead, they took it upon themselves to independently assess the church’s actions. Then, based on their own assessment about the church’s perceived toleration of gay members, the Nashville boys recommended that the Fort Worth church be ousted from affiliation . . . and it was.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas followed suit with a proposal that, if the church sent messengers to its convention, the BGCT would refer “the matter of Broadway’s position on sexual ethics to the BGCT Executive Board for study.” Broadway opted not to send any messengers.
Now, with nothing more than a sentence on its website, Royal Lane is set to be the next church that the BGCT takes to the woodshed.
Thank God there are at least a few in Baptistland who see the hypocrisy of this.
Nathan Barnes commented on the Associated Baptist Press article and asked "what's really in the closet?"
“The leadership of the SBC and apparently the BGCT are not willing to sacrifice church autonomy to catalog and track sex offending clergy but are willing to sacrifice it to keep [gay/lesbian] folks from serving the Lord. The extremely tight fundamentalist control over the SBC actually has helped sexual predators to continually harm children, and now we even have one pastor who killed his wife rather than confess and repent from adultery for fear of losing his career.”
When another person suggested that if homosexuality is deemed acceptable, then pedophilia and bestiality will come next, Mr. Barnes responded with this:
“BUT pedophilia is already accepted. No church has been disassociated from the SBC or BGCT for passing on sex offending clergy to other churches. It’s not a double standard. It’s the standard.”
Mr. Barnes got it exactly right. Baptist leaders have so twisted the doctrine of local church autonomy as to make it little more than an easily manipulated excuse to serve their own ends. It’s pure contrivance for Baptist leaders to say they can’t do anything about clergy predators because of local church autonomy. After all, look at how quick they are to interfere with churches that admit to having gay members.
And let’s also look at what the BGCT keeps in its own closet.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas keeps a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for clergy sex abuse, “including child molestation,” and for whom there is an admission, “substantial evidence that the abuse took place,” or a “confirmed” report from a church.
That’s what’s in the BGCT’s closet. Literally. In a closed file cabinet.
It’s bad enough that the BGCT doesn’t do diddly-squat about abuse reports brought by individuals, but even on the rare occasion when a church itself reports a minister, the BGCT just puts the information in a closet. They don’t warn people in the pews of the man’s current church. They just shrug their shoulders and chant “autonomy.” And if more kids get molested . . . well . . . too bad for the kids.
BGCT officials are so stuck in their closet that they’ve deluded themselves into thinking this is ethical.
And that case about the “pastor who killed his wife”? The BGCT sure tried to keep that one in the closet. Despite multiple reports of sexual abuse and assault, Baptist pastor Matt Baker continued to move with ease through schools, churches and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and no one stopped him until he was finally brought up on murder charges. But rather than talking about its own connection to that tragedy, the BGCT takes a church to the woodshed over a sentence on its website.
And as Mr. Barnes pointed out, we haven’t yet seen a single case in which the BGCT even attempted to disfellowship a church for allowing a predatory pastor to move on to other churches . . . or for covering up for clergy sex abusers. For example, why has the BGCT remained quiet while pastor Dickie Amyx stands in the pulpit at Bolivar Baptist in Sanger? And why didn’t the BGCT speak up when Southmont Baptist in Denton gave a $50,000 “love offering” to a pastor who resigned amid allegations he sexually abused a 14-year old . . . and who admitted that “proper boundaries were not kept”? And why doesn’t the BGCT take First Baptist of Farmers Branch to the woodshed? It retains a music minister who kept quiet about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid, while allowing him to move on to children’s ministry in other churches, and it also retains a senior pastor who was reported for sexual abuse of an adult congregant . . . but the church decided to characterize it as mere “misconduct.”
For these things, the BGCT can't bring itself to interfere. Local church autonomy, you know?
And how about Randel Everett, the BGCT’s executive director? Let’s not forget that one of Everett’s own prior churches harbored a serial child sex predator as a staff minister while Everett was senior pastor. But I haven’t heard Everett say a single word about THAT. Not one word of compassionate outreach to the victims -- nothing but silence.
Obviously, the BGCT is in such a dark closet of its own that it cannot possibly see clearly enough to even attempt to remove any speck from someone else’s eye.
Kicking out gays but keeping clergy-perps
Baptist autonomy ignored in investigating gays but not clergy child molesters
Baptist Planet: Implicit SBC clerical sexual predator policy [Neglect?]
“BGCT takes action against church suspected of affirming gays,” Associated Baptist Press, 3/17/10.
Statement of the BGCT: The Baptist General Convention of Texas asks Royal Lane to remove mention of its affiliation with the BGCT from any of its church's publications. It prays that Royal Lane will take action to return to "Texas Baptist values." Uhhhhh .... that would be the sort of "values" demonstrated by the BGCT's action of keeping a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for clergy sex abuse, while leaving the ministers in the pulpit and without warning people in the pews? And that would be the sort of "values" demonstrated by the BGCT sending its attorney out to "help" a church with a report of clergy sex abuse, even though the way the attorney "helps" is by threatening to sue the victim and seeking secrecy agreements? A lot of kids could be a lot safer if the BGCT would take a good look at the reality of its own demonstrated "values."
More on the Baptist Planet.
Update 5/26/10: With a 63-4 vote, the BGCT Executive Board voted to oust Royal Lane from affiliation. Given the BGCT's long history of turning a blind eye to clergy sex abuse, how do they imagine that they have any moral credibility at all to even speak of "sexual ethics"? They don't. See the 5/25/10 story in the Associated Baptist Press: “Board distances BGCT from gay-affirming Dallas church.”
Sunday, March 7, 2010
But what’s been happening in Palestine, Texas, isn’t holy at all. It’s unholy.
On February 26, long-time Southern Baptist pastor, Hezekiah Stallworth, was arrested for sexual indecency with a 7-year-old child.
Since Stallworth’s arrest, a 9-year-old has also come forward. And two adults have brought forward allegations that, in the 1980s, they too were sexually abused as children by Stallworth.
Sheriff Greg Taylor said they expected to conduct a lengthy and far-reaching investigation. “Unfortunately, he preached in this area for more than 30 years, so chances are good there are additional victims out there,” Taylor added.
So . . . in just one week’s time, we have learned about 4 alleged victims, and the Sheriff says more victims are likely. It’s sad, isn’t it? What if Stallworth could have been stopped sooner?
Two women have said they were abused as far back as the 1980s. When news hit the paper about the criminal charges against Stallworth, they didn’t waste any time telling the Sheriff about their own accusations.
They were obviously more-than-ready to talk.
How many kids might have been spared if only there had been some place where those two women might have been heard sooner?
Their claims were likely too old for criminal prosecution by the time they were capable of talking about it. That’s the most common scenario. But what if Baptists had a denominational review board to which these women could have reported their accusations against Stallworth?
What if there had been some responsible Baptist office that could have looked into the women’s allegations? And what if Baptist officials had concluded the allegations were credible and then informed the people in Palestine?
How many kids could have been spared the trauma of being sexually abused by a religious authority figure if only Stallworth had been removed from his ministerial position of high trust?
How many kids could have been spared if only people in Palestine had been warned?
But even though other major faith groups now have review boards to assess accusations against clergy, Southern Baptists don’t. They just sit back and wait for the law to take action.
And if that never happens . . . well . . . too bad for the kids.
We’ve seen this tragic pattern too many times before.
Remember the case of music minister David Pierce at the prominent First Baptist Church in Benton, Arkansas? When Pierce was finally brought up on criminal charges involving one boy, it came to light that church leaders also knew about three adult men who had said that Pierce abused them as kids. And by the time Pierce was led off to jail, we learned that he had sexually victimized scores of boys over a period of 20 years.
And how about the horror of the recent Matt Baker case? It took a murder for people in the pews to finally learn about the numerous sexual abuse and assault allegations against this Baptist pastor. For 18 years, he moved through churches and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and even though some Baptist leaders knew about abuse and assault accusations, no one did anything. Baker was even allowed to work as a chaplain for emotionally disturbed kids. Since he hadn’t yet been criminally convicted of anything, Baptist leaders acted as though it wasn’t their problem. . . and to heck with those vulnerable kids.
None of this is anything new. Back in 2007, after ABC 20/20 aired its exposé on “Preacher Predators,” Baptist high-honcho Augie Boto acknowledged that, in some instances, “abuse had occurred earlier at churches where those men had been previously employed.”
Nevertheless, Boto also told us the reality of how things work in Baptistland -- leaders wait for the law. “The proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials,” he said. (Baptist Press, 2/22/07)
In other words, if the law doesn’t throw a Baptist pastor in prison, he can still stand in a Baptist pulpit. That’s how low the standard is in Baptistland.
Baptist pastors carry the Baptist “brand” out into the world, but Baptists refuse any responsibility for oversight of the “brand.” Baptists simply leave it up to secular law enforcement. Yet, virtually all experts recognize that most active child molesters have never been criminally convicted of anything.
In fact, in the Catholic Church, over 700 priests have now been removed from ministry, but only about 3 percent of those have ever been criminally convicted. This means that, if Catholic leaders in the U.S. still followed the same tragically low standard as Southern Baptists, about 679 of those priests could still be in ministry and working with kids.
But despite the many scandals and the rising numbers of wounded people, Baptists still haven’t learned anything.
Imagine that you’re someone who was sexually abused as a kid by some other Baptist pastor connected to a church in Palestine. You’ve gotten older, and you’ve talked to some of your childhood friends who experienced similar horrors, and now you’d like to try to protect other kids from the hell of what you went through. But it’s too late for criminal prosecution. So who in Baptistland can you safely tell?
You told some people once before, but they only heaped on more hurt. Why should you now believe that anything in Baptistland has changed?
Who will now treat your allegations seriously? Who will give a hoot?
One thing for sure . . . it won’t be Augie Boto. And it won’t be anyone else at Southern Baptist headquarters in Nashville. And it won’t be anyone at the Baptist General Convention of Texas. And it won’t be anyone at that other statewide Texas Baptist convention either.
Unlike other major faith groups, Baptists haven’t taken the first baby-steps toward setting up a system for the responsible assessment of clergy abuse reports or even for keeping denominational data on how many abuse reports a minister might have.
If Baptists hope to prevent clergy sex abuse in the future, they must find a way to institutionally listen to those who are trying to tell about abuse in the past. Let’s pray they do it soon.
With so many Baptist churches, and so little of any system of clergy accountability, things are unholy indeed in Palestine, Texas.
Photo by Dominic Greyer.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The news of what Jesus had done traveled throughout the town. But there was no rejoicing for the healing of the two men. Nor was there any gratitude for the expulsion of the evil. Instead, the townspeople asked Jesus to leave.
Apparently the townspeople were okay with the evil that possessed the two men so long as it didn’t affect anyone else. They were content with the status quo so long as only a couple people were harmed by the evil.
But when Jesus allowed the demons to go into the pigs, it affected the livelihood of the community.
The Gospel of Mark reports on the same story and says that the herd was about 2,000 in number. That’s a whole lot of pigs, and I’m sure it meant the loss of a whole lot of money.
People didn’t like that.
So they asked Jesus to leave. They didn’t want him around.
They would have rather kept their pigs than to have a couple individuals delivered from evil.
The power of that evil was so great that it drove 2,000 pigs over a cliff. That was the sort of destructive force that those two men had been living with.
But the townspeople didn’t care about the two men. They wanted their pigs.
When getting rid of the evil required the townspeople to sacrifice something, they wanted the person who did the ridding to get off their turf.
They cared more about the loss of their pigs than about the loss of a couple people to a dreadfully evil force.
So they rejected Jesus Himself. They didn’t want Him messing up anything else in their comfortable little world.
That’s how I see the response of Southern Baptist leaders to clergy sex abuse in their ranks. If getting rid of the evil might cost them something, then they prefer the status quo. They want to keep their pigs.
So they talk the talk with brochures and preaching, but that doesn’t cost them much of any trouble. That doesn’t require any sacrifice from them.
Talking the talk is easy.
But don’t ask them to walk the walk.
Don’t ask them to actually see the many hundreds who have been wounded by clergy sex abuse. That might hurt the community-at-large. They prefer to leave the wounded ones as outsiders.
And don’t ask them to actually look into clergy abuse allegations in a responsible manner. That would cost money to implement a review board like other faith groups do.
Besides, if too many clergy abuse cases are brought into the light of day, it might hurt Southern Baptists’ image. And that could hurt revenues. People might stop donating.
Southern Baptist leaders are content to keep the evil in their midst because that’s the status quo. To work at routing out clergy sex abuse would carry the risk that some of their livelihood might go over the cliff.
They want to keep their pigs.
Monday, March 1, 2010
February 28, 2010
James Dobson has given new meaning to the term bully pulpit.
On the occasion of his exit from Focus on the Family, let it be noted that the child psychologist built an evangelical empire on families' vulnerabilities. He launched his career urging parents to keep their kids in line by hitting them.
Published in 1970 as a challenge to the liberal child-rearing techniques popularized by Benjamin Spock, Dobson's first book, "Dare to Discipline," advocates forcefully combating rebelliousness. To illustrate his point about asserting his God-given authority over his family, he tells the story of disciplining his miniature dachshund, Sigmund Freud, with a belt. He encourages not only spanking kids, but also leaving belts around the house to remind them of the consequences of defiance.
"Corporal punishment, when used lovingly and properly, is beneficial to a child because it is in harmony with nature itself," a Focus on the Family website advised.
There are debates to be had over ways to discipline children. "Spare the rod, spoil the child," goes the biblical saying that Dobson has exploited in presenting a Christian approach to raising kids.
Every parent has yelled too loud or squeezed too hard. Every mom and dad knows the temptation to haul off in rage.
That impulse may be natural. But acting on it plays on our weaknesses. And celebrating it — as Dobson has, albeit lovingly and in harmony with nature — borders on sick.
"It's abuse in the name of God," says Denver clinical social worker Mary Ervolina.
"We're civilized and we try to control our natural impulses. That's what sets us apart from the apes," adds psychologist Kate McGoldrick. "Coercive violence isn't the method to have a lasting relationship with your kid. Connection and boundaries aren't mutually exclusive."
Dobson founded Focus on the Family in 1977. He made a name for the nonprofit and for himself by providing advice on marriage and parenting. He avoided partisan politics until, he said, he was inspired by a 2003 court decision removing the Ten Commandments from an Alabama courthouse.
He since has thrust himself into the debate over whether to eliminate the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate. He objected to SpongeBob SquarePants as a symbol of a hidden homosexual agenda. And he made headlines for comparing embryonic stem-cell research with Nazi experiments.
His fear-mongering reached new heights in 2008 when, inspired apparently by a Twitter from God, he warned that an Obama presidency would result in catastrophes ranging from "terrorist attacks across America" to the end of Boy Scouts and talk radio.
He delivered his last Focus on the Family broadcast Friday when he officially left the group, citing its need for new leadership. . . .
Focus' outspoken founder had a vast and loyal following. . . . Still, I hate to think about all the kids who've been smacked around because the good doctor gave their parents permission to do so.
Susan Greene writes for the Denver Post. You can read the entirety of her column here.
Another Jezebel: Read about the invectives hurled at Susan Greene after this column was published. Whatever you may think of the belt-based, Bible-rationalized sort of corporal punishment promoted by Dobson, you've still got to wonder how so many self-described "Christians" can hurl so much hateful name-calling and vitriol. It's something I wonder about all the time since I myself have been called a "Jezebel" a bit too often.