Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day and Baptist clergy sex abuse

On Memorial Day three years ago, I posted the column below about my dad. A few days later, the long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas phoned up an attorney friend of mine, suggesting that he might slap a lawsuit against me or drag me up before a State Bar disciplinary review board.

His threat didn’t work. I left the column up.

But it’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? However baseless his complaint, this guy had the possibility of threatening to haul me before an independent disciplinary board for lawyers. Meanwhile, there doesn’t even exist such a thing as a board for reviewing the conduct of Southern Baptist clergy. And of course, the complaints of clergy abuse survivors are typically far more troubling and of far greater concern to the safety of others than the complaint of a guy who doesn’t like a blog posting.

Lawyers, police, doctors, cosmetologists, other clergy, and people in all sorts of other occupations are subject to review boards. But not Southern Baptist clergy.

I’ve had more than enough threats from Baptist preachers and leaders and those who represent them. So, for today’s posting, I’m changing the name of the BGCT’s attorney. Besides, he’s mostly irrelevant.

Responsibility for the horror and harm in how the Baptist General Convention of Texas mishandles clergy sex abuse reports should rest with BGCT leaders. The attorney works for THEM (and for churches the BGCT refers him to), and presumably he handles clergy sex abuse reports in the manner that the BGCT wants -- by intimidating the victims into silence and leaving reported predators in their pulpits.



My father had chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms from his service in World War II. He was wounded in the liberation of Luzon and survived by playing dead while they bayoneted bodies around him. When night fell, he crawled through the darkness and over bodies and back to allied troops.

As a kid, I didn't understand, and sometimes my father seemed terrifying. As an adult, I know that we were probably like a great many families of those stoic men who never spoke of their ordeals. Families simply coped as best they could with the psychological wounds so many of those men had.

After one particularly bad incident, the police were called to our house. They just talked a bit and then called our pastor, who came to the house and prayed. He said we should think about others in the church and how upsetting it would be if people found out that a good Christian family like ours had such problems. He told us not to talk about it.

A week or two later, the youth and education minister approached me. He said he knew what had happened in my family and that he’d like to talk with me about it. He asked me to come to his office.

I guess the pastor’s “don’t talk about it” message didn’t apply to him. He obviously breached our trust and told the youth and education minister about the trouble in my family. But I didn’t see that hypocrisy at the time. I saw only that the youth and education minister seemed to care about me. In hindsight, I now see that this was when the grooming for abuse really began. He used my family’s difficulties to move in on his

Years later, when I again tried to report that clergy child molester, I mentioned that the abuse began shortly after this incident of family violence. Naively, I thought this information would help to educate church and denominational leaders on how predatory clergy work. Instead, long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Phil Waller, tried to use that information against me. He wrote back that because I had “suffered from abuse at home” this would have been what caused my distress.

Then he threatened to seek recourse against me if I pursued the reporting of my perpetrator. (Yeah – that’s right – he threatened to sue ME.)

Waller brought it up when he spoke with me in person too. In effect, he tried to use my dead father’s mental illness against me to say that I was emotionally damaged anyway, as though no greater harm was done by the sexual abuse of the church’s minister. This attitude offended me beyond all words.

And this Memorial Day, I’m still angry about it.

In yesterday’s sermons, I imagine lots of Baptist ministers paid tribute to servicemen and said some nice words. But when it comes to deeds, the reality of what I encountered, both as a kid and as an adult, were Baptist leaders who used my father’s war wound to exploit his family, savage his adolescent daughter, and intimidate her once again as an adult.

Phil Waller isn’t just some rogue attorney. He has been attorney for the largest statewide Baptist organization in the country for over a decade. And this is how he treats those who attempt to report clergy child molestation (and my report was even substantiated by another minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid). I think you have to assume that the BGCT approves of such tactics.

My father was a hero, both at war and at home. He worked double and triple shifts his whole life to put Big Chief tablets in his kids’ hands and shoes on their feet. He literally wore his body out trying to provide for his family.

That a know-nothing like Phil Waller would effectively suggest that my father’s psychological war wound was a form of “abuse” in any way akin to the devastating sexual savagery of a Southern Baptist minister is something I will not forget anytime soon. That he would use my family's difficulties to try to minimize the great harm done by a Baptist minister’s sexual abuse is unconscionable.

Over the past few years, as I have worked at trying to bring the Baptist clergy sex abuse problem to light, I have been kicked countless times by Southern Baptist men. In person, in emails, in letters, on blogs, and even in the Baptist Press, they have said outrageous things, mean things and even hateful things. On a good day, I could probably find it within myself to forgive almost all of it. But for the likes of Phil Waller to effectively degrade my father and try to use his war wound against me is something I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive. Certainly, I cannot forget it.

My father was far from perfect, but he was more honest, hard-working, courageous and decent than any Southern Baptist leader I have yet encountered. I honor the memory of my father in continuing to speak truth about Baptist clergy sex abuse and about the horror in how this denomination handles it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alleged rape cover-up implicates multiple pastors, multiple churches

A woman alleges she was raped twice 13 years ago by a deacon of her church, Trinity Baptist in Concord, New Hampshire. Tina Anderson says the rapes resulted in her becoming pregnant when she was only 15. (That’s Anderson in the photo, in around 1997, before the assaults.)

The former deacon, Ernest Willis, has now been arrested on sexual assault charges.

Anderson also asserts that church officials, led by former pastor Chuck Phelps, covered up the crime. (That’s Phelps in the photo on the left.)

When she told of the alleged rape and pregnancy, church officials “blamed her…forced her to stand in front of her congregation and apologize for getting pregnant, and write a letter asking Willis’ wife for forgiveness.”

As a pregnant 15-year-old, Anderson was whisked off to Colorado where, she says, she was forced to give up the baby for adoption.

Pastor Chuck Phelps had previously worked with the pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster, Colorado, and that’s where the young Tina Anderson was sent.

At that time, the pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church was Matt Olson, who is now the president of Northland International University, a Baptist Bible college in Wisconsin whose motto is "preparing the next generation of servant-leaders for Great Commission living." (That’s Olson in the photo on the right.)

Anderson says Olson made her write a letter to the wife of deacon Willis. “He made me sit down and write a letter of apology to the rapist’s wife for betraying her trust by seducing her husband.”

“Chuck Phelps and Matt Olson did a lot to systematically brainwash me,” says Anderson, “and make me believe this was my fault, to cover things and make people believe that it wasn’t Ernie’s baby, to make -- even Chuck Phelps’ wife…asked me if I enjoyed it when it happened. And it’s not OK…. It’s not OK to make victims believe it’s their fault.”

[“Not OK” indeed. Amen, Tina. You go, girl!]

But Tina was actually “brainwashed” even before the alleged rapes committed by the church deacon. She says she was also silenced in an earlier case.

Anderson alleges that “Trinity Baptist Church members had told her not to report an earlier case in which she had been molested by a convicted sex offender who was also a member of the congregation.”

"They told me that to be a good Christian, I need to forgive, forget and move on in my life," she said. "And they told me that a good Christian doesn't press charges on another good Christian."

[How many times have we heard that “forgive and forget” line from Baptist officials and pastors? How many more times will we hear it before Baptist officials change their ways and implement systems of accountability?]

“Growing up, Anderson said, a family member molested her and beat her and her brother with a belt to ‘show us who was boss.’ When the man was imprisoned for an unrelated sex crime, Anderson, then 13, said she felt comfortable enough to tell church members that she, too, had been a victim. But she said church members told her to keep quiet.”

“Anderson said Phelps directed her to visit the man in state prison to offer her forgiveness.”

"He said if I didn't forgive him and give him forgiveness, then I would get bitter," she said. "It's just kind of how things at the church go. The woman is blamed for everything."

“At the state prison in Concord, Anderson said she was forced to confront the man with her mother. ‘It was horrible,’ she said. ‘It was awful.’”

Over the next two years, Anderson says she confided in Willis, who was then a deacon at Trinity. He offered emotional support and Anderson began babysitting for two of his children.

"I had gotten very close to the (Willis) family," Anderson said. "At Trinity, your whole world revolves around the church and the people who are in the church, so those are really the only people you have contact with."

“But according to Anderson, Willis raped her twice when she was 15 - once at her home and once in the parking lot of a Concord business during a driving lesson. Those allegations are the basis of the criminal charges the police have filed against Willis. Several months later, Anderson realized she was pregnant.”

Anderson’s mother called pastor Chuck Phelps for help, and according to Anderson, Phelps removed her from Trinity's Bible school. "I was told that I was a bad influence," she said. "I was told I was going to have to go up before the church."

Anderson went to stay at pastor Phelps’ house, where she reports that she wasn't allowed to see any of her friends or talk to anybody. "I had to stay there until they shipped me away,” she says.

Once in Colorado, Anderson was home-schooled.

But before she left for Colorado, Anderson was made to stand before some 400 members of the Trinity Baptist congregation to ask forgiveness for getting pregnant…."I was completely humiliated," she said. "I felt like my life was over."

“At Phelps's urging, Anderson said, she gave her baby girl up for adoption”

Anderson “continued to be home-schooled until what would have been her senior year, when she returned to Concord for about six months. She lived with her mother again, and attended Trinity, sitting in the same pews as Willis. Anderson's mother remains a member of Trinity today.”

Phelps, who is now the senior pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, claims there was “no cover-up.” But according to his recent statement in the Concord Monitor, Phelps admits that he told the 15-year-old Anderson to “be responsible.”

“She knew this person was dangerous after the first time, but she continued to be around him… She needed to be responsible,” says Phelps.

[“Continued to be around him”? Anderson says that the second alleged rape occurred when Willis came to her house. And if Phelps was so convinced that Willis was "dangerous," why did Phelps allow Willis to remain in the congregation with nothing more than a statement that he was unfaithful to his wife?]

Meanwhile, even as police are seeking to conduct an investigation, the current pastor of Phelps’ prior church, where this story began, sent an email to members of the congregation. As reported by the Associated Press, the email from Trinity Baptist’s current pastor, Brian Fuller, “contains two statements advising parishioners to remain silent.”

“I love you tenderly and am confident you will only talk of these matters to our Lord in prayer,” wrote Fuller (shown in the photo on the right).

[Does that sound like “no cover-up” to you? To me it sounds more like “ongoing cover-up.”]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Police say girl raped, then relocated

By Trent Spiner
Concord Monitor
Concord, New Hampshire
May 25, 2010

“After being raped and impregnated by a fellow churchgoer more than twice her age, a 15-year-old Concord girl was forced by Trinity Baptist Church leaders to stand before the congregation to apologize before they helped whisk her out of state, according to the police.

While her pastor, Chuck Phelps, reported the alleged rape in 1997 to state youth officials, Concord police detectives were never able to find the victim. The victim said she was sent to another church member's home in Colorado, where she was home-schooled and not allowed to have contact with others her age. It wasn't until this past February that the victim, who is now 28, decided to come forward after reading about other similar cases, realizing for the first time it wasn't her fault that she had been raped, she told the police.

The police arrested Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford, last week in connection with the case, accusing him of raping the girl twice - once in the back seat of a car he was teaching her to drive in and again after showing up at her Concord home while her parents were away. He was charged with four felonies - two counts of rape and two counts of having sex with a minor, court records show. . . .

At the time of the alleged rape, Phelps was in touch with the police, who told him to contact the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

But moving the girl out of state prevented the police from collecting evidence or a statement, the police said yesterday.

‘Without a victim, it makes it very difficult to have a case,’ said Lt. Keith Mitchell. ‘That basically made the investigation very difficult.’

At the time, Willis also refused to give a statement, police records show.

So for 13 years, a file on the case sat closed and marked ‘unresolved’ at the Concord police station. . . .

Phelps did not return a message seeking comment yesterday. He no longer works at the church.

‘The leadership of Trinity Baptist Church reported this alleged crime within 24 hours of hearing the accusations on Oct. 8, 1997,’ said spokesman Peter Flint from a prepared statement. ‘We continue in our commitment to cooperate with authorities so that justice is served.’

'Completely in shock'

The victim said she came forward after getting in touch with Jocelyn Zichterman, who runs an online group for victims of church abuse.

In a seven-page statement to the police, the victim recounted the moments leading up to her departure from New Hampshire.

At 14, she began babysitting for Willis, a well-known member of the church. She told the police she would often stay the night if he got home late.

Just over a year later, he offered to give her driving lessons. While in the parking lot of a Concord business, Willis asked her to pull over to switch seats, she told the police.

But instead he pulled her into the backseat and raped her, according to a statement to the police.

In the summer of 1997, Willis raped her again, this time while at her home while her mother was out, according to police records.

‘I was completely in shock, but too scared to go and tell anyone because I thought I would get blamed for what happened,’ she said.

Over the next few months, the girl became suspicious she was pregnant. She called Willis, who brought over a pregnancy test that came up positive, she told the police.

‘He asked me if I wanted him to take me to a neighboring state where underage abortions were legal . . . and he would pay for an abortion,’ she told the police. ‘He then asked me if I wanted him to punch me in the stomach as hard as he could because that might cause a miscarriage.’

She declined both.

'Church discipline'

The victim told her mother about the pregnancy. Soon after, Phelps was also alerted.

The victim said Phelps told her she would be put up for ‘church discipline,’ where parishioners go before the congregation to apologize for their sins.

She asked why. ‘Pastor Phelps then said that (Willis) may have been 99 percent responsible, but I needed to confess my 1 percent guilt in the situation,’ the victim told the police.

‘He told me that I should be happy that I didn't live in Old Testament times because I would have been stoned.’

Fran Earle, the church's former clerk, witnessed the punishment session.

At a night meeting of the church's fellowship in 1997, Phelps invited Willis to the front of the room. Willis apologized to the group for not being faithful to his wife, Earle said. . . .

Phelps then told parishioners a second matter was at hand; he invited the victim to apologize for getting pregnant.

‘I can still see the little girl standing up there with this smile on her face trying to get through this,’ Earle said.

A day after the session, Earle called the pastor's wife, who said the victim had decided not to press charges for statutory rape.

‘You've got to understand, we trusted our pastor and his wife to be telling us the truth,’ Earle said. ‘They told us it had been reported. He reported it as a consensual act between a man and a woman. Well, I didn't know a 15-year-old was a woman.’

Earle, who left the church in 2001 after 19 years, said it was regular to see young girls who were pregnant called to the front of the congregation to be humiliated.

Rob Sims, another former member, said the discipline sessions were formulaic - Phelps would read Bible verses, give a limited overview of what happened and then each person would read a statement.

‘(The) statement agreed that they had done wrong and why they 'now believed' that they had sinned,’ he said. ‘Then Pastor Phelps would give a few closing remarks and then a vote would be taken to remove the guilty party from membership or to keep them in membership but under discipline, or something to that effect.’

The police said the victim's family asked for her to be moved to Colorado.

‘I think that she clearly did not want to go to Colorado, and I'm quite sure she expressed that to the church, her mother and the pastor,’ said Concord police Detective Chris DeAngelis. ‘However, she was a juvenile. Her mom requests assistance and that was what they came up with.’

Mitchell said the police are looking at pressing other charges.

Willis was released on $100,000 personal recognizance bail. He faces an arraignment June 16 in Concord District Court."

Reporter Trent Spiner is seeking information from anyone with knowledge or memories about what happened. In addition to Trinity Baptist in Concord, New Hampshire, there is reportedly a Baptist church in Westminster, Colorado, that also has a connection to this story. You can reach Trent Spiner at If you have information, please contact the police as well.

As reported by the Associated Press, Phelps “is now a pastor in Indianapolis.” Here’s the church website with a picture of Phelps. It’s Colonial Hills Baptist in Indianapolis.

As reported by the Associated Press on May 27, 2010, even as police are seeking information about this case, current Trinity Baptist pastor, Brian Fuller, “sent an email to congregation members” which “contains two statements advising parishioners to remain silent.” Fuller told congregants “I love you tenderly and am confident you will only talk of these matters to our Lord in prayer.”

See also "Alleged rape cover-up implicates multiple pastors, multiple churches," 5/30/10

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hate-preaching should be denounced

WARNING: The video at this link is hate speech. It urges physical violence to be inflicted on human beings, and is very highly offensive.

The voice you hear on that vile video is a Baptist preacher named Jeff Owens, shown in the photo. He is the pastor of Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Here is a sampling of what he preached:

"We need to stop burning flags and start burning fags!”

“We need Hunt-A-Homo Week.”

“We need to take 'em all out and shoot 'em with a scatter shotgun!"

The video was sent to me by several readers, and it’s been circulating on numerous other blogs during the past week. (Reportedly, it was also up on YouTube until it was pulled.) It’s a sermon that pastor Owens delivered 15 years ago, but some say that the sermon was still up on his website until about a week ago.

Apparently, the publicity finally became uncomfortable for Owens. Yesterday, he posted an apology. In it, Owens says the “words in that sermon tape were erased many years ago” and that they “somehow have resurfaced” much to his “disappointment and embarrassment.”

Frankly, I don’t think his apology is enough. Not nearly enough.

First of all, it’s not as if the guy made an apology all on his own. He came up with this apology only after the recent publicity. This gives the appearance that it was the publicity that prompted the apology and not any genuine remorse.

Second, if his remorse were genuine, shouldn’t his apology be every bit as visible and vigorous as the hate-sermon he delivered? Instead, it’s tucked away in a not-so-obvious place on the church website.

Third, I just flat-out don’t buy his excuse that he was “young” when he delivered this hateful sermon. In his current online photo, he looks to be about 50-ish. That means he would have been at least 35 when he delivered this hate-sermon.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just some small country church with an isolated, lonely hate-monger. This is a very large church with a dozen men on its ministerial staff. And did you listen to the crowd in the background while Owens was delivering that sermon? He incited plenty of support for such hate.

And now, this guy -- pastor Jeff Owens -- is going on a speaking tour at Baptist churches all across the country. Take a look at this list of 35 churches that have invited him. (This schedule was previously shown at I happened to have a window open with it when the page vanished from accessibility, and so I was still able to cut and paste it.)

So here’s my question. Why aren’t these other Baptist churches denouncing such horrific hate speech and insisting that Owens’ apology be made far more widespread before they invite him to speak from their pulpits?

In fact, why aren’t many, many more who carry the “Baptist” name -- Baptists of all types -- speaking out loud and long against such hateful preaching?

But of course, why should anyone be surprised? After all, it was a former high Southern Baptist honcho, Wiley Drake, who prayed in the name of God for the death of President Barack Obama.

And it was a sitting Southern Baptist president, Frank Page, who publicly castigated clergy rape and molestation victims as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

With only a few exceptions, these hateful pronouncements were met with silence from other Baptists.

And if you think such talk is representative of only a few extremists, then ask yourself why Baptists keep putting men with extremist views into positions of power. In fact, Frank Page is on track to become the next president of the Executive Committee for the Southern Baptist Convention.

And now . . . for those of you who are wondering what the Jeff Owens story could possibly have to do with my usual topic of clergy sex abuse and child molestation, consider this.

As reported in The Journal, Pastor Owens’ adult son, Jeremiah Daniel Owens, “pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault charges from an eight-count indictment handed up in October 2007 that charged him with sexual assault and sexual abuse against two girls, ages 15 and 13 . . . The mother of the 13-year-old…said her daughter met Owens at the Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church in Martinsburg where Owens’ father is the pastor.”

It wasn’t the first time that Jeremiah Owens had caused people a lot of hurt. In September 2004, he was sentenced to 3 years of probation after pleading guilty to three counts of possessing stolen property following a string of burglaries in Indiana, for which he had been charged with burglary and theft. Then, in November 2004, he was charged with rape of a 14-year-old girl in Lexington, Kentucky.

A grand jury dismissed the 2004 rape charge because of “insufficient evidence.” But I think you still have to wonder just how much the father, pastor Jeff Owens, may have known about the deeds of his son.

And did pastor Jeff Owens warn his West Virginia congregation about the crimes of his son in Indiana and the serious charges in Kentucky? Did he seek to protect the vulnerable or did he simply unleash Jeremiah on a trusting congregation?

What we know for sure is this: Pastor Jeff Owens’ adult son, Jeremiah Owens, ultimately pled guilty to sexual assault and abuse of two young girls in West Virginia.

Pastor Jeff Owens published a book called Character lessons for children.” According to the Owens Publications website, it’s a coloring book with “lessons to learn” on such topics as “work, laziness, diligence, waking up, being on time, bathing, [and] obedience.”

Perhaps Pastor Owens should have also included lessons on not raping or molesting kids.

But I guess he was too busy with preaching hate and violence against gays.


Update 5/24/10: The video at the link in the first line has now been removed from that site. However, it was reposted here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Among Baptists, who will give a hoot?

Recent news from the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver is troubling, but it's also enlightening. It reminds me of how far behind the curve Baptists are in addressing clergy sex abuse within their own ranks.

“For the second time in little more than a month, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has suspended a priest on an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.”

Last week, Chaput placed Father Dorino DeLazzer on administrative leave and released a public statement, saying: “I received a credible allegation against him for past sexual misconduct with a minor that reportedly occurred in the early 1970s before Father DeLazzer served in Colorado.”

The announcement about DeLazzer’s suspension comes just a month after Chaput removed another priest from ministry. In mid-April, Chaput removed Rev. Melvin Thompson after receiving a report from a man who said he had been sexually abused by Thompson more than 35 years ago. The archdiocese began an internal investigation.

Neither case is likely to face any criminal investigation or prosecution because of the statute of limitations. Thus, this news made its way into the light of day, not because of action taken by secular officials, but because of action taken by officials within the faith group. However troubling the news may be, the fact that a high church official made the allegations public will at least give parents the possibility of talking with their kids about it.

I can’t help but ponder how different it would have been if these abuse allegations had been made against Baptist clergy.

For example, what about the man who says that, as an adolescent boy, he was abused by a Southern Baptist evangelist who used to be a leader in North Carolina and who wrote a book that, on the back cover, was “strongly endorsed” by former SBC president James T. Draper? He says another Southern Baptist minister can substantiate the abuse and that the evangelist’s wife knew about it as well. But what process exists in Baptistland for even assessing this man’s allegations, much less for actually helping him? Who will give a hoot?

And what about the woman who says that, as an adolescent girl, she was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist preacher in Georgia? She says that she reported it to Georgia Baptist officials, but to no avail. Baptists have no process for responsibly assessing her abuse report, and they sure as heck haven’t offered her any help. She still sees the preacher’s name on the church’s sign whenever she drives by. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the man who says that, as a kid, he was sexually abused by the Baptist preacher who was in charge of a Middle Eastern orphanage. . . and who is still there. . . and who is still being supported as a mission outreach by a Baptist church in Texas? He’s tried repeatedly to tell people about it. He’s tried to protect the kids who are still at the orphanage. But no one pays any attention, and by now, he’s pretty much given up. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the two men who say that, as adolescent boys, they were abused by a Southern Baptist minister in Louisiana? They’ve reported it to Southern Baptist officials in Nashville; and Louisiana Baptist officials were also told. One of the men says he reported it several times over the course of several years, and I saw with my own eyes the response he got back from Nashville on his last attempt. It was a mini-sermon on forgiveness and a lecture on autonomy. Meanwhile, the man they reported remains in ministry. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the man who says that, as an adolescent, he was sexually abused by a very prominent Southern Baptist leader in Texas? I expect there are plenty of Baptist honchos who know about this one, but it’s been hushed up. A lawsuit was filed, but when it came to light that there was a corroborating witness, the lawsuit was quickly settled with a secrecy agreement. And now, people are afraid to talk. Who will give a hoot?

All of these, and many more, remain mired in secrecy in Baptistland. Who will give a hoot?

Who in Baptistland will set up a system that will allow cases such as these to come to light without further threats, bullying, and intimidation of the victims who attempt to speak?

And what about last week’s conviction and sentencing of Southern Baptist pastor Jack Duffer in Virginia? On blogs, I’ve seen Baptists bragging that Duffer’s Virginia church did everything right because it suspended Duffer from ministry after his arrest. That’s what many Baptists apparently believe should give them bragging rights. But what if the case against Duffer had been too old for criminal prosecution, as the Catholic cases in Denver were? What if, rather than an arrest, it had been nothing more than an allegation presented to Virginia Baptist officials? Would they have suspended Duffer from ministry based on nothing more than an allegation presented to them? What process do Baptists have for even assessing such allegations? Who would give a hoot?

Before moving to Virginia, Duffer stepped down from a five-year stint as pastor of University Avenue Baptist Church in Honolulu. Do you think Baptist officials have made any effort to reach out to any possible prior victims that Duffer may have had in Hawaii? I’ve never seen such a thing happen in Baptistland. By contrast, in Denver, the archbishop released to the press a public statement about an allegation of clergy abuse that occurred outside Colorado and that occurred more than 30 years ago. Where is the public statement from Baptist officials to the people of Hawaii about, not merely an allegation, but an actual conviction of sexual abuse against Baptist preacher Jack Duffer? Who will give a hoot?

One thing for sure. . . someone should give a hoot. As quoted in the Denver Post, Penn State professor Philip Jenkins said that, “in 20 years of research, he found no credible evidence that Catholic priests are more likely to be involved in sexual abuse than clergy of any other denomination.”

So Baptists likely have just as big a problem with clergy sex abuse as the Catholics, and yet Baptists still can’t bring themselves to even attempt to implement the sorts of safeguard mechanisms that other major faith groups already have. Among Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the land, there exists no denominational office to which victims may safely report clergy abuse, no system for responsibly assessing abuse reports, no effective record-keeping on victims’ abuse reports, and no mechanism for notifying people in the pews about credible allegations.

In Baptistland, who gives a hoot?

[rev. 5/22/10]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WWJD for a declining denomination?

On the BaptistPlanet blog, Steve DeVane gives concrete substance to the question of “What would Jesus do?” in Baptistland.

DeVane is responding to the recent comments of Ed Stetzer, president of the LifeWay research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Stetzer wrote about the “ongoing decline” in Southern Baptist membership, and suggested that Baptists should react by asking “What would Jesus do?”

Stetzer said Baptists need to make "a serious self-examination” and suggested they consider four questions:
  • Do we value the kingdom as He did?
  • Do we love sinners as He loved them?
  • Do we serve as He served?
  • Do we remind our neighbors of Jesus and tell them of His gospel?

“Good questions,” responds DeVane, but he proposes some additional ones. And DeVane’s questions don’t carry the loosey-goosey gloss of religious-sounding talk. Instead, DeVane’s questions are grounded in the uncomfortable realities of Southern Baptist life. For example. . .

Read the rest of Steve DeVane’s questions and comments on the BaptistPlanet blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sexual abuse of children crosses faith lines

By David Briggs
Association of Religion Data Archives
May 17, 2010

"The Rev. Dick Darr and his wife, Anne, were model missionaries. They sent their children to boarding school so they could focus on saving the souls of others in remote African villages.

In 1957, while in the country today known as Mali, Darr said he found out his 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were sexually molested by another missionary. When Darr reported it, the missionary was sent back into the mission field. Darr said he was told by the president of United World Mission, “You know the first thing some people want to do is ruin a man’s ministry.”

He left United World Mission in protest, and joined the Gospel Missionary Union, eventually becoming its president. In the early 1990s, he learned his children and others had been the victims of sexual and physical abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea, West Africa.

For years, despite his efforts, the Gospel Missionary Union turned its back on the victims, neither admitting responsibility nor offering counseling.

It is a pattern repeated by faith groups everywhere.

Recent news reports about Catholic malfeasance at the highest levels are again shedding important light on the problem of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Yet it would be a mistake to give in to the convenient temptation that this is “a Catholic problem.”

A growing body of research affirms what I have discovered in more than a decade of investigative reporting: Young people have been and are being sexually abused in evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, in mosques and synagogues and temples.

The initial response is largely the same. Religious leaders protect the institution, often angrily condemning or ignoring the victim lying wounded on the side of the road….

Who is responsible?

In his important work “The Question of German Guilt,” German philosopher Karl Jaspers challenged his countrywomen and men and the world to examine their own responsibility in acts of omission and commission in enabling and permitting the atrocities of Nazi Germany. If you knew what was going on, whether you were sitting at a breakfast table in New York or a guard in a concentration camp, what did you do to stop the genocide? The sexual abuse of children deserves similar introspection…..

It is difficult to come up with precise numbers regarding the sexual abuse of children by religious workers. Despite the media attention focused on one religious group, however, available evidence suggests the rates of abuse, from 2 percent to 5 percent – are similar across religious boundaries.

What we do know from hundreds of studies is that the dangers are the same.

Abusive clergy and youth workers are drawn to working with children. In their own minds, many see the extra attention they devote to the children they abuse as a sign of caring. Religious institutions have long offered such workers not only access to young people, but lift them up as trusted representatives of God.

We know it takes extraordinary courage for even one victim to come forward amid the shame associated with sexual abuse. Most clergy abusers are likely to have several victims, and should never again have access to children.

Yet when the unimaginable happens, few are willing to believe the victim. Congregants remember the minister, rabbi or imam as someone who visited them in the hospital or comforted them at funerals. Religious leaders tend to view them as friends and colleagues, and are likely to take their word over the victim’s word or give the abuser a second or third chance. Fear of lawsuits or damage to the institution hardens their hearts further.

And the children suffer, many for the rest of their lives.

A review of 500 studies of child sexual abuse found that about half of long-term abuse victims will suffer long-term mental health problems. Depression, suicide, substance and behavioral addictions, failed marriages are among the outcomes for those who attempt to bury their suffering inside, as so many people even among their own families have advised them.

The most religious, those who are most likely to accept a cleric’s authority and most dependent on their faith to cope with tragedy, are the most vulnerable…..

The stories of each of the scores of victims I have spoken with are seared into my being…. There are tens of thousands of [clergy abuse victims] in churches and mosques and synagogues and temples throughout the world. And we need to hear their stories and seek justice in whatever religious setting they find themselves.

Decades of sexual abuse of children by religious workers did not happen because a few Catholic hierarchs like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston transferred abusive priests from one parish to another.

Millions of people over generations were complicit in these crimes, from religious workers who failed to report the abuse to large swaths of ordinary Christians, Muslims and Jews who did not hold their institutions accountable and chose not to embrace but to lash out at those seeking to bring these horrors to light…. "

[Speaking of “lashing out at those seeking to bring these horrors to light,” consider the message that Southern Baptists send by nominating Frank Page to lead the SBC Executive Committee. Page is a man who, in his prior capacity as SBC president, publicly denounced clergy sex abuse survivors as “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” And he has never even apologized.]