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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good on you! Throw open the doors, unshutter the windows and let the light of truth rain down on the cockroaches and watch them scurry away. Keep telling your story and one day you will be stand vindicated, and we will see the baptist leadership as the people they truly are.