Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Hell of a Baptist Preacher and his "Bud"

This story is excerpted from an Anchorage Daily News article written by Debra McKinney in 1992. It bears re-telling because it carries tragic lessons that still need learning in Baptistland.

The story of Diana Wade is “the story of a woman trying to heal after waking up one morning to find everything she's ever believed in, everything she's ever lived for, has been an enormous lie.”

“Her husband, George ‘Tom’ Wade Jr., was serving 12 years for his crimes. But she and her children had received a life sentence; they would live the rest of their lives without feeling whole. He had raped their souls . . . .

“Church officials knew the oldest daughter, Renee, was being abused long before Diana did. One of them, according to Renee's sworn testimony, told her to forgive her father and not tell anyone what he had done. It was three years before Renee got the courage to speak up again. By then, her father had started in on her two little sisters.”

“Diana came from a long line of Southern Baptists and was the daughter of a Baptist preacher . . . . The Wades had what appeared to be a wholesome life. Diana raised her children on ‘old-fashioned American values’ and three to five church services a week. . . .

"The family moved to southern Africa to work as missionaries for the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Hired as part of a husband-and-wife team, Diana was thrilled by the chance to live an exotic life overseas, doing work she considered her calling. But while she was living a fantasy, she was losing a daughter . . . .

"Renee was abused first, and longest. It started overseas. Between 11 and 16, her father's assaults accelerated to joint showers, finger penetration and oral sex. There were times, when Diana was away, he would visit her room almost nightly.

"Renee started acting up in school. . . . When Renee was 14, Diana decided to send her to a missionary school in Johannesburg, 700 miles away; maybe the change would get her back on track. But before too long, mission associate area director Marion ‘Bud’ Fray was on the phone telling her and Tom that their daughter was a bad influence on other kids . . . . He complained about her grades, her table manners, her sloppy dress and her constant claims of feeling sick. He called her a hypochondriac.

"But Renee was affected physically. She carried the secret like knotted barbed wire deep inside her . . . .

"When Renee found out her father was making a trip to Johannesburg, she begged her housemother not to let him stay in her home. When asked why, she told.

"According to Renee's sworn testimony, the housemother told her husband, who told Fray, who in turn confronted Tom.

"Fray testified that, in a tearful confession in his office, Tom admitted only to a little fondling, and that it happened a long time ago. Fray said he had no reason to doubt Tom. Fray referred to Renee as a ‘sexually deviant child’ and said he suspected she was lying. . . .

"Tom promised to tell Diana and get the family into counseling. . . .

"After the confrontation in Johannesburg, the Wades decided to return to Alaska on furlough, two years earlier than scheduled. The plan was to get Renee into counseling for her behavior . . . . the counseling never happened.

"Tom never did tell Diana.

"After three months in Anchorage, Tom moved his family to Anderson, a town of about 500 people 80 miles southwest of Fairbanks, to become pastor of the North Star Baptist Church . . . . He continued to pursue his oldest daughter. By then Renee was angry enough to refuse. When she did, he turned to the two younger girls . . . .

"Jennifer won't talk about her abuse; she gets up and leaves the room when the subject comes up. . . .

"But Tanya, the prostitute, talks more openly. ‘I went away from myself when he did it,’ Tanya remembers. Now, she says, she uses the same escape when she works as a prostitute. To this day she can't sleep without a light on, she says. . . .

"‘There was an undercurrent of knowing something was wrong, but denying it,’ Diana said. … ‘I allowed myself to be sucked into a subservient, submissive wifely role’ . . . .

"Renee left Anderson the day she graduated from high school and moved in with her grandparents in Anchorage. She was pregnant by her boyfriend.

"One afternoon, she and her mother's younger sister, Linda Travelli, were discussing Renee's hopes for a wedding. When Linda asked if Tom would perform the ceremony, Renee said he wouldn't even be invited.

"‘Why do you hate your father so much?’ Linda asked.

"But she already knew. Memories surfaced that had been buried for years. Linda remembered that Tom had abused her, too. At 11 and again at 16, she said. Renee told her story and Linda told hers. Together they decided it was time to let the rest of the family know the truth about this man . . . .

"Diana consulted her family, her attorney, her conscience and her God. She knew what she needed to do to protect her children; she asked the lawyer to call the police . . . .

"The Alaska State Troopers had arrested Tom Wade at the church parsonage, charging him with six felony counts of sexual abuse . . . .

"Diana filed for divorce immediately after her husband's arrest, and for several months she kept herself in isolation. The support she expected from friends and her church community didn't come . . . .

"The letters began arriving soon after word got back to Tom's family in Georgia: ‘It is absolutely unheard of for a person such as Tom to have been treated the way he has by his own family. . . . We will continue to do something to try to undo what you all have done. . . .’

"The letter from Tom's sister, Caroline Smith, damned Diana for turning on her husband . . . . ‘You allowed Satan to take control and until you allow God back into the situation, Satan will have the victory.’ "

"Some of the letters were directed to Diana's father, then-pastor of Anchorage's Grandview Baptist Church: ‘We have been told we must forgive you. We do. But do you even know the wrongs that you as the Biblical head of your household have allowed? Do you even realize how weak you appear to people all over this country. . . . You have allowed an immature minor to rule your family. What does God say? Forgive them for they know not what they do.’

"After a while, Diana stopped opening the letters; she just threw them in a box in a closet . . . .

"Although Jennifer won't discuss the extent of her abuse, her pain comes through in the letter she wrote to Judge Rene Gonzales urging him to give her father the stiffest sentence possible: ‘I hated every minute of my life….’

"Before pronouncing his sentence, Judge Gonzales said: ‘I've presided over quite a few cases of sexual abuse; in many respects yours is probably one of the most tragic. . . . As a result of the mishandling of your problem . . . . we have you before this court, not facing one count, one victim, but multiple counts and three victims. . . .’

"With Tom off in prison, Diana assumed the healing could begin. She didn't realize the family hadn't yet hit bottom.

"Renee's escape from an abusive life was short lived. Two days after her father's arrest, she miscarried her baby.

"After her child's death, she turned to alcohol and remained for several more years in a destructive relationship. Abuse she just thought that's what women got, she said. . . .

"Trey, the only boy in the family, was an ‘A’ student and president of his class in Anderson at the time of his father's arrest. Two years later, he had dropped out of high school. It became almost impossible for his mother to get him out of bed.

"Diana had Trey committed to … the state mental hospital, twice. At 17, he entered a treatment program for drug and alcohol addictions . . . .

"Today he's sober, living in a friend's garage and about as far from a Baptist as he can get . . . . The way Trey explains it, he found his father's secret so humiliating, such a betrayal, that he wanted to reconstruct every atom of his body. . . .

"Tanya [was] the one who sank the furthest … For days after his arrest she insisted he never touched her.

"After he went to prison, her feelings… gelled as rage . . . . She locked herself in a bathroom once and threatened to carve herself up with a knife . . . .

"Diana, who had moved with the kids to Anchorage, tried joint counseling. But Tanya would just curl up into the fetal position and refuse to talk.

"By the seventh grade, Tanya was running away, drinking, using drugs and hanging out with street kids. Pregnant at 15, she gave up her baby for adoption.

"Tanya tried to kill herself with pain pills. She lay in the intensive care unit… with tubes up her nose and all four limbs tied down as she thrashed about. For 24 hours, doctors didn't know if she'd live.

"By 17, Tanya had been in eight institutions, shelters and treatment programs . . . . She disappeared into the streets of Anchorage."

You can read the rest of the Anchorage Daily News story here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nincompoop nonsense

A women’s softball team wanted to get in more games. So they registered and paid their fee to compete in the Bellevue Baptist Church league. Bellevue banned them.

Andy Beal, the church’s “sports outreach” minister “had received information” that the team’s coach was gay. So he contacted her for a meeting and inquired about it. The coach, Jana Jacobson, “acknowledged she is gay.”

Bellevue’s “recreation minister,” Scotty Shows, then told Jacobson that her team couldn’t play.

“The team’s participation would send a message to Bellevue members that the church condoned her lifestyle.” That’s what Jacobsen was reportedly told.

About 10 days ago, when I first saw this story, I thought, “What nincompoops.” But it didn’t seem worthy of comment. After all, if I wrote a blog posting every time some Baptist minister did something nonsensical, hypocritical, and hateful, I’d never even manage to get the laundry done.

So, despite the obvious fodder for “love thy neighbor” sarcasm, I let it go.

Then I saw this more recent article with the remarks of Bellevue’s senior pastor, Steve Gaines . . . and I just couldn’t bite my tongue any longer.

The senior pastor of this Memphis megachurch justified the decision to ban the coach’s softball team by saying that those in leadership positions influence others. He told Bellevue church members that the disqualification of the softball team would have been handled differently if it had involved something in the coach’s past. But “you’re engaged in it right now,” sermonized Gaines.

To appreciate the full effect of Gaines’ remarks, you have to put them in context with Gaines’ own conduct. So let me bring you up to speed. Gaines is a Southern Baptist pastor who turned a blind eye and kept quiet when one of his staff ministers, Paul Williams, admitted to having repeatedly molested an adolescent boy. But minister Williams claimed it was in the past. So pastor Gaines did nothing.

In fact, worse than doing nothing, Gaines kept Williams in a position of trust and leadership as a minister in the church. He even allowed Williams to serve as a counselor to people who said they had been molested as children.

Did you get that? Gaines allowed one of his staff ministers, who was an admitted pedophile, to sit in his church office and use his ministerial position to listen to the most personal and painful stories of people molested as children. Pretty sick stuff, eh?

But senior pastor Steve Gaines apparently figured it was okay since minister Williams said his conduct was in the past. So Gaines kept it quiet and kept the admitted child molester on his ministerial staff.

All of this is public information. Gaines’ conduct came to light two-and-a-half years ago.

But despite Gaines’ keep-it-quiet response to a clergy child molester, Bellevue Baptist still retains Gaines in a leadership position. This is continuing conduct by the church itself -- conduct that they’re “engaged in right now.”

By retaining Steve Gaines, Bellevue Baptist sends a constant message that, in fact, it is no big deal for a pastor to keep quiet about a minister’s sexual abuse of a kid.

In many other organizations, a failure and cover-up as reckless and contrived as that of Steve Gaines would carry the consequence of a required resignation. New leadership would be demanded. But not at the Baptist megachurch of Bellevue. And not when the leader is a purported anointed one.

A pastor’s cover-up of clergy child molestation should require serious consequences, but the leadership lesson of Bellevue is that it doesn’t.

That’s the style of leadership that pastor Steve Gaines has demonstrated.

It’s bad enough that Bellevue would purport to stake moral high ground with its petty ouster of a women’s softball team.

But it becomes flat-out ludicrous when you realize that Bellevue’s own leader holds all the moral ground of a mosquito-infested swampland.

Photo by USA Today.
See also: "Ousting gay coach necessary, Bellevue pastor says," Commercial Appeal, 6/23/10

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Danni Moss: Farewell

Danni Moss
April 27, 1964 - June 13, 2010

She was a warrior for truth and a voice of hope.

She was a woman of wisdom and courage.

She was a light that pierced the darkness.

She will be sorely missed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

During a Southern Baptist Convention

Another Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting came and went this week, and Southern Baptists still remain the all-time-biggest do-nothing denomination on clergy sex abuse. Nothing has changed.

But in my inbox today, there is still another reminder of how big the problem is. With the permission of Jay Thompson, I’m reprinting his email below.

“Dear Christa,

I am nearly finished reading your book. I am so thankful my girlfriend found it online and bought it for me. It is chilling to read your story as it mirrors my own save the obvious gender differences. Now 52, I was forcibly sodomized DURING the Southern Baptist Convention back in the mid 70s (I was 16) at a Best Western Motel in Oak Cliff, TX. I was abused from ages 15-18. I was an "evangelist" with a "maturity well beyond my years" (as was written about me then), and my life has never been solidly back on track, though I am still trying.

Oh, the truths I could express... many of the Baptist leaders mentioned in your book I have met and "sat under," awed by "their wisdom." Makes me want to puke. Paige Patterson is as self-absorbed as was my perpetrator who took me to hear him!

Thanks again for your book.

Jay Thompson”

Tragically, but not surprisingly, Jay also said this in a subsequent email:

“The perpetrator is currently the minister of a church in the same town in which these acts occurred (just up the street from the church he had been pastor of when using ‘God language’ to violate me.”

I know many of you who follow this blog will read Jay’s words and weep. But among Baptists, who will actually give a hoot? Who will actually do anything to help Jay. . . or the countless others who have been abused by Baptist clergy?

We’ve already seen what would likely happen if Jay tried to report this preacher-predator to the statewide Baptist General Convention of Texas. They don’t even have any system for receiving abuse reports from individuals, and so they wouldn’t do diddly-squat.

And though the BGCT has a system to provide counseling, or counseling stipends, for Baptist clergy who commit what they so euphemistically refer to as “sexual misconduct,” they have no system whatsoever for providing counseling to those who have been the most grievously wounded –- those who have survived Baptist clergy sex abuse.

On a good day, leaders at the BGCT might choose to simply ignore Jay, but it’s also possible that the BGCT would send out its own longtime attorney to “help” the church of the accused perpetrator. And the way the attorney “helps” is by threatening to sue the victim.

BGCT honchos know that this is what the attorney does – threatening people who try to report abuse – but they send him out to “help” anyway. It usually works to re-silence the victims – but it sure as heck doesn’t work to keep any other kids any safer.

Or maybe, now that Sonny Spurger is gone from the BGCT, Jay might simply encounter the dangerously naive Emily Prevost, who would likely tell Jay to report the preacher’s abuse to the preacher’s current church. It’s the standard line of idiocy in Baptistland, and it's the line Prevost has used in the past. It’s like telling bloody sheep to go back to the den of the wolf who savaged them. But hey... I’m sure Emily Prevost would say it with a smile. She would pray for Jay.

So then imagine that Jay tries to report this preacher-predator to honchos in Nashville. He’d likely be met with some of that Ephesians 4 sermonizing on forgiveness that other abuse survivors have gotten from Executive Committee members. Or maybe he’d just get some of that insipid God-bless-we’ll-pray-for-you sort of talk. Or if Jay actually tried to talk to top-dog honcho Frank Page, Jay might get told how “mean-spirited” he is for pursuing this or maybe he’d get told that he’s “nothing more than an opportunistic person.”

Those honcho guys in Nashville sure know how to be good shepherds, don’t they? (Please pardon my sarcasm.)

I can imagine all sorts of possibilities for what Jay would likely encounter if he stepped into the Kafkaesque hell of trying to report the preacher-predator to Baptist officials. None of the possibilities are good.

The one thing we can know almost for certain is that no one in Baptistland will actually help Jay.

Unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists have no denominational system for accepting or assessing survivors’ reports of clergy sex abuse. They have no system for warning people in the pews. They don’t even have any system of record-keeping on reports of clergy sex abuse.

It’s possible that someone else may have already attempted to report the very same preacher-predator, but since no one is keeping records, how would anyone know?

In Baptistland, a preacher can have multiple reports of abuse, and he’ll simply be allowed to move on, with few in the pews being told.

That’s how it works in Baptistland. No records - no trace - no trouble.

Except that it sure wreaks long-lasting trouble in the lives of kids.

As Jay so plainly stated – and his words speak for many – “My life has never been solidly back on track, though I am still trying.”

Keep trying, Jay. Keep trying. Though it’s certainly true that there is virtually no one in this power-purposed, do-nothing denomination who will actually give a hoot, there are a great many of us other clergy-abuse-survivor-lepers who are pulling for you. And in the very act of allowing your email to be printed, you yourself have already pulled others along -- others who will see your words and take courage and will begin the slow, quiet process of struggling toward the water's surface.

Keep trying.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Frank Page: another side

In a closed session on June 14, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee elected former SBC president Frank Page as its next president and CEO.

This is a powerful position that was once described as “the most important in all of Christendom.”

Though that description may be a bit lofty, there is no doubt that the president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee holds a very important position. Norman Jameson, editor of the Biblical Recorder and longtime follower of Baptist life, explains it this way: “The Executive Committee functions as the Southern Baptist Convention between annual sessions of the SBC.”

What this means is that, for about 363 days a year, the Executive Committee is where the power resides for the largest Protestant denomination in the land.

So what sort of man did Southern Baptists place in such a powerful position?

Jameson describes Frank Page as “a man of integrity, vision, achievement and leadership.”

That’s the Frank Page whom Norman Jameson has apparently encountered, and no doubt there are many more in Baptist life who share a similar view.

But clergy abuse survivors have seen another side.

Frank Page is the man who publicly castigated clergy rape and molestation survivors as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

It would be bad enough if it were just some off-the-cuff remark. But it was more than that.

Frank Page said those hateful words in his official role as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he published them in a news journal funded by offering plate dollars – the Florida Baptist Witness. It was a news journal in which he could write whatever he wanted . . . and look what he chose to write.

Just after Page’s words made print, I remember hearing from one Baptist clergy abuse survivor who told me that she could scarcely breathe upon seeing them. That’s how hurtful Page’s words were.

With such caustic rhetoric, Frank Page helped to foster a climate of hostility and victim-blaming toward Baptist clergy abuse survivors. Many have felt the brunt of it.

Yet, Page has never apologized.

Wouldn’t “a man of integrity” realize the horrible hurt in his words and offer up some sort of apology?

Wouldn’t you expect to hear some expression of remorse, particularly from one who is deemed to be such a high religious leader?

A journalist like Helen Thomas loses her job after a callous public comment. But a high Southern Baptist leader gets promoted.

And though Jameson describes Page as a man of “leadership,” I can’t help but wonder why that “leadership” was so lackluster when it came to addressing clergy sex abuse.

This is the man who, in his prior role as SBC president, repeatedly minimized the problem by saying that there have been only “several reported cases” of clergy sex abuse in Baptist churches . . . when in reality there have been hundreds.

Wouldn’t a true leader have at least acknowledged the truth about the extent of the problem?

This is the man who, when more cases started coming to light, lashed out at the media, instead of doing something about the problem.

Wouldn’t a true leader have implemented action rather than blindly blaming others?

This is the man who was told by a 20/20 correspondent that the SBC’s ministerial registry showed convicted sex offenders as apparent “preachers in good standing.” Yet, weeks later, when the 20/20 show actually aired, the names were still on the registry. Frank Page had done nothing about the problem even when he was told about it directly to his face.

Wouldn’t a true leader have done something?

But in all of this, here’s the part I struggle with the most. Why aren’t there a great many other Southern Baptist leaders who will hold Frank Page accountable for his callousness and do-nothingness toward clergy abuse survivors?

Yet, rather than holding him accountable, other Southern Baptist leaders promote him.

It’s as though we’re all just supposed to pretend that Frank Page never said such ugly things.

It’s as though we’re all just supposed to pretend that it never happened.

But it did happen.

Frank Page, the new president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee, publicly castigated clergy abuse survivors as “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

It’s a shame that so many other Southern Baptist leaders are so willing to turn a blind eye to such cold-hearted callousness from the mouth of one of their own high religious leaders.

But of course, that’s a big part of the problem in Baptistland. Cronies don’t hold cronies accountable.

Frank Page's 4/17/2007 column in the Florida Baptist Witness.

6/17/10: Baptist Planet, "More of the SBC same on clerical sexual predators."
5/27/14: ABP News, "SBC official stands by criticism of SNAP."

Monday, June 14, 2010

How long until Southern Baptists stop abusive clergy?

Clergy abuse survivors have been asking Southern Baptists for several years to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.

The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major faith groups. We asked that the denomination provide a safe place for the reporting of clergy abuse, a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports, and an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.

In 2008, TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists' rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.

Now here we are in 2010, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines when it comes to protecting kids against clergy sex abuse.

A faith group that so devalues its children must change. So we know where this is going. Change is inevitable.

Sooner or later, Southern Baptists will learn the lesson that pious preaching won't protect kids against clergy predators. What we don't know is how long the lesson will take.

Maybe it will take 10, 20 or 50 years. But we know how this ends. Southern Baptists will come up to speed with what other faith groups are doing to assure that predators cannot easily hide among their clergy ranks.

It is inevitable. A future is coming when children in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer than they are now. A future is coming when those who report clergy abuse will be met with ministry and outreach rather than minimization and denial. A future is coming when people in the pews will be able to find out about credibly accused clergy so that predators cannot so easily church-hop.

When that future arrives, we will all look back with a vague sense of wonder at why it took so long.

But there is always someone who fights a rear-guard action to preserve the status quo. And it doesn't matter how irrational or dysfunctional that status quo may be.

More and more, when it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse, it looks as though the rear guard will be Southern Baptists.

While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness. Worst of all, they claim religious principle as the reason. Confronted with people trying to report predatory clergy, Baptist leaders retreat behind the Pharisee-like legalism of their autonomous polity as an excuse for why they are powerless.

It might be comical if it weren't so dangerous.

But someday, even this most recalcitrant of faith groups will see the light and take action. It is inevitable.

Meanwhile, the rear guard is convening in Orlando this week. How many more conventions will it take before Southern Baptists provide their kids with the same sorts of safeguards as kids in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal churches?

Most clergy child molesters have multiple victims, and people who have been victimized by clergy are often capable of speaking about it only after many years have passed. This means that the best way to prevent clergy sex abuse in the future is to institutionally listen to those who are trying to tell about abuse in the past. This is what Southern Baptists refuse to do.

Many Baptist leaders have told me to be patient. They say change will happen with time.

It is a seductive notion, this belief that change will happen on its own with the passage of time. If people think that time alone will take care of things, then they don't have to feel as much personal responsibility for taking action.

But any comfort Baptists may gain from believing that time will take care of things is a comfort that must be tempered by the recognition of how many more kids will be molested by clergy while time marches on.

We know where this is going. But that does not alter the fact that Southern Baptists should have been there long ago but for their own ignorance, intransigence, arrogance and fear.

There is no honor for Southern Baptists in being the rear guard in the battle for clergy accountability. There is only more suffering for "the least of these."

Thanks to Ethics Daily for publishing this column of mine, written on the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 2010 annual meeting in Orlando.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Basically no one

A reader recently answered the question of my prior posting: “Among Baptists, who will give a hoot?”

The answer: “Basically no one.”

Of course, he didn’t realize he was answering the “who gives a hoot” question. He thought he was explaining Baptist polity to me. His answer came in a comment under one of my postings about the murder trial of Southern Baptist preacher Matt Baker.

Remember Matt Baker? He’s the Baptist preacher who, despite multiple reports of sexual assault and abuse, continued to move through a slew of schools, churches and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. No one stopped him. There was “basically no one” who cared enough to track the allegations, assess the allegations, or inform others about the allegations.

Ultimately, it took a murder for people to find out about the long history of abuse allegations against this Baptist pastor. At the start of the murder trial, prosecutors said they had evidence of 13 abuse and assault reports, including 4 that involved minors, and investigators said Baker had spent years leading “a secret life as a sexual predator.”

My take on the story was that it shouldn’t take a murder for people in Baptist pews to find out that a Baptist pastor has multiple allegations of abuse and assault. It seemed particularly tragic to me because almost all of Baker’s jobs were in schools, churches and organizations affiliated with the exact same umbrella organization -- the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Wouldn’t you think that there should have been some way for this Baptist umbrella organization to monitor abuse allegations and inform people?

That’s what I thought.

But the reader who made the “basically no one” comment thought otherwise. Here’s what he wrote:

“Obviously this is a tragedy, however it's extremely near sighted to blame the BGCT for the work of one individual. Perhaps a better understanding of Baptist polity would bring light to the situation. The BGCT isn't an episcopal organization- there is no mechanism in place, no chain of command to deal with such instances. . . . we Baptist's are no monarchy. Who exactly was this guy reporting to? In an organization that runs from a system of autonomy the answer is: basically no one.”

[Incidentally, as you might note, he made this anonymous comment 4 months after the posting. Baptistland seems to have a lot of these lily-livered poltroons who try to get the last word by skulking onto the blog with anonymous late comments. . . but I digress.]

So this guy thinks I’m “near-sighted” because, if only I understood Baptist polity, I’d realize that there is “basically no one” who can rein in these church-hopping preacher-predators or who can even warn people in the pews.

But he’s wrong in thinking our difference turns on an understanding of polity. Our difference turns on perspective.

I see quite clearly that there is “basically no one” in Baptistland who will do diddly-squat about reports of clergy sex abuse. The difference in our points of view is that he seems to think this is something for Baptists to be proud of, while I think it’s a travesty.

It’s as though Baptist preachers just thumb their nose and say “nanny nanny boo boo… we’re accountable to no one… it’s our religion.”

Isn’t that the worst of it? They use religion as an excuse for irresponsibility.

And they do it when what’s at stake is the safety of kids.

Personally, I expect that most parents in Baptist pews would probably place far greater value on protecting their kids against predators than on protecting the parameters of Baptist polity in precisely the manner that Baptist leaders proclaim it.

After all, every time a Baptist official turns his back on a clergy abuse report by pontificating about polity, he is increasing the probability that another kid will be sexually abused. That’s the near-sighted trade-off that Baptist officials are making.

They are choosing the protection of their own self-created, radicalized polity at the cost of kids’ safety against predators.

There is nothing theoretical about this. In a face-to-face conversation, a Texas Baptist official bluntly explained to me that “for Baptists, what we lose in safety, we gain in freedom.”

He obviously thought this was a fair trade-off. I don’t. I think it’s reckless and callous.

Besides, there is nothing contrary to Baptist polity in the notion of denominationally providing churches with information. It is only for Baptist officials’ own pontificated polity that it winds up being a problem . . . not for authentic Baptist polity.

In fact, for authentic Baptist polity, it would actually strengthen the power and freedom of local churches if they could have ready access to information about ministers.

The secrecy in Baptistland serves no one… except those with something to hide.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Raped by God

People who experience prolonged, repeated sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence are often people who, as adults, have great difficulty with the “God-thing.”

Academic research has shown that this correlation is significant. Difficulty with God is a very common aspect of the damage that is caused by prolonged, repeated abuse.

It is a correlation that has been documented even when the perpetrator is someone other than a clergyman. When the perpetrator is in fact a clergyman -- i.e., someone for whom the link to God is direct in the child’s mind -- there is good reason to think the disruption in the person’s perception of God will be even more pronounced.

Experts are “generally agreed that the impact on survivors of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders is greater than survivors of other forms of power abuse.” (Patrick Carnes, The Betrayal Bond at p. 68) Why? Because the very resource that countless people use for coping with trauma -- their faith -- is a resource that has been dreadfully compromised for clergy abuse survivors.

Not only does clergy sex abuse inflict a dreadful wound, but it simultaneously yanks a primary resource for healing.

For all manner of life’s travails, many people ask the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They ponder it by calling upon their own internal spiritual resources, and in so doing, they often find the means to cope with whatever life has inflicted.

But the question becomes far more troubling when the “bad thing” is also supposed to be the resource for the answer. When faith is at the core of the “bad thing,” how should the person then turn to the “bad thing” as a resource for understanding and healing?

Another question people often ask in the face of trauma is “Where was God when it happened?”

But for many clergy abuse survivors, it never occurs to ask that near-universal question. We know where God was when it happened. We know exactly where He was.

Our bodies and our minds constantly and unwillingly remind of us of this. The very sense of God’s presence is neurologically networked with the nightmare of rape and molestation.

Such is the damage caused when a clergyman repeatedly molests a kid.

It is a type of damage so common as to be a normal consequence.

Yet, despite the normalcy of it, many church and denominational leaders still seem to think that, if only abuse survivors would put their faith in God, they could “overcome” this trauma.

But again… therein likes the difficulty for many clergy abuse survivors. How do you turn to God for help when God is your rapist?

Think that sounds blasphemous?

It’s how many clergy abuse survivors describe their experience.

“I feel as though I was raped by God,” they say. That’s the feeling they internalized as kids, and it stayed with them. And you can’t just wish it away.

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing blasphemous or shameful in the survivors who say this. They simply speak the truth of what was done to them and the natural consequence of it.

If there is shame, it should rightly rest on the shoulders of the many Baptist leaders who turn their backs on abuse survivors and who allow preacher-predators to church-hop for new prey.

If there is blasphemy, it comes from the mouths of the many Baptist leaders who claim that the word of God dictates denominational do-nothingess under the rubric of “local church autonomy.”

When religious leaders simplistically tell clergy abuse survivors to put their trust in God, they effectively ignore the very wound that was inflicted.

Clergymen cauterized our connection to faith, and then still more clergymen blame us for our lack of faith. . . . as though the blood that keeps spilling from the wound is our own fault. . . . as though if only we survivors were people of stronger faith, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Of course, we often blame ourselves as well. After all, if you’re a Baptist abuse survivor, you were likely raised as an evangelical, and perhaps also as a fundamentalist. The lessons of our childhoods remain in our heads. Weren’t we taught that we should find answers and direction in the word of God, and should find strength and solace in prayer?

Should. Should. Should. That was the gist of so many religious lessons from my younger years.

But in the context of healing from clergy sex abuse, all those “shoulds” are meaningless.

If someone hacked off your leg, no one would say to you that you should have enough faith to re-grow your leg.

By the same token, faith won’t automatically re-grow the faith of someone whose faith connection has been severed by clergy sex abuse. The wound is real.

If your leg were hacked off, no one would say to you that you should walk again through faith alone. The inability to walk is a natural consequence of the wound.

By the same token, no amount of saying you should have faith will alter reality for one whose faith has been severed by clergy sex abuse. The estrangement from faith is a natural consequence of the wound.

If your leg were hacked off, you might eventually learn to walk again with a prosthesis. You might even run again. Or maybe you’ll roll in a chair. But one thing for sure, if you keep trying to walk in the old way, you will keep falling. You must find a new way to maneuver, and it will be very different.

I think the process may be analogous for those whose faith has severed by clergy sex abuse. We must start where we are with accepting the reality of the wound for what it is. We must accept that the old way is gone. And we must stop blaming ourselves -- or letting anyone else blame us -- for what is the natural consequence of the wound itself.

We are not lesser people merely because our faith is lesser. And it is irrelevant whether it is “lesser” by others’ ignorant standards or by our own preset standards.

If we are to move forward – whether through faith, non-faith, semi-faith, or lesser faith -- we must find new ways, and the new ways will be very different from the old ways.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Internal Desecration

I’ve been looking at some of the earlier work of Carrie Doehring, a professor of pastoral counseling at the Iliff School of Theology. In her 1993 book, Internal Desecration, she explored the relationship between experiences of childhood and adolescent abuse, and the way women as adults consciously describe God.

The major finding of her work is that there is a strong correlation between severe childhood trauma and the way women perceive God in adulthood. Perceptions of God become significantly different when traumatization is severe. (p. 130)

Doehring’s research involved women who answered an extensive questionnaire in which they described experiences of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and witnessing domestic violence in childhood and adolescence -- i.e., before the age of 18. The degree of traumatization was scored based on such factors as the nature, frequency and impact of the abuse. The scoring system also included as a factor the surrounding support or lack of support for the victim.

The study quantitatively scaled the women’s childhood experiences into four categories: no trauma, trauma, high trauma, and severe trauma. Then it correlated those experiences with the women’s conscious descriptions of God.

Those who had experienced “trauma” and even “high trauma” did not show significant disturbance in their God-perceptions. However, those who had experienced “severe trauma” scored significantly lower on representations of God as loving, and they scored significantly higher on representations of God as wrathful or absent. (pp. 88, 130)

Repeated abuse over a prolonged period of time is abuse characterized as resulting in severe trauma. (p. 131)

Doehring’s work is dense, but well-worth sharing. It is quantified academic research that confirms what many of us have experienced first-hand and know intuitively -- the abuse and its aftermath forever altered our relationship to God.

I’ve already shared with you the conclusion of Doehring’s work. Now let me share with you some excerpts from her analysis.

“This quantitative study demonstrates how the life event of repeated, prolonged abuse resulting in severe traumatization is inter-related with one’s projected God representations…. Prolonged, repeated abuse… may (1) distort internal representations of self, perpetrator, others and the anthropocentric God representations formed out of these; (2) create projections and interfere in relations with others and with God; (3) create systems of meaning that destroy faith, confirm hopelessness and despair, and enhance negative God representations, making it very difficult to have a relationship with a divine being.” (pp. 130-31)

“When traumatic stressors comprise a single event, then post-traumatic stress disorder may be described as simple . . . If those who are traumatized are able to draw upon internal resources (available in the personality which pre-existed the traumatic event), if they are at a developmental level that gives them the most resources, and if they are part of a supportive community then they may be able to actively work on feelings, thoughts, internal representations and sensations present in flashbacks and nightmares and other experiences when traumatization intrudes. In this way, the experience of traumatization is worked through, instead of dammed up and frozen.” (p. 111)

“When individuals are repeatedly exposed to traumatic stressors, then post-traumatic stress disorder becomes more complex. The more the traumatic stressors are part of a system of totalitarian control over a prolonged period of time, the more the personality changes, with alterations in affect regulation and consciousness; alterations in internal representations of one’s self and the perpetrator; and alterations in systems of meaning. These alterations profoundly affect relations with others. Included in such personality changes may be alterations in God representations…, faith systems of meaning and one’s relationship with God and the community of faith.” (pp. 111-12)

“Representations of God as absent or wrathful are deeply disturbing and even those who were highly traumatized can effectively keep such representations repressed. Those who were severely traumatized cannot . . . .” (p. 113)

“Women who were severely traumatized may experience more continuous and less sporadic breaches in the repression barrier, such that disturbing images of God… are not an occasional part of their religious experience, but rather a more ongoing part of their religious experience.” (pp. 113-14)

“How can we explain the finding that there is a correlation between severity of traumatization and loving, absent and wrathful God representations, but that loving, absent and wrathful God representations are not significantly different until traumatization is severe? … Loving God representations remain an unshakable structure until there is severe traumatization. One way to understand this is through the metaphor of an earthquake. We might suppose that one’s God representations are like structures that can withstand mild and moderate earthquakes, but when an earthquake is severe enough, then these structures begin, not simply to crack, but to topple.” (p. 114-15)

“It could be that when trauma is too severe, either with too many traumatic experiences or too many abusers, such a system collapses. In other words, such a means of coping is no longer available when traumatization exceeds a certain degree. . . . The women in this study, when traumatized and even highly traumatized, can preserve or remake their experience of God as loving. . . . When childhood violence becomes catastrophic, it is not possible for women to preserve a narrative of God as wholly loving.” (pp. 120-21)

“To identify God with the violence may undermine the very foundations of the self, and one’s basic sense of trust in the world, both at an individual level and a cultural level. . . . Such memories cannot be pieced together into a narrative of a loving, benevolent God.” (p. 121)

“The church’s silence on childhood abuse has meant that traumatization was compounded by the church’s neglect of those who were abused. When the church is silent, then it is more likely to be associated with the experience of an absent, condemning, distant and wrathful God. When the community of faith is silent, it stands with the perpetrator. . . .” (p. 138)

In Doehring’s research, the strong correlation between severe trauma and an altered God-perception held true regardless of who the abuser was. When the abuser is a member of the clergy -- i.e., someone for whom the connection to God is very direct in the child’s mind -- it must surely become even more likely that the person’s view of God will be reshaped.

So Survivors . . . if you’re one of those for whom the “God-thing” just doesn’t work . . . if you’re one of those who cringe when someone says “God loves you” . . . if you’re one of those who would rather run from faith then turn to faith . . . at least know this: You’re normal.

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Stay away"


According to a video segment on WXIN-TV in Indianapolis, Baptist pastor Chuck Phelps “reportedly made Tina confess immorality to the entire congregation.”

Tina was 15 years old at the time. And according to Tina, what she wasn’t allowed to say is that her pregnancy was the result of being raped by a church deacon.

Pastor Phelps is now at the center of rape cover-up allegations. At that time, Phelps was the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Now, he’s the pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis.

Tina’s brother, Tom Dooley, spoke to WXIN-TV and issued this warning to the congregants at Colonial Hills:

“Basically, I'd say stay away from that church. If he's the one in charge of that church, stay as far away as you can, because if something happens to your child he's not going to do anything about it."

Dooley says that pastor Phelps misled the police in New Hampshire."He reported it as a young lady of near consenting age with an older man, not a 15-year-old who got raped twice," said Dooley. "She's the one who got kicked out of the church for getting raped and getting pregnant. The guy who raped her was a deacon in the church and was allowed to stay in his position as a deacon."

As reported by WXIN-TV, “accused rapist Ernest Willis is now 51 and was arrested days ago by New Hampshire police. Phelps is being investigated for possible obstruction of justice charges.”

"Anderson who has recently come forward to speak publicly about her ordeal says Phelps moved her to Colorado to live with a church family. She had become pregnant following the rape. . . . She has also said Phelps played a role in having her give the child up for adoption.”

"Former members of Phelps’ New Hampshire church say Phelps was running a cult at Trinity Baptist. They fear he will conduct the same time of church in Indianapolis.”

"If this has been done in Concord then the philosophy apparently hasn't changed. What would stop it from happening again in a church in Indianapolis," said Matt Barnhart, a former member of Trinity Baptist in New Hampshire.

And indeed, given that there is no outside oversight nor any denominational oversight for most Baptist churches, what would stop any Baptist church from becoming a cult?

When will Baptists implement safeguards similar to what other major faith groups already have?

In related news, the courtroom was packed yesterday in Conway, New Hampshire for the appearance of a Southern Baptist pastor and several church “elders” who were charged with failing to report the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. Police said “the charge is very significant” because of “conspiratorial nature.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You said it, Ted.

Ted Haggard is starting up a new church in Colorado Springs, and Haggard himself will be the pastor. Flanked by his wife and children, Haggard made this announcement yesterday at a well-staged press conference outside the family’s barn.

Remember Ted Haggard?

He rose to prominence as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and he was founding pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

In 2006, Haggard was stripped of his pastorship after it was reported that a male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex “relationship” with Haggard.

Later, we also learned that Haggard was reported to have had a sexual “relationship” with a 22-year-old male volunteer in his church. That was the story that really troubled me.

The media reported it as a “gay sex” scandal. But that’s where the media got it wrong.

Though that 22-year-old was of legal age, he was a part of pastor Haggard’s church. In that context, what pastor Haggard did was not merely a matter of “gay sex”; it was a matter of clergy sex abuse.

And now Haggard will again be a pastor.

In announcing the opening of his new church, Haggard said it would be a place for “sinners and the broken.”

Haggard pointed out that he himself was a “broken” person, and he seems to even believe that the prior “scandal” is part of what now qualifies him as a pastor.

“It broke me. And I’m still broken. And I have an incredible heart for broken people. I think I’m qualified to hold their hands.”

“I’m the despised and rejected," explained Haggard. "I’m the one who there’s a reason not to trust."

You said it, Ted.

Though I haven’t seen much reason to believe you’re “despised,” you sure nailed it when you said that you’re someone “who there’s a reason not to trust.”

After all, you haven’t even yet acknowledged the reality of what you did to that 22-year-old in your church.

Oh sure… you confessed to an “inappropriate relationship,” but that’s just minimizing things for your own benefit.

It was abuse, Ted.

When you’re a pastor, that sort of conduct with a person in your church is not merely an “inappropriate relationship.” It’s abuse.

A pastor who has sexually abused a congregant should not again be a pastor. And a pastor who hasn’t even yet faced the reality of his abusive conduct shouldn’t even dream of stepping into a pulpit again.

Open your eyes, Ted. Take a long look at the full reality of what you did. It’s far uglier than you have yet acknowledged.

You were a pastor -- a person of power -- a religious authority figure -- a person in a position of spiritual trust. You used that position to exploit a young man in your church.

Have the decency to call it what it really was. It was abuse of another human being.

But at least you got this much right: You are indeed someone “who there’s a reason not to trust.”

I only hope the people in your new church will keep that truth firmly planted in their minds.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When Faith Is Used as a Weapon

Of all the pages on the StopBaptistPredators website, this one has prompted by far the most comments. It’s nothing more than the response I sent to a woman who wrote that God would heal and restore me if only I would put my faith and trust in Him. Yet, since I posted it on the website, many people have written to tell me how much this page meant to them.

Some said that, for the first time, they felt as though someone understood. Some said it made them feel “not so crazy.” Some said they printed it out and took it to their therapist to try to explain what they were feeling. Some said they printed it out and showed it to their husband … or their wife … or their pastor … or their mother.

Without exception, everyone who wrote said that it put into words something they themselves felt but hadn’t yet been able to communicate … and something they wanted others to understand.

I’m reposting part of it here on the blog in the hope that others may also find something helpful in it. And I give thanks to “Jane” whose well-intentioned voice of care first prompted me to write this.

Dear Jane,

When I read your email, my hands shook so much that I spilled my coffee. My chest began to pound. I started being short of breath. I felt literally sick. I had to get up and take a walk with headphones to try to shift my brain into a different mode. That's what talk of God's love can do to me. It's a physiological response.

I do not believe you intended to inflict any hurt on me, and to the contrary, I expect that you intended to offer some comfort and hope. But, from my perspective, it is as though your email brandished in front of me the very weapon that was used against me. It is as though you are telling me that I should pick up that very same sword that was once used to eviscerate me and should fall on it all over again. I can’t do that.

My love of God, my faith, my own extraordinary desire to live the will of God... those are the very parts of me that were transformed into weapons that savaged and destroyed me. As a result, that part of my brain, that part of me that was once able to turn to God, to surrender to God, to pour my heart out to God, to put things in God’s hands, to believe that God would take care of me. . . all of that part of my brain is inaccessible. It is electrically charged and it is the land of the predator. . . it is a ravaged land that is there within my own head.

I think it is somewhat analogous to a person who has a stroke. The person's brain tissue is damaged by the physical trauma of oxygen deprivation, and because of that trauma, a part of their brain doesn't get the connections right anymore. It is as though it is short-circuited out and (depending on what part of the brain is affected) the result may be that they can't form words anymore even though their thought-making process is still intact. My brain has also been damaged by trauma, although it was a severe psychological trauma rather than a physical brain injury.

Sometimes, with rehab work, people who have had strokes can learn to attach words to thoughts again, but they do so consciously and with great effort. In effect, they work at rewiring their brains around the place of trauma. In some ways, I think I am engaged in an analogous process. . . . The extent to which I may or may not be able to do so remains to be seen. . . .

Another possibly useful analogy is to think about a victim of torture whose torturer always played Beethoven while he beat and brutalized the victim. Years later, that victim of torture is unlikely to much appreciate the music of Beethoven, and he may feel great anxiety when he hears the music even if he is merely at a shopping mall. And perhaps he won't even realize why he is becoming so short of breath or why he is feeling the need to leave the mall immediately. The music is just background noise. But on some level his brain is still processing it as something that is linked to degradation, pain and fear.

The sort of talk of God’s love that is in your email is the sort of talk that transports me to the torture chamber that is in my own head. . . .

Please don’t think that I’m in any way critical of your faith. I’m just trying to explain to you why that sort of talk.... talk similar to the sort of talk that I grew up with... is so difficult for me to hear. It’s part of why I have such trouble understanding why church and denominational leaders are so resistant to helping clergy abuse victims. The impact of it is a profound damage to the part of the brain where faith resides. . . .

For most people of faith, it is their faith that they can use as a resource to help them weather life’s difficulties and griefs. But for me, because my faith was used as a weapon, it is very difficult if not impossible to try to use it as a resource. Faith is linked to a nightmare. . . .

All of this does not mean that I am utterly without a belief in God. I’m not. But it’s a very tricky thing for me. I thank God every day for the simple fact that I was too inept to kill myself off in my younger years. My daily life, however simple and mundane it may be, is not something I take for granted. I am not at all oblivious to the goodness in the life that is still mine.

Wherever you are in your journey, may you find within yourself a place of peace.