Sunday, July 18, 2010

Allegations should be assessed

A Southern Baptist missionary worked in Belize for four years, and on return to the United States, he became the director of a Baptist camp in North Carolina. His work put him in contact with a lot of kids.

A couple months ago, this former Southern Baptist missionary and camp director was found “dead of an apparent suicide.” At the time of his death, he was awaiting trial on child-sex charges. The charges involved three separate children.

What moral obligation do Southern Baptists now have toward the children who made the allegations in North Carolina?

What moral obligation do Southern Baptists now have toward the children who encountered this missionary in Belize?

The man’s death ended the government’s obligation to assess the truth of the allegations through the criminal justice process. But what about the faith community’s obligation?

And what about the kids?

If the allegations were true -- and police obviously believed they were -- then the man’s death will not spare the children from the burden of dealing with the nightmare of what they hold in their heads.

Is it enough for Baptists to simply say “We’ll pray for them”?

Sexual abuse in childhood carries a known correlation to a host of problems in adulthood, including alcohol addiction, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, and suicide. If the allegations of the three children are true, their lives could likely be made a great deal better if they obtained professional counseling sooner rather than later.

And if the allegations of the three North Carolina children are true, there is a significant likelihood that other children may have also been victimized, including children in Belize.

Shouldn’t the faith community carry a moral obligation to help with the healing for any who may have been wounded by this man on whom it placed a mantel of trust as a Southern Baptist minister?

Shouldn’t the faith community carry a moral obligation to responsibly assess the clergy abuse allegations, and to compassionately act on that assessment?

Other major faith groups have answered “yes” to those questions. But unlike other faith groups that have denominational processes to assess allegations involving deceased clergy and allegations beyond the statute of limitations, Southern Baptists have no such process.

In Baptistland, credible allegations are not assessed or acknowledged. So, now that the man’s death put an end to the criminal justice process, no alternative denominational process is available.

It is a cowardly faith community that can’t muster the moral courage to consider for itself the possible truth of clergy abuse allegations.

For a comparison, consider last week’s news of how Episcopal leaders responded to similar allegations.

A deceased Pennsylvania bishop and former priest was denominationally determined to have had four credible allegations of child sex abuse. According to the news account, two were abused as kids at an Episcopal summer camp and two were abused over a period of years.

In March 2010, immediately upon receiving a woman's report that she was abused as a kid by the deceased clergyman, Episcopal leaders consulted with licensed professionals outside the church organization who are experts in sexual abuse.

The current regional bishop, Sean Rowe, contacted the denomination’s Office for Pastoral Development, which had kept records on allegations against the priest, who had served in four different states. Through that office, Rowe learned of the three prior allegations, which in turn helped to substantiate the March 2010 report.

By comparison, for Baptists, there doesn't yet exist any denominational office that is even keeping records of clergy abuse allegations much less assessing them. Any Baptist pastor out there could have multiple allegations and no one would have any way of tracking them because no one is bothering to keep records.

After learning of the other allegations, Episcopal bishop Rowe offered an “abject apology” on behalf of the faith group and said: “We believe that these allegations are credible. We believe the stories.”

The Episcopal Church went public with the information about its deceased clergyman. On July 12, 2010, it made a denominational press release, and a letter was read aloud in 34 churches.

In the press release, Bishop Rowe said “The existence of four victims makes it possible that there are others, and we are bound as Christians to seek their healing.”

This is the very reality -- and moral imperative -- that Baptist leaders ignore.

Bishop Rowe publicly reached out to other possible victims of the deceased clergyman and urged them to come forward either publicly or confidentially.

Have you ever seen a Southern Baptist leader who publicly urged other possible clergy abuse victims to come forward and seek help?

Bishop Rowe had contacted the U.S. Episcopal Church’s highest leader, Katherine Jefforts Schori, who fully supported his decision to go public with the information about the abuse allegations.

Contrast this with the statement of Southern Baptists’ highest leader, Frank Page, who used a denominational press funded with offering plate dollars -- a press that would print virtually anything he wanted -- to publicly castigate those who speak out about clergy sex abuse.

Quite a contrast, eh?

Episcopal leaders aren't perfect. Though they removed the accused from priestly duties, and also removed him as a bishop, the prior allegations were not made public. They should have been. Nevertheless, compared to the long-continuing aggressively hostile do-nothingness of Baptist leaders, current Episcopal leaders wind up looking nearly like saints.

Baptists must come up to speed with what other major faith groups are already doing. Baptists must take up the hard work of denominationally assessing abuse allegations, of keeping records on abuse allegations, and of pro-actively reaching out to those who may have been abused by Baptist clergy.

They could start by assessing the abuse allegations of the North Carolina kids and by publicly reaching out to any others who may have been wounded in Belize.

Prior postings on the Stephen Carter case:
"One reason abuse victims don't talk," 8/1/09
"Knowing him doesn't yield knowledge," 7/23/09
"Baptist camp director charged with sex crimes," 7/14/09


Anonymous said...

I hope to see the day that Baptist change
Thank you for your voice
Thank you for doing something
I hope others will join with you and ask for change
Debbie V

Anonymous said...

Christa - I wonder if anyone has considered if Bob Gray of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, molested children while he was a missionary in Germany?

His church after they found he was fondling kids in his office, even in the baptistry of his church, sent him as a missionary to Germany through some missionary agency (not the SBC).

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember all the folks coming on here claiming the guy in NC camp could not possibly be guilty?

How, those kids will not get their day in court. There is no closure for them at all.

Christa Brown said...

Yes, I remember. Many people proclaimed that this guy could not possibly be guilty. Not only did they do so in blog comments (some of which were so ugly that I deleted them), but I also received some pretty awful emails in connection with this case. And there were also comments posted on the WITN news site in North Carolina, and other news sites. They have since been deleted, but I remember that some of the comments on the WITN site were particularly appalling in the vitriole that was directed toward the kids and their families. This particular case seemed to really inspire a lot of "Christians" toward being their worst possible selves.

Here are links to my prior postings on this case, which contain some additional discussion on this:
One reason abuse victims don't talk

"Knowing him" doesn't yield knowledge

Baptist camp director charged with sex crimes