Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pastor's deeds teach silence in the presence of evil

Today, I feel angry.

I know the feeling will soon pass, but for today, I feel angry.

I saw Southern Baptist pastor Sam Underwood’s column about his visit to Dachau. It was more than I could take.

Underwood sermonizes on the “sinfulness of silence in the presence of evil.” He talks about the “commitment to stand alongside the weak, the vulnerable, the despised.”

“If we don’t stand with these,” he says, “evil will surely win.”

How in the world does this man presume to have the moral credibility to say such things?

Underwood himself has quite the track record of “silence in the presence of evil.”

He is the current pastor of my old childhood church, the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, Texas.

It’s the church where, as a faith-filled adolescent girl, I was sexually abused, repeatedly and severely, by the youth and education minister, Tommy Gilmore.

It’s the church that tried to intimidate me into silence, both when I was a kid and when I was an adult.

It’s the church whose music minister, Jim Moore, knew about the abuse when I was a kid and told me it would be better if I didn’t speak of it. The prior pastor also knew as did at least some of the deacons.

It’s the church that stayed silent about Gilmore’s abuse of a kid and allowed him to move on to work in children’s ministry at other Baptist churches in Texas, Georgia and Florida.

It’s the church that threatened to sue me when, as an adult, I again tried to speak of it.

It’s the church that, despite knowing the truth that the abuse took place, put me through many months of hell when, as an adult, I tried to get them to take action for the protection of others.

And guess who was at the helm of the church’s bullying attempt to silence me when I reported this evil as an adult?

Pastor Sam Underwood.

This man may have walked through Dachau, but it’s obvious he didn’t grasp the substance of the lessons there.

I’ve been to Dachau too. And I’ve talked at length with my friend, Elana, whose father was smuggled out of Germany as an 8-year-old boy and whose other ancestors were mostly all annihilated in the Holocaust. Perhaps because of her family history, Elana is an eyes-wide-open sort of person, and she doesn’t tolerate fools.

Elana would see through Sam Underwood in a millisecond. His words wouldn’t impress her even one tiny bit.

Sam Underwood had a clear opportunity “to stand alongside the weak and vulnerable,” but he chose silence instead. Not only did he choose silence for himself, but he also chose to try to silence me.

As pastor at the helm of that church, Sam Underwood tried to bully me into a silent oblivion so that the evil of what happened there would remain forever shrouded.

As my friend Elana would say, “Stop listening to their words. They have shown you what their true values are, and they have shown you over and over. Believe THAT!”

She’s right, and in more ways than one. Underwood himself was reported for sexual abuse of an adult congregant. There’s no dispute that it happened. The church acknowledged it with a letter from the deacon chair. They simply chose to minimize Underwood’s deeds as “sexual misconduct” rather than calling it “abuse.”

Given Underwood’s own history of bad deeds, it’s easy to see why he couldn’t bring himself to break silence about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid.

Despite his deeds, the church kept Underwood as its pastor, just as it kept music minister Jim Moore, despite Moore’s longstanding silence about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid.

That’s how it is in Baptistland. Evil deeds go without consequence.

Though Underwood might like to imagine himself as a person who would “stand alongside the weak and vulnerable,” he’s already demonstrated that he’s not. Even if evil tapped him on the shoulder and said “here I am,” Sam Underwood would still choose silence. He already has.

When I tried as an adult to report the minister’s molestation of me as a kid, the initial thing I asked of the church was that it place a small millstone sculpture on the grounds with a plaque saying that it was dedicated in prayer for victims of clergy sex abuse. I thought it was such a positive request. I thought it would be a way to focus attention on the problem and to remind people of the need for vigilance against clergy abuse.

But with Sam Underwood at the helm, First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch made very clear that they would never agree to such a “negative” thing. They didn’t want any reminder of the fact that something so ugly had happened in their church.

Sam Underwood wanted to avoid any memory of the evil that was done and covered-up at the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch.

Nowadays, I click onto the church’s website no more than about twice per year. It’s a good thing, because look at what I encounter when I go there. It makes me angry.

Sam Underwood is a fool, and he doesn’t understand diddly-squat about Dachau.

When churches keep pastors like Sam Underwood at the helm, “evil will surely win.”

Related posts:
My childhood church
Menorahs' lights bring thoughts on denial and evil


Anonymous said...

Here's an excerpt from the Church web site:

"A Place to Call Home"

"We are glad that you have found our website. We hope that you will find these pages informative, helpful, even inspirational.

We realize, of course, that a web page can never substitute for a personal relationship.

It cannot rejoice with you, cry with you, pray with and for you, or celebrate life with you.

But this website does tell you about a church that is willing to do those things and even more.

Consider this site, then, as our invitation to come walk alongside, to worship God with us,
to learn together what it means to be faithful to God's call upon our life in Jesus Christ."

Are you saying that they are not being truthful?

kari said...

Christa, wow. Your story makes me cry and pisses me off to no end. It is tragic and unspeakable what happened to you, and you are my hero for standing up for truth and justice for yourself and other innocents. You have my deepest respect.

That this happens again and again in Christian denominations is putrid, and I'm reminded over and over that many will say to him, 'Lord Lord' and he will say 'I never knew you'.

Anonymous said...

Christa, I'm so sorry. This makes me mad and want to cry. As I've mentioned before I know all too well the double mindness as my dad who is still preaching sexually abused me got and continually gets more protection than I did. I agree with Kari. Some of these men are going to stand before God and He is definately going to say he did not know them because they refused to stand in the truth.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry this happened to you. My husband always said that a lot of "preachers" use their position to hurt people, and I am seeing he is right. I don't want anything more to do with "organized" religion, though I am a follower of Christ. I really have never felt comfortable attending church - this is probably why. I was picking up on the vibes of evil men who use God to hurt innocent people. God help them. I can't imagine what is facing people who do these things in the next life as Jesus said there will be severe consequences for anyone who hurts His little ones.

Anonymous said...

I don't want anything more to do with "organized" religion,"

Me either. So much of it is tainted by those who think they have some special anointing over others. Pastors today remind me of the Levite Priests of the OT that so many prophets railed against in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Sam Underwood was my childhood pastor. He baptized me and sat by my bedside when I was critically ill. He was a family friend. I cared for his son in the nursery when he was just a baby and I was a child myself. He is in all my first memories of a real church family. However...he was also the one who abused my mother. She is the victim you are speaking of in your blog. He destoryed my family but not my faith. He is an evil man hiding behind a saints persona. I can only hope that he will get what's coming to him when he leaves this world and goes to the next.