Friday, November 26, 2010

Pastor told member to "keep his mouth shut"

In New Hampshire, Southern Baptist pastor Timothy Dillmuth and two church elders, Richard Eland and Robert Gagnon, were found guilty of failing to report child sex abuse. As reported yesterday in the Union Leader, the men will be sentenced on December 21st.

According to the judge’s written ruling, pastor Dillmuth “had met with the parents of a child who had been molested by a member of the church, which he later confirmed after talking to the child.”

“The information was shared with other members of the board of elders in September 2009,” and was discussed at some meetings of the church board.

A month later, when another member of the church urged the child’s parents to report the matter to authorities, pastor Dillmuth talked to the concerned church member and told him to “keep his mouth shut.”

“That church member subsequently left the church after belonging for over five years.”

Testimony showed that, at least into November 2009, the matter continued to be discussed at meetings of the board of elders, and “it became contentious.”

However, it was only in February 2010, after another church member heard about the abuse and threatened to go to the police, that pastor Dillmuth finally agreed the matter should be reported. Then, as stated in the judge’s ruling, church officials “put pressure on the parents… to do what the elders had a duty to do months before, report the child abuse to authorities.”

As police began to investigate, they turned their attention to the church officials’ conduct in failing to report the abuse. In a police interview, church elder Richard Eland justified their failure by saying that they “respond to a higher authority.” Thus, he used religion as a rationalization.

Because of this, the judge observed that “they would do it again.”

It was "deliberately attempted" to keep it within the church, wrote the judge.

The prosecutor described it as "a conspiracy" that was "not only unlawful, but shameful."

The church in which this shameful “conspiracy” took place is Valley Christian Church in Redstone, New Hampshire. According to its website, the church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why should anyone be surprised at such keep-it-quiet conspiratorial conduct among the leaders of a local church when we have seen so much in the way of collusion, complicity and cover-ups extending even to the highest levels of Southern Baptist Convention leadership?

N.H. Baptist minister, elders found guilty of failing to report abuse, ABP, 11/30/10
Southern Baptist pastor told member to "keep his mouth shut," BaptistPlanet, 11/30/10


Anonymous said...

I'm starting to wonder if it's okay in the media to point out the sins of the Catholic Church, but if they did the same to Protestant churches, all hell would break loose. Seems rather hypocritical.

For example, would Fox News report a story like this? I don't think it would be very popular amongst many of their viewers-but they need to be aware of it. If a more liberal channel reported it, I think many Christians would claim the victim role and say their religion was being picked on.

I was thinking about all this, because someone asked why you never hear about this stuff in the national news.

I guess there was the Oprah Show recently, and I think the preacher who murdered (Matt Baker?) was more known.

Christa Brown said...

"If a more liberal channel reported it, I think many Christians would claim the victim role and say their religion was being picked on."

Yes, and in doing so, they would be following the example of Southern Baptists' highest leader, Frank Page, former SBC president and currently SBC Exec Committee president. When ABC 20/20 did a national news story showing numerous Baptist "preacher predators," Page responded by attacking the media and by whining about the fact that more of his own interview wasn't shown. (I guess that, when you stand in a pulpit long enough, you wind up thinking everyone is supposed to hang on your every word?)

You can read more about Frank Page's media-attacking remarks here:

And you can see three parts of the 20/20 report here:

Jim said...

Christa, the only way SBC leadership will create a meaningful database and reporting system for sexually abusive and predatory behavior in their churches, is for judges to force them. They will not do it through reason of conscience; they have little. They will not do it under public pressure; they just "circle the wagons." They will not do it even when the convention in annual session directs action on the issue. Until and unless some judge forces them, under penalty of prison sentences, they will not change. I wish the prosecutor in NH had related local church action to denominational responses to issues of sexual assault and abuse. That poisoned fruit (church inaction/bullying) comes from the same tree (SBC policy and procedure).

Christa Brown said...

Jim: I think your words are right on target. "They will not do it through reason or conscience...." It took me a very, very long time to understand and accept that.

Philip Jenkins, professor of religious studies at Penn State, has pointed out that the "relative ease of litigation" against Catholic dioceses is a big part of what has given the public the misperception that it's primarily a Catholic problem. Someday, when those relatively easier cases against more obviously hierarchical faith groups wane, then lawyers may turn their attention to the "hierarchically functioning" Southern Baptists and to their failure to institute safeguards within the standard of care, similar to those of other major groups, which involve outside review mechanisms. I continue to log the cases in the hope that, someday, it may help someone to see the extent of the horror of what was allowed in the largest Protestant denomination in the land, and the nightmarish consequences of Baptist leaders' blind-eyed do-nothingness. Whether they are held to account two years into the future, or twenty, or more, I still believe that day will come. And I pray that, when it does, people in the pews may find the courage to lift their veils of denial, to open their eyes, and to never again allow their leaders to hold such unaccountable power.

(Incidentally, the "hierarchically functioning" quote is from prominent Baptist historian and religion scholar Nancy Ammerman.)

Anonymous said...

Shame on the church leaders and members. Shame on the family. Everyone of these groups should have sounded the alarm the moment they knew something.

How does a little girl grow up to trust the church and the people within it? How does a little girl grow up to trust her mom and dad?

This is sad on all counts.