Friday, March 4, 2011

Even in the face of admissions

In Port Orchard, Washington, a Southern Baptist pastor was arrested on charges of child rape. In recorded phone calls, police say that pastor Dirk P. Jackson admitted to having “sexual relations” with the girl, who was then a sixth grader, and to “having her perform oral sex on him while they were in the classroom.” When police told Jackson they had recorded copies of the phone calls, he said the conduct was “consensual.”

Even in the face of such admissions, the church’s senior pastor, Jamie Greening, told KOMO News: “This does not match. These allegations do not match the man we’ve known for eight years.” (You can see pastor Jamie Greening in this KOMO News video.)

Then, on his pastor’s blog, Greening made these mealy-mouthed minimizing statements to his congregation:

“This allegedly occurred before his tenure at our church. . . . Our congregation has not been indicated as a place where anything wrong happened. To our knowledge, Dirk is not being accused of any wrongdoing in his official capacity as a pastor at FBC.”

The girl was a sixth grader at the time, and pastor Jackson was working as a teacher at Manchester Christian Academy.

Since 2003, Jackson has been “working with kids in youth programs” as a pastor at First Baptist Church in Port Orchard. “Detectives are concerned there may be additional young victims.”

Why doesn’t Pastor Greening express just as much concern for the likelihood of additional victims as the detectives do? And why isn’t he expressing just as much concern for the woman who made the police report as he has for pastor Jackson? And why in the world does he think it matters whether pastor Jackson committed these deeds in his “official capacity”?

Does he imagine that it would be okay for First Baptist Church to have a pastor who admitted to raping a kid in his unofficial capacity?

In the midst of this all-too-common craziness, ponder how this might have played out if it had been the more typical scenario. What if this woman’s claim were too old for criminal prosecution (as is usually the case), and the police had not been able to get a warrant to record her phone calls? What if there had been no possibility of pursuing charges through the criminal justice system?

That’s the more typical scenario because the very nature of the harm is such that it silences kids for a very long time, often for many years and even decades.

If the woman – worried that the pastor could be using his position of trust to hurt still more kids – went to Southern Baptist officials, they would wash their hands of it and tell her that she must take her report to the church of the accused pastor. They would recite their mantra of “local church autonomy.”

Can you imagine?

Even in the face of a pastor’s admissions in recorded phone calls, and even in the face of criminal charges against him, the church responds with overwhelming public support for the pastor. We have seen this pattern over and over again. So how can denominational officials even imagine that a local church could responsibly assess a clergy abuse report in the absence of criminal charges?

It is irresponsible and reckless for Southern Baptist officials to persist in promoting the notion that local churches can handle clergy abuse allegations on their own. They can’t.

For the safety of kids and congregants throughout the denomination, local churches need the resource of an outside review board to assess clergy abuse allegations that cannot be criminally prosecuted, to inform people in the pews about credibly-accused clergy, and to prevent credibly-accused clergy from church-hopping.

Other major faith groups now have such denominational resources for clergy accountability. Southern Baptists don’t.

Shouldn’t kids in Southern Baptist churches be entitled to the same sorts of denominational safeguards as kids in Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches?

Update 8/16/11: This pastor, Dirk Jackson, has pled guilty and been sentenced to 41 months in prison for sexual abuse of a sixth grader. I received more "you're going to hell" hate-messages because of my posting on this case than I have ever received on any other case -- dozens upon dozens -- all from people who were so sure that Jackson was innocent and a great man of God. So much hate-spewing sure made me wonder about those people in that Port Orchard church. But even though Jackson has now pled guilty, I'm sure not gonna hold my breath waiting for any apologies. 
"Former youth pastor gets 41-month sentence", 8/16/11
"Pastor pleads guilty to sex abuse of former student," 8/4/11

News reports on this:
"Port Orchard pastor charged with raping 12-year-old girl"
"Port Orchard minister admits on tape to rape of girl"
"SK pastor arrested on child rape charges"
"Child rape charges filed against South Kitsap pastor"
Related post: "Three-legged stool"

Thanks to Jeri Massi for bringing this case to my attention.

See also Bob Felton's related post on Civil Commotion.

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