But here’s why I think this article is so important and worth reading in its entirety. It shows that other people around the world can readily see the horror in how this powerful faith group uses religion as a rationalization for turning a blind eye to terrible abuses. The article’s author, Alexis Buisson, called it the “wall of denial.” That “wall” is what other people are seeing about Southern Baptists. The reason most Baptists don’t see it is because they are blinded by their own indoctrinated orthodoxy and by the propaganda of their religious leaders. But others can indeed see it.
A Voice Against the Forbidden
Her small church was a second home for her until the day when the pastor, who was in charge of youth actitivities, began flirting with her and telling her how beautiful she was. One day, he held her and kissed her. He reassured her by telling her that their relationship was the will of God. When she resisted, he reproached her for her lack of faith. The relationship between the married man and the minor girl was prolonged, culminating in the moment when Christa woke up naked and terrified on the bed of the parsonage after her aggressor had given her several glasses of alcohol. “Don’t worry,” he whispered to her. “You’ll still be a virgin.”
Even decades later, talking about this history is always painful for Christa Brown. But now at fifty-seven years old, an attorney, a wife and mother of a child, she knew how to give words to the unspeakable and committed it all to a book, This Little Light, in which she recounts the attacks upon her, her quest for justice, her personal torments, and the loss of faith that resulted from all of it.
Lack of record-keeping
Beyond all that, Christa’s book came out in 2009 and made of her the public face for an unrecognized plague: pedophilia among American protestants, and in particular, among Southern Baptists, the largest protestant group in the United States, with 16 million members, and the group to which Christa once belonged. “Some people have said that my writing of the book was an act of catharsis. But I think, instead, that it was an act of resistance –- resistance in the name of all the voices of all the victims that this powerful religious group has silenced.”
Christa Brown’s narrative offers a rare insight into the difficulties that those victimized by sexual abuse in Baptist churches have had to face in their struggle for recognition of the wrongs.
In particular, she recounts that her understanding of the nature of the aggression came too late to pursue justice for her aggressor through the criminal justice system. In general, the laws of limitation make 28 the maximum age for a person to make a complaint about being sexually abused as a minor. These laws often have the effect of penalizing the victims of rape and molestation, who sometimes need many years to understand what was done to them. There is also a lack of record-keeping in Baptist churches, which impedes the ability to trace presumed pedophiles several years after their deeds.
She decided to undertake a personal crusade to prevent the repetition of such abuse for others. She found her aggressor in a church, and she wrote to 18 Baptist leaders to inform them of the danger. In vain. She went several times to the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention, earnestly beseeching Baptists’ national representatives, only to be confronted by the same denial. Their response is that each church is administered in an autonomous manner and that a list of “sexual predators” would be contrary to this principle. But Christa affirms that this amounts to a maneuver for burying the problem. “That sort of autonomy doesn’t really exist in actual practice. All through their history, you can find examples showing that there has been cooperation for all manner of purposes among the churches and the regional and national authorities.”
Wall of denial
Faced with this wall of denial, she turned to the media, her last recourse. The Orlando Sentinel newspaper, ignoring the threat of a lawsuit, published an article with the name of her aggressor. He ended up quitting his pastoral position under pressure. “Abuse is difficult to accept in life, but what is even more difficult to accept is the attitude of Southern Baptist officials,” Christa says. When we hear them call us “evil-doers,” and question our mental state, “you get the impression that the victims are the people who should be beaten down.”
Since the publication of her book, she remarks that too little has changed in how Baptists treat reports about sexual abuse. Contrary to the Catholic Church, the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, which was created in the middle of the 19th century, has still not established any procedures for examining pedophilia accusations against clergy, arguing that their decentralized organization justifies their do-nothingness.
In June 2008, the Southern Baptist Convention requested that local pastor-search committees check criminal records on those seeking employment, but it voted against a motion for the creation of a centralized database of its own clergy who were convicted or charged with pedophilia. The well-known TIME magazine included this decision in its list of ten news stories that were underreported by the media in 2008.
Pedophilia has “always existed within this religious group,” according to Christa Brown, who says she has heard from victims who say they are now 60 to 70 years old. “I would like Southern Baptists to recognize and acknowledge that sexual abuse is a real problem, instead of saying that there’s only been forty incidents in fifteen years, as one of their leaders suggested. It isn’t true: I’ve heard the stories of hundreds of victims. And it’s still only the tip of the iceberg.”
“Until Southern Baptists take on their responsibility and undertake profound internal reforms, they will not have done enough about this problem. They should listen to the victims, not their lawyers,” intones Marci Hamilton, professor on law and religion at Yeshiva University in New York.