Friday, May 31, 2013

"Stunningly cruel"

David Clohessy
David Clohessy, the national director of SNAP, took Southern Baptist leaders to task for publicly throwing their support behind pastor C.J. Mahaney, who was accused in a lawsuit of covering up numerous sex crimes against children.

SNAP is the largest international support organization for people who were sexually abused by religious authority figures – i.e., by priests, preachers, ministers, deacons, nuns and others.  Clohessy himself is widely recognized as one of the world’s top experts on the subject of clergy sex abuse. He has appeared on numerous television news programs, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, Sixty Minutes, the Phil Donohue Show, and Good Morning America.  In 2002, People Magazine named Clohessy as one of the “25 Most Intriguing” people of the year. (Also included in that 2002 list were such other prominent names as Jimmy Carter, George Clooney, and Pat Tillman.)

So suffice it to say that Clohessy is the world’s number 1 go-to-guy for reliable information about the dynamics of clergy sex abuse and church cover-ups.

On May 28, 2013, Clohessy issued a statement casting shame on Southern Baptist leaders Al Mohler and Mark Dever, among others, for their public display of support for pastor C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries. In a Maryland lawsuit, eleven plaintiffs had alleged years of a child sex-abuse cover-up conducted by Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace officials.

Eleven. And that’s just the ones who have come forward.

The allegations of the lawsuit are awful, but they tell a consistent story of a horrific cover-up that was allegedly endorsed and promoted by the highest of Sovereign Grace officials, including Mahaney.

The lawsuit was recently dismissed on the ground that most of the victims had waited too long to pursue their claims. In other words, the dismissal was on a legal technicality and had nothing to do, one way or the other, with the truth of the plaintiffs’ claims. Ironically, as some have observed, this is often the very purpose of a child-sex-abuse cover-up – to avoid accountability under the law by causing the pursuit of claims to be delayed until after the statute of limitations has run. At this point, it appears Sovereign Grace Ministries may have accomplished exactly that. However, the dismissal is being appealed on the ground that the alleged conspiracy to silence victims and shield pedophiles was not discovered until 2011, within the statute of limitations.

C.J. Mahaney
Meanwhile, evangelical leaders have rallied behind Mahaney. Last week, members of a coalition called Together for the Gospel, which includes Southern Baptist leaders Al Mohler and Mark Dever, issued a public statement of support for Mahaney – a statement that has been widely criticized. It was an arrogant display of blatant cronyism, asserting that no “accusation of direct wrongdoing” was ever made against Mahaney, and that Mahaney was instead charged with “teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals.”

In other words, Mohler and Dever put forward their canard of “the Christians are being persecuted,” and they talked as though Mahaney were the victim instead of the many kids who claim that they were raped, sodomized and sexually abused within Sovereign Grace Ministries. And as for their assertion that Mahaney was not accused of wrongdoing, that strikes me as being flat-out inconsistent with the allegations of the lawsuit. Mahaney was accused of being “a member of the ongoing conspiracy”. . . “to permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing and past predation.” That sure sounds like accusations of wrongdoing to me.

Clohessy took a look at this sordid saga and wisely drew attention back to where it belongs – to children who have been victimized by sexual abuse. “It’s dreadfully hurtful to child sex-abuse victims when people in authority publicly back accused wrongdoers,” said Clohessy. “Support Rev. Mahaney if you must,” he pleaded, “but do so privately in ways that don’t further harm, depress and scare other child sex-abuse victims into keeping silent and thus helping child predators escape detection and prosecution.”

That’s just one example of why so many people turn to Clohessy when they need information about a clergy sex abuse scandal. Clohessy goes straight to the heart of it.

In prior statements, Clohessy has made clear that he has no illusions about Southern Baptist officials and their unwillingness to ferret out clergy-predators and make kid-protection a top priority.

“I just can’t imagine a more recalcitrant church hierarchy,” said Clohessy in a 2010 interview. “I’ve seen Baptist officials be stunningly cruel. . . .”
Here’s what I see as a small beacon of light in all this. As reported in a comment on the Wartburg Watch, when those men at Together for the Gospel posted their Mahaney support letter on Facebook, they quickly received well over 100 negative comments. So, they started deleting comments right and left, until finally, they gave up and deleted the whole post. But a guy named Bill Kinnon managed to capture a screen shot before the posting disappeared. Just take a look at how many ordinary decent people saw right through their arrogant charade and called them on the carpet for it. One reader summed up the criticism of the evangelicals’ support letter with this statement: “Shame on you for belittling the victims’ abuse to protect your boys’ club.” Yeah! Thank you to everyone who stood up to these guys! Bravo!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yoga at the SNAP Conference

I'll be facilitating a yoga session at the annual SNAP Conference in Washington D.C. this summer. If you can, please come join me! 

Who:  Survivors of clergy sex abuse

When: July 26-28, 2013

Where: Washington D.C.

SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, is the largest international support group for women and men who were sexually abused by religious authority figures – i.e., by priests, preachers, ministers, deacons, nuns and others. It is a nonprofit organization that is independent of any religious group and that carries no connections to any church or denominational entity.

The conference takes place from Friday July 26 to Sunday July 28, and the yoga session will be one of the breakout events at the conference. It will be a come-as-you-are chair yoga session that anyone can participate in even if they’ve never done yoga before. No mat needed. So come one, come all!

Here’s why I’m excited about yoga at the SNAP conference. A regular yoga practice can be an effective tool for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is something many abuse survivors struggle with. Yoga’s effectiveness has been demonstrated through pilot programs funded by the Pentagon, and based on the clinical results of those programs, the military is now incorporating yoga into many veterans’ centers and veterans’ hospitals. Yoga can lower cortisol, the stress hormone; it can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is calming; and it can deactivate the limbic brain, which is often overactive in people with a history of serious trauma.

So, the SNAP conference would be a good place to try an introductory yoga session for yourself. And whether or not you can make it to the SNAP conference, think about giving yoga a try. If it can benefit veterans with PTSD issues, then it can benefit clergy sex abuse survivors as well.

I’ll also be a featured speaker for one of the plenary sessions at the SNAP conference. My topic is “Baptistland: Where we’ve been, where we’re going, and lessons learned.” I’ll also be sharing bits of my own story, including my thoughts on what “cancer times two” has taught me about the trauma of childhood sex abuse.

I’m truly honored to be part of this event. You can find out more about the SNAP conference and register for it here.

Trauma psychologist Peter Levine wrote that “trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside us in the absence of an empathetic witness.” I often think that one of the most powerful healing graces of SNAP is that it provides a forum through which clergy abuse survivors can do for one another what faith communities – and often even our own families – could not bring themselves to do. It provides a forum through which we ourselves can bear witness to one another’s trauma. So, whether or not you can make it to the conference, I hope you’ll consider the possibility of connecting with a SNAP group in your area.

Have some questions? Need more info about the conference? Contact Barbara Dorris at / 312-455-1499.

Want to understand more about the PTSD effects of child sex abuse? Watch this YouTube video, published May 23, 2013. Attorney Eric MacLeish talks about his own PTSD struggles in adulthood resulting from sexual abuse in childhood. He became dysfunctional; his personal life crumbled; his marriage fell apart; his work went by the wayside; and he couldn’t even go to Boston for a while because it triggered too many memories and flashbacks. “I was a tough guy,” says MacLeish, “but I couldn’t deal with this until I was in my mid-50’s.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I do this

Sammy Nuckolls
Last fall, Southern Baptist pastor Sammy Nuckolls was convicted on more than a dozen counts of video voyeurism and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Nuckolls used concealed cameras, including pen cameras, to surreptitiously film women showering and in bathrooms. Nuckolls was convicted in Mississippi, but he was also arrested in two counties in Arkansas, and additional allegations were made against him in Virginia and Texas.

Investigators found numerous videos on Nuckolls’ computer and identified 21 victims on the videos they recovered. However, investigators believe Nuckolls made hundreds of such videos over the past 15 years, and so it is likely that hundreds more women and girls may have been victimized. Between 2003 and 2011, Nuckolls worked as a camp pastor for summer youth camps sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Resources.

Just a couple weeks ago, a Texas woman whom I’ll call Connie wrote to me. She describes some of the evidence that came out at Nuckolls’ sentencing hearing, including his use of a spycam pen in the spine of his bible. But what Connie talks about the most is how she was treated by her church. She describes the church-provided counseling as having “a Cesare Borgia quality” – that’s a way of saying it was cunningly cruel – and she says that she and other victims were “curb-stomped” – another powerful metaphor of brutality.

What is obvious is that Connie’s wounds derive not only from the perverse deeds of Sammy Nuckolls but also – and perhaps even more so – from others whom she believes covered up for Nuckolls, who blamed the victims, and who minimized the harm. I’ve heard these kinds of stories too many times, but it’s people like Connie who remind me of why I keep doing this. Thank you, Connie.

Dear Christa,

As a victim of a Southern Baptist sexual predator, traveling youth pastor Sammy Nuckolls, I cannot begin to tell you how important your blog is to those suffering. . . .  Sammy probably taped hundreds of girls as he was the …camp pastor for Lifeway-Centrifuge Camps all over the South and Southeastern U.S. from 2003-2011. He preached to over 100,000 kids ages 11-17 years old during this 8-9 year span of time.

Police investigating the case said that they were 100% sure that Sammy had sold and/or traded his films although they declined to pursue any investigation or effort to remove the tapes from voyeur websites. So for us victims, the devastation continues as we wait for the day someone we know sees our videos.
Although not every single church involved -- and there are plenty -- supported Sammy or helped him out in sentencing, I can say that every single church involved ignored, covered up and/or spurned the victims of his many crimes. Every. Single. One. 

That is why your blog is so bloody important . . . . What you write is one of the few things that helps to set against all of this evil and corporate misconduct. We used to go to [a megachurch in Texas] . . . . I cannot tell you what it feels like to have your entire world yanked out from underneath you like a cheap rug, because almost all of our friends and people we thought of as family all go to [the church]. And all we can do now is sit alone in stunned silence.

That is why your work is so very important. You are the voice for all of the rest of us who won't ever be heard. You are the tiny piece of justice for all the rest of us denied. Texas is filing NO charges whatsoever. Sammy and his accomplices .. . are, therefore, not going to face any justice for the horrors of what they did here . . . .

But [this church’s leaders]… told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News that Sammy only spoke 3 - 6 times total at [this church] and the pastors decided to not notify anyone because they conducted their own investigation and found no wrong-doing. And yes, they knew fully well the number of confirmed victims. We personally attended every Wednesday night youth group . . . and we can document, independently, over two dozen times Sammy was paid to preach to the kids . . . . 

[The church’s] message is simple -- if you ever say anything remotely negative, we will shoot you down using a skilled professional . . . . One of their Executive Senior Pastors called and BLAMED US (since we were at the youth services every Wed night) and tried to make us stay silent citing the guilt we ought to feel for not "seeing any red flags" sooner as if it was our fault. They also continued to bully us even after leaving, calling to tell us that we should not testify in person or in writing against Sammy at his Mississippi sentencing hearing. He actually referred to Sammy's 13 felony sex crime CONVICTIONS as a "goofy situation" but would only admit that Sammy "might have crossed a few lines" (there were 7 weeks in between the convictions and his sentencing hearing . . . so the issue of guilt was not in question at this time.)

Hopefully you can see from this that it is people like you who are the only hope for the many people like us, that anyone might ever be held remotely accountable for their bad actions or at least feel like they can't hide as easily with your flashlight of truth shining in their filthy basements of deceit and cover-ups.

Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, for what you are doing. I sincerely hope that you will continue this mighty work. May God continue to bless you for doing what others cannot or will not do.
For another view on how churches inflict so much additional harm when their minister is accused of sexual abuse, see this recent story, also out of Texas: "The second-worst church in the world," 5/2/2013 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

007 "hitman against bad publicity"

Lawrence Swicegood
When I wrote about evangelicals’ “long history of using militaristic metaphors,” readers sent me some more examples. Here’s the one that I just couldn’t resist sharing.

At the Gateway multi-campus megachurch in Texas, their public relations guy is Lawrence Swicegood. To quote my reader, he’s the church’s “hitman against bad publicity.”

With his 007 pose in the church's online staff directory, it looks as though Swicegood might be pointing a gun, but I think it might actually be a journalist’s tape recorder. Whatever it is he’s pointing, presumably that’s his “deadly weapon of choice” in protecting the church against bad publicity. (I imagine the church probably thinks this looks edgy and cool; personally, I think it’s in poor taste – but you can decide for yourself.)

Gateway describes itself as “a Bible-based, evangelistic, Spirit-empowered church.” Much like the Prestonwood Baptist multi-campus megachurch – also in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex – Gateway is huge and has enormous financial resources. It’s 2012 financial report shows annual revenues of over $75 million and assets of over $156 million.

People often ask me why there’s not more media coverage of the Prestonwood clergy abuse cover-up scandal. I’ve gotten the same question about many other churches around the country, including many other churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

But look at their resources. A church like Prestonwood has a constant stream of ready revenues from all those tens of thousands of members who think they’re putting their dollars in the offering plate to do God’s work. Meanwhile, a big chunk of those dollars actually get used to hire a paid “hitman against bad publicity” – a guy who’s paid to keep the corporate brand – oops, I mean church brand – clean in the media.

Swicegood used to do media work for the White House. He even played golf with the President (and yes – he makes a point of telling people about it). So, I expect Swicegood is probably one heckuva good spinmeister and I don’t imagine a guy like that gets hired on the cheap.

I think you have to assume that most other megachurches – churches such as Prestonwood -- also have high-powered and highly-paid public relations people. That’s a big part of how churches such as Prestonwood are able to minimize, and sometimes totally squelch, ugly stories like a clergy sex abuse cover-up scandal.

For still another view on the assault metaphors of many prominent evangelicals, consider these comments by Southern Baptist guru Richard Land. With the recent announcement that he would become the new president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, Land proclaimed that his goal was to produce graduates who would be “the green berets and paratroopers of God’s army, and who will be used by him to win tremendous victories….”
Related posts:
Boots, biscuits and Prestonwood Baptist, 3/18/2013
People to remember in the Prestonwood/Morrison Heights scandal, 2/9/2013
Baptists should heed mother’s call for accountability, 1/29/2013
Prestonwood saga shows clergy abuse database is overdue, ABP, 8/19/2011