Sunday, June 23, 2013

Irish Baptist pastor's abuse of girls covered up for 30 years

From the Belfast Telegraph:

Paul Gardiner
“A former Baptist pastor and gospel singer has been jailed three decades after his abuse against three young girls was covered up by the Church.
“Paul Gardiner was sentenced to 11 months and banned from working with children. . . .

“Judge Kerr also ordered the pervert to spend 10 years on the police sex offenders' register.

“Prosecuting lawyer Rosemary Walsh had told an earlier court how the abuse happened on each occasion when Gardiner, who was in his late teens at the time, was staying overnight at the victims' houses, whom he knew through associations with Monkstown Baptist Church in Newtownabbey.

“It was alleged in court that members of the Church were told of the abuse but decided to deal with it 'in-house' rather than inform the authorities.

“Last April Gardiner, from Cusher Road in Markethill, pleaded guilty to a total of 13 counts of indecent assault he committed against the girls who were aged seven, nine and 14, on dates between January 1978 and March 1980.

“The married father-of-four has in the past made recordings with top gospel singers and has also worked as a youth pastor.

“Yesterday Judge Kerr told Gardiner that had he not pleaded guilty he would have jailed him for two years and nine months . . . .

“Victims campaigner Michael Connolly criticised the Church's handling of the allegations against Gardiner.

“‘Those who have stood in the way of justice and those who have covered up the abuse of children have to be brought to book and made answerable for their actions,’ he said.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Amy Smith's statement for SNAP event at Southern Baptist Convention

“Truth alone will endure.
All the rest will be swept away before the tide of time.”
-- Gandhi
Today, I send a heartfelt thank-you to Amy Smith, Miguel Prats and Pam Palmer, who stood together outside the convention center in Houston while Southern Baptist delegates convened this past week. Their presence served as a testimony to the truth about the extent of the clergy abuse problem among Southern Baptists and to the truth about how poorly the denomination is dealing with the problem. Below is the statement that was made there by Amy Smith.
Pam Palmer and Amy Smith

"We are here today to protect kids. For far too long, SBC church officials have remained silent on what we believe to be a systemic problem of inappropriate and dangerous responses within Southern Baptist churches when Baptist clergy are credibly accused of child sexual abuse.
"Church staff and members often immediately and even publicly rally around an accused child molester instead of keeping an open mind and urging anyone with information to come forward. Then, victims, witnesses and whistleblowers are intimidated or frightened and stay silent, many times, for decades. As a result, all too often, those who commit and conceal child sex crimes walk free, remain hidden and hurt others.
"This ought not to be. All children and their parents in our churches and communities deserve our utmost transparency and truthfulness. It is the light of truth and knowledge that is our greatest tool to protect kids.
"We urge the SBC to wait no longer and today decide to leave behind the status quo of silence and worn-out, weak and cowardly excuse of Baptist polity and autonomous church structure that keeps officials from cooperatively addressing the issue of child sexual abuse within SBC churches and subsequent cover-ups of that abuse by the failure to immediately report any knowledge or suspicion of abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Miguel Prats and Pam Palmer
"We have asked for a chance to address the annual SBC meeting to discuss how church staff and members should respond when allegations of clergy sex crimes and cover ups surface.
"Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators writes,
'The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major  faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.'
"Most critically, pastors should be expected to clearly follow mandatory reporting laws and report suspected child abuse to the police immediately. Any pastors who have not done so should be held accountable and urged to do the right thing to protect kids from more harm from accused clergy who have been shuffled off to other unsuspecting churches, as in the case of former Prestonwood Baptist minister John Langworthy, a confessed child molester and recently convicted sex offender in Mississippi.
"Certainly, any pastors accused of failing to report and covering up child abuse should not be held up as models. They should be chastised.
"A civil lawsuit by 11 plaintiffs accuses C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries of refusing to report suspected child sex crimes to the police. Two prominent SBC pastors, Al Mohler and Mark Dever have expressed public support for Mahaney.
"Church officials who SNAP considers to have acted inappropriately regarding the Prestonwood Baptist Church / Langworthy child sex abuse case include Dr. Jack Graham, past president of the SBC, and Neal Jeffrey, associate pastor at Prestonwood."

"Pastor implicated in sex abuse scandal is back," Religion Dispatches, 11/24/13 (with link to the lawsuit pleadings)


Friday, June 14, 2013

While Southern Baptists preached, prosecutor filed charges

Travis Ray Smith
While Southern Baptists were busy preaching and pontificating at their annual convention in Houston this week, a Missouri story provided a good example of the consequences that come from this denomination’s do-nothingness on clergy sex abuse.

A Missouri prosecutor filed new felony charges of statutory rape and statutory sodomy against Southern Baptist pastor Travis Smith.  The charges are based on events involving a teen girl, aged 14 to 15 at the time.

Ironically, the timing of the new charges coincides with the Southern Baptist Convention’s passage of its all-talk-no-action resolution on the sexual abuse of children.

Smith, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Stover, Missouri, now faces a total of six felony charges, ranging from forcible rape to sexual abuse.

A CBS news affiliate reported from an anonymous source that, four years ago, the local Baptist association had barred Smith from its annual children’s summer camp. And Smith was previously charged with similar crimes, but was acquitted on those charges in 2011. And even while facing these additional six charges, the church has still retained Smith as pastor while the charges are pending.

So Smith has quite the history. It appears that Southern Baptist leaders have been a great deal more concerned with not upsetting the apple cart of Smith’s pastorate than they have with protecting children from sexual abuse.

I know what some of you will say about Smith’s acquittal in 2011. “Innocent until proven guilty.” But that’s a standard under the criminal law for deciding whether a person should be thrown in prison. It’s not a standard for deciding whether a person should be able to continue in a position of high trust as a pastor. And an “acquittal” in the criminal courts doesn’t mean that a man is “innocent.” Rather, it means that he wasn’t proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt under all the restrictions that are imposed in the criminal justice system.

Most other major faith groups apply standards of proof that are far different from those of the criminal justice system for assessing child sex allegations against a minister.  But not Southern Baptists.

If a Southern Baptist pastor isn’t literally sitting in prison, he can probably find a pulpit to stand in . . . just as Travis Smith has done in his Missouri pulpit despite multiple child sex allegations.

Do you think that nice-sounding Southern Baptist resolution is going to help any of those Missouri kids?
Related posts:
Multi-accused pastor remains in pulpit, 11/18/2012
Multi-accused pastor preaches on forgiveness, 12/8/2012

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another year of Baptist do-nothingness on clergy sex abuse

On June 12 at their annual convention in Houston, Southern Baptists passed a resolution reminding church members to report child sex abuse to legal authorities.

Here’s what it says: “RESOLVED, that we remind all Southern Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any child abuse to authorities . . . .”

Thus, Southern Baptists “RESOLVED” to “remind” people to obey the law . . . i.e., to do what they should be doing anyway.

But for Southern Baptists, a reminder to obey the law took a convention with 5000 delegates and heaps of hoopla. And of course, it’s still just talk. It doesn’t actually do anything at all. It sure as heck doesn’t impose any consequences on pastors who choose not to obey reporting laws and who instead keep quiet about sex abuse allegations against their clergy-cronies.

Southern Baptists also “RESOLVED, that we strongly urge Southern Baptist churches to utilize background checks” to screen prospective employees and volunteers. So, again, it took the vote of 5000 delegates to “urge” churches to use this bare-bones minimum of safeguard measures? And it’s still just talk, nothing more.

Furthermore, even if all Southern Baptist churches were to suddenly start doing background checks, what are Southern Baptists going to do to track the reports on clergy-predators who have not been criminally convicted? Nothing. Yet, almost all experts recognize that the vast majority of child molesters won’t show up in any sex offender database. Thus, while background checks are essential, they aren’t nearly enough.

Other major faith groups have implemented denominational accountability systems that provide review panels to receive and assess clergy abuse reports. Such systems allow for the possibility that, even when clergy abuse reports are too late for criminal prosecution (as they so often are), denominational authorities may at least be able to warn people or to remove the mantle of ministerial trust.

But not so with Southern Baptists. They’re light-years behind on dealing with clergy sex abuse. If a Southern Baptist pastor isn’t literally sitting in prison, he can probably find a pulpit to stand in. There is no denominational system that will even attempt to stop him or to warn parents in the pews.

Finally, the 5000 Southern Baptist delegates voted that it be “RESOLVED, that we urge all Southern Baptists to pray for children who are victims of abuse.”

Southern Baptists have no denominational office for even hearing the reports of those who are trying to tell about Southern Baptist clergy child molesters -- no system for providing professional counseling to people abused by Southern Baptist clergy – and no denominational system for protecting against predatory pastors who church-hop.

But oh gee whiz. . . . they’ll pray for us.

Count me among the unimpressed. It’s another status-quo year of Southern Baptist do-nothingness on clergy sex abuse.
You can read more of the resolution here, with a link to the full text.

For a concise response to the standard Southern Baptist excuse for do-nothingness  -- "local church autonomy" -- consider NapaMan's comment: "The suggestion that a reform ... would undermine the independence of congregations to hire and fire is at best a straw man and perhaps intentional deceit. Maintaining a list of church staff with a history of abuse would only shed light on who is being hired . . . ." (Read the rest of NapaMan's comment here.)
Related posts:

SNAP responds to Southern Baptist abuse resolution

"The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a resolution urging people to report child sex crimes to law enforcement. Big deal.

This is a virtually worthless 'feel good' public relations move that basically protects no one. Brave action, not vague resolutions, stops crimes against kids."

That's the statement released by SNAP officials about the abuse resolution passed yesterday at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Houston.

SNAP's statement is spot-on in my opinion.

I plan to write more about the resolution later, but for now, imagine this. Your spouse asks you to clean up the basement, and in response, you say, "I'm gonna pass a resolution for cleaner basements!" First of all, I don't imagine your spouse will be much impressed. And more importantly, that ugly, stinky basement is just going to keep getting stinkier and stinkier.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How long until Southern Baptists take action against clergy sex abuse?

The Southern Baptist Convention is convening its annual ballyhoo in Houston this week, but it doesn’t look as though they will make any progress on protecting kids against clergy sex abuse.

Since 2006, clergy abuse survivors, and others, have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.

The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in
other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.

In 2008,
TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists' rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.

Now here we are in 2013, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines.

A faith group that so devalues its children must change. So we know where this is going. Change is inevitable.

Sooner or later, Southern Baptists will learn the lesson that pious preaching won't protect kids against clergy predators. What we don't know is how long the lesson will take . . . or how many more kids will needlessly suffer grievous harm.

Maybe it will take 10, 20 or 50 years. But we know how this ends. Southern Baptists will eventually come up to speed with what other faith groups are doing to assure that predators cannot easily hide among their clergy ranks.

It is inevitable. A future is coming when children in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer than they are now. A future is coming when those who report clergy abuse will be met with ministry and outreach rather than minimization and denial. A future is coming when people in the pews will be able to find out about credibly accused clergy so that predators cannot so easily church-hop.

When that future arrives, we will all look back with a vague sense of wonder at why it took Southern Baptists so long.

But there is always someone who fights a rear-guard action to preserve the status quo. And it doesn't matter how irrational or dysfunctional that status quo may be.

When it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse, it looks as though the rear guard status quo will be Southern Baptists.

While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness. Worst of all, they claim religious principle as the reason. Confronted with people trying to report predatory clergy, Baptist leaders retreat behind the Pharisee-like legalism of their autonomous
polity as an excuse for why they are powerless.

It might be comical if it weren't so dangerous.

But someday, even this most recalcitrant of faith groups will see the light and take action. It is inevitable.

Meanwhile, the rear guard is convening in Houston this week. How many more conventions will it take before Southern Baptists provide their kids with the same sorts of safeguards as kids in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal churches?
This is a revised version of a column that was originally posted on the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 2010 annual meeting, and that was previously published by Ethics Daily and the Associated Baptist Press.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Southern Baptist Leadership Is Lacking

Jack Graham

Jack Graham will be a featured speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual Pastors’ Conference on June 9 in Houston. His topic? Leadership.
So . . . let’s talk a little about the kind of leadership that Jack Graham has shown.

Graham is the senior pastor at the 32,000-member Prestonwood Baptist megachurch in Plano, Texas.  It’s a church that has been mired in a clergy child molestation cover-up scandal that just won’t go away – mainly because the church leadership just keeps digging itself deeper.

For example, last March, Prestonwood officials called the cops on a church member who dared to ask questions about the widely-reported cover-up – an act that only made church leadership look like bullies.  And Graham himself refused to comment back in 2011 when WFAA-News first reported the scandal – a refusal that only served to raise more questions. Two years later, with the cover-up scandal still in the news, Graham tried to use Jesus to justify his continued silence on the alleged cover-up – a justification that looked like nothing more than an evasive “cop-out.”
So this is the kind of leadership that Jack Graham has shown. It’s the kind of leadership that declines any transparency and that acts as though it’s above accountability. More importantly, it’s the kind of leadership that raises disturbing questions about whether church image and crony protection were given priority over kids’ safety – and about whether church leadership violated the law in failing to report to the police information about suspected child sex abuse.     

Graham’s style of leadership on this goes all the way back to the summer of 1989 when Prestonwood church officials received an allegation that the church’s youth music minister, John Langworthy, had “acted inappropriately with a teenage student.” Amy Smith, a former Prestonwood staff intern who was there at the time, has said that Langworthy “confessed to molesting boys in the church.” With Jack Graham at the helm, Prestonwood church officials responded by quietly dismissing Langworthy. They got Langworthy off their own turf, but Langworthy was able to go to work at another Southern Baptist church in Mississippi.
Thanks to Amy Smith’s extraordinary efforts – and no thanks to Jack Graham – this “cover-up” finally came to light some two decades later. With more victims coming forward, Langworthy pled guilty last January to multiple counts of child molestation. However, because his crimes were concealed for so long, he will serve no prison time.
The Southern Baptist Convention has over 100,000 ministers. Yet, this man, Jack Graham, is the minister who gets presented as a model of “leadership” for others to follow – a man who, from reported accounts, kept quiet about a child predator, allowing him easy access to more kids for more than two decades.

I have no doubt but that Graham’s style of leadership provides good-sounding sermons to the masses – because the masses certainly show up at his church. And with 32,000 members in his church, I expect that Graham’s style of leadership also provides hefty contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s cooperative program.

But what style of leadership is more important? Leadership that provides impressive preaching and big dollars, or leadership that prioritizes the protection of kids?
Apparently, Southern Baptist officials think it’s the former and so they present Jack Graham as a “leadership” model. In doing so, the Southern Baptist Convention sends this message: “Clergy sex abuse cover-up? No big deal."

Update: In a Jun 7, 2013 press release, the national director of SNAP, David Clohessy, says, "These men should be chastised and disciplined, not held up as models."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Will changing of the guard bring any change on clergy sex abuse?

Russell Moore
"In a generational changing of the guard, Southern Baptists are gaining a new advocate for their values in Washington and around the country as Russell Moore, a media-savvy theologian, takes the helm of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.” This news, reported last week by the Religion News Service, means that the ERLC will no longer be headed by Richard Land, who had been at the commission’s helm for nearly twenty-five years.

As the ERLC’s new leader, Russell Moore claims that he will use “convictional kindness” to defend Southern Baptist ideals.

“Convictional kindness.” What do you think that means with respect to the denomination’s do-nothingness on clergy sex abuse? Will there be any change?

Kindness starts with listening. But Southern Baptists lack any system for even hearing the voices of clergy abuse survivors, much less for listening to them. There is no denominational office to which people might report abusive clergymen – no safe place where they might hope to have their abuse reports compassionately heard – no trained panels for responsibly assessing abuse reports – no one in denominational authority who will take any responsibility for doing anything at all, regardless of how many abuse reports a minister may have against him.

Baptists’ do-nothingness is an aberration from what other major faith groups are now doing. Realizing that most child molestation cases cannot be criminally prosecuted, other denominations have developed clergy accountability systems to try to provide at least the possibility that a minister may be held accountable to the faith community even if he can no longer be held accountable under the law. Such systems also provide the possibility that clergy abuse survivors may at least be heard within the faith community, even if their claims can no longer be heard within the legal system.

Most clergy child molesters have more than one victim, and due to the nature of the trauma, most victims are unable to speak out about their abuse until many years later. These two realities mean that the best way to prevent clergy sex abuse in the future is to institutionally listen to those who are trying to tell about abuse in the past.

Thus, listening is an essential component of kindness -- kindness not only toward those who were abused by clergy in the past, but also kindness toward kids in the future who are better protected when credibly-accused clergy predators are disallowed from positions of such high trust.

Will Russell Moore bring this kind of kindness to the ERLC?

It’s not such a far-fetched thought to imagine that the ERLC could provide such a forum – i.e., a forum through which the denomination might responsibly and compassionately hear the voices of those wounded by Southern Baptist clergy.

Back in 2008, when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee rejected the idea that the denomination should create a review panel for receiving clergy abuse reports, and rejected the idea that the denomination should keep a database of records on credibly-accused ministers, the Executive Committee claimed that these steps were unnecessary “in view of the existence of an SBC entity already assigned the task of assisting Southern Baptist churches through ‘communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns’….”

“That entity,” wrote the Executive Committee, “is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is fully capable of determining the proper construction, prioritization, and provision of ministry called for by sexual abuse victimization.”

Thus, the SBC’s Executive Committee pointed to the existence of the ERLC as one of its primary reasons for refusing to create any new denominational safeguards to protect against clergy sex abuse.

Richard Land
Yet, despite being “fully capable” as the Executive Committee stated, the ERLC under Land’s leadership did not choose to prioritize any provision of ministry for those victimized by the sexual abuse of Baptist clergy.

Will the ERLC under Moore’s leadership choose differently? Will it choose kindness toward Baptist clergy abuse survivors by showing a willingness to responsibly hear their stories? Will it choose kindness toward Baptist church kids in the future by providing people in the pews with a reliable source of information so they might better protect against church-hopping clergy-predators?

In that 2008 report, the SBC Executive Committee said still more about the powers of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with respect to clergy sex abuse: “Continued ministry to assist churches in addressing this vital topic seems to fall naturally within the assignment of the ERLC. Should the ERLC arrive at a different conclusion in the future about the advisability of receiving reports of sexual abuse … and desire to serve as the office of receipt, it may so advise the Convention and make appropriate recommendations in that regard.”    

Thus, the SBC Executive Committee suggested that the ERLC had the power to decide for itself whether it wanted “to serve as the office of receipt” for reports of clergy sex abuse, and that the ERLC could, on its own, make such a recommendation to the Southern Baptist Convention so as to better assist churches in addressing this problem.

Under Richard Land’s leadership, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission did essentially nothing with respect to assisting churches in ferreting out church-hopping clergy-predators and essentially nothing with respect to any provision of ministry for those wounded by Baptist clergy predators.

Will Russell Moore bring about any change? He has talked about “kindness.” But will he demonstrate that “kindness” by leading Southern Baptists toward responsibly dealing with the problem of clergy sex abuse?
The Southern Baptist Convention convenes its annual meeting next week in Houston. If Moore holds the conviction of his words, then now is the time for him to take action by recommending to the Convention that the ERLC “serve as the office of receipt” for reports of clergy sex abuse.

Update: Thanks to a reader for reminding me that Russell Moore publicly sang the praises of Philip Gunn, even after Gunn advised officials at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Mississippi NOT to divulge to police investigators information about what an accused minister-molester had said to church officials. Despite the church's recalcitrance, the minister was ultimately convicted. Obviously, this doesn't give reason for optimism that Moore will assume any leadership in furthering the protection of kids from clergy sex abuse.

Update 1/10/2014: Now we have yet another indication of how unlikely it is that Moore's leadership will bring any positive change in the SBC's denominational do-nothingness on clergy sex abuse. The ERLC has announced the formation of a "Leadership Network" to join with the ERLC in applying "the gospel of the kingdom to the major cultural issues of our day." Named to the "Leadership Council" for this new network is pastor Greg Belser of Morrison Heights Baptist Church -- a pastor who has been implicated in one of the SBC's biggest clergy sex abuse cover-up scandals to date, the Prestonwood/Morrison Heights scandal. In Belser's short bio on the ERLC's "Leadership Council" site, he talks about how the ERLC helps him in "resourcing our church for speaking courageously in the culture." In my opinion, Belser could show himself to be a great deal more courageous if he would submit his own conduct to the review of an independent organization such as GRACE and let that organization speak to the truth of what happened in the Prestonwood/Morrison Heights scandal. In any event, Belser's appointment to the ERLC's "Leadership Council" doesn't bode well for anticipating any improvement in the SBC's blind-eyed nonresponsiveness on clergy sex abuse.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baptists ignore the standard

Ken Herman
In his Austin American-Statesman column of June 1, 2013, Ken Herman quotes from the invocation in the Texas Senate that was delivered last Sunday by pastor Don Garner:

“Father, I pray especially that each member of the Senate here, each member of their family, Father, would come to a lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I expect many evangelicals would hear that and say “what’s the problem?” Herman answers that question in a subsequent comment.

When people are invited to offer invocations in the Texas Senate, they typically receive the following instruction: The invocation “should be of a general nature, nonsectarian and nonpolitical. Due to the religious diversity of the Senate and of the general population of Texas, please be mindful of your terminology and respectful of other faiths.”

“I don’t believe that an invocation praying for people ‘to come to a lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ meets that standard,” writes Herman.

Neither do I. And this strikes me as just one more example of how Baptist preachers often seem to think they’re exempt from the standards that apply to others.

The Texas Senate has a standard. Pastor Don Garner ignored it.

We see a similar pattern with respect to clergy sex abuse. As Frederick Clarkson recently explained, while “many other traditional religious denominations” have developed denominational policies and procedures for addressing clergy sex abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention still sits on the sidelines.

It’s as though they imagine themselves to be immune to the problem and exempt from the responsibility to protect against it. It’s an aberrant sort of self-delusional recalcitrance, which in its blind recklessness leaves countless kids at greater risk of serious harm.

In other major faith groups, the standard of care has become the provision of denominational review panels, which at least allow for the possibility that outsiders to the pastor’s own church may be able to hear and assess clergy abuse complaints. Since almost all experts recognize that the vast majority of child molestation complaints cannot be criminally prosecuted, other faith groups at least allow for the possibility that, with a credible complaint, a minister could be removed from his position of trust as a clergyman.

But with Southern Baptists, there’s no such thing. There’s not even the pretense of such a thing. Even with multiple complaints of abuse, if a Baptist pastor isn’t literally sitting in prison, he can probably find a pulpit to stand in. There is no denominational structure that will even attempt to stop him.

The Southern Baptist Convention ignores the standard of care that is now recognized in other faith groups, and it shirks the institutional safeguards that other denominations have adopted.

The largest Protestant denomination in the land simply thumbs its nose and leaves kids to suffer.