Friday, September 27, 2013

Evangelicals "worse" than Catholics on sexual abuse

Speaking to a room full of journalists yesterday in Austin, Texas, Liberty University law professor Boz Tchividjian said evangelicals are “worse” than Catholics when it comes to responding to clergy sex abuse.

Frowning on transparency and accountability, too many evangelicals have “sacrificed the souls” of young victims, said Tchividjian, who is the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham.

Now before some of you Southern Baptist readers start mentally dismissing this guy because he’s currently a university professor – as in “aren’t they all a bunch of liberals?” – let me just point out that Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell and has been ranked as one of the top ten most conservative colleges in the country. With over 100,000 residential and online students, it is the largest private evangelical university in the world.

Moreover, Tchividjian previously worked as a sex crimes prosecutor in Florida, and he is the founder of a firm called G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), which conducts independent investigations of clergy abuse allegations.

So Tchividjian is someone who has credentials and credibility out the wazoo. He’s telling a hard truth, and on this occasion, he was telling it to the annual conference for the Religion Newswriters Association. (You might note, for example, that the nameplate immediately to the Tchividjian's right in the RNS photo above is the nameplate for Laurie Goodstein, religion newswriter for the New York Times.) 

I can pretty much guarantee you that many of those journalists are going to remember Tchividjian’s words and, in the future, some of them are going to start looking a lot more closely at evangelical abuse stories.
So I say “thank you” to Boz Tchividjian for continuing to publicly speak out about the extent of clergy abuse and cover-ups among evangelicals. For those of us – and we are many – who were abused by the sexual predation of evangelical ministers and re-abused by the bullying of other evangelical leaders who wanted to keep things quiet, Tchividjian’s words of truth are a balm for the heart.

Related posts:
GRACE report vindicatesmissionary kids, 9/4/2010
Baptists terminateinvestigator of child sex abuse claims, 2/17/2013
Evangelicals need toconfront the reality of sexual abuse in their ranks, 8/16/2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

SNAP goes to Little Rock

A self-help organization for people who were sexually abused by clergy will hold a confidential support meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Wednesday, September 11.
The organization is SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Based in Chicago, it’s an organization that has been around since 1988. So, it has a lot of experience in helping people who have been sexually abused by clergy. And despite the word “priests” in its name, SNAP now has members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including by Baptist clergy.
Little Rock is strong Baptist territory. In several of the counties just south of Little Rock, Baptists comprise more than 50 percent of the population, and throughout Arkansas in general, Baptists comprise 25 to 50 percent of the population.
I hope some of the people who have been abused by Baptist clergy in this predominantly Baptist state will make their way to this SNAP meeting.
In particular, I’m hoping some of the boys of Benton will go. God knows they need and deserve some support.
That Benton scandal is the one that always springs to my mind first whenever I think about Baptist clergy abuse cases in Arkansas. For over two decades, Southern Baptist minister David Pierce was able “to sexually victimize scores of boys at the First Baptist Church of Benton.” And though reports indicated that, even before Pierce was finally arrested, church leaders had known about other allegations against Pierce, church leaders have not been held accountable.
Any ordinary person would imagine that FBC-Benton’s senior pastor Rick Grant should have some serious explaining to do – explaining about why he did so little for so long – but there in Benton, people didn’t seem concerned. Accountability for clergy seems to be an alien concept.
In fact, some of Benton’s most powerful citizens showed themselves to be a great deal more concerned about minister Pierce than about the many boys who were wounded. Even after Pierce had been booked on 54 counts of sexual indecency with a child, and even after it became apparent that dozens of kids had likely been hurt, people still wrote letters of support for Pierce, urging the prosecutors to be lenient. The former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Greg Kirksey, was just one of many who wrote such letters.
There are so many questions that still need answers in Benton – questions about who knew what and when did they know it and why they were so willing to leave so many kids at risk for such terrible harm. And why has there been so little outreach or care for the men who were wounded – wounded not only by the sexual abuse of minister Pierce, but also by the betrayal of so many others?
For the boys of Benton – boys who are now mostly grown men – and for anyone else who was abused by clergy of any kind – I urge you to make your way to this SNAP meeting in Little Rock if at all possible. It can help to get together in a private setting with others who have had similar experiences. Family members and supporters are also welcome and encouraged to attend.
SNAP’s basic mission is to “heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable."
The meeting will be held at Little Rock's downtown public library at 100 Rock Street in the Lee Room on the 5th floor from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on September 11. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Barb Dorris, 314-862-7688,

Monday, September 2, 2013

Don't mess with Texas Baptists

I was cleaning out some boxes recently and ran across the January 1986 sesquicentennial edition of Texas Monthly magazine. In it was a fascinating article called “Bane of the Baptists” by Gary Cleve Wilson, which I’ve excerpted below. (This, of course, is why my cleaning process invariably stalls out – I stop to read things.)

The article that distracted me was about William Cowper Brann, who was described as “the most controversial and widely read Texan of his day.” After serving as chief editorial writer on the Houston Post, he moved to Austin where he founded the Iconoclast, a journal that by the end of 1894, its first year of publication, had a circulation of 100,000. In effect, Brann was something like a pre-blogging version of a blogger.

Brann took on Texas Baptists in his writings, and Texas Baptists didn’t like it. Not one bit. Brann paid a high price. The lesson: Don’t mess with Texas Baptists.

Nowadays, I see so much of Texas Baptists’ complicity in clergy sex abuse and cover-ups, and so much of Texas Baptists’ bullying and intimidation tactics against those who speak out about abuse that, sometimes, I think some Texas Baptists couldn’t possibly get any badder if they tried. But then I ponder the long history of connections between Texas Baptists and the Texas Klan. And then I run across an article like this one about Brann. And then I remember just how deeply entrenched violence actually is in the institutionalized heart of Texas Baptists.

From “Bane of the Baptists:”

“What readers relished most was the Iconoclast’s running war with Waco, Baylor, and the Baptists. To Brann, that countrified Trinity exemplified Victorian hypocrisy in its most splendid combination. When local preachers thundered against prizefighting, Brann wrote, ‘If Corbett and Fitzsimmons were to fight in Dallas today – without admission fee – Waco, the religious hub of the world, would be depopulated. Half the preachers of Texas would go early to secure front seats.’”

A prominent religious leader of the day “christened Brann ‘Apostle of the Devil.’ The name stuck, and Baptists began to pray for deliverance from that journalistic scourge. . . .”

“Then Antonia Teixeira came along…. . A Brazilian missionary student at Baylor, Antonia boarded with Baylor’s president, the Reverend Dr. Rufus C. Burleson. While there, she became pregnant. In the summer of 1895 H. Steen Morris, a relative of Burleson’s, was arrested and charged with her rape. Brann put two and two together, and it came up ‘Baptists and a despoiled innocent.” He could ask for no better cause.

“’Baylor,’ Brann wrote, would ‘stink forever in the nostrils of Christendom – it is damned to everlasting fame.’ It was as if the university itself had committed the rape. Baptists and Baylor tried to defend their honor while Brann exploited the issue for two years. . . .

“It was only a matter of time before Baylor sympathizers would act. When Brann proposed the erection of a monument commemorating Baylor’s taking ‘an ignorant little Catholic as raw material’ and getting ‘two Baptists as the finished product,’ Baylor loyalists figured they had had enough.

“On a Saturday afternoon in October 1897, Brann was abducted at gunpoint and driven to the Baylor campus for a lesson in humility. Beaten and threatened with worse, he was chased off campus. A week later he was caned and horsewhipped by a father-and-son team of Baylor partisans. Brann began to carry a gun and took shooting lessons. Six months later he got his chance.

“Brann was to take a well-earned vacation in the spring of 1898. He and his business manager were downtown buying railroad tickets when from behind them stepped Tom Davis, a local real estate investor and vocal detractor of Brann. Davis drew his pistol and shot at the lanky editor. Brann whirled, returning fire. The two emptied their six-shooters into each other as the late afternoon crowd stampeded. Moments later Davis was lying in a pool of blood, and Brann – shot in the groin, foot, and back – slid to the ground. He died early the next morning. Davis, hit six times, died soon after Brann.

“No one has given Texas Baptists much trouble since.”

Some things have changed since Brann’s time, but a lot of things haven’t. To this day, people don’t tend to give Texas Baptists much trouble, which helps to explain why stories like the mega-scandal at the Prestonwood Baptist mega-church can so easily get swept under the rug with no accountability for the cover-uppers.
This 1986 article also brings to mind the extraordinary job that Texas Monthly magazine did with its early-on reporting of the much more recent case of Texas Baptist minister Matt Baker, who got his start at Baylor University, where a vicious sexual assault report was kept quiet, and who moved on through a dozen more Texas Baptist churches, leaving behind a trail of sexual abuse and assault allegations, all of which came to light only because he was ultimately prosecuted for murder. (And truth be told, Baker nearly got away with that as well.) It took a murder to finally bring to light Baker's history of sexual abuse and assault, and true to Texas Baptists' long pattern, there has still been no accountability for the Baylor university officials and church officials who covered up for Baker for so many years.