Friday, August 27, 2010

Messy messy hornets' nest

Messy messy hornets' nest
The SBC Voices blog is trafficked largely by Southern Baptist pastors, ministers and denominational leaders. Recently, a couple postings got into the clergy sex abuse issue, and as usual, when these guys get going on this subject, some of the comments can be pretty depressing to read. But “Bill” provided a comment worth sharing here. He said this:

“I worked for a church that quickly and quietly got rid of a youth pastor mired in accusations of child abuse and he went to work for at least two other churches before he finally wound up in our court systems and is currently doing a lot of time. The pastor of my old church never personally recovered from this ordeal and personally feels responsible for the children who were proven right so many years later. He also feels that the children of these other churches are his responsibility too. However, he says that you don’t want to be the person to destroy a fellow minister, but he feels he destroyed the lives of at least a dozen boys/young men in trying to protect this one pastor. . . .

I do think something should be done but I think that there are so many areas to act on in order to address this issue head on, that no one will be courageous enough to stand the intense hatred pointed in their direction should they even suggest something to the SBC . . . . It’s a messy, messy hornets’ nest that everyone’s too afraid to stir up and the predators know it.”

Bill is right: “It’s a messy, messy hornets’ nest” and everyone is afraid. But it’s time the Southern Baptist Convention started providing leadership for responsibly dealing with that fear. Any fool can see that all their pretty pamphlets are little more than a pretense of dealing with it . . . and as Bill says . . . “the predators know it.”

Bill’s story is nothing unusual. Over a long period of time, countless Baptist ministers have been allowed to move on to other churches despite allegations of abuse. And as a result, many more kids have been dreadfully wounded within the faith community.

Oh sure . . . the ministers aren’t actually “assigned” to a new church. They’re simply allowed to move on. But whether “assigned” or “allowed,” the molested kids are no less wounded.

I don’t know the specifics of Bill’s particular story, but I know the usual and frequent pattern of many similar stories.

Imagine that a kid named “Joe” was one of that youth minister’s earlier victims. The pastor of the church suspected something, but decided it was better to let sleeping dogs lie and to let the youth minister go elsewhere.

Joe spent the next decade trying to figure out how to live with the trauma of having been molested and sodomized by a minister who wielded words of God as a weapon. He tried desperately to wall off any thought of what was, in any event, unthinkable.

Finally, Joe couldn’t keep it all inside anymore. As he began to deal with the reality of what the minister had done, he worried endlessly about others. But by then, it was too late for criminal prosecution (as most cases are). So a decade later, Joe went back to the church of his childhood to try to tell people and to try to get some help for protecting others.

Given that the pastor couldn’t muster the courage to take responsible action when the molesting youth minister was right there in his own church, do you imagine that he’s going to take action to help Joe now, when Joe hasn’t set foot in the church in over 10 years and when the youth minister is long gone?

No. That’s not what typically happens. The pastor shrugs his shoulders and says something like this, “Not my problem. That minister isn’t even at our church anymore. I don’t know where he is.”

So, on his own, Joe tries to find the minister who molested him. Maybe he’ll be able to, and maybe he won’t. A lot of Southern Baptist ministers aren’t listed on the SBC’s registry of ministers. (For example, here’s a church in which not one man in their 17-member ministerial staff was listed on the SBC’s registry of ministers.)

But imagine that Joe gets lucky and finds the man. When Joe sees that he’s still a Southern Baptist minister working in a position of trust with kids, Joe feels all the more desperate.

Joe contacts the chairman of the deacons at the man’s current church. But the deacon says, “Not my problem. What you’re talking about involves some other church. We haven’t had any complaints and our ministers are men of God.”

So, Joe turns to people at the local association, at the state convention, and finally at national Southern Baptist headquarters.

Every step of the way, the response he gets is some version of “Not my problem. Local church autonomy.”

Joe gives up, and for many years more, the man continues working as a Southern Baptist minister whom kids and their parents trust almost completely.

Finally, one kid’s parents suspect something and report it to the police in time for prosecution. The man is criminally convicted and, because he’s sitting in prison, he’s no longer working as a Baptist minister.

But between the time when Joe first started trying to talk to people and the time when the minister was criminally convicted, at least a dozen more boys were molested and sodomized by that same Baptist minister who wielded words of God as a weapon.

Those are the kids whose nightmares might have been spared if Baptists would do what other major faith groups have done by creating a safe place where victims could report clergy abuse -- a place where victims’ reports would be responsibly assessed and where records of credible allegations would be kept.

Furthermore, it sure would have helped to ease Joe's mind.

But as Bill says, “everyone’s too afraid.”

“Everyone’s too afraid” to even hear people like Joe.

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