Advocate Says Baptists Slow to Confront Problem of Clergy Sex
Bob Allen - Ethicsdaily.com
September 29, 2006
When former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines uttered
his infamous remark that Muhammad was a "demon-possessed pedophile,"
some experienced SBC observers took it as a double-entendre--responding
directly to comments following 9/11 that Islam was a peaceful religion,
while also alluding to the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal that
was making daily headlines in the summer of 2002.
At the same meeting Bobby Welch, a future SBC president, addressed
a resolution in that context that urged sexual integrity for ministers.
"We shouldn't enjoy this Catholic mess too much," Welch
said. "We're waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it
does, don't be surprised if there is more and more within our ranks."
This week survivors of sex abuse by clergy asked the SBC, the nation's
second-largest religious group behind Roman Catholics, to develop
a comprehensive, nationwide strategy to rid churches of sexual predators.
Christa Brown, an attorney, wife and mother from Austin, Texas,
says she met mostly roadblocks when she tried to alert denominational
officials to abuse she suffered at the hands of a Southern Baptist
youth minister when she was 16. She wants a denomination-wide policy
of zero tolerance for sex offenders and establishment of an independent
review board to investigate and educate churches about sexual abuse.
Brown says Southern Baptists' system of local-church autonomy permits
leaders to turn a blind eye when confronted with evidence of criminal
abuse. She believes predators are crafty enough to recognize and
take advantage of the system.
"What would a good shepherd do?" she asks on Web site.
"Recite the mantra of 'congregational autonomy' or protect
A long-time victims' advocate responded to a Wednesday story in
EthicsDaily.com saying she wasn't going to hold her breath.
"I have yet to see evidence of a single congregation or SBC
institution that responded appropriately and truly encouraged people
to act in courage to stop this common problem," said Dee Ann
Miller, a former Southern Baptist missionary who has written two
books about collusion resulting from efforts for redress after she
says she was sexually assaulted by a superior while on the mission
Miller has been ministering to sex-abuse survivors for 15 years.
In all she has heard from about 2,500 victims of abuse by clergy,
and at least 300 were abused by Southern Baptist clergy. Between
a third and a half, she says, were abused as minors.
Miller says the real demons aren't the perpetrators, the colluders,
and certainly not the victims, but an acronym she calls "DIM"
thinking--denial, ignorance and minimization.
"Behind collusion one will always find some form of DIM Thinking,"
she writes. "Ignorance here may refer to one or all of the
following: misinformation about the dynamics of abuse, resistance
to attempts to provide education or a choice to ignore what one
knows. Colluders may be guilty of DIM Thinking about the abuse,
about collusion itself or both."
Miller says collusion can be either passive--as when a church member
or leader ignores a possible warning sign--or active, such as saying
the accuser is crazy, unforgiving or that the denomination cannot
afford money to pay for counseling.
One common game of collusion, Miller says, is "Let's Make
a Deal," offering a victim or advocate something tangible or
intangible to keep them quiet. Examples include, "If you will
just go quietly to another congregation, we won't tell anyone you
had an affair with the minister," or exchanging money in an
agreement that the victim will not take the perpetrator or denomination
Brown says any comprehensive plan of attack by the SBC should discourage
the use of such "secrecy contracts." Disapproval, she
and other advocates said in a letter to SBC leaders, would "demonstrate
a strong commitment to supporting those who reveal such abuse rather
than the churches that strive to keep it secret."
Miller says the Baptist press isn't particularly interested in
printing stories about sexually abusive ministers, judging from
a discrepancy between what gets reported in secular media and what
is picked up in denominational papers.
"I guess it wouldn't be Christian?" she surmised. "Or
maybe just lousy politics. And it certainly wouldn't do the reputation
of the denomination any good, in the short run."
Another concern is job security. In 2002 the Illinois Baptist reported
that if things had gone as planned, 35-year-old Leslie Mason would
have preached the keynote sermon at that year's annual meeting of
the Illinois Baptist State Association.
Instead, the former pastor of Olney Southern Baptist Church faced
10 counts of criminal sexual assault involving two teenage girls
who had attended his church.
Mason eventually pleaded guilty to two class-one felonies in exchange
for dismissal of the eight remaining counts. The editor of the newspaper,
Michael Leathers, was criticized and eventually forced to resign
for his decision to report the story.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.