Editorial in Denton Record-Chronicle [Texas]
December 18, 2006
We are all of us sinners, and in desperate need of forgiveness. Forgiveness and redemption are cornerstones of the world's great religious faiths, and are God's gift to imperfect humankind. But silence and reflexive, uninformed absolution are not the same as true forgiveness, and they pose terrible dangers to the innocent among us.
Two Denton County ministers have been accused in civil lawsuits of sexually abusing young girls in their congregations. One suit has been settled out of court with a payment to the female plaintiff, now an adult. The other, also filed by an adult woman alleging abuse as a teenager, is pending, but court documents show that the accused minister has admitted fathering a child with his alleged victim. As this is being written, both ministers still occupy pulpits in their respective churches, both of them Baptist congregations, one of them associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The Baptist General Convention keeps a registry of clergy members involved in sexual misconduct, but it is pretty much a "don't ask, don't tell" proposition. If a congregation does not wish to report an incident of misconduct, it doesn't have to. If another congregation doesn't wish to inquire if a prospective pastor is on the list, there is no requirement that it do so, though the convention recommends it.
It should be remembered that if the women who filed these lawsuits had taken action at the time of the alleged offenses, they would have been investigated as criminal felonies — rape and sexual abuse of a child — with penalties of up to life in prison. But as we have learned from the Catholic Church scandals in recent years, such victims often remain silent as children; they are unable to handle the guilt and fear that accompanies such abuse.
One of the suits alleges not only seduction but forcible intimidation. Most of the incidents it alleges will be hard to prove or disprove, as they involved only the young girl and the minister, but the truth or falsity of one of them should be easy to ascertain.
That suit alleges that the plaintiff, then a teenager, was forced to stand before the congregation of the Calvary Baptist Church in Lewisville, confess to being an unwed mother and ask for the congregation's forgiveness. She was not allowed to mention that the father of the child was the Rev. Dale Amyx, associate minister of Calvary Baptist at the time.
This is an allegation that can be clearly confirmed or refuted; there should be plenty of witnesses still around. If it is true, this incident goes far beyond pastoral misconduct and enters the realm of true evil, and anyone connected with it — whether they ordered it or merely acquiesced to it — did a wicked thing. Each of them bears a terrible burden of guilt, or should.
The Rev. Larry Reynolds, the principal defendant in the other suit, has issued a public apology to the plaintiff as part of the settlement in his case, and those who heard it might reasonably infer that it involved sexual misconduct. There was no mention, however, that the purported victim was 14 when the alleged incidents began, something that every parent in that congregation might want and need to know.
There is no pleasure reporting this sad story, or in commenting upon it. As the Record-Chronicle's Donna Fielder completed her exhaustive reporting on the stories that appeared in Sunday's paper, she began to hear from supporters of one minister or another, asking that the stories not be run. One e-mail said publication would bring about "the destruction of the subject parties and the cause of Christ."
It is hard to understand this attitude. The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests upon young boys. We would hate to believe that concern for the possible sexual abuse of young women produces less outrage among Baptists, but it is a hard thought to dismiss.
Faith, even more than forgiveness, is central to any religious belief. It is indeed the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But blind faith in human beings can bring disastrous consequences. The Catholic Church has learned this over the last few years. Texas Baptists may soon be finding it out.
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