Baptistgate Parallels Foleygate

By Christa Brown
OpEd News
October 20, 2006

As Foleygate unfolds, the Religious Right remains mute about its own child sex abuse scandal.

Just three days before Representative Foley resigned, I was standing at the doorstep of the Southern Baptist Convention, asking it to implement procedures to rid their ranks of clergy predators and make kids safer. Along with other delegates from SNAP - the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests and other Clergy - we presented Baptist leaders with a letter asking for the creation of an independent review board to investigate accounts of clergy sex abuse. Despite a multi-part series in EthicsDaily, the SBC's response has been one of avoidance.

Rather than taking action to protect kids, SBC leaders seem to think that if they close their eyes long enough, the problem will go away. This is a very dangerous sort of blindness that leaves kids at risk.

SNAP went to the SBC's Nashville doorstep because, in recent months, SNAP has heard from dozens of people, reporting that they were sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy.

I myself know the soul-murdering impact of such trauma because I was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist minister when I was a teen church girl in Dallas. Another minister knew about it at the time - and eventually swore to that knowledge - but the perpetrator was sent on his way, and I was told not to speak of it. Not until my daughter reached adolescence did I resurrect the horrific memories and begin to deal with them. To my surprise, although my report was readily substantiated, no denominational leader seemed to think it mattered much. In fact, the SBC wrote that it had no record the man was still in ministry. Yet, I found him at a prominent church in Florida.

Even after eighteen Southern Baptist leaders in four different states were put on notice of my substantiated report, the man still remained in ministry. Not until over a year later, when I filed a lawsuit that was reported in the Orlando Sentinel, was the man finally asked to resign.

Where is the outrage at Baptist leaders? Where is the committee that will investigate? Where is there any process for accountability?

The House of Representatives has 435 members, and when it was disclosed that one of those members sent lurid emails to a teen, the matter was referred to an investigatory committee to find out who knew what and when did they know it.

Southern Baptists have over 101,000 clergy. But when 18 of their leaders received information about a minister's sexual abuse of a minor abuse more serious than emails they all turned a blind eye. And there is no investigatory committee.

Even though the Dallas church finally issued a court-filed apology for the "very serious sexual abuse" inflicted on me as a kid, nothing has changed. Those many blind Baptist leaders are still in leadership positions. Are kids safe in a system so lacking in accountability?

The real horror of my experience rests not in the nightmare of a minister who would sexually assault a kid, because as beastly as that may be, he is just one man. The real horror is in the blindness of so many other leaders who failed to take appropriate action for the protection of others.

In the midst of Foleygate, it would be an opportune time for the Southern Baptist Convention to get its own house in order, starting with the creation of an independent board for investigating reports of clergy sex abuse. After all, as a group of religious leaders wrote in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, "protecting children is a biblical responsibility."

Christa Brown is the founder of Voice to Stop Baptist Predators and the coordinator for SNAP-Baptist. She is a wife, mother, attorney, jazz-lover, slow-plodding-runner, and a survivor of Southern Baptist clergy abuse.


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