“This close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion’s stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun.” NASA
“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” Bertrand Russell
What the SBC needs to learn from the Catholic Church abuse scandal.
I grew up on Federal Street in Salem, Massachusetts. My house was down the street from St James Church, a well attended Catholic Church with an associated K-8 parochial school. When I was rather young, Father Joseph Birmingham was transferred into the church from Boston and appeared to love all of the neighborhood kids. Best of all, he would let us race go karts in the huge parking lot when school or church was not in session. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team would eventually feature Birmingham as the second priest in their groundbreaking expose.This priest, who I really liked as little girl, turned out to be a monster who abused one of my neighborhood friends.
Recently, USA Today published More Americans than ever are leaving the Catholic Church after the sex abuse scandal. Here’s why.
Seven months after a damning grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed that 1,000 children had been abused at the hands of more than 300 priests, and as state attorneys general across the nation investigate the church, a Gallup poll published in March found that 37% of U.S. Catholics are considering leaving the church because of the sex abuse crisis and the church’s handling of it. That’s up significantly from 2002, when just 22% of Catholics said they were contemplating leaving their religion after The Boston Globe published an explosive series that initially exposed the abuse and subsequent cover-up.
Make sure you see that number. 37% of US catholics are considering leaving due to the sex abuse scandal. There are approximately 70,400,000 Catholics in the US which means that approximately 26 million are considering leaving the church. I know that some of those neighborhood friends left a long time ago.
Baptist News Global posted a story about Christa Brown. Clergy sex abuse: the damage done when faith is weaponized. Oddly enough, I was present when the following scenario took place. Focus on the final paragraph which I highlighted.
Get your hand off me!” I wanted to yell. But I didn’t.
More than a month after the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Birmingham, I am still processing something that happened there. After the For Such a Time as This Rally, abuse survivors and advocates gathered at a coffee house to decompress. It was a warm-hearted event, filled with a sense of “beloved community,” and I felt gratitude to everyone who was there. There was even a lovely candle-lighting ceremony honoring me for my years of advocacy work against sexual abuse and cover-ups in the SBC.
Then, as the evening drew to an end, one of the event’s organizers called on a prominent Southern Baptist woman to offer a closing prayer. Suddenly, the woman was standing right over me, and with me still seated, she put her hand firmly on my shoulder and launched into an out-loud prayer for me.
“I felt powerless, unsafe, targeted, disconnected and manipulated.”
Ironically, this was a woman who has written extensively about sexual abuse in general and is a survivor herself, though in a different context – i.e., she is not a survivor of sexual abuse by clergy nor a survivor of religious institutional cover-up.
Christa importantly defines how institutional faith can be weaponized.
I think this is something many religious people – even well-intentioned people – just don’t understand. For them, faith can be a powerful resource for healing in all manner of life’s travails, and they can scarcely imagine it otherwise. But for people like me for whom faith was weaponized for sexual assaults and church cover-ups, the rituals and indicia of faith can be a minefield.
This is one reason why many clergy abuse survivors sever all relationships with institutional faith. For the sake of health, sanity and self-preservation, we turn away from the minefield.
Anne Marie Miller: “It will be a cold day in hell before I step foot in a Baptist church.”
Christa pointed out some thoughts from Anne Marie Miller who was abused in the SBC. Her abuser was protected, until recently, by the International Missions Board. Miller makes the point that many leave the church because sex abuse is tied into their faith journey.
Miller’s story Survivor says SBC leaders’ response to abuse revelations little help to victims was covered by Baptist News Global.
SBC President J.D. Greear offered his advice to abuse victims in a blog published Feb. 11.
“When you are ready, involve your current church in your recovery journey,” he counseled in part. “This assumes you are not in the same church where your abuser is in leadership. It is understandable if you do not take this step for a while. Don’t feel rushed.”
Miller said, speaking for herself and others like her, “it is going to be a cold day in hell when I step back into a Baptist church.”
“By keeping that within the church, you are going to miss a majority of the people who have been hurt by the church, because most of us that have been hurt by the church are no longer in the church.”
The SBC and designated™ survivors. These survivors are guaranteed not to make Baptist leadership feel uncomfortable.
I really enjoyed the first season (TV) of Designated Survivor which was about a low level, unimportant US cabinet member who suddenly became President when those above him in succession were all killed in a catastrophic attack on the capital building while they were all present.
It is my observation that the SBC/ERLC appears to choose those survivors who are members of acceptable churches and do not have a a history of abuse in one of the SBC churches which would be awkward for the SBC leadership. How many of these survivors were molested in Baptist churches in which the abusive pastor is still alive.
This is not meant to say these survivors are unimportant or have nothing to add to the conversation. However, there are many victims who have been molested in Baptist churches by Baptist pastors who have either walked away from the faith or do not attend church due to residual pain and trauma. Where are they?
When I was in business school, we discussed the importance of exit interviews by employees or by those consumers who no longer used the product under discussion. Why did the leave? is there something we can do to win them back? Did we do something that cause irreparable hard to our brand? Does the Baptist leadership ever think about things like this?
Why a survivor of sex abuse in a church setting is different than than those abused in the context of family or kids’ sports, etc.
Let’s take a look at how those who were abused by priests processed the faith in Why is priest sex abuse often unreported?
“I always blamed myself,” Becky Ianni says. “I was taught that he was sent by God so therefore God is punishing me. I must be a bad little girl. There must be something that I’ve done and I carried that through adulthood always thinking that I wasn’t a good person.
…A priest had a unique position in society. They enjoyed an exalted position where they were trusted more than anyone. Catholics were taught if you say anything bad about a priest it’s a sin and God will punish that and so priests were held up on a high platform.”
…The parents, often times, if the kid said something to them, parents would not believe them. Father would never do that. You must have misunderstood or they’d punish them which was even worse and that was common as well. You can’t say that about a priest. It’s a sin. Never say anything bad about a priest. They wouldn’t say anything because they were intimidated. They were afraid. And many kids, younger kids like 8, 9, 10 they were totally confused and stunned by what was happening to them because they knew nothing or very little about sex. They knew that whatever was happening was being done by a priest and so they were totally confused. Is this right? Is this wrong? Priests don’t sin.
Read Jules’ story of abuse as a high school student at the hands of Andy Savage: I Thought He Was Taking Me for Ice Cream: One Woman’s #MeToo Story of Molestation By Her Former Youth Pastor, Andy Savage. This man was her pastor. Then she confided in another pastor on staff. She was told to be quiet and even asked to describe how she contributed to the event.
Clergy who abuse within the context of the church can cause lasting, lifelong damage to how a person processes faith, especially within the context of the local church. It is my perception that today’s church leaders do not want to hear about those who walk away from the faith. They prefer to hear from all the really nice people who kept their faith in spite of devastating betrayal.
I may be wrong but I think some leaders might think, deep down inside, that those who walk away from the faith were never really Christian in the first place or weren’t really one of the elect.
However, if I’m wrong, then why am I not seeing people who left the church being featured in some of these Christian seminars? Why shouldn’t we hear those stories? Why shouldn’t the leaders who ignored the reports for years be forced to sit and squirm as victims discuss why they cannot go inside a Baptist church door?
How a Twitter exchange clarified the designated™, Baptist approved survivor definition for me.
I am not here to point fingers at the person who said this so I will leave out her name. However, she will be a survivor who will be speaking at the ERLC *Caring Well” conference.
This designated™ survivor said:
She made the point she was abused (not in the church but by a relative) but she never left the church. Perhaps this individual is not adept at communicating on Twitter but it seemed to me that she was somehow doing this the *right way.*
Interestingly, a church in Texas weighed in and made things worse. I am identifying them since it is an institution as opposed to an individual. This church was telling people that they must do it the *right* way which means that victims must continue to be a member of a church with no exceptions or even a hint of understanding about the trauma of clergy sex abuse.
in the end the church attempted to apologize but couldn’t go away without one more *be an abuse survivor and to it our way.* Sadly, they did not demonstrate an understanding of the point of view which was being discussed.
Jules Woodson replied to the woman on Twitter.
I made a similar comment as well and others chimed in.
In the end, abuse survivors have different stories to tell. This woman who was abused in the context of family will have different issues to work through than those who were abused in the context of church.
Since the SBC has been exposed as having over 300 pastors who have abused over 700 kids, it would seem that they would emphasize what happens when folks are abused within the context of the Baptist faith community. I”m not sure they really want to know what happens to the faith of those abused by pastors. It’s much easier to pretend that if the abused are elect, everything will work out just fine so “Don’t blame us for your wavering faith. You just weren’t chosen. See, we’ve found these marvelous designated survivors who will reassure us that it really has nothing to do with us.”
Why the church can be toxic for survivors.
Until the SBC is willing to sit through talks by those abused in the SBC, they will never learn how abuse by clergy will lead to those leaving the church. I left the SBC and have no plans to return. I was just collateral damage. I watched a church botch a pedophile situation. I’ve talked to many others who’ve left due to sex abuse. Perhaps the SBC will get a clue from what happened in the Catholic church. They can only change the names of their churches and pretend that they are not Baptist churches for just so long.
Let’s end this on a quote from the Baptist Global Network article by Christa Brown.
When Bible verses, prayer, hymns, faith, God-talk and church rituals are perverted into weapons for sexual assault and then hammered into shields for church cover-ups, they become neurologically networked with trauma, and this renders them polluted and often toxic for the survivors.
This is the truth of the damage done by a faith group that enables abuse and turns a blind eye to clergy-predators in their midst.