“You win some and you lose some, but you get paid for all of them.” —Anonymous
My experience with an SBC church which used an attorney to get information.
Before I started this blog, a group of us confronted an SBC church due to what we perceived to be a mishandling of reports of a SEBTS (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) student, Doug Goodrich, who had molested 13+ young teen boys in the church. Some of this abuse continues to be the worst cases of abuse that I have ever heard. It’s so bad, I still can’t write about it.
We believed that the church had received reports of the despicable behavior of this volunteer and decided to ignore them, chalking it up to *boys will be boys.* An internal investigation was set up by the elders. (Yes- an internal investigation.) Shortly into this process which, not surprisingly would clear the church from any serious wrongdoing, we received a request to meet with a woman who we were told was an expert on child sex abuse. The idea was for her to ask us all sorts of questions about our *concerns.*
Dee, suspicious that there was more to this story, looked up this woman’s background. Medical people are inherently suspicious of outsiders asking them specific questions. In fact, she was an attorney in a law firm. She called me, concerned that we didn’t trust her intentions! Needless to say, we never did meet for coffee. I knew then that we had a serious problem with the trustworthiness of the leaders in our church. An attorney is always an attorney. Shortly thereafter I left the church and started a blog, wondering if this sort of reaction by a church was normal. It sure is, 11 years later.
SNAP said that this was a typical tactic that was first seen when the Roman Catholic Church was confronted by victims
I began to discuss my concerns with SNAP. They opened my eyes .I knew then that I was terribly naive about the extent of sexual abuse in churches. Even more, II realized how inexperienced I was in dealing with the response to abuse in the evangelical church. Specifically, I grew in knowledge of the tactics used to protect the church, leaders and denominations against litigation. The Wartburg Watch was born and I got smarter every year.
The SBC/ERLC were forced to deal with their serious sex abuse issue due to the reporting of the Houston Chronicle.
The ERLC, which hosted the Caring Well Initiative, is for all intents and purposes just one more arm of the SBC from which the derive money. They are now on an ill advised fundraising kick, using victims to ask for money to be donated for some sort of ill defined purpose within the ERLC.
It is my intention to help victims understand the *rest of the story* when they hear about the supposedly wonderful initiatives to help those who have been abused in the SBC. We have been concerned about which victims have been supported and which victims who have not been supported. Victims like Christa Brown, Tiffany Thigpen, and Jules Woodson-all abused in the SBC and all who named or reported their abusers- were studiously ignored by the SBC. They are very well versed, not only as advocates for those abused but have been featured in articles. They have dealt with the legal system. Christa has been involved for years!
Could it be that those who were willing to litigate their Baptist abusers and are extremely knowledgeable in the subject of how poorly the SBC handled this through the years, are considered unwelcome while those who didn’t go down that road are more acceptable? To be truthful, I don’t know but something in this system is whacked.
Wasn’t the SBC/ERLC/Executive Committee supposed to help victims?
Color me blind but I saw all of the crocodile tears and promises of repentance on the part of the leaders. Promises were made that things were going to be different. Heads were going to roll…except they didn’t. Yeah, there was some nice material sent to churches but there was some controversial writing discussing how the church was going to reach out and invite pedophiles to church. Such pronouncements were naive and simplistic. We are talking about churches and leaders who have mishandled sex abuse for years yet they still think they know how to do it…Seriously?
I have been working with a number of victims within the SBC and have experienced tremendous frustration of the lack of movement in the SBC/ERLC/EC. No, I will not be patient. Each day more and more of our dear children are abused.Where do I tell these families to go for help?
It looks like a hired ERLC attorney wants to hear the stories.
I am pretty darn frustrated with myself. As I worked with the families in these coming stories, I told them that there might be help forthcoming from the the deeply repentant SBC. I thought Phillip Bethancourt wanted to hear the stories. Once again, I was mistaken.
Who is Attorney Palmer Williams?
Here is her bio on the ERLC website. I am sure she is a lovely person who has helped many people. However, she is still an attorney who has been hired by the ERLC/SBC. Guess where her loyalty sits and don’t play the Jesus card.
A Founding Partner of The Peacefield Group, Palmer Williams specializes in legal and policy analysis related to international human rights, sanctity of life, non-profit operations and government affairs. As a licensed attorney knowledgeable in international law, she has extensive experience advocating for human rights on the international stage, including at the United Nations. Additionally, she has worked with government agencies and faith-based organizations to launch statewide initiatives and grassroots organizing campaigns. Palmer assists clients in crafting messaging, long-term strategic planning and operationalizing their values.
She earned her Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt Law School and her B.A. in Political Science and Community Development from Vanderbilt University. Palmer also spent several years living and serving in sub-Saharan Africa, working with grassroots NGOs serving vulnerable children and victims of the HIV epidemic.
Palmer geeks out about orphan care work, Abigail Adams and her Southern Living magazine. Palmer and her husband, Joseph, have two sons, Jack and Henry, and live in Nashville, TN.
Christa Brown’s initial contact with Attorney Palmer Williams told in her own words.
It appears that her contact from Williams occurred in March 2019. This date is important since she allegedly told some folks recently that she is a new hire of the ERLC. Also, Bob Allen is the well known journalist with Baptist Global who I often quote here.
Last March, ERLC attorney Palmer Williams contacted me, wanting to set up a 2 on 1 phone call with her and Bethancourt to talk with me about “your experience.” I responded that I thought it was a misstep to say “hello” via attorney to an SBC survivor and that this misstep illustrated why they needed a “safe place” office with trauma trained professionals. I also said the 2 on 1 set-up was off-putting.
I then told them I had concerns about transparency & told a bit of my history — i.e., to point out that it’s not just about the abuse & cover-up but also the fact that SBC leaders, acting in their official capacities, had said ugly things about me, and that Boto had written on SBC Exec Com letterhead that “discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful.” I asked if their request to speak with me was to serve as a negation of Boto’s letter. No answer on that, but Williams responded that I could have someone else join me on the call.
So I set things up with reporter Bob Allen. I provided Williams with 12 possible time slots in which I could be available to talk with her and Bethancourt, and told her reporter Bob Allen would be listening on the call with me. Silence. I held the time slots open, waiting to hear from them. After leaving me hanging for nearly 2 weeks, they finally said no. Reluctantly, Bob Allen even offered to have their part of the conversation be on a “not for attribution” basis so that they wouldn’t be identified by name. They still said no & said it would have to be completely off the record, that Bob could be there as a support person but not as a journalist (which I thought was pretty insulting for Bob). I sent them 2 complimentary copies of my book.
They acknowledged receipt. That was it. They never said a single word about anything in my book. I don’t know if they even read any part of it. I doubt it. I was left to wonder why I had bothered to take the time to communicate with them at all. I’m reminded of something Boz said at Caring Well – that it amazed him that some survivors would still even attempt to communicate with SBC leaders. And yet, we do.
This is Christa’s reply to Palmer Williams.
No matter how well-intentioned you and Philip Bethancourt may be as individuals, I find it concerning that the ERLC would choose to initiate communication with an SBC abuse survivor via someone who identifies as legal counsel for an SBC entity. From the get-go, saying “hello” via attorney does not strike me as a method that would put many survivors at ease. I also find the immediate attempt to set it up as a 2-on-1 conversation to be off-putting, which is a concern I’ve heard from other survivors as well.
The fact that you would make such obvious missteps speaks to the reality of why the SBC needs a “safe place” office for engaging communication with SBC abuse survivors – i.e., an office staffed by professionals with trauma-informed training, experience and protocols.
From what I have seen to date, I cannot consider the SBC’s in-house study as having much credibility:
(1) it is not being conducted by an outside independent third-party;
(2) it appears lacking in transparency;
(3) it allows the SBC to retain control; and (4) it doesn’t include provision for a “safe place” office.
I’ve written more about these inherent flaws here: Clergy sex abuse: why the SBC’s ‘studying it’ response isn’t enough
If the SBC engages a transparent, trauma-informed, and truly independent study, then I would be willing to again share my experience. The reason I say “again” is because I have previously shared my experience with SBC officials.
Briefly, I want to make sure you are aware of at least the bare bones of that history.
With other SNAP members, I wrote to SBC officials in August and September of 2006, requesting that the SBC use my story as a launchpad for change to make kids safer and specifically requesting that the SBC establish an independent board to archive records on credibly accused clergy sex abusers and to inform congregations. The need for a denominational system of record-keeping and information-sharing was obvious at the time, and many others have noted it since then.
In a collaborative spirit, we offered to work together with SBC officials, but SBC official Augie Boto responded by stating that “continued discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful.”
Letter to the SBC Executive Committee
Does your current request to speak with me negate or override Boto’s response? He is after all the current interim president of the SBC Executive Committee, and he expressly stated that his response was made on behalf of all the officials to whom we had written, including the ERLC president.
I also shared my experience before a meeting of the bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee in 2007. In the hope of helping Southern Baptists see the need for better safeguarding of children, I spoke at considerable cost to myself and with very little kindness extended. To the contrary, acting in their official capacities, and publicly through the use of Baptist-controlled media, SBC leaders perversely twisted my words so as to publicly smear me as someone making “false accusations” and “false charges.” (You can read more about this episode in my book at pages 176-182, which includes footnote documentation.)
I hope this bit of history may give you some insight into why I might now be reluctant to have my words filtered through an SBC office. SBC leaders vilified me as an “opportunist,” a person of “no integrity,” and an “evil-doer.” And that’s only the name-callings that were publicly reported. I’ve also received reams of hate mail filled with ugly vitriol, some of it truly frightening, and I believe that much of this hatefulness was fueled in part by the demonizing rhetoric that came from the highest levels of SBC leadership.
All of this, and more, was profoundly painful, and I am not inclined to pretend that these things never happened. To the contrary, I believe a pretend-it-never-happened culture is part of the problem within the SBC, and it contributes to abuse cover-ups. In light of this history, I prefer at this point to communicate via email.
When SBC leaders speak in their official capacities and write on SBC letterhead, they are speaking and acting for the institution. So, while you and Philip Bethancourt may not bear individual responsibility for the dehumanizing sorts of meanness that I encountered in SBC leadership, you are nevertheless part of the same institution, and there has never been anything even resembling an institutional apology. I’m not hoping for one or expecting one, but at the same time, I’m also not willing to pretend that the mere passage of time renders such rudeness and cruelty inconsequential.
I haven’t even attempted to tell you about the horror of the sexual abuse that a pastor inflicted on me when I was a kid or about the nightmare in how the church of my childhood responded. The awfulness in how top SBC leaders treated me is enough for one email, and of course, what I’ve written here is just a small piece of it.
Since you’re with the ERLC, I’m reminded of a recently reported case. After getting no response from the SBC when she wrote asking “how to turn in a pedophile,” a woman then wrote to the ERLC. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in February 2018, Lauren Konkol of the ERLC responded that “this matter is not in the scope of our role, authority or ability.”
That’s a chilling child-endangering response coming from your own SBC entity. I’d be happy to send you two complimentary copies of my book – “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang.” Just let me know and give me a mailing address. People tell me it’s a fast read – about 2 ½ hours. If you want, you can find more of my writings on this subject on my site:
And this recent news article provides the gist of my story.
It’s time for action.
Regards, Christa Brown
Others have been contacted by Attorney Palmer Williams, even more recently.
As you read Christa’s letter, you will see that other survivors have been treated in a similar matter. I have recently been made aware of other instances and I find this profoundly disturbing. She is hardly a brand new hire since Christa was in contacted by her last March.
It is obvious that Phillip Bethancourt is turfing stuff to her. Why? ‘lll let you decide.
Why do I find this disturbing?
If the SBC/ERLC/EC really wanted to care for victims, they would have hired a licensed trauma informed counselor to reach out to the victims. Such a conversation would have been confidential. They would not hire a biblical counselor since the ACBC does not guarantee confidentiality. They believe in reporting sin to pastors, etc. One of the teen boys that was molested in my former church was asked by an elder, “Didn’t you know that was wrong?” To this day, I can barely contain myself.
Now, an attorney hired by the ERLC/SBC/EC is beholden to the entity which has hired her. Think about who would get to hear about a victim’s pain and even if the victim is considering litigation.
I know that Christa would join me in recommending that no victim meet with Palmer Williams or any other attorney hired by the SBC. I bet they have lots and lots of them. For the moment, I believe that the SBC is channeling the tactics of the Roman Catholic Church. Guess how that turned out.