"We will have to repent...not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
So many Baptist clergy could not possibly get away with so much abuse unless many others were complicit in turning a blind eye. Why do Baptist leaders tolerate the presence of ministerial colleagues who sexually abuse the young and vulnerable? Why do people in the pews not rise up and demand that their leaders be held accountable? Where's the outrage?
Why don't people at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis demand the resignation of Pastor Steve Gaines, who admittedly kept quiet about a staff minister's sexual abuse of a kid?
Why don't people at Trinity Baptist demand the resignation of Pastor Tom Messer, about whom there is significant evidence that he knew of a minister's serial sexual abuse of kids?
Why do so many people act as though clergy-abuse cover-ups are no big deal?
In my own case, the church finally made a written apology, but only after first threatening me and then seeking a secrecy agreement and finally being forced into an apology by a lawsuit. An apology extracted in a lawsuit (and handed off by their attorney) doesn’t carry the feeling of any genuine remorse, but it does constitute an acknowledgement of the truth. Their ministerial staff knew all along that this man had molested me as a kid. Yet, they tried every means possible to avoid owning up to that truth. And they didn’t bother to warn people in the pews of other congegations - people whose kids were at risk.
The apology was arrived at only after hours of hammering out the language in a court-ordered mediation session. “Churches should respond with righteous outrage and anger at such crimes against kids committed by church leaders they trust,” says the church. Well gee....doesn't that sound nice? But where is that outrage?
Even now, has anything changed? Have any of those who covered up and kept quiet about the abuse been held accountable?
The church’s music minister, James A. Moore, knew about it for 30 years and kept quiet. He was apparently content to leave countless other kids at risk. Yet, he is still the church’s music minister. Where’s the outrage?
The pastor of the church, Sam Underwood, is a man who was himself reported on allegations of sexually abusing a congregant. He showed his style of leadership when he shepherded the church to respond to my report of child molestation by having the church’s attorney threaten to sue me and insult my family (as though the fact that I grew up with a father who still suffered post-WWII combat trauma could somehow make the psychological injury of a minister’s sexual abuse not such a big deal). Even if church members see no need for accountability as to the adult congregant’s abuse report (presumably because they accept the deacons’ view that it was mere “sexual misconduct”), that would still leave a lack of accountability for Underwood’s failure of appropriate leadership when confronted with a substantiated report about one of the church's ministers who had sexually abused a minor. Yet, the man who chose hostility rather than compassion is still the pastor. The man who chose to threaten a child molestation victim rather than to protect others is still the pastor. The man who attempted to compel secrecy rather than reach out to other victims is still the pastor. Where is there any accountability. Where are there any consequences for such awful and immoral behavior? Where’s the outrage?
And what about the leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas? Was anyone there outraged at the fact that their long-time attorney threatened to sue a clergy abuse victim even when the abuse was readily substantiated? It certainly doesn’t appear that way. Where is the outrage?
And what about the fact that he tried to compel secrecy by pushing a confidentiality agreement while leaving the perpetrator in the pulpit? Were BGCT leaders bothered by that? Apparently not. In an even more recent case involving the same BGCT attorney, a secrecy agreement was used once again, while the perpetrator was allowed to remain in the pulpit. (Of course, most of the time, when a secrecy agreement is used, you'll never hear about it at all -- that's the whole point of it.) Where’s the outrage?
And what about the fact that a man with a substantiated report of having sexually molested a kid was still standing in the pulpit of a Florida mega-church talking about his children’s ministry even after 18 Baptist leaders had been informed? Those men are still in leadership positions. Where is there any accountability for the willing blindness of Baptist leaders who leave kids in harm’s way for clergy predators? Where is the outrage?
It is easy enough to look at the perpetrators and say therein lies the problem. But what about all the enablers? What about the many leaders who turn a blind eye and allow clergy molesters to move on to other churches where they find fresh new prey? Where is the outrage?
"What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander."
-- Elie Wiesel