Just a few days after my 45th birthday, I had another dream about my childhood pastor.
This final dream was the coup de grâce: My great-grandparents’ home was ablaze. It was dark. Early morning still, and I was standing outside, talking on the telephone with him, and he essentially told me he was washing his hands of me and that, whether I believed it or not, he wasn’t the only abuser out there. That there were others. That I could go on and do what I needed to do. It was water under the bridge to him.
Before hanging up the phone, he told me he wouldn’t gift us the $10,000 we needed to rebuild. I never had asked him for any money. I am not asking for any now.
I awoke. Showered. Carried my kids off to school. Then stumbled onto an Ohio Capital Journal article published Aug. 17 about child sex abuse survivors who had released the names of Ohio-affiliated Catholic clergy who had violated them. I immediately knew what I would do. I would put together my own list of Louisiana Baptist clergy abusers. I would start with one name. My pastor’s.
When the Southern Baptist Convention released their decades-late list in May 2022, I told myself I wouldn’t read it. But after my fiery dream, I finally read it. Compulsively at first. Thinking I might locate his name, a mugshot even. I’ve long known I wasn’t the only one.
My little sister suffered, and so did my mom. My mom confided in someone in 1969. She was 12. Told an older family member what he had done to her. But the older cousin did nothing with the information and the authorities never came. Had they investigated, he would have been rotting in an Angola cell long before he had me that day in his living room in 1984, those months before I entered the first grade and all but ruined my fresh-out-of-college teacher with my daily symptomatic shenanigans.
Then there was a girl. Around my age. One of my first crushes. In those years during and after her abuse, she had grown as angry as I had. Was always acting out. And her mama was always trying to beat the anger out of her. It must have been the early ’90s. Yet and still, she confided in a secret someone, told the woman about the pillaging, but the woman called the girl a liar and sent her on her way. When I asked the girl nearly three years ago to help me start this list, she very cynically declined. What good would it do now?
I’ve been going back to the SBC list and others. Scrolling and counting. I pause at each mugshot. One guy seems to laugh at the camera, at his victims. And I curse under my breath each time the information has been redacted, marked by long and very black and permanent Sharpie strokes as I know justice for someone is veiled beneath the ink.
“I’ve long known I wasn’t the only one.”
I know the SBC list isn’t comprehensive. It only takes into account cases between roughly 2000 and 2019. And its reports would have come from churches registered in its network. I’m almost certain my rural Baptist church wasn’t SBC-affiliated, as I’ve read that men like our pastor are especially calculating and there is no way that he would have registered with such a powerful institution — lest he risk being caught.
The list also seems to grossly miscount the number of Louisiana offenders. Only 13 of them made the list, with only 10 formerly identified by name and church, and none of them were from my hometown of Lake Charles. The Catholic clergy scandal alone produced a list of nearly 200 Louisiana accused priests, with five from my hometown, where there are far fewer Catholic churches than Protestant churches, with one, the latter, on every other street corner.
I grieve for my mom, my sister, my first crush as one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. God, protect my two daughters. I grieve for the Black boys who will kill, be killed and thrown into prisons, trying to tell the world what I am trying to tell you now.
This is my list. This is my refusal.
His name is Reverend Mark Stevens. Midway Baptist Church. Moss Bluff, La. Multiple counts of indecent, pedophilic behavior with children, spanning two generations. He died in 2008. His funeral was standing room only. I was a pallbearer, and I didn’t drop the casket.
Tommy Mouton is a Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project. He teaches in the English major at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas.
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