November 27, 2017
Sex abuse victims not safe in Baptistland
To the editor:
Alabama Baptist pastors took the timid path in sticking to generalities in their statement denouncing sexual abuse (“Two Alabama clergy groups decry sexual assault, but only one of them names Roy Moore”). One of the statement’s signers, Pastor Daniel Atkins, explained that it wasn’t about Roy Moore but was intended as a message to abuse victims in Baptist pews, telling them “you are safe.”
But Pastor Atkins is wrong. Abuse victims are not safe in Baptist pews, especially not if the abuse was committed by a Baptist pastor.
Unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists do not provide denominational accountability structures for clergy. This means that, in Baptistland, there is no denominational “safe place” office where abuse victims can institutionally report a predatory pastor. Rather, denominational officials tell those seeking to report abuse that they must go to the church of the accused pastor. This is like telling wounded sheep that they must go to the den of the wolf who savaged them.
Being sexually abused by a pastor inflicts dreadful harm, but what many clergy abuse survivors have told me is that the even greater harm came from trying to report the abuse within the faith community. That was when they were shamed and blamed, disparaged and disbelieved, bullied and intimidated. That was when they came up against the cruel and reckless reality of Baptistland’s denominational do-nothing approach toward the particulars of abusive pastors. That was when they faced attitudes like that illustrated by minister Mark Creech, quoted at the end of the article, who, even when abuse allegations are partly corroborated, still dismisses them as “unsubstantiated” and insists that “a brother’s stellar reputation” should be defended “no matter … how long his line of accusers.”
This is what countless victims have encountered when trying to report abusive pastors in Baptistland: the brotherhood circles the wagons. So, as someone who was sexually abused as a kid by a Baptist pastor, and who has felt the hard-thrown stones of that brotherhood, I say no. Emphatically no. Abuse victims are not safe in Baptistland.
Christa Brown, Denver