Fort Worth Star Telegram Report on Sexual Abuse

The Forth Worth Star Telegram has published a four part series detailing a culture of sexual abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Network.  The series was written by Sara Smith.  She reported on the Paige Patterson situation earlier this year, and, from my research, has been a leading journalist in exposing abuse in religious institutions and denominations.

If you have time, go read the series.  It is scary.  The Star Telegram interviewed over 200 people who were subjected to all kinds of abuse including rape, intimidation, and underage sex.  The perpetrators, in most cases, were never prosecuted, but were quickly shuffled to another church within the network.  This is not the Catholic church, these are our distant cousins and the accusations are coming closer and closer to home.  What should we do?  I have five suggestions:

  1. Pay attention:  The #metoo movement has impacted various personalities within our denomination, not our denomination as a whole.  that doesn’t mean our denomination has no secrets, or that a culture similar to the Fundamentalist Baptist Network cannot develop within our churches, conventions, and associations.  When I was a teenager, our church hired a pastor who had cheated on his wife at three different churches.  When he was discovered having an affair, he would shuffle off to the next church, rinse, and repeat.  We have to pay attention to this issue.  Satan would like nothing more than to catch us off guard.
  2. Be on Guard:  I was reading the report and was amazed at how many of the perpetrators and their enablers were allowed private audiences with underage female church members.  We cannot take that risk.  I know pastors who continue to meet alone with females.  That is never wise, and in today’s culture it’s foolish.  How many stories like this do we need to read before we stop putting ourselves in compromising positions.  We make Satan’s work easy when we take foolish risks.  If you’ve been meeting alone with a female who is not your wife or a family member, cut it out.
  3. Update our policies:  I have a friend who led his church in updating all of their policies concerning sexual abuse allegations.  He also updated various counseling policies for his own protection.  He has set the example for me, and in 2019, I’m going to lead our church to update our policies.  Updating our policies facilitates discussion amongst the rank and file in our pews.  They also protect the accuser, giving them a safe process and outlet to share their accusations, and they protect the accused against false accusations.  We need to update our policies because discussion brings accountability, gets things out in the open, and puts this issue on the radar.  The overwhelming issue with The Fundamentalist Baptist Network, according to the Star-Telegram, is a lack of accountability and a culture of intimidation and silence.
  4. Listen:  When we hear an accusation, we need to listen and take the accuser seriously.  That doesn’t mean we jump to convicting the accused, but The Star Telegram gives details of a shaming culture.  the accusers were shamed into silence, and in several cases, the Bible was used to shame these accusers.
  5. Stay away from the Pedestal: The Fundamentalist Baptists have a pedestal for their pastors.  Their pastors, according to the Star-Telegram report, are seen as next to God.  The wield unquestionable authority. We cannot put our leaders on a pedestal.  I appreciate Dave Miller’s series on criticism.  Earlier this year, our denomination experienced what happens when one of our leaders falls off his pedestal.  We should always feel free to Biblically criticize our leaders.
  6. Communicate:  The Star-Telegram reports a culture of sweeping accusations under the rug, and transferring accused ministers out of state to other churches, often in the same ministry positions, given alleged perpetrators access to underage girls and children.  This can happen in our denomination as well.  It probably has happened.  For example:  a youth minister is accused of improper conduct with one of the youth.  The pastor is informed.  The pastor speaks with the youth minister and determines the accusations are false, but he advises the youth minister to resign.  The pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister.  Or worse yet, the pastor calls the authorities, and they find the accusations credible, but the youth and her parents do not press charges and the pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister, and the cycle begins again.  How can we stop this?  There should be a denomination wide group, organization, database where churches report and receive reports about verified incidents of sexual misconduct.  Yes, I said verified, not alleged or rumors.  there has to be something we can do to better communicate with each other.

This report scared me because it had the word Baptist in it.  If you think this kind of culture does not exist in our own denomination, you have your head in the sand.  It exists in our denomination.  It may not be as wide spread as in the Fundamentalist Baptist Network, but it is there.  Sara Smith, and other journalists like her are doing an outstanding investigative job.  They are uncovering a culture of sin, and holding our leaders accountable.  This report and others like it should serve as a warning to us.

The Best of Enemies

Do you know the names Ann Atwater, CP Ellis, and Howard Fuller?  I didn’t until I read the book “The Best of Enemies,” by Osha Gray Davidson.  The book chronicles racial relations in Durham, North Carolina in the 1960’s.  I heard about the story of CP Ellis and Ann Atwater during this year’s pastors’ conference when Dr. Tony Evans used their story as a sermon illustration.  I decided to research the story and found Davidson’s book.  I’ll give a summary and then three strengths and three weaknesses of Davidson’s work.

Summary

During the first half of the 20th century, Durham, North Carolina was known as a progressive jewel of the south which had great race relations.  This, of course, was not true.  Durham did boast a class of black elites which was more than most southern cities, but the living conditions for the lower class black population were just as squalid and unfair as other Southern cities.  The book chronicles the rise of both Ann Atwater, a poor, single black mother and CP Ellis, a poor white man who found a sense of purpose in the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.  He would eventually become The Exalted Cyclops of the Durham chapter.  Ellis and Atwater clashed at many city meetings and became bitter enemies.  In 1971 the Durham schools were forced to integrate and this caused considerable turmoil.  A man named Bill Riddick came to town and suggested the city hold what is called a charrette.  A charrette is an intense meeting over several days, in Durham’s case 10 days, where an entire community is invited to come together to solve a particular problem.  The charrette began by naming a steering committee.  Guess which two people were elected to chair the steering committee.  Ann Atwater was not even in attendance when she was elected a co-chairwoman of the steering committee and her fellow chairman was none other than her worst enemy, CP Ellis.

During the meetings, Atwater and Ellis found that poor black families and poor white families struggled with the same problems.  Ellis came to believe that blacks weren’t what keeping poor whites impoverished, but the ruling elites, both black and white.  There’s a moving scene in chapter 13 which describes Ellis and Atwater talking alone in the auditorium when reality finally poured in on Ellis and he began to cry.  The charrette ended with Ellis renouncing his membership in the Klan and reportedly tearing up his klan membership card in front of the community.

Ellis and Atwater became lifelong friends, and when he died in 2005, Atwater delivered a eulogy at his funeral.  The introduction includes a story about Ann coming to the funeral home before CP’s service, and, while sitting there was asked to leave by a white man.  She finally stated that CP was her brother.

Strengths

  1. Davidson does a remarkable job of setting the scene for the charrette.  He plows through a century of racial history in Durham and relates the events in Durham that coincided with the larger national struggle regarding race relations.
  2. Davidson gives equal pages to both the histories of Ellis and Atwater. Davidson is a career journalist and when I began reading the book, I assumed he would major on Atwater’s story, but his work is non-biased and fair.  He notes the high price Ellis paid for his actions during and after the charrette.
  3. His character descriptions of Atwater, Ellis, and other minor characters are moving.  I felt as though I could close my eyes and hear Atwater or Ellis talking with me.

Weaknesses

  1. Davidson only devotes two chapters to the seminal event, the charrette. He spends 11 chapters covering background material, but only two chapters dealing with the event that shaped this unusual friendship.  I would like to hear more about the charrette itself.
  2. He ends the book with a retelling of Ellis’ suicide attempt in 1972. and the psychological price he paid for his actions.  I would like to have known more about the friendship that developed after the charrette, but so much time was devoted to background material that a detailed description of their friendship would have made the book very lengthy.
  3. This may not be considered a weakness, but for a novice in black history, such as myself, Davidson includes the action of too many activist groups.  I was difficult to keep up with who belonged to which group and which groups were militant and which were peaceful and so on.

What I learned

What does this have to do with the Southern Baptist Convention and SBC Voices in 2018?  We’re having our own struggles with diversity and race relations.  I learned a lot about the history of race relations, and I learned about some influential people that many of us have never heard of.  Incidentally, I wonder if our own Dwight McKissic is related to the Floyd McKissic mentioned in this book?  I learned that there’s a lot I don’t know about a critical period in our nation’s history which still affects us today.  Before we go patting ourselves on the back for including minorities in leadership roles, we would all do well to read the story of Ellis and Atwater and remember that there are men like CP Ellis who paid a high price for doing what was right.  Are we willing to pay that price?

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.

 

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.