Monday, December 12, 2011

Why silence from SBCers about clergy sex abusers is especially troublesome

One of the more troublesome cases of an SBC minister sexually abusing children, many of them over a decades long period, is that of David Pierce, former music minister in Benton, Arkansas. He was convicted in 2009 and has been in prison for a couple of years of his ten year sentence. The matter is news now because he is up for parole. A hearing has been postponed until next year on that.

At his sentencing in 2009 there were many requests for leniency, described as an "inch thick" stack of letters.

Christians shouldn't be vindictive or cruel people but it would be troublesome to me if this case, actually an unknown number of cases, dozens, over many years, is not seen as particularly egregious in a Christian church context.

What the music minister did was to target boys for his special mentoring, discipleship if you will, program. The boys would be checked, held accountable for " ‘the four S’s.’ He would check us spiritually, scholastically, socially and sexually." The quote is from a victim.

You can easily access the details of the crimes, the fourth "S", in which the boys were used for the his sexual gratification.

Is there not something particularly abhorrent about taking something so essential to Christianity, discipleship, and perverting it into evil? The man would even use the example of Jesus having only twelve disciples in his grooming of the boys for his special group. Is there not something that deserves harsh punishment for polluting what is sacred to us?

Christa Brown, whose blog is Stop Baptist Predators, is often criticized for being unreasonably vindictive towards the Southern Baptist Convention and SBC officials. Her story of being abused by an SBC minister is widely distributed.

While it is not difficult for me to understand her anger at the SBC in the context of what she suffered at the hands of an SBC minister, I often am puzzled by the lack of anger of some SBC colleagues when such crimes occur in the context of our vocation and at the hands of those called to serve.

David Pierce committed crimes and was convicted and punished. How long the punishment should last, how much he should spend in prison, should be and is a secular, not an ecclesiastical, decision. If he is paroled, so be it.

But as a Christian and as a Christian minister, I doubt I would be inclined to ask for leniency for someone who uses the church and Christian discipleshp for such perversion. In fact, I would likely do just the opposite.

Let's see if another "inch thick" stack of letters asking for leniency for David Pierce is produced next month when authorties consider his parole.


John Notestein said...

For some reason, we as the SBC seem to be open to sharing the Gospel, doing missions, helping the poor and needy,etc., but when we find things in our own midst, like seual predators, alcoholism, spouse abuse, etc., we want to cover it up and make it go away. I think part of it is how will be be looked at. Leaders in the SBC seem to think that outsiders will view us as hypocrites for saying one thing and doing another, for acting pious and condemning others when we are sinners ourselves. Rather than admit that all people are broken and are in need of grace and forgivness, we want to white wash ourselves so we can look good and moral to the world.

We could do so much to help others who struggle with sin if we would only acknowledge it in our midst and deal with it in a Christian manner, rather than close our eyes and pretend it doesn't exist, just to maintain an image that we above all this.

Anonymous said...

I have mentioned this before on other blogs because it sort of sums up what hypocrites we can look like to the world.

An old college chum of mine went on to law school and is now a judge. He told me few years back that judges find many Christians confusing. They will pack the courtroom when there is a porn shop zoning hearing to try to close them down but when one of their own is caught molesting children they will pack the courtroom with character witnesses and pleas of leniency.

He did not get it and quite frankly, neither do I. For some reason many Christians seem to think that if one calls themselves a believer they should get special consideration when it comes to civil punishment.


Bruce H said...

Anyone in a leadership position should have a "stricter judgment" on earth, too. We seldom think of how we should treat a person who has done something like this. Paul talked about a fornication issue in 1 Cor. 5:1-5 that wouldn't be considered as bad as this issue and he was wanting the church to turn the man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. The church certainly should have handled it on the spiritual side and the law of the land should have handled it on the other side. Do not hurt the conscience of the victim any further by requesting a reduced sentence.

Anonymous said...

There are more than enough laws to protect children from predators and more than enough laws telling pastors what to do when they discover a predator. Now the authorities just need to start enforcing them.

Christa and a bunch of others are so off target when they keep maligning the SBC and demanding that they do something to Jack Graham and Greg Belser. This is nowhere under the authority of the SBC and they should know this.

If they broke the law, then turn up the heat on the local and state authorities to prosecute them. And get off the back of the SBC since its not their job in the first place.

William Thornton said...

I've read enough amiss with SBC churches and staff to understand that we have no right to expect, or demand, to be above criticism.

Anonymous said...

And how many thousands of SBC churches do we have compared to the minute number of abusers? Not enough abusers for a blanket condemnation of a lot of good pastors and a lot of good churches. We are not above criticism but it gets old hearing constant harping on the same group of offending pastors. If their churches choose not to do anything to or with them, then its out of our Baptist hands.

Anonymous said...

Here lies another disgust...I know too men in ministry feel the need to take care of their families work awhile in private sector as these take a church salary.

William Thornton said...

Anonymous, I feel better about having discussions with people who identify themselves. You make some reasonable point.

The better reaction to the criticism would be to understand that many who make them (CB,for example) have earned the right to make such. Others (like me) do so because it is an issue that needs greater exposure.

Because some men in SBC ministry moonlight is irrelevant to this topic, though it may be worthwhile to examine in another.

William Thornton said...

...and if you have disgust, it is better applied to the few SBC clergy who are child sex abusers rather than to their victims and critics.

Anonymous said...


In reality, how many sex abusers do you actually think we have on staffs of SBC churches? Make your wisest guess and then relate it to the total number of staff members we have in the convention.

William Thornton said...

Would you mind not being anonymous?

SBC clergy regularly make the news about child sex abuse. No one has asserted that such is rampant and widespread, nor does it need to be to be news or to be considered an important topic for discussion.

The better reaction would be to recognize the problem and acknowledge that it has been often handled poorly, illegally, and inconsiterately.

...or you could shoot the messengers.

Anonymous said...

It isn't always handled poorly. There are actually some SBC pastors out there that know the right thing to do and then do it. Maybe some attention should be focused on those instead of the ones who do it the wrong way.

You can a lot more credibility when you turn down the shrill level and accentuate the positive.

William Thornton said...

Anonymous, you are missing the whole thing here. No one has said that SOME SBC pastors and churches get it right. Neither has anyone said that ALL SBC churches and pastors get it wrong.

If you want a steady stream of SBC puff pieces there are plenty of outlets for that.

If you are unwilling to indentify yourself, please post elsewhere or email me with a name.

Anonymous said...

No name forthcoming. Sorry. See you around.

William Thornton said...

Didn't think so.

I allow anonymous comments. I am not fond of engaging some no-name in a long conversation.

I do not take slaps from someone who is unwilling to affix their name to such things. With a name, I'll accept most any civil criticism.

Anonymous said...

William, if I may add a few points.

Yes the SBC has handled the issue of sex abuse poorly. Society as a whole handles the issue poorly. See Penn State and the cover-up going on in Hollywood currently. It's our human nature to circle the wagons and to recoil against such horror. "That couldn't have happened here and no one I know could ever be guilty etc." Now that doesn't absolve us at all.

One big problem with this discussion in the SBC is that it's either you love children and will do what Christa Brown says or you are just evil.

No Christa Brown has not earned any right to say and behave in any fashion she chooses. Christa Brown is a victim and deserves our love and compassion, but that does not entitle her to act and behave in an unaccountable fashion. Many through the years have come to the conclusion that Christa Brown is simply out for revenge, thus pushing for that which will hurt the SBC the most by setting up a system that would go after the money.

People who are truly concerned for children are looking at any and all ways to protect children in the SBC. When a person focuses on the one thing they've been told over and over they are not going to get to the exclusion of any discussion of anything else that could possibley help within our ecclesiolgy, they lose crediability.

So it would be nice if the SBC could have a discussion but when the shrill voices on the other side play the it's our way or you want to see children hurt card and the SBC is just evil for not bowing down to poor Christa Brown. The discussion stops.

Not saying you've done that here, but if anything's going to be done in the SBC we have to focus on what we can do not on what some people insist we do because they've made an idol out of one of the victims.


William Thornton said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ann.

I've interacted with Christa Brown, publicly and privately, for about five years. More than any other single individual she is responsible for the increased profile of SBC clergy sex abuse. This has been greatly beneficial in educating SBC pastors like me.

That said, I do not share her goals with regard to an institutional SBC response; however, I don't expect her to not continue to be a forceful advocate for the same.

I believe that she has earned the right to advocate in the fashion that she has and does. It is strange to read your statement that she behaves in an "unaccountable" fashion. That is precisely her complaint. I don't see that any of us have a right to hold her accountable.

There is no one in the SBC advocating for any Executive Committee level investigative board, her main thrust. There are a few who recognize the problems here and make them public, set the stage for discussion, and examine some of the issues involved. I am one of those.

I have said before that pastors who go to and take time to read the stuff there may well avoid a problem and thereby save their ministry. There is appalling ignorance among SBC clergy in this area.

I believe that my dozen or so articles on the issue are aimed at doing "what we can do" as you say.

Thanks again for the comment.

Christa Brown said...

Actually, from the get-go, in SNAP's first letter to SBC officials dated 8/2/2006, we asked SBC officials to use the reality of an egregious, much-covered-up clergy abuse case to conduct their OWN review for purposes of considering "what can be done to make Southern Baptist churches safer." No one has ever focused on just one thing.

In our second letter of 9/26/2006, we proposed a list of five possible actions for making SBC churches safer, and specifically stated that "if this list does not suit you or does not seem feasible to you, then we ask you to immediately come up with a list of your own."

In response, by letter dated 9/29/2006 and signed by D. August Boto, SBC officials stated that "continued discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful." (The letters are posted in full, and have been for a long time, on the stopbaptistpredators website.)

And gee whiz, "Ann," at least I'm up-front about who I am, which is more than I can say for you. With whatever I write, I use my real name and people know who they're criticizing. But you're so totally unaccountable that you don't even reveal who you are. I guess that makes it pretty easy to say whatever you want, eh?

Anonymous said...

Christa, sorry you don't like my name, but I think you've demonstrated nicely why people refuse to work with you. Anyone who post anything not bowing down to you will be attacked.

No William no one has a right to sow division and discord. As Christa just demostrated the SBC cannot even begin to have a civil discussion about this because of what has just been demonstrated here.

Ann Warden (are we required to post tele and address or is that only for those who dare disagree with the great Christa who deserve to be attacked here)

William Thornton said...

Ann, I said thanks for the comment. No need for any back and forth between commenters.

I think you miss a couple of things about this:

1. CB is a forceful advocate and as such writes provocative things. Take them or leave them. No one requires you, me, or anyone to read them.

2. The SBC is having a conversation about this matter. It is informal and takes place on sites like this one. She can have her say here. You can have yours. You don't have to like what each other says.

I allow anonymous commenters but prefer if I am to be criticized or if there is a discussion that folks identify themselves.

Thanks for doing that.

D.R. said...


I have had a similar experience with Christa Brown that Ann has had. Glad to see another person - a woman no less - who has seen the same things I have seen in her. I made several comments on her blog a couple of years back and even advocated a method of using the state conventions and local associations to accomplish the work she claims the SBC refuses to do.

She was not interested and even claimed that I had a secret, and even vindictive, agenda of getting her address because I asked her where she was at so I could contact the local associational missionary and some local pastors in her area that could meet with her.

The bottom line that I found with Christa is that she is unwilling to do anything that she hasn't approved as a strategy. The local associations are the best places to help prevent these, as are the state conventions. These are actually the places where Churches go to find applicants and training in hiring staff. But Christa seems to refuse any other method than a national database, which is impossible for legal reasons and wouldn't even be helpful for most of the Churches where these predators are.

We need a local system and if Christa really wants to help I actually would still be willing to hook her up with local pastors and associational missionaries. Heck, she could come here to GA and work with our association and hopefully state convention. But any sort of database is off the table, which usually means her help is off the table. I have found that she will only work under her conditions. And that only hurts the children she claims to be wanting to help.

William Thornton said...

I suppose it is understandable if CB has less than a high degree of respect for SBC clergy.

I wouldn't have expected her to relinquish her goals.

Christa Brown said...

D.R. said: "She ... claimed that I had a secret, and even vindictive, agenda of getting her address because I asked her where she was at...."

This is not true. I never did or said any such thing.

As for contacting state conventions and local associations, I did that in Texas, Florida and Georgia. And despite repeated efforts, by letters, by phone, and in person, I got absolutely zero help. And that's an understatement. Many other Southern Baptist clergy abuse survivors would say exactly the same thing.