Monday, March 21, 2011

Réforme writes about Baptists’ “wall of denial”

In its March 10, 2011 issue, Réforme magazine published a profile story about This Little Light, and about clergy sex abuse among Southern Baptists. I’m told that Réforme is the largest Protestant publication in France. So, a whole lot French-speaking people around the world are now reading about the horror of the Baptist do-nothing response to clergy sex abuse.

I’m guessing that most of you don’t speak French. So allow me to give you a translated version of a few passages. (You can read an entire English translation of it here.) I’m not totally fluent, and so this is a mediocre translation that doesn’t begin to do justice to the beauty of Alexis Buisson’s writing, but hopefully, it will give you the gist.

The article begins by relating a few excerpts from my own story and by telling about my book, which Buisson describes as having “mettre des mots sur l’indicible” -- as giving words to the unspeakable.

Then he discusses the unrecognized plague – “fléau méconnu” – of pedophilia among Protestants, and in particular, among Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant group in the United States.

He quotes me as saying: “Certaines personnes ont dit que l’écriture du livre etait un acte cathartique. . . . Pour moi, c’était plutot un fait de resistance au nom des voix de toutes les victims que ce groupe religieux tres puissant a tues.” Translation: “Some people have said that my writing of the book was an act of catharsis. But for me, it was instead an act of resistance – resistance in the name of the voices of all the victims that this powerful religious group has tried to destroy.”

Buisson writes about “l’absence de registres” – the lack of record-keeping – among Baptists, which impedes the ability to trace presumed pedophiles. And he does an amazing job of clearly explaining the position of Southern Baptist officials: “They say that each church is administered in an autonomous manner and that a list of sexual predators would be contrary to that principle. But Christa affirms that this amounts to a maneuver for burying the problem. ‘That sort of autonomy doesn’t really exist in actual practice. All through their history, you can find examples showing that there has been cooperation for all manner of purposes among the churches and the regional and national authorities.’”

Buisson explains how “la puissante SBC” – the powerful Southern Baptist Convention – doesn’t even have procedures for looking into clergy sex abuse accusations and how it contends that its decentralized structure justifies its “immobilisme” – i.e., its do-nothingness. He describes this as the “mur de déni” – the wall of denial.

"L’abus est difficile à vivre, mais l’attitude des autorités de l’Union des baptistes du Sud est encore plus difficile à accepter, raconte-t-elle." Translation: "Such abuse is difficult to accept in life, but what is even more difficult to accept is the attitude of Southern Baptist officiales," she says.

"Tant que les baptistes du Sud n’auront pas pris leur responsabilité et qu’ils n’auront pas engagé des réformes internes profondes, ils n’en auront pas fait assez. Ils doivent écouter les victimes . . . . ,' tonne Marci Hamilton, professeur de droit spécialiste des questions religieuses à la Yeshiva University de New York.

Translation: "'Until Southern Baptists take on their responsibility and undertake profound internal reforms, they will not have done enough about this problem. They must listen to the victims…. ' intones Marci Hamilton, professor on law and religion at Yeshiva University in New York."

Christa Brown says : "Leur stratégie a marché pendant très longtemps mais elle ne va pas durer. Ils pensaient qu’ils pouvaient se retrancher derrière leurs murs mais les murs sont en train de tomber. Cette dénomination est en déclin." Translation: "Their tactics have worked for a very long time, but they won’t endure. They think they can hide behind their walls but those walls are tumbling down. This denomination is in decline."

"J’ai une bonne vie et j’en suis reconnaissante. Mais je pense qu’il est impossible de guérir complètement d’un abus sexuel, poursuit-elle. Nous vivons dans la lumière et l’ombre. Je suis capable d’en parler mais beaucoup d’autres sont encore paralysés." Translation: "I have a good life and I am grateful for it. But I think it is impossible to completely heal from such sexual abuse. We live in the light and the darkness. I am capable of talking about it, but many others are still paralyzed by it."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Little Light reaches France

“L’Église baptiste, paradis des pédophiles”

That’s the headline that people in France saw when they opened the December/January edition of the Paris publication, Books magazine. In English, it says:

“The Baptist church: Paradise for Pedophiles”

The headline is for a review of my book, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. It's a book that not only tells my personal story, but also documents the denomination’s do-nothing response to the problem of clergy child molesters.

The review, written by investigative journalist Patrick Lindsay Bowles, is “fantastique.” In the space of a page, he illuminates the irrational arrogance of many Baptist leaders and their "systematic persecution of victims." And amazingly, Bowles even manages a touch of humor, as when he talks about former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson, whose hobbies include “hunting dangerous game” and who is shown on his website “kneeling behind the much-dreaded zebra.”

Ooh-la-la. Think about what this means. There are now people in France who are reading about the ugly reality of America’s largest Protestant denomination. They are learning of how the “Convention Baptiste du Sud” offers no compassion or care for those wounded by clergy sex abuse, and no accountability or consequence for clergy who commit abuse.

It’s awful stuff, but it’s real. So I’m glad that at least some people are learning the truth.

After all, the Southern Baptist Convention is an evangelical faith group that is intent on going to “all nations” and “teaching them.” (Matthew 28:19-20) So it certainly behooves those in other nations to consider exactly who these “teachers” really are and to assess the sort of values that they actually manifest.

Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group that turns its back on protecting “the least of these”? Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group that allows clergy predators to church-hop without anyone imposing accountability? Why should people in other nations care about the teachings of a faith group whose own institutional integrity is so utterly tainted?

Bowles’ review was published earlier by the Times Literary Supplement of London (which is sort of like a British version of the New York Times Review of Books). Now it has been translated into French and republished in this Parisian magazine. Bravo to Patrick Lindsay Bowles!

Here is the original English version of Bowles' review from the Times Literary Supplement. And here is a pdf of the French version from Books magazine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review in the Times Literary Supplement

Suffering and the Children
by Patrick Lindsay Bowles
Times Literary Supplement, April 16, 2010

"The current crisis for the Catholic Church over decades of child sexual abuse has further obscured a similar but less reported story. One of Time magazine’s 'Top Ten Underreported Stories of 2008' was the refusal by America’s largest Protestant church, the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), to create a database of those among its 101,000 clergymen who have been convicted or credibly accused of sexually abusing children. That refusal is one of the practices that make the 44,000 churches of the SBC, says Christa Brown, “a perfect paradise for predators”. The shocking evidence, expertly marshalled by Ms Brown, a successful appellate lawyer in Austin, in this riveting account of her own victimization, suggests that in the case of the SBC the distinction between predator and clergyman is all too often diaphanous.

In powerful descriptions of her abuse and its aftermath of madness, tainted relationships and loss of faith (years later, writes Brown, 'I would sometimes go out alone on moonless nights and scream into the ocean . . . . I didn’t have a clue why I was screaming'), the author demonstrates how her own descent into hell corresponds to a typical scenario for Southern Baptist victims. Under the guise of counselling a child, she says, a pastor rapes her, quoting scripture all the while, but insists that she is the guilty party and enlists his church and the SBC to successfully cover up his crime. Three decades after the incidents, Brown was finally able to put a name to what had happened to her; having become a mother made it urgent to her to file a complaint. Although the SBC claimed to have no record of her aggressor, he was serving in a well-known church when Brown located him in 2004. On January 18, 2006, her former church produced a letter acknowledging the facts of the case, for which Brown agreed to suspend legal proceedings.

The SBC gives two reasons for its refusal to maintain a list of predators: 1) Each of the churches belonging to the SBC is autonomous, so it is powerless to intervene. 2) We can, they claim, simply check to see if our ministers have criminal records. Rebuttals: 1) While the SBC has yet to sever ties with any of the thousands of its churches in which paedophiles are or have been known to occupy the pulpit, its Nashville headquarters keeps very close tabs on what is going on and where. On June 23, 2009, the SBC “disfellowshipped” the Broadway Baptist church of Fort Worth, Texas, because it has one openly gay member. 2) Over 90 per cent of sex offenders have no criminal record.

Data from American insurance companies suggests that Protestant clergy lead Catholics in the sexual abuse of children, with the SBC the worst offender. A combination of suprajudicial procedures (e.g. victims, who are warned not to contact police, may not address the SBC with complaints, which must come to it from the church, in other words, from the pastor or person who committed the crime about which the complaint is being made); hillbilly pilpulism (the SBC’s resident quack “expert” distinguishes between sexual predators, who are first degree felons facing potential life sentences in prison if caught, and who simply, says he, don’t exist in the Baptist clergy, and mere “wanderers”); and systematic persecution of victims who complain means that most of the SBC’s predatory activities remain unprosecuted. The former President of the SBC, Paige Patterson, whose hobbies include “hunting dangerous game” (his website shows him kneeling behind the much-dreaded zebra) shocked other faith group leaders, including Catholics, when he referred to Brown and other victims of confessed rapists as 'evil-doers' and 'just as reprehensible as sex criminals'.

The SBC’s lawyers place their faith in the statute of limitations, which requires that complaints be made by the age of twenty-eight (average age of childhood sex abuse victims: twelve; that of the complainants: forty-two), in the fact that fewer than 10 per cent of clergy sex abuse cases are ever reported, and in the high suicide rate of victims. Alone among faith groups, the tax-exempt SBC, with $10 billion in assets, offers no counselling to victims, yet provides free counselling to clergymen who have been caught raping children.

Both Brown’s story and the data she has gathered on other victims of the SBC in This Little Light and on her website ( and blog ( suggest that legal reform is urgently needed. When the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse disappears, as it inevitably will, the resulting class action will probably spell the end of the SBC.

The SBC has refused to keep a list of its criminal clergymen; Brown has kindly begun to keep one for them, pro bono. They have clearly bullied the wrong woman, and in so doing have awakened both a whistleblower of historic proportions and a writer."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review of David Clohessy

Survivor's Story Shows Collusion of Baptist Leaders
by David Clohessy

In a groundbreaking memoir and exposé, Christa Brown tells the story of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups in the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Her new book, This Little Light, is one of the most powerful survivor stories I’ve ever seen, and in the work I do, I see a lot them.

This Little Light takes you on a journey. It’s the sort of journey in which you keep wishing you could turn back, and yet you can’t. The book is a page-turner. From beginning to end, Brown takes your hand and takes you with her.

She starts off by going straight to hell. That’s where the call of “God’s will” led her when she was a young, faith-filled church girl. She retraces the terrain of that hell as she tells of being sexually abused in the name of God, by a man of God, and in the house of God.

But that’s only the upper-level of hell. The tour of hell’s lower-level begins when Brown, as an adult, attempts to report her pastor-perpetrator. Even though church leaders knew what he had done, he was allowed to move on to work in other Baptist churches, including very prominent ones. Ultimately, Brown notified 18 Baptist leaders with her substantiated report of abuse, but the perpetrator remained in ministry until many months later when the media got involved.

Brown doesn’t hold back as she recounts this part of her journey through the Kafkaesque maze of the cold-hearted Baptist machine. It’s a journey in which some of Baptist-land’s highest officials are seen lurking in some awfully dark corners.

Though it’s a hellish journey, Christa Brown ultimately brings courage and hope into Baptistland’s barren terrain. Her book is a must-read for anyone concerned with the safety of children and the abuse of power in evangelical churches.

David Clohessy is the national director of SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review of Rev. Thomas Doyle

Reverend Thomas Doyle is the whistle-blower priest and former Vatican canon lawyer who, twenty-five years ago, warned Catholic bishops about the looming clergy sex abuse nightmare. They ignored him, but Doyle’s prophetic words proved to be tragically true.

In 2007, Doyle wrote to Baptist officials with a similar warning. They too ignored him.

Here is what Reverend Doyle said about "This Little Light."

This book should rightly make any honest Christian furious. The smooth-talking, Bible-quoting, God-invoking perpetrator is disgusting enough but the real anger surges forward as one reads page after page of the twisted, lie-filled and hypocritical response of the Southern Baptist bureaucracy. “Praise the Lord and be saved” suddenly means nothing as the self-righteous, self-appointed guardians of God’s authentic words reveal the shallowness of their understanding of the scriptures they endlessly quote and of the mission of the Lord they claim to follow.

Christa Brown is a lawyer who has survived the nonsensical brainwashing inflicted by her church. She has survived the sexual molestation and devastating abuse by the duplicitous pastor who used her naive faith to molest her. Most important, she survived every attempt by the mighty Southern Baptist Convention to shut her down. She has become what her church could never be, a true presence of Christian justice and compassion.

Christa’s vivid story is much more than a narrative about sexual exploitation by a minister. It is about yet another main-line denomination that continually used the words and mission of Christ for its own self-serving ends, but has never had the courage or even the spiritual ability to do the challenging word of Christ.

My own written exchange with the highest level of Southern Baptist leadership was an exercise in futility. Placed in the context of Christa's story it is obvious that the Southern Baptists, like the institutional Catholic Church and several other denominations, have, beneath their piety and smooth god-talk, a core of dishonesty and alienation from the Lord they all proclaim as their inspiration. They utterly fail to live those challenging words of Christ, “When you do this to the least of my brothers, you do it to me.”