Monday, March 31, 2014

Bill Gothard and Bob Jones University Abuse Scandal Connections: protecting leadership, silencing victims

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests held a media event last week at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina urging BJU officials to release the identities of all sex offenders (proven, admitted and credibly accused) who have worked at or attended the university and post them permanently on the school's web page. This would help prevent future crimes.
We are urging Bob Jones University officials to
–launch an independent investigation into alleged cover-ups of child sex crimes and/or sexual harassment accusations that have surfaced recently against a nationally-known minister, and
–permanently post the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused sex offenders who are or have been at the university on the school's website.   
Earlier this month, a prominent Illinois-based Protestant minister, Rev. Bill Gothard, was put on administrative leave after as many as 34 women said that he sexually harassed them. At least four women said that he molested them as youngsters. And Gothard also allegedly hid sexual harassment by his brother, along with Bob Jones officials, according to a recent Washington Post article.
According to bloggers at Recovering Grace, “In 1980, two BJU officials (only one is named, a Rev. Van Gelderen) were summoned by Gothard to help him downplay a scandal that was about to overwhelm his multi-million dollar ministry. The two BJU men were used by Gothard in his attempt to hush up accusations of sexual harassment against Gothard’s brother.”
We want BJU to hire an outside firm to investigate the charges that two university staffers may have hidden alleged sexual crimes, misdeeds or other wrongdoing by Rev. Gothard or his brother.
Rev. Gothard headed the Institute In Basic Life Principles (IBLP). In the 1970s, Rev. Gothard regularly filled auditoriums across the US with attendance figures as large as ten thousand and more, according to Wikipedia. 
As best we can tell, there are no pending civil lawsuits or criminal investigations against Rev. Gothard. But SNAP notes that his own IBLP board asked him to step down in light of the dozens of allegations against him, some of which go back decades. Many of these reports surfaced first on Recovering Grace.
In an email to our leaders last month, BJU spokesman Randy Page ignored our request, claiming only that “All known perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been reported to law enforcement.”
Page also told us “We know of no current student, faculty or staff member who has been convicted of child sexual abuse or sexual assault.” That means that school officials know of former staff and students who ARE convicted offenders. “For the safety of others – both adults and kids,” we believe those names should be put on the BJU website. Religious institutions, “especially those who are accused of concealing crimes,” should be held to a higher disclosure standard than other organizations.
We can imagine some at BJU may be surprised at our requests. Some will question the propriety of our requests. Here are some likely questions and our responses:
Some might ask "These Gothard allegations date back to the 1980s and appear on a blog but largely nowhere else. So why should BJU officials take them seriously?"
Because it's a blog that many people find credible, including mainstream media sources. Because it's best to err on the side of protecting the vulnerable and wounded, not the accused and the powerful.
Some might ask "Why students? Why not just staff?"
Listing any perpetrator is better than listing none. But why make arbitrary distinctions? The more offenders they list, the more vulnerable people they protect.
Some might ask "Does the University have an obligation to list these offenders?” 
Legally, no, but we believe that morally, yes. We believe there's every reason to do so and no reason to NOT do so. This action will safeguard those at risk. Why wouldn't BJU officials want to do this?
Some might ask "Could the University be sued for doing this, for listing these names?”
Anything's possible but we don't think so. The last thing a sex offender wants is more publicity. Roughly 30 US bishops have posted offender lists. None of them, as best we can tell, have been sued.
Some might ask "Aren't folks in US considered innocent until proven guilty?”
That's the standard we use when considering depriving a person of his or her physical liberty. We agree with this practice. But we also know that most sex offenders are never caught or convicted. People are safest when predators are jailed. But when that can't happen, the next best alternative is to alert the public about them. That's what we're asking BJU to do.
Finally, we also want to stress that sexual crimes should be reported to law enforcement by anyone who sees, suspects or suffers them. To most victims this is a frightening prospect, but if innocent kids and vulnerable adults are to be protected, victims must somehow find the strength, courage and wisdom to call secular officials, not religious officials.

A Thread Called Grace: How I came to stop hiding and face the biggest secret of my early life by Jonathan Merritt:
"Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories," says Brené Brown. "We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection." In the end, shame steals the very thing it promises: meaningful, authentic connections with others. Pursuing a life of honesty means to reveal who I truly am and assert that my story too belongs at the table.
More from Jonathan Merritt:
Owning one’s story can be costly, but it is not nearly as expensive as spending one’s life running from it.
The New York Times:
For sure, sexual maltreatment of children and cover-up are not Catholic monopolies. Charges have been brought against predatory rabbis in New York and elsewhere. In the Hasidic world, a code of silence governs much of life in this regard. Those who break it, by taking allegations to the civil authorities, find themselves ostracized. The existence of a website like points to problems in other denominations. As for secular institutions, who could be unaware of abuses within the Boy Scouts of America and at Penn State?
Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP, featured in a New York Times video today on the front page:

Monday, March 24, 2014

TX: a state in which it is a crime for clergy to have sexual relations with a congregant

In my last post, I discussed the recent departure of longtime Prestonwood Baptist music minister Todd Bell due to what several sources say is an affair with a choir member.

Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators left this comment on that post:
Hi Amy. Just want to share a bit of Texas law with you. Under the Texas Penal Code, section 22.011, a sexual assault is considered to be “without the consent of the other person if… the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman's professional character as spiritual adviser…” I have no clue what happened with Todd Bell and his reported “unfaithfulness” to wife, church and ministry… and from the reported statements here, it is impossible to know. But I do know that, if a minister engages in sexual “unfaithfulness” with an adult congregant, it is sometimes more properly viewed under the law as a “sexual assault” rather than as a “consensual” relationship. But of course, given how often we have seen Baptist leaders minimize the horrific abuse of kids as mere “moral failure,” it’s not surprising that, often, they are also quick to minimize the sexual abuse of adult congregants as “affairs” or “unfaithfulness.” Whether or not that is what happened here is something I don’t know. 

More from Julie Anne on this TX law:
One important note: This illicit relationship occurred in Texas, and Texas is a state in which it is a crime for clergy to have sexual relations with a congregant. The relevant section of the Texas Penal Code are below (emphasis added).
Texas Penal Code Chapter 5. (22.011)
Title 5. Offenses against the person.
Chapter 22. Assaultive Offenses.
Sec. 22.011. Sexual assault.
(b) A sexual assault [...] is without the consent of the other person if: [...] 10) the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser …
Texas Penal Code 22.011(b)(9): “by exploiting [the patient or former patient's] .  .  . emotional dependency”; and (b)(10) “by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual advisor”
So, while Victim said her involvement with Doug Phillips was consensual, by law, it was not consensual in that Doug Phillips, acting as clergy, was in a position of trust to “do no harm,” but he violated this position of trust over her.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Prestonwood Baptist Church and the Cone of Silence

After 22 years as the worship pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, Todd Bell apparently resigned suddenly last week, or so I've heard from a few sources. He has been removed from the staff listing on the church website. *From what I've been told in an email (see below), Jack Graham spoke at the end of the service last Sunday, apparently after the cameras stopped rolling, about Todd Bell's resignation or firing. I'm not clear on which it is exactly.

If Jack did speak openly and transparently that Todd "disqualified himself, " why has he never spoken about how Prestonwood minister John Langworthy disqualified himself too when he suddenly left Prestonwood in June 1989 after allegations surfaced that he was sexually abusing boys in the church? Why has Jack never mentioned Langworthy from the pulpit? Don't all members and parents deserve to know why a minister would leave suddenly because he was accused of child sex crimes?

*UPDATE 3/5/14: I received the following email today with more information.
I was in both services on Sunday at Prestonwood and Jack Graham spent a good 10 to 15 minutes very transparently sharing his grief and sadness over the resignation and the exact reasons for it which he specifically stated verbatim were unfaithfulness to his wife and to the church and his ministry.  It was heartfelt, sincere, transparent and anything but brief as your comments state.  I even taped it for my daughter to hear and we listened to it more than once....not brief and not any trace of an attempt at hiding the truth.
 *Why has he never done the same from the pulpit about John Langworthy's alleged child sex abuse at Prestonwood that resulted in Jack firing him? Where's the truth and transparency there? Why has Jack not even spent one minute sharing grief and sadness for the children harmed by Langworthy?

*Does it bother anyone else that Jack can devote time from the pulpit to address his "grief and sadness" about Todd Bell but not answer the plea from a grieving mother of a Langworthy victim?

(additional information added 3/20/14): Jack Graham apparently had time in 1989 to contact Prestonwood "attorneys who were involved in all of this back then," according to associate pastor Neal Jeffrey. Neal stated in an email reply to me (embedded below) that "the attorney guys did not remember all of the specifics of the case, so they were going to go back into their notes, etc, and see what needs to be done." According to one of the victims who came forward a few months after Langworthy was fired, the attorneys had him and other victims give them a statement about the abuse. Did they report this statement of abuse to the police as required by law? These were attorneys for the church, not the victims.

Truth and transparency should be the standard in all matters in a church, be it matters of consensual affairs resulting in a resignation or illegal sex crimes resulting in the same or a firing. He publicly addressed the arrest and firing of former Prestonwood minister Joe Barron, so why the silence on Langworthy?

Document: "Yes, they tried to handle it discretely as any church tries to do." - a former Prestonwood Baptist Church deacon on child sex offender John Langworthy

A Tale of Two Jacks

Jack Graham and Prestonwood have never reported to the police the known abuse by Langworthy which is required by the Texas mandatory reporting law passed in 1971. Langworthy was allowed to return to his home state of Mississippi where he soon began working as a music minister and a music teacher in public schools, elementary through high school ages, in Clinton, MS for the next 22 years, until he was exposed as a predator when he confessed publicly from the pulpit at Morrison Heights Baptist Church.

World Magazine discussed Prestonwood's handling of Langworthy abuse allegations in a cover story last year titled "The High Cost of Negligence."
Earlier this year Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation of about 15,000 in Plano, Texas, faced questions about how it handled a past allegation of abuse. Its former youth worker, John  Langworthy, pleaded guilty in Mississippi to five of eight counts of molestation involving five boys in the early 1980s. A judge gave Langworthy a 50-year suspended sentence.

 Mike Buster, an executive pastor at Prestonwood, told a local news station in 2011 the church received an  allegation in 1989 that Langworthy had “acted inappropriately with a teenage student.” The pastor said  the church dismissed Langworthy, and that “the elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and  forthrightly.” Buster didn’t say whether church officers filed a police report. WORLD requested further comment, and Buster replied in an email, saying nothing had changed from the church’s original statement.

Langworthy went on to work as a music minister at *Morrison Heights Baptist Church and a high school choir director in Clinton Public Schools. He resigned both positions in 2011.
*Morrison Heights Baptist Church is hosting a Sexual Abuse Awareness Training conference on April 29 with the goal to equip church leaders with the skills and resources they need to keep children safe.

We know there are more victims suffering in silence. We hope that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered wrongdoing by Langworthy or any other perpetrators from Prestonwood Baptist or other churches and institutions will have the courage to break their silence, come forward to law enforcement and protect other kids.
Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live.

I found my voice. I hope you can find yours too.

Amy Smith's Persistence Brings Justice in John Langworthy Abuse Case

Justice Quest Begins with Phone Call, Ends with Conviction

Jack Graham Explains How to Have Your Best Christmas: Shun Church Critics, Especially Those "Watchdoggers"

It's responses like this that silence and shame victims into silence and enable perpetrators:

Updated 10/23/14- This is my story of how I came to be a leader with SNAP and an advocate for survivors of abuse and the timeline of speaking out to expose the child sexual abuse at Prestonwood: