Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Response from the Southern Baptist Convention to SNAP: we stand by our silence and do-nothingness on sex abuse in our churches

UPDATE 6/6/14: SNAP sends updated letter this week to Frank Page

Read it here.

Associated Baptist Press: SNAP seeks independent review of abuse handling by prominent SBC churches

“This scandal in which an accused minister was allowed to simply move on to another church is one that has received wide publicity and that affects two of the SBC’s most prominent churches,” the SNAP leaders said. “Even if the SBC Executive Committee lacks power to actually do anything to hold accountable those officials who kept quiet about or covered up for minister John Langworthy’s abuse, thereby leaving other kids at risk, surely the Executive Committee can at least assure that an outside expert reviews the entirety of the matter with transparency so that people can have a full reporting of what happened and who was involved.”

Last month, SNAP sent a letter to the President and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page:
Abuse victims seek apology 
Top Baptist official attacked them
He called support group "opportunistic"
Group wants to speak at SBC annual meeting 
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Frank Page hoping to talk about preventing clergy sex crimes before thousands of Baptist who will gather in Baltimore this summer. And they want Page to publicly apologize for what they call his "hurtful comment” in 2007 when he wrote that their group was “nothing more than opportunistic persons motivated by personal gain.” 
"Publicly castigating brave clergy sex abuse survivors effectively demonizes and hurts already wounded men and women who were traumatized as kids," said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP. “We hope that, over the past few years, [Page will] have reflected on [his] words and realized the extraordinary harm he has caused," Clohessy added. 
Today we received a response from Page who decided to double down on his hurtful comments:

Page says he has "great compassion" for "suffering victims." Where is the action to back that up?

Page says:
I regret having a delayed response, but as I said, I wanted to think through this again [calling sex abuse victims "opportunistic"]. As I have done so, I have found there to be no new or different factors, and therefore, no better course to take than the one we have taken to address the terrible threat and harm of sexual abuse in church settings.
Page admits that the SBC stands by the status quo course of dealing with sex abuse within Baptist churches which has been a refusal to address the pervasive problem.

Last month, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC held a summit on sexuality without any mention of sex abuse on the program:
A victims’ advocate says there is a glaring omission at this week’s summit for Southern Baptist pastors on sexual issues — any mention on the program about the church’s response to sexual abuse.
Amy Smith, a lifelong Southern Baptist who works with Catholics and people from other denominations in an advocacy organization called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, found the subject “noticeably absent” among topics being covered in the April 21-23 “leadership summit” sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“How can a summit on ‘The Gospel and Human Sexuality’ not include a topic on the pervasive, devastating, destructive issue of sexual abuse?” Smith asked April 22. “Sexual abuse ravages the lives and souls of people that we hope that churches would be trying to minister to, yet the ERLC doesn’t devote a session, or even a breakout session or panel, to cover how pastors and churches should properly respond to abuse allegations to pursue justice, heal the wounded and protect kids in their midst.”
 Smith said the “accepted, unspoken method” of handling abuse allegations internally has the effect of silencing victims and putting the reputation of the institution ahead of the protection of kids.
“Sex abuse is all around them, in their churches, perpetuated and enabled by their own, yet their silence is deafening,” Smith said of Baptist leaders.
How to Get Promoted in the Southern Baptist Convention

Over 3 years ago I received this email from Prestonwood Baptist Church executive pastor Mike Buster saying that he and senior pastor Jack Graham would "cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies concerning this matter" referring to now convicted (in Mississippi) child sex offender, John Langworthy. Have they? I know that 2 victims of Langworthy child sex abuse from Prestonwood have come forward in the last year. One made a report to Dallas police and one to Plano police. Where is the cooperation with law enforcement, Prestonwood? Why is there no investigation into Langworthy's alleged child sex crimes in Texas?

Prestonwood Baptist Church and the Cone of Silence

In stark contrast to Frank Page's cruel words to victims, here is child sex abuse survivor, an amazing author and speaker, Mary DeMuth with her post "To the Brave Ones."

Update to my story:

I continue to be so grateful to the good people of SNAP who do so much every day to heal the wounded, protect the vulnerable and prevent abuse, more than has ever been said of churches and pastors throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. The likes of Frank Page and Albert Mohler have hardened their hearts, expressing outrage, not at the rape of children by their own and perpetuated by their own, but at victim advocates like SNAP.

I have been disowned and threatened by my parents on behalf of Prestonwood Baptist Church and pastors Jack Graham and Neal Jeffrey, because I reported and exposed child sex crimes by John Langworthy, now a convicted sex offender in Mississippi. Even after Langworthy's guilty plea and conviction, my dad screamed at my husband that, "He [Langworthy] didn't molest anybody!"

This is what Langworthy did to 5 boys, ages 6-13: State of Mississippi vs. John Langworthy [warning: graphic]

Last November, my husband and I made attempts again to speak with my parents over the phone to request a meeting to resolve this conflict. The response by my dad was to scream that he and my mom never want to see me or my family again. He also threatened to "go on the offensive."

The depths of the darkness and evil of child sexual abuse within churches is real. It's disgusting. It's horrific.

The backlash, intimidation, threats and silencing of victims and abuse advocates is real. It's disgusting. It's horrific.

But still, I will not be silent anymore.

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Stand with SGM Victims

Megachurch Pastor Confesses to Protecting Child Molester for Years

Covenant Life Church former pastor Grant Layman admitted on Tuesday while testifying about allegations against Nathaniel Morales that he withheld incriminating information from the police about the abuse.
Public defender Alan Drew asked Layman if had an "obligation to report the alleged abuse?"
"I believe so," he replied.
"And you didn't?" asked Drew, to which Layman responded "no."

The Criminal Trial of Nathaniel Morales: Report on Day 1 and 2

Critics question support of former ministry head accused of covering up abuse

The Gospel Coalition Connection to SGM victim advocacy

Some Questions for Organizations Close to the SGM Case

Brad Sargent: My "Slate of Eight" Restitution Suggestions for SGM & CLC

Brad Sargent also did an amazing job compiling the site Prestonwood Baptist Church Silent No More

What Kind of Hard Heart?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Denying and Enabling Child Sex Abuse

As abuse advocates, we receive calls and emails from survivors that we keep confidential. That confidentiality is very important and must be respected. Survivors of abuse have suffered much, and in no way would we ever want to cause further harm by abusing the trust instilled in us as they seek to heal.

Communications, however, from people criticizing my efforts to shine the light of truth on child sex abuse, I do not feel should be afforded the same level of confidentiality. Many times, it is these communications, that can serve to shine the light of truth even more, without the criticizing party's intent to do so. Last summer, I received an email from an anonymous source criticizing me at length for my post on a former Second Baptist Church of Houston minister, Eddie Struble, containing reports from 2 police departments detailing allegations of stalking a minor and "criminal solicitation of a child."

SNAP held a media event about 2 former Second Baptist Houston ministers in January, both accused of child sex crimes, Chad Foster and Eddie Struble.
SNAP is worried about more possible victims of two former Second Baptist ministers, both accused of crimes.
The first is Chad Foster, a young minister who was sentenced in April to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty to raping a 16-year-old girl in 2011 and soliciting another teen online.
The second is Eddie Struble, a music minister who faces no civil or criminal charges but is the subject of a Spring Valley police report accusing him of stalking a boy in 2009.
SNAP says that Struble abused a boy (roughly from ages 14-17) who Struble met at the church.
Struble now helps lead worship at Birchman Baptist church in Fort Worth, TX. He has also taught private voice lessons and worked as a vocal coach at Hits Theatre in Houston.
Struble plays an active role in Southern Baptist Convention events. He was the worship leader for the NACBA (National Association of Church Business Administration) National Conference Planning Team in Houston in 2012
Last July, he led a session on “saving ministry dollars” at NACBA conference in Charlotte. 
SNAP believes that church officials have a moral and civic duty, when confronted with proof or credible allegations of wrongdoing, to aggressively seek out victims, witnesses and whistleblowers and beg them to call police and prosecute so that those who commit or conceal crimes – especially against children – will be charged, convicted and jailed which prevents future crimes and cover ups.
 Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

I'll highlight the most startling admission in that email:
Based on rumors and the fact that he's a terrible role model, I wouldn't let my kids be alone with him. But I can't say with any reasonable certainty that he is a predator.
When it comes to kids, we believe that we should we always err on the side of caution. This week an article by Michael Reagan and Jerome Elam on Fox News highlights "The Staggering Cost of Silence: child abuse victims and stolen innocence."
The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
According to the Journal for the American Medical Association only 1 in 20 cases of child abuse are reported. 
Child sex abuse fact sheet

CNN highlights child abuse awareness month:
Too many parents also think strangers are the biggest threat to their children, and so if they teach their kids about stranger danger, they're protected. But 93% of the time in sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is not a stranger but someone the child knows, according to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.
 Mandatory reporting:
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws and policies that specify procedures for making and responding to reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Mandated reporters are required by most States to make an immediate report when they suspect or know of abusive or neglectful situations.
Texas is a state in which it is mandatory for any citizen to report known or suspected cases of child abuse. Texas is also a state in which it is a crime for clergy to have sexual relations with a congregant.

The Wartburg Watch- Bikers vs. Neo-Calvinist Leaders: The Gospel and Child Sex Abuse
The very first part in healing is shattering the silence.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Morrison Heights Baptist Church Attempts to Whitewash Abysmal Conduct in Clergy Sex Abuse Case

Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, MS hosted a sex abuse awareness training on Tuesday. I planned to attend but wasn't able to make it. Thanks to our Jackson SNAP leader, Mark Belenchia, for attending and providing some feedback.

Mark was impressed by the presentation of Ministry Safe founder and director, Greg Love. According to the bio on his website, Mr. Love litigates sexual abuse cases across the country, and consults with entities regarding the design and implementation of sexual abuse safety systems. Mark highlighted the section of Love's presentation on the "train wrecks" of gross mishandling of child sex abuse allegations within churches. Is Mr. Love aware of the train wreck in the building he was speaking in at Morrison Heights Baptist Church? 

Throughout the entire conference John Langworthy's name was never mentioned, not even by Morrison Heights pastor Greg Belser. If he refuses to acknowledge and address the train wreck of the past, how can we expect him to behave differently in the future? Morrison Heights cannot whitewash its abysmal conduct in the Langworthy scandal by simply hosting an awareness training.

In early March, I found the link to the abuse conference at the Baptist Children's Village website. I was excited to see them partnering with Morrison Heights to host such an important event. I immediately tweeted the link to promote this conference. Later that day, I received a call from someone affiliated with the conference who had received a call from Celeste Cade in the public relations office at the Baptist Children's Village. I'm told that Celeste is a long time member of Morrison Heights Baptist Church. Apparently, Celeste and Morrison Heights were bothered by my promotion of this abuse awareness event, not wanting any connection made whatsoever to the train wreck of the Morrison Heights/Langworthy child sex crimes debaucle.

Last Sunday morning, SNAP sent a letter to Morrison Heights pastors and elders on the eve of the "sexual abuse awareness training,” urging them to take a hard look at their own failures in connection with their own clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandal. Here is a portion of that letter:

Before you engage in any training, we urge you to take a hard look at your own church’s failures in connection with a clergy sex abuse scandal.
While we applaud efforts to raise awareness about child sex abuse, we also know from experience that awareness programs are never enough. Talk about proactive prevention is nice, but such talk rings hollow unless it is combined with responsible action, transparency and accountability.
We know how your church leaders failed when accusations first arose against former music minister and convicted child sex offender John Langworthy. But there are still many unanswered questions about continued secrecy, mishandling of abuse reports, your failure protect kids, and your refusal to turn over important evidence to prosecutors.
Morrison Heights has failed its children for decades. We are asking you to honestly acknowledge that failure and to do something about it. Until then, we cannot be assured that the crimes of the past are not continuing and thriving within your church's walls.

Someone mentioned to me that one impression of this Morrison Heights abuse conference by someone in the Clinton community is that it is an attempt to begin the process of restoring convicted child sex offender John Langworthy. The just redemption would be for John Langworthy to go to prison for a very long time for his crimes to keep kids safe from him. Kids are safest when predators are in jail. My impression is that this conference is an attempt to whitewash the train wreck Morrison Heights refuses to face. Perhaps it is their own image they hope to redeem. No concern has been expressed by Morrison Heights for the victims or a plea for them to call police, heal and protect other kids. There may be many more victims.

We hope that anyone else who has seen, suspected or suffered child sex crimes by Langworthy will come forward to law enforcement, no longer be silent, heal, and protect other kids. Below are some helpful contact numbers. 

Clinton, Mississippi – Detective Josh Frazier Clinton police 601-925-6106.
Hinds County Assistant DA in Jackson, Mississippi – Jamie McBride 601-968-6568 (prosecuted John Langworthy’s case recently for crimes in 1980-84).
Dallas, Texas – Police Child Exploitation unit 214-671-4211 (answered by a trained counselor with many years of experience doing this)
Mark Belenchia, SNAP Mississippi leader, msbelenchia@gmail.com, 601-953-2535
Amy Smith, SNAP leader Texas, 281-748-4050, watchkeepamy@gmail.com

Victims seek apology from top Baptist official Frank Page

SNAP is also asking the head of the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for his "very hurtful comment" about the organization and for a chance to speak at the annual SBC meeting in Baltimore this summer. Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Frank Page hoping to talk about preventing clergy sex crimes before thousands of Baptist who will gather in Baltimore this summer. And they want Page to publicly apologize for what they call his "hurtful comment” in 2007 when he wrote that their group was “nothing more than opportunistic persons motivated by personal gain.” 
The light of truth and knowledge is our greatest tool to protect kids.

CNN: Child sex abuse is a taboo topic for some parents