See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: The Southern Baptist Convention and child sexual abuse within

6/9/13: See Updates at the end of this post.

the backlash when speaking up about abuse

Three Wise Monkeys by Menage a Moi
Three Wise Monkeys, a photo by Menage a Moi on Flickr.

A pastor at our church of almost 18 years, Houston's First Baptist Church, has told me and my husband this week that *it's for the best that we step down from serving there, teaching in the youth ministry, since we don't see what I'm doing is a problem, like he does: my efforts to shine the light of truth and spread awareness about the horrific problem of child sexual within Southern Baptist churches and the silence from SBC leaders. Up until this blog post, I have never mentioned our church or any of the HFBC pastors on my blog.

I have never talked to this pastor, Doug Bischoff before, not in person, not on the phone, not via email. Last Friday, he left me a message, but I was out of town. Then, Monday, I didn't get a chance to call him back, being my 18th wedding anniversary, etc...and he left me another message late that afternoon, in a little put-out sounding tone of voice, in my opinion, saying, "trying to reach you, don't know if you're out of town or what." So about 5:00 Monday evening I called him back and pointed out I had been out of town and about to go out to dinner for our anniversary, but wanted to see what he needed, and then he proceeds to, after saying he wouldn't take much of my time, take offense at my blog. He started out telling me he had called a friend of mine whom I teach with at church, to that which I was shocked, asking why he would call and discuss the issues he has regarding me and my blog with her BEFORE talking to me? He made the excuse that he couldn't reach me, so he called her. What was so urgent? This, apparently:
I saw your blog.
I'm confused. You don't see it as a problem? [speaking out about child sexual abuse by Baptist clergy, about Baptist churches that cover up such abuse, about silence from SBC leaders about this abuse, about the vocal support of another evangelical pastor C.J. Mahaney accused in a lawsuit by 11 plaintiffs of covering up child sex abuse, and planning an awareness event next week at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston]
What good is it going to do, you standing outside the SBC?
What good will it do if the SBC president did issue a statement on abuse?
We're not like the Methodists. [each Baptist church is locally autonomous] 
How can you say that? [that child sexual abuse within Baptist churches is a systemic problem]
You may be seen as fringe.
 No, I do not see what I am doing as a problem. Neither does my husband, and he told Doug this in no uncertain terms in a meeting with him in person the next day at the church.

*UPDATED 6/8/13* 
After almost an hour on the phone with Doug challenging me about my efforts to raise awareness about abuse within the SBC, I was in tears and finally said to him, "I'm going to save you the awkardness of having to ask me to step down and I will step down." His reply was "Let's take a few weeks..." The next day in a meeting with my husband Doug brought up the subject about us stepping down and Doug said, "I told Amy I would think about it, but I've thought about it overnight, and I think it's best that she step down."
My husband Matt questioned him about why he thought it was best that I step down. Matt says that Doug gave an explanation that he has to look out for the children in the church.
HFBC wants to make this an issue of whether or not they *asked* me to step down. That doesn't remove the elephant from the room that Doug was asked to call me, and he did so to challenge me about my blog, starting out by saying "I saw your blog. You don't see it as a problem?"
I could see the writing on the wall early into the call. I decided to save myself some dignity and resign instead of having to be "fired" from a volunteer position.
(See Bene Diction Blogs On: I Saw Your Blog)

How can I say it's systemic? Because I know the stats of the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the general population and I've talked to survivors. How can I say that? Because the SBC holds up pastors like Jack Graham as models of leadership, who is on record having fired a minister, John Langworthy for child sexual abuse, but broke the law by failing to report this abuse to the police. Jack Graham will be a featured panel speaker on leadership this Sunday at the SBC pastors conference in Houston. No one in the SBC has held him accountable. No one. Prestonwood still must go to the police. They have knowledge of child sex crimes that they have never reported as required by the TX mandatory reporting law.

What good will it do? If my presence outside the convention, holding a picture of a child, an actual survivor of child sexual abuse by clergy, gives even just one person some hope, some encouragement that they are not alone, that they are not to blame, that someone believes them, and maybe someone that day or one day has the courage to call the police, seek justice, get help, start healing and protect other kids, then it's worth it.

How did you find her blog? my husband asked. Doug Bischoff said that his boss, pastor Gregg Matte showed it to him and asked him to call me. Gregg Matte is the president of the SBC pastors' conference.

One of the excuses for not doing or saying anything about abuse is that "we're not like the Methodists." I told Doug that this is the same old, lame, tired, and cowardly excuse of "local church autonomy" given by Baptists for decades now as reasons to not address this issue. The irony is that the SBC will be convening in a national, annual meeting next week in Houston. There will be a range of speakers addressing the thousands of Southern Baptists in attendance. Thus, we are respectfully asking for an opportunity to address the full assembly and share our organization’s expertise on how church members and staff should respond when accusations of abuse arise. Our letter to SBC officials is embedded below.

We’ve distilled much of what we’ve learned about this subject over the past 25 years into a short pamphlet that’s posted on our SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) website: 
After the phone call from Doug and my husband's meeting with him*, this is our takeaway: they agree with us that child sexual abuse is bad, and they don't want me to stop what I'm doing, but the church doesn't support me raising awareness by pointing out the problem within SBC churches and pastors that cover abuse up by failing to report. It's not a problem for me to point out these issues with Catholic churches or Penn State, just don't point the finger at my own Southern Baptist Convention.

*some added details from my husband Matt about his with meeting with Doug Bischoff at HFBC on Tuesday:
About the last 10 minutes of their meeting was a discussion of us stepping down from teaching. Doug brought this subject up. He told Matt, “Amy told me yesterday that she is stepping down, and I told her we should think about it. But I have been thinking about it overnight, and I think it’s for the best that she step down.”

To that my husband asked “Why?” Doug said, “You don’t see it as a conflict?”
Doug never once told me or my husband that he wanted us to keep serving in the youth ministry.

That's not the way of the Jesus I know, love and serve. He called out sin, wrongdoing and corruption among his own followers.

Cover up that exalts the “ministry” or a ministry personality over the well being of one who has been sinned against does not represent the Jesus I follow.
Jesus looked for the outcasted. He dignified the marginalized.
The church does far better when it acknowledges its sin, living fearlessly and honestly, than when it prefers to show a pretty, unadulterated face to the world. Unfortunately, we have become so enamored with the ministries we have built, forgetting that God Himself builds His church (and thinking it weighs on our shoulders), that we have lived in depraved fear, preferring the words of perpetrators over the words of those abused. We wrongly believe that we are in the business of reputation management.
Of course, I am not in the midst of this recent scandal, and I am not at all walking in either crowd’s shoes, leaders or victims, but from the outside it feels a lot like covering up for the sake of keeping the ministry machine alive. 
Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment was interviewed on the Janet Mefferd show. Listen here. 
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act— DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
What Kind of Hard Heart? by Matt B. Redmond
What kind of heart is so hardened it would publicly insult the blogs that have given a voice to the sexually abused while publicly embracing one who is accused of conspiring to cover up and silence the abused?
What kind of hard heart are we witnessing?

This was my question to Sir Patrick Stewart at Comicpalooza 2013. I wanted to thank Patrick Stewart for his speech at Amnesty International it personally help me put a name to the abuse, sexual abuse in my case, I had experienced in the past. He responded very passionately and the last thing I thought I would get at was a heartfelt hug. 

When he embraced me he told me "You never have to go through that again, you're safe now". I just kept thanking him. 

I hope everyone who needs help in abusive or violent situations has the courage to do so. There are people willing and ready to help you. 

Added 6/9/13:

New BBC Open ForumYou may be seen as fringe.
In closing, Doug, I would just like to say if Amy Smith is considered by the likes of men like you "fringe," then I'm proud to stand beside her and identify as "fringe," too! I believe Amy prefers "frilly fringe."

Thoughts on SGM and Our Church "Celebrity" Culture
I am angry and sad over the whole situation.

I am angry because I do not have what I believe are satisfactory answers to my questions above.  I am angry because, as a bivocational pastor and nurse in child psychiatry, I regularly encounter abused children and their perpetrators.  I am angry because I regularly see failures of the system to protect these children.  I am angry because I see perpetrators walk free with their children, only to further harm them and damage their precious little bodies and minds.  I am ANGRY!  The church is supposed to be different.  Christ's people are supposed to know that those who lead a child astray are better off having a millstone hung around their neck and being thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2).  We are supposed to be better, or at the very least different from the world.
Stop Baptist Predators: Southern Baptist Leadership is Lacking 

Statement by Pam Palmer, mother of a plaintiff in the SGM abuse lawsuit:
I am planning on standing with Amy Smith and SNAP and linking arms with them at this Awareness Event outside of the SBC meeting. As the mother of one of the SGM survivors/plaintiffs, I want to publicly support Amy and SNAP as they seek to raise awareness about the problems of sex abuse cover-up, which has occurred allegedly within the SBC at Prestonwood Baptist. 


Anonymous said…
Wow, Amy, it's hitting close and personal. Yes, been there and done that. Thank you for exposing this. This is ridiculous. It's more about their reputation than caring for victims of sexual abuse. I'm on it, Amy. Thanks for all that you do in speaking up for those with no voice.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for taking a stand, even when it costs you.
Hannah said…
Yeah. Okay then. Little people all the way to national news spoke about how the SBC has kept silent on abuse. They act like the IFB - we are all separate and not connected.

We just get together once a year, and tell you how you need to 'do church'. How you need to be Calvinist soon. How you need to agree to Statement of the roles of men and women. Who to boycott, what to speak about against, etc.

BUT we are separate. "Abuse" doesn't happen in our church...err Convention so please hush.

Nope. They aren't the Methodist's. They are like the Independent Fundamental Baptists. Claiming they are separate, but are interwoven. Technicality really 'separate', but together only once a year. "Friends" but no accountability. Hierarchy within the church, but none outside of it.

It amazes me that people do not learn from the past, and those that went 'down' before them. They completely lose their credibility. They act like scared little boys.

I'm sorry this is happening to you. Yes, this subject is HARD to face. They MUST! Hiding behind this facade is NOT what Jesus would want, and it sure doesn't make them look like a 'safe' church.

I would hate to have to be called to account for this in Heaven.
Amy, so sorry this is happening to you. You are doing God's work, so stay strong.
Nicholas Leone said…
God bless you, Amy. Never give in to these bullies.
Mark Belenchia said…
Amy... The most important question I have in these situations is what is the "flock" going to do? They have the real power over these so-called leaders. Sadly, it has been my experience that the "flock" usually just stands around waiting to put their money in the plate on Sunday. Institutionalization of the Church is out of control. Standing around grinning and telling people 'Jesus loves you' is not the Lords work. Being a real Christian is hard work... Hang is there!
Mark Belenchia said…
One other note: Don't forget the Son of God was labeled 'fringe'. Having that title keeps you with great company.
Sheldon Cooper said…
I'm an agnostic, but I have an incredible amount of respect for Christians who are willing to stand up and expose the the problem of sexual abuse in churches, and demand action, no matter how much people try to push back against them.

Hats off to you, Amy, you remind me a lot of the writers of The Wartburg Watch, I felt very honored to write a guest post for them several months ago.
terriergal said…
"I called him back and pointed out I had been out of town and about to go out to dinner for our anniversary, but wanted to see what he needed, and then he proceeds to, after saying he wouldn’t take much of my time, take offense at my blog."

So I guess that was his happy anniversary to you. 0.o Good grief. Any pastor with any taste would have said "oh, I'm sorry. Why don't you call me back when you get home or tomorrow when you get time." But obviously your dreadful sin about exposing sex abuse had to be dealt with just then. It's obvious!

sigh. The Christian church is being run by a bunch of juvenile boys who are more concerned with image than truth. Then they wonder why so many women are sick of male headship. (I am not, but I get very frustrated with the particular breed of cowardly, passive whiny men we breed here in the more affluent countries where Christianity is not yet really being persecuted. And just like it always has been, they blame it on these cantankerous and unruly women...)

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