The Dangers of Keeping Organizational Secrets

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October 28, 2013; Associated Baptist Press


A commentary by Christa Brown, a self-identified survivor of Baptist clergy sexual abuse, addresses how churches should deal with sex abuse allegations, but the lessons that extend much beyond both the issue of sexual abuse and the institution of churches.

Brown’s commentary is in response to a statement by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson, who has been teaching Baptist seminaries that churches should solve their own issues internally and not turn to or open up to “the world of unbelief.” It’s clear in Brown’s quotes that Patterson is suggesting that persons who have been “offended…misused and abused” within the Baptist church should be keeping the information within the church and not talking to the courts, the press, or the government.

“This insular sort of anti-outsider stance is dreadfully dangerous,” Brown writes. “Yet, for decades, it has been a common Baptist teaching, and tragically, it is now being inculcated into still another generation of Baptist pastors.” She argues that “outsiders are essential to any organizational system of accountability. They bring objectivity and detachment, and these ingredients are critical for the effectiveness and credibility of an accountability system. Without outsiders, you get cover-ups and cronyism.”

Because of the likelihood that churches typically accept an accused pastor’s word in allegations of clergy sexual abuse, Christa argues, “not only should they go to outsiders, but they must go to outsiders.” Beyond turning to the law, which actually requires the reporting of sexual abuse, she points out that most other religions have clergy accountability systems, but the Southern Baptists apparently don’t. “If a Southern Baptist pastor isn’t literally sitting in prison,” Christa charges, “he can probably find a pulpit to stand in. The denomination has no alternative system for stopping him.”

She even points out that in one case, involving charges by more than 40 young men and women that a pastor named Darrell Gilyard had abused them, before Gilyard was convicted of sex crimes in Florida, he had been allowed to continue in the church for two decades—even though some of the claims were, according to Christa, reported directly to Patterson personally, who took no action.

But take Christa’s perspective out of the Southern Baptists and beyond sexual abuse. When nonprofits try to suppress external knowledge of problems and insulate themselves from the appropriate authorities, they are undermining their own accountability. It is easy within any organization—church or nonprofit—to turn colleagues into accomplices, friends into accessories.

NPQ would love to hear about your experiences with such organizational secret keeping. —Rick Cohen

  • Debbie V

    Christa is right there have been a lot of covering up and pressure and even threats to keep victims quiet. I tell a bit of my story below, but I remember the words told me by different ministers. When the minister who abused me and got me pregnant was discovered another minister told me to not tell as it “would hurt the church” this was when I was still a teenager. Then later I was told by another minister to “let it go and leave it in the hands of God”. Yet another minister told me that some things are best unknown. One church “suspended me from church” as I was so upset and hurt I had tried to kill myself and I was told that was hurting the church and therefore they were suspending me, but they did not feel a need to take any action against the minister who raped me and abused me and was behind the anxiety and suicide attempt. When I tried to talk to people in my Bible Class, I was told it was not appropriate, even though I asked one of the leaders before I said anything. When I communicated with both the SBC and BGCT they also did nothing and had no desire to try to help. I wanted them to try to make some regulations, educated future ministers, communicate better when they knew of someone who had sexually abused a child and find ways to help prevent future abuse of children in our churches. I was even told by a minister at another Baptist church I was going to that it was our job to stand 100% behind our pastor no matter what or to leave the church. The minister who raped me and is the father of my child and his wife threaten my life and his wife even threaten the life of my child if I did not keep silent. I was so young and afraid I went to them and told them I was not a threat, as I felt I needed to do this to protect my child. When I finally felt I had to tell, this minister and his church made threats to keep me quiet including trying to get a gag order so I would not tell anything else about the abuse. Many tried to say it was not true and when found out I had papers to prove he was the father of my child then he only admitted what he knew I could prove, as he testified I not younger than 16 when he had sex with me. However, I taped recorded a phone conversation with him that proves I was 14. There is more but this is probably long enough, by the way I kept proof, as I was told no one would believe me, so I began keeping evidence just in case, at the time I started collecting evidence, I did so as my life was threaten and I felt that if he killed me I wanted the police to be able to connect him to me and have evidence. Then later I did not want any doubt or anyone not telling the whole truth, so I kept on collecting and keeping communications between myself and Baptist Leaders and other things to protect me. My word is important to me and so is my reputation so if I can help it I will not allow anyone to lie about me or try to misuse my words.
    When I was 14 a man who told me he was “a man of God” and I could trust him, started molesting me and raped me when I was 15. He abused me for years and he got me pregnant, which I can and have proved. He was the associated pastor of this Baptist Church and when the head pastor found out, he told me to go before the church and ask for forgiveness for being an unwed pregnant teenager and I was not allowed to tell anyone who the father was as that “would hurt the church”. Which I did as I was told, as I did not want to hurt the church. Later, I was also threaten to keep quiet and when I finally told there were even more threats made to try to keep me from telling. This man who raped me and who even admits to being the father of my child is still the head pastor of a Baptist Church and no one seems to care and he continues and there is no one to watch to make sure he leaves other children alone.
    When he talked sexually about these other children and told me how they loved him, I realized my silence allowed him in a position to hurt other children. I did not know or really think that he would hurt others, for some reason, I thought there was something wrong with me that is why he hurt me, but then I realized that was not true. When I realized this, I knew I had to tell – this was before I heard anything from the media or other people. At that time, I went to the pastor of the Baptist Church I was going to at that time and told him. I believe that back then he did not know what to do and he did not have the knowledge or ability to help. I was so upset and felt so guilty for not telling before what he did to me and the words he spoke of this other child were hurting me so bad, as I wanted to help that child as I knew this pain and did not want this child to hurt like me and someone needed to help her. The pain was so severe the guilt I felt for not telling sooner for not knowing how to help this child feeling so helpless, I tried to kill myself.
    I called Child Protective Services, who told me they could do nothing without the name of that child that he told me about. I then went to the police and a detective told me he would look into it, however nothing was done at all. I even recorded a conversation with the minister who raped me on the phone when I was trying to get the name of the girl he told me about before so I could give the name of that child to the authorities. On this tape he admits his age when he abused me, which proves I was 14. I gave the tape to the police along with papers I had that proved he was the father of my baby, I thought this was enough to get them to look for this girl and for a long time I thought they did look, but they did not, as I found out years later. I found out years later that his relative was the chief of police.
    Years later I had heard Christa and Miguel on the news and that is when I contacted the news people and got their information and contacted Miguel with SNAP and later started communicating with Christa. That is when I found out I was not alone and found about different Baptist Associations and I thought perhaps if the individual church could not help and the law could not help maybe the Baptist organization could do something. Then I contacted them and they did not care or want to do anything. I could not then or now understand how anyone Christian or not could stand by and do nothing when children lives are at stake. I was so frustrated and someone told me to go to a lawyer, so I did thinking that if I got this into the legal system maybe someone would do something. A reporter heard of my case when she was looking into another case that was very much like mine, this person also abused at 14 by another Baptist Minister in the same county in Texas as myself. Anyway, she found out things on her own and then contacted me, and I did speak to her and later to other reporters, as I was wanting this kind of abuse to come to light and if I could not reach out and help this child, maybe she would see the paper and know she was not alone and maybe she would reach out for help.
    I have kept documents and tapes and proof that shows what I am telling is the truth. I have shared proof with the leaders of the SBC including Patterson and they still did not care or want to do anything. I tried so hard to try to get them to see and understand this is not just about me but about this problem and gave them proof so they would know the words I spoke were true and not this “He said She Said” stuff they like to say. I hoped that what the media printed was enough to warn hopefully those in the church where this minister is the pastor and hopefully to cause parent to pay attention. I therefore tried to focus on getting SBC and others to make rules and take steps to prevent others from being abused many times without giving the name of my abuser, as I did not want this to be or look like some sort of revenge or any other motive that these people try to use as an excuse to not listen and to do nothing. Everyone, even the minister who abused me knows that I did not tell out of anger or with any kind of revenge in my mind even he admits I told out of fear for another child. I have this in recorded testimony, so it is not just my word. It still bothers me that he told me he had “the best job as he could do anything and ask forgiveness and they have to forgive me” which they have proven by allowing him to stay in the ministry.
    I heard that the SBC finally took one small step by saying that churches should report to the police when sexual abuse of a child occurs in the church. However, it appears that it was just words as Patterson got up and said be quiet again. He knows better and I know he does, as I have e-mails from him in the past with his words and he obviously has very little concern for the wellbeing of the children who are at risk in our churches and for those who are abused and cares more for the ministers who abuse them.
    It will take both Baptist Leaders making rules and putting pressure for churches to do a better job when it comes to protecting children from abuse in our churches and laws in regards to this as well for there to be any real and strong changes needed to protect children better than they are now.
    If the press – the media did not shine a light on this, he and others will just continue and no one would know and therefore no one will do anything to help prevent further abuse. I hope and pray someday enough people will see and will care and things will change and our churches will be safer for our children, but until then I cannot trust Baptist leaders and although I am Baptist, I will not trust them.
    Sorry I rambled a bit, but felt I needed to speak up. Thanks for listening. Debbie