The clergy abuse victims’ advocates who dogged the Roman Catholic Church over sexual abuse by its clergy have now turned their attention to the Southern Baptists, accusing America’s largest Protestant denomination of also failing to root out molesters, according to an in-depth article posted on CNN.
The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (www.snapnetwork.org) has started a campaign to call attention to alleged sex abuse committed by Southern Baptist ministers and concealed by churches. The group has presented a letter to Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members in Nashville, asking the group to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on clergy sexual abuse and to create an independent review board to investigate molestation reports. It sounds all too familiar doesn’t it?
Consider this. In the past six months SNAP has received reports of about 40 cases of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers with some of the incidents dating back many years.
Church leaders concede there have been some incidents of clergy abuse in Southern Baptist congregations, but say their hands are tied when it comes to investigating complaints across the denomination.
“They don’t want to see this problem,” said Christa Brown, a SNAP member from Austin, Texas, who says she was sexually abused as a child by a Southern Baptist minister. “That’s tragic because they’re imitating the same mistakes made by Catholic bishops.”
The support group’s leaders say clergy abuse is typically underreported because being molested is such a painful experience victims often wait years before stepping forward. One SNAP member, Debbie Vasquez, said she was raped by a Southern Baptist minister in Texas when she was 15 years old. Now 48, Vasquez filed a lawsuit last year against the pastor, the Rev. Dale “Dickie” Amyx and his current church, Bolivar Baptist in Sanger, Texas. She claims the church knew, or should have known, about Amyx’s past.
What’s worse? When she became pregnant with Amyx’s child at age 18, church leaders forced her to go before the congregation and ask forgiveness as an unwed mother. But the congregation was never told it was Amyx’s baby.
Several other child sex abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches have surfaced recently, as the CNN article points out.
Bellevue Baptist, a megachurch near Memphis, fired a longtime minister, the Rev. Paul Williams, last month after he acknowledged sexually abusing his son 17 years ago. The church’s internal investigation found that church leaders, including current pastor, the Rev. Steve Gaines, knew about the abuse last year, but did not act immediately. In another case, Shawn Davies, a former music and youth minister at the First Baptist Church of Greenwood, Missouri, pleaded guilty last month to molesting boys ages 12 to 16.
Vasquez says she’s seeking damages for medical costs and mental and physical injury as well as punitive damages. As she should.
The tragedy here is that the sordid chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church is repeating itself in the Southern Baptist Church. Here’s what boggles my mind and makes my blood boil – who are the church leaders protecting? Whom should they be protecting? Their congregants who trust them 100 percent and look to them for spiritual guidance or the pastors who serve them and are employees of the church?
The answer is crystal clear. It’s reprehensible that these so-called religious leaders have been misled to such a great extent by their own selfish need to “protect the reputation” of the church. They forgot why they got into this work in the first place.
They are not creating a new generation of good Christians and upstanding citizens. They are destroying kids’ lives and creating huge, serious problems for our future generations.
At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys we are working hard with our clients to bring such people to justice. This story is another piece of proof that the issue of clergy abuse did not begin and end with the Catholic Church. It’s an ongoing scourge and we’ll be there every step of the way to fight it.