Denomination Sued in Sex Abuse Case

The Church of God denomination is being named as a defendant in four lawsuits related to sex abuse charges. Former pastor Sandy Martin Cook was sentenced in February on multiple counts of third-degree sexual assault and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or a custodian. He was sentenced to 20 years to 60 years in prison.

Three of the plaintiffs in the case and one additional alleged victim have now filed suits against Cook and the Church of God. According to the linked article, “the suits maintain that the Church of God knew of Cook’s ‘propensity of sexual misconduct on minor children’ in the 1990s, yet did nothing to stop it. The suits accuse the church of conspiring to hide Cook’s activities and of ‘using threats, intimidation, religious doctrine and coercion to ignore and prevent the abuse from being reported.”’

This case is significant because this will be the wave of the future if denominations do not immediately take warning. Church autonomy will not be an adequate legal dodge, especially when collusion, corporate denominational intimidation, foreknowledge, and deliberate neglegence can be both proven and documented.

Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Abusers

In a decision yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a gun ban for abusers, by a landslide 7-2 vote.

This was an important decision with distinct ramifications. The linked article is moderately comprehensive and gives a lot of good information about it.

I found it interesting, as well, to see one of the quoted vocal defendants of the attorney attempting to overturn the ban. Phyllis Schlafly spoke out adamantly in defense of overturning the ban. However, her reasoning appears to suggest that former offenders should not have to experience the full consequences for their actions. Her statement also minimizes the significance of “just one” domestic abuse incident.

This is from the linked article:

“Why are men with clean histories except for one domestic dispute punished like hardened criminals who mug strangers on the street?” wrote Phyllis Schlafly. She wrote a brief in support of Hayes and continues, “The answer is that the feminist agenda calls for domestic-violence laws to punish husbands and fathers above and beyond what can be proven in court under due-process procedures.”

Is “one incident” all there is to abuse? Physical violence is just one symptom of the real issue. I have addressed this topic elsewhere on this blog (and can’t find it to link! – Help?)

Of course, it doesn’t go amiss to point out that I also saw an article today about another woman being shot to death by her abuser outside her church.

Time Magazine Ranks SBC Pedophile Issue #6 Under-reported Story in 2008

Time Magazine featured the Southern Baptist Church’s refusal to consider a database of convicted clergy pedophiles as the 6th most under-reported news story of 2008. It is hardly any wonder that this issue garnered a bit of attention in a major news magazine. Any thinking person has to wonder when the largest U.S. Protestant religious organization deliberately refuses to do something they could do to help protect their members from an obvious problem existing within their churches.

If there is no evil intention, the denomination should be acting in a manner above reproach. Since they are not acting in a manner above reproach, all the world is able to look on in judgment – with just cause. There is no explanation for the SBC executive committee’s decision that does not have holes in it you can drive a loaded semi-truck through. And the world is not that dumb. Many christians are unfortunately naive enough to believe what their leaders tell them without question. Those outside the church are not blinded by blind faith. More and more people inside the church are not either.

You can bet this is just the beginning of a very big problem for the SBC. This is not going away. And by being cowardly and failing to act in a godly manner and standing for righteousness as God commands in His Word, they will reap much more painful consequences down the road. That is the way God’s economy and His justice work. The SBC must address this issue thoroughly or the government and the legal system will end up addressing it as it has been addressed in the Catholic church. And that will be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention because the SBC doesn’t have that much money.

Frankly, that would be a sad state of affairs – and a battle won for Satan. All because of the pride of some who want to cling to… what? Save a little face now? Fear of lawsuits? They’re going to happen sooner or later. It is always better to deal with sin now and not later. The crop of consequences only grows bigger the longer it waits for harvest. The law of sowing and reaping never fails.

Father Michael Kelly Cleared of Sex Abuse Charges

This is such a timely story, in light of recent incidents being addressed on this blog and the post I just did prior to this one.  The writer’s commentary, especially his analogy of the three act play, are so relevant!  And an accusation proven false is always worth celebrating.

My thanks to Tracy Press for this story.

~~~

by Jon Mendelson

In October 2007, a press release shook me like few could have. Father Michael Kelly, a man I’ve known since I was 6 years old and count among my friends, had been accused of molesting a past parishioner.
It was staggering. This couldn’t be happening, I thought, to the priest who once preached from the pulpit at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.

The Kelly I know is a true leader of his flock, a man who has said the most important thing about the priesthood is bringing some of God’s love and light into people’s lives. And he’s put the premise into practice.

When he moved away from Annunciation Church (the seat of the Diocese of San Joaquin in Stockton, where I also attended grade school and where the alleged abuse took place), he returned time and again to visit those he had befriended there. He was especailly beloved by the students. As a pastor, he saw Presentation Church in Stockton go up in flames by the hand of a deranged arsonist and helped it rise again. He maintained relationships with parishioners who anyone else would have long forgotten. And he remembers when your birthday is.

No, this couldn’t be happening.

When the news first broke, I wrote that my intuition and experience told me he was wrongly targeted, even though I didn’t know the facts of the case.

Turns out there weren’t any facts to find.

The wolves were called off last week when an investigation found no evidence supporting the claim of his accuser — a 33-year-old man who said he was abused in the 1980s. We don’t know why that man blamed Kelly or why he refused to talk to investigators, but hopefully he finds some measure of peace.

I was filled with relief for Kelly, and happy that the parishioners of St. Joachim Parish will no longer be deprived of their spiritual shepherd.

But I am also filled with sadness — sadness that the Catholic Church’s shame has affected so many, even those I call friends.

The church’s sex abuse saga is a tragedy in three acts, with no end in sight.

Act 1 opened with priests abusing young boys and girls. They found themselves betrayed by the very representatives of God, people who should have been safe harbors for their deepest fears, hopes and struggles. Many people suffered.

Act 2 began with the revelation of the scandal. But not only were priests outed as molesters, it’s also discovered that church superiors helped cover up the abuse. The church predictably lost the trust and faith of many followers. Some victims got their justice, and all painfully relived their darkest moments. Many people suffered.

Act 3 is the prolonged fallout. Accusations continue, some with merit, some without. While many guilty are still punished, some victims are deprived of their justice, and some priests have their good names irreparably damaged. And many people still suffer.

We’re all waiting for the curtain call, but with revelations and accusations still coming at a steady pace, this macabre theater shows no sign of closing.

But despite the sorrow, there are small victories mixed into the plot. In the case of Father Kelly, I’m just glad a good priest — and a good man — can move on with his life and calling.

Denomination Sued in Leonard Smith Sex Abuse Case

This story highlights what I see coming to Protestant denominations because we are refusing to admit there is a systemic problem with clergy sex abuse.  We’ve been content to bury our heads in the sand and think it’s a Catholic problem — it’s not.  I’ve been expecting to see this, and once the ball starts rolling, it is going to pick up steam and the church is going to wonder what hit it.  The church can also wave goodbye to any reputation it thinks it might still have.   Take a look at what is happening in the Catholic church.  Catholics are losing faith in their church — which so frequently includes losing faith in God — and abandoning the church in droves.  It WILL happen to Protestant churches too unless extreme measures are taken.

When reading the article, note what Alvin Clement says is the reason they are pursuing a civil lawsuit against the denomination.  It’s because when they tried to address the problem with denominational leaders, the leaders blew them off.  The Southern Baptist Convention had better take notice!  It is a problem in most, if not all denominations, but it’s already getting a lot of noise and press in the SBC and convention leaders are persistently making the worst possible choices.  If I had to guess, I’d say the SBC will be the Protestant denomination that will take the biggest and most public hit because they are the most publicly refusing to be responsible, while aggressively bad-mouthing the victims they’ve neglected and the advocates for those victims.  The Bible isn’t kidding when it says we will reap what we sow.

My thanks to The Asheville Citizen-Times for this story.  

~~~

by Leslie Boyd
published March 22, 2008 12:16 am

ASHEVILLE – For years, three members of the Clement family endured sexual abuse by their church’s music minister.

Leonard Smith was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison Nov. 29 for crimes that spanned 20 years.

Alvin Clement, now a state trooper in Guilford County, filed suit with four John Does and Sylvia Clement, guardian for a minor John Doe.

Family spokesman David Clement said the local church knew what was happening, and the state and national offices of Church of God in Christ knew about Smith’s crimes but allowed him to continue in his church and jurisdiction jobs.

“This is a long process,” David Clement said. “If we hadn’t contacted the state and national offices and been blown off by them, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

The lawsuit charges that the church, state office and denomination “knew, or should have known about the lengthy history of child abuse and sexual molestation engaged in by their employee, defendant Leonard Smith,” and that they “failed to take steps to stop Smith’s behavior and conduct.”

The lawsuit brings claims of civil battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, and asks a minimum of $10,000 for each plaintiff, legal fees and “such other relief as the court shall deem reasonable and appropriate.”

Due to Good Friday, church officials could not be reached for comment.

Is Tim Mann Guilty or Innocent?

I just posted this under the title “Is Derek Gillett Guilty or Innocent?” but I’d venture to guess that most people looking for information about Tim Mann won’t read a post about Derek Gillett. So I’m reposting this, somewhat adjusted for the case with Tim Mann.

Obviously there are differing opinions about Tim Mann’s guilt or innocence. At this point, the only people who know the truth with absolute certainty are Mann and his accuser(s). For everyone else, all we have is speculation and opinion.

But this is an opportunity to look at some issues. I would venture to guess that for most, if not all, of the individuals who are being personally touched by this event, the issue of clergy sex abuse has not previously crossed their awareness. So I’m taking the opportunity to get on my awareness soapbox for a bit.

I think it is probably readily apparent that clergy sex abuse, along with other issues of abuse in the church, is something I am seriously passionate about. My passion for this issue is not born in bitterness or rejection of God or the church, however. I believe there’s no need to throw the baby (God) out with the bathwater (corrupt individuals who claim to bear His name). My goal is to raise awareness of a serious issue the church has swept under the carpet, with the intention that all of us who care about the church will take that awareness home to our own pews and make substantive changes in the way we view abuse in the church.

Is he guilty?

Ultimately, there is no way any of us can say with complete certainty at this point. I’m going to play devil’s advocate both ways, for the purpose of highlighting the global problems facing the church when a clergy member is accused of abuse or sexual misconduct. So don’t get mad at me yet! ;-)

It is still far more likely – in general – for clergy sex abuse to be unreported than to be reported. When sexual misconduct is reported against clergy, the incidence of false allegations is extremely small. And almost universally, the people directly affected by charges within their own church refuse to believe the allegations could be true.

It is earth-shattering to consider that someone whom you have trusted completely could be a grossly different person behind their visible face. But reality is that pedophiles, sexual predators, and abusers are rarely obvious. We all think we have some sense of what a person is really like and discovering we can be utterly deceived is devastating. It is common for the closest family members and friends of people as depraved as serial killers to have no idea of the person’s real nature. And it isn’t because these people are foolishly blind.

Abusers in powerful positions necessarily hide their true selves to protect their territory of predation. I have personally known about a dozen predators fairly closely that I can think of off the top of my head (and knew many others more distantly but directly) and only a couple did I have any “off” feelings about prior to finding out they were secretly abusers. After that happened a few times I stopped being shocked. ANYONE is capable of ANYTHING, while looking like the most wonderful, sensitive and wise Christian.

One example of this was with a couple who had been married for between 20-30 years (I can’t remember exactly). They travelled around the country doing marriage seminars for churches and church functions. I met them when they travelled with the organization I worked for, teaching marriage seminars around the country over a 6-week period. They had many books published about marriage and parenting and were well-respected. A few months after the tour, the wife called our office (I worked in the office that planned the tours). She was calling to let us know before we found out through the news or word of mouth, that her husband had been arrested for sexually molesting their foster children throughout their marriage. She never had the first clue anything was wrong and the children involved never told until after they were adults.

You know what she said that struck me most strongly? She said she found out about the accusations against her husband the week before they went out on the tour with us. But she chose to say nothing because she said her husband’s message was truth and would be a life-changing blessing to those who heard him, and she respected that. Even when abuse struck that close to home, literally, she covered for him because “God’s message” was more important. Her husband was proven guilty and went to jail.

There is a tendency in churches to put God’s message before honor and justice – and that’s not in agreement with God’s standard for righteousness. If an allegation of misconduct is made against a leader in the church, it must be investigated. Even if everyone is sure the allegations are false, they must be investigated.

While they are investigated, it is appropriate for the accused party to at the very least voluntarily refrain from pastoral duties. The qualifications for pastoral leadership include being free from any appearance of evil and being blameless. It is not an admission of guilt for a church leader to work with a process of evaluation rather than insisting everyone should take his word about his innocence and let him continue his church role without question.

Let me ask you — if someone has been accused of abuse and you ask them whether they did it, what are they going to say? If they are innocent, they will say they did not do it. If they are guilty, they will say they did not do it. So why do we belabor protestations of innocence? Whether someone says they are innocent is no measure of reality. Only a righteous evaluation and hearing of the case, both within the church and through the legal system, can hope to make conclusive determinations.

It is also very important in churches, for the sake of all those out there who are being abused, that any allegation of abuse be taken seriously. An accuser needs to be treated supportively, even if the accusation seems appalling and unbelievable. We can safely let the process take care of determining whether the accuser is lying. It will be time enough at that point for a false accuser to bear the consequences of their lies.

Is he innocent?

Again, no one other than the parties directly involved know for sure. But false allegations do happen. And multiple accusers can collude in their accusation, too. Let me give you a couple examples I personally know, along with why the false allegations were made.

First, was my cousin. When he was a late teen, a younger girl from his church accused him of molesting her. He was reported to child services, the allegations were determined to be true, and he had to bear the punishment and rejection resulting from the charge. Since they were both minors there was no jail time involved. Years later the girl finally told the truth. At the time of the original accusation, someone suspected she was being abused and she blamed my cousin to protect her abuser. It is extremely common for an abuse victim to protect an abuser. So if faced with exposure, it would not be outside the realm of reasonable possibility for a victim to name someone else as the perpetrator.

In the other case, a man in the church was accused of rape by three girls. One of the girls claimed to have been raped by the man and the other two claimed to be witnesses. They had letters “from him,” photographs of the girl’s bruises, and a story that was very plausible. One of the girls’ father was a man of some significance and he testified in court in support of the girls. However, the authorities were able to unravel the girls’ case in court. Eventually it was revealed that the girl claiming to be raped had gotten caught being promiscuous and she made the accusation to get her parents’ eyes off her behavior. Her friends thought it would be fun, and a jab in the collective eye of the adults in their life, to fabricate this story and evidence. The accused man and his wife moved away after the trial. The man who testified for the girls, of whom one was his daughter, lost his job as VP of an international Christian ministry.

This is an example of why we can’t jump to conclusions. While most allegations end up being true, there are times when the allegations are false and it can be very difficult for anyone, sometimes even the authorities, to tell. Even if the accusers offer up unusually specific detail, teenagers now days are very aware of sexual detail. They can come up with anything, especially if they put their heads together. The younger they are the less likely the accusers are to include unusual details in a false allegation. At the very least, in young children you would have to look to see who had abused the child because they came by that information somewhere inappropriately.

But by the time our kids reach middle school, many of them are more sexually aware than their parents – scary thought. I remember being shocked several years ago when my 6th grader came home from the bus with a newly-acquired awareness of the details of homosexual intercourse and bestiality. As parents and adults we need to ditch the naïve blinders. Our kids are not living in the society we grew up in.

So, is he guilty or innocent?

I think we need to accept the potential that any of us can be deceived, while maintaining the assurance that God can work this out. No matter the outcome, God’s nature is REDEEMER. He can use this event to accomplish purposes we cannot conceive. And He can be trusted.

I also think it is right for friends of the accused to stand by their friend unless/until proven guilty. And it is right for the friends of the accusers and their families to stand by them unless/until proven wrong. That’s the nature of true friendship. Where betrayal hurts is when someone wrongly accused is abandoned by friends or when someone making a legitimate complaint is not believed by their family and friends. As a church, we are responsible to take every accusation seriously. Taking an allegation seriously does not inherently include either believing or disbelieving the charge. It means we address it properly, through the correct legal channels. And we remain mature adults and Christians who don’t need to stoop to taking sides and mud-slinging everywhere.

If an accusation is proven true, we will all need each other for comfort and support. And a guilty party can be loved in truth, without sheltering that person from the consequences of their actions. I knew of a family several years ago, where the grandfather (my friend’s friend’s father) was accused of molesting his granddaughters. When they knew the accusation was true, the family collectively turned him in to the authorities, then proceeded to sit by his side – and the granddaughters’ sides – through the trial, and then visited him in jail throughout his sentence, and helped enforce his long-term consequences after he was released, including never being allowed alone with children. Their love didn’t end but they didn’t protect him from judgment either.

And regardless of how this case ends, we all need to keep in mind that the issue of clergy sex abuse is a very serious one that is plaguing the church and could even lead to its downfall as an institution. I know that seems impossible, but I don’t think it is. I don’t think anything will ever stop God’s Word and real Christians from living as Christ intended. But the religious institution of Christianity – yes, it could crumble under the weight of its own resident evil unless we stand up and do what is right.

My Response to Comments on Derek Gillett Post

The issue of accusations against Derek Gillett has proven to be a hot one. As of this writing there are 81 responses to my original commentary about the news, including a few of my own. I will continue to leave that arena open for people to communicate as long as it remains largely respectful, even though heated.

In reading through the comments there were a few things I wanted to comment on. I knew it would get long if I posted in the comments so I’m making a separate post. So here goes…

Re: the suggestion that the fact there are two accusers validates the accusation against Derek –

The fact that there are concurrently two accusers does not necessarily validate the accusation. I gave an example in my previous post of a situation I knew with three accusers that was proven false. If there are multiple independent accusations, especially about abuse taking place over an extended period of time in unrelated settings and times – that would more likely validate the accusation. Or if there were a string of suspicions and previous buried accusations – that would more likely validate the accusation. But even though there are two accusers, from what I gather they know one another and it is being viewed as one case with two accusers. That’s not quite the same and doesn’t carry the same “likelihood” of guilt as separate, distinct victims and accusations – if there can be such a thing as “likelihood of guilt.”

Re: the comments about everyone having two sides –

Every person does have two sides, but just because we all have a public and private face, to some extent, doesn’t suggest “likelihood of guilt” either. I might be crabby with my kids, where I’d suck it up and smile to my neighbor. That doesn’t make me a dead cert abuser.

At the same time, I think those who have been hurt by two-faced authority figures are probably very sensitive on the subject. I tend to lean to the side of “guilty until proven innocent” myself because I’ve experienced way too much. But I have to check my feelings at the door because my feelings are often not an expression of reality.

I have also been hurt by people who believed evil about me when I was innocent. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. It is the only thing that has ever threatened to shake my faith. Ironically, it is part of what makes me view the church through a little bit jaded perspective because it was the church, or representatives of the church, who failed me persistently and repeatedly. And I’m under no misapprehensions about whether it could happen again.

Re: whether kids can make stuff up –

I addressed that in my previous post about whether Derek Gillett is guilty or innocent. Bottomline, yes they can and our society is depraved enough they can easily manufacture any specific details we could possibly imagine. That doesn’t mean these girls did or did not make up their allegations. But we can’t assume they are telling the truth because kid’s don’t make up stuff like that.

Re: trusting news coverage for accuracy –

I hope no one thinks we can trust what we see in print from “reliable” or timely news sources. They make mistakes – I hope largely accidental. News writers are often working off other news stories and mixing and baking to create something that looks like fresh news. That’s what retractions are for. 😉

Re: doing a follow-up story –

I will definitely update this story as there is more to report. And if the allegations against Derek prove to be false, I will be delighted to make it a big front-and-center splash. If they prove to be true, I’ll be mourning it – and I’ll report it with regret.

Re: whether this forum and/or discussion is about God or religion –

In reading my site it should be apparent that everything I write is written from within the context of belief in God and from a desire to bring about desperately needed change within the religion of Christianity. I make no apology for that. At one point I attempted to write “neutrally.” Ultimately I decided there are plenty of voices out there that are neutral or overtly anti-Christian – written by people who have been legitimately touched by the same issues I write about. We agree on many things. But my heart is for healing and change in the Christian church; a return to what it was originally intended and which, I believe, has gotten lost in 2000 years of human history.