Thinking that clergy sex abuse is about sex is like thinking the Bataan Death March was about marching.Yet, over and over again, Southern Baptist leaders talk about clergy sex abuse as though it were just another form of “sexual sin.”
Repeatedly, I’ve seen them list child molestation along with such things as pornography, adultery and even lustful thoughts. They lump it all together and call it “sexual sin.”
This suggests that they think it’s about sex.
It’s about a predator’s need to have absolute power over another human being. It’s about control and dominance.
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are powerful tactics to dehumanize and degrade others.
When you combine the tactic of sexual assault with the authority of a pastor and the weapon of God’s word, the dehumanization of the victim is complete.
There is no weapon more powerful than the word of God in the hands of a perverse pastoral con man who traps true believers as prey.
If a stranger had pulled out a knife, I might have stood a chance. At least I would have seen what confronted me and would have known it was a weapon.
But how should I have known to run from the word of God? How should I have known that Bible verses could be transformed into weapons?
With the coercion of God’s word, I didn’t see it as a weapon. My every instinct was to feel safe in the word of God and safe in the house of God.
Like a fish in a barrel, there was no escape from the boundaries of my own self-identity.
How do you run from the faith that you hold in your own head? How do you run from a faith so strong that it’s the very core of who you are? How do you run from your own soul?
There’s a reason why clergy abuse victims are almost invariably the most devout of kids. It’s the strength of their own faith that renders them vulnerable. It makes them gullible and trusting of religious leaders. It makes them easy prey.
Because it’s all so incomprehensible, the ways we find to survive often seem incomprehensible as well. Survival often means pushing it as far back to the darkest corner of our brain as we possibly can. We bury our memories to save our sanity. But the pain lives on.
We are people who have been violated and degraded not only physically, emotionally and psychologically but also spiritually. The very essence of who we are–our very souls–are sullied, stomped, stripped and subjugated.
And how are we to heal when our primary resource for healing–our faith–is something we can no longer trust? How are we to heal when the part of our brain that held our faith is now the scorched land of the predator, and our instinct is now to run from it?
If this were all simply about sex, it would be so much easier. But it’s not.
It’s not about sex for the perpetrator, and it’s not about sex for the victim.
Most Southern Baptist leaders just don’t seem to understand this. It’s a huge disconnect in their thinking. And it’s a disconnect that degrades the survivors still more and expresses itself in the way Baptist leaders treat them.
So why don’t they get it? Why do Baptist leaders persist in acting as though clergy sex abuse is about sex?
Perhaps it’s because it makes it easier for THEM. Perhaps it allows them to think about clergy sex abuse in a way that seems to make some sense and that fits with things they know. Perhaps it makes their own world feel safer and more normal. Perhaps it’s because it allows them to perceive their clergy colleagues as men who have merely “fallen into sexual sin” instead of as predators who have wielded faith as a weapon for assault.
I can’t actually know the reason for the disconnect in Baptist leaders’ thinking. But this much I do believe: If Baptist leaders keep thinking clergy sex abuse is about sex, they will keep minimizing the horror of it.
Christa Brown is the founder of Voice to Stop Baptist Predators and Baptist coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. This column appeared previously on her blog.
Previous columns by Christa Brown:
Good Samaritan Holds Lesson for Treatment of Clergy Abuse Victims
Baptist Leaders Must Take Action for Protection of Kids
Menorahs’ Lights Bring Thoughts on Denial and Evil
Language of Foley Report Might Also Apply to Baptist Leaders
Baptist Autonomy Ignored in Investigating Gays, But Not Clergy Child Molesters
SBC Clergy Predators ‘Wolves’ in the Church
Clergy Predators Are As Crafty As Cyber-Predators
Baptist Leaders Blind to Their Responsibilities
A retired appellate attorney, she is the author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang.