Monday, 13 July 2020

Southern Baptist Paedophile Convention


This collection of mug shots includes a portion of the 218 people who, since 1998, worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches and were convicted of or pleaded guilty to sex crimes.

Bellevue Baptist sued after volunteer coordinator sexually abuses teenager

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant organisation in the USA and has a record of child sexual abuse resembling that of an average Catholic archdioceses. Since 1998, 218 people who worked for Southern Baptist churches have either been convicted of or pleaded guilty to, paedophile sex crimes.

All too familiar is the case of 43-year-old James Hook, a paid volunteer coordinator with the crown jewel church in the SBC, Bellevue Baptist Church, who was discovered under a blanket in his car with a 15 year-old girl volunteer. He was later convicted of sexual assault and given a six-month sentence followed by 4.5 years probation. Now the girl's parents are suing the church for failure to protect their daughter.

According to this report in Memphis Commercial Appeal:

The parents of a 15-year-old sexual abuse victim are suing Bellevue Baptist Church, saying the flagship church in the Southern Baptist Convention provided a space for her abuser to groom and abuse her, and that church officials failed to remove her abuser from working with children after being warned.

James A. Hook was a paid volunteer coordinator at the church when he sexually abused his victim, who is identified by the pseudonym “Janet Doe,” according to the complaint.

[...]

“Hook groomed Janet Doe and fomented his incredibly inappropriate relationship with her at Bellevue Baptist Church and some of the sexual abuse took place on the grounds of the church,” the complaint reads. “Bellevue Baptist Church placed Hook in a position that would put him in contact with minors, it ignored warnings about Hook, it failed to have policies in place that would prevent him from being alone with a minor on church property, and it failed to have training for its employees and staff to identify suspicious behavior and report it in an effort to prevent abuse.”

The lawsuit notes that Hook knew “Janet Doe” and her family outside of Bellevue: Hook and the victim’s mother had an extramarital affair in 2011, “long before the abuse,” according to the complaint. They also had a child together, "Janet Doe's" sibling, according to Bellevue's response to the complaint.

When the victim’s parents separated in 2018, Hook began communicating with the victim and her mother, according to the complaint. Around the same time, Hook became a paid volunteer coordinator at the church in the children’s area, the complaint says.

The complaint says that “Janet Doe’s” father warned Bellevue Baptist that Hook should not be allowed to interact with children.

It also says that Hook used his position to encourage “Janet Doe” to volunteer in the children’s Sunday School program, where he had access to her alone. There, the complaint says, he groomed her, giving her gifts, complimenting her and sending her sexually explicit photos of her mother taken during the extramarital affair seven years earlier.

He began kissing and having other physical contact with her, sometimes on Bellevue property or when driving her home.

"He, with no ostensible purpose for doing so, shadowed her everywhere she was in the church,” said Gary Smith, attorney for the victims’ parents. “It was that setting and that environment that allowed him to groom her, build that trust and then take advantage of it. … It was the culture at Bellevue Baptist that allowed him to exploit the child. It has all emanated from that location and the culture that existed.”

Source: Houston Chronicle
Sexual abuse by leaders and staff of churches in the SBC was the recent subject of a major investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News which found that about 380 church leaders and volunteers had been accused of sexual misconduct with over 700 victims.

The investigation revealed that:
  • At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.
  • Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.
  • Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
  • Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors' studies and Sunday school classrooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.

It's a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he's been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister," said Brown, who lives in Colorado. "Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church.

Christa Brown
Molested by a pastor in a SBC church
Farmer's, Branch, Dallas, Texas
In 1973, Debbie Vasquez, aged just 14 was sexually abused by her pastor, Dale "Dickie" Amyx, in Sanger, Texas. Amyx, a married man about 12 years older than her who continued to abuse her for 4 years until she became pregnant at the age of 18. When she became pregnant, the church's reaction to a case of sexual abuse was to blame and shame the victim. Leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child. Amyx remained silent and never came forward to accept responsibility for his victim's condition.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was Amyx's. Church leadership shunned her, asked her to get an abortion and, when she said no, threatened her and her child, she said. She moved abroad soon after.

In 2008, Debbie travelled with a group to Indianapolis to make an impassioned plea to leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. She appealed to the leadership of the 47,000 affiliated churches to introduce prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

A few days later, hiding behind the autonomy of affiliated churches, the leaders rejected just about all the proposals.

The Houston Chronicle list a number of cases where ministers convicted or credibly accused of sexual assaults have been taken on by other churches or even, in at least one case, started their own church which has been welcomed back into the SBC. For example:

In Illinois, Leslie Mason returned to the pulpit a few years after he was convicted in 2003 on two counts of criminal sexual assault. Mason had been a rising star in local Southern Baptist circles until the charges were publicized by Michael Leathers, who was then editor of the state's Baptist newspaper.

Letters from angry readers poured in. Among those upset by Leathers' decision to publish the story was Glenn Akins, the interim executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

"To have singled Les out in such a sensationalistic manner ignores many others who have done the same thing," Akins wrote in a memo, a copy of which Leathers provided. "You could have asked nearly any staff member and gotten the names of several other prominent churches where the same sort of sexual misconduct has occurred recently in our state."

Akins, now the assistant executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, declined an interview request.

Leathers resigned after state Baptist convention leaders told him he might be fired and lose his severance pay, he said. Mason, meanwhile, admitted to investigators that he had relationships with four different girls, records show.

Mason received a seven-year prison sentence under a plea deal in which investigators dropped all but two of his charges. After his release, he returned to the pulpit of a different SBC church a few miles away.

It's worth replaying that piece from Glenn Atkins, assistant executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia:

To have singled Les out in such a sensationalistic manner ignores many others who have done the same thing. You could have asked nearly any staff member and gotten the names of several other prominent churches where the same sort of sexual misconduct has occurred recently in our state.

A more damning indictment of the SBC's complacency, moral laxity and cavalier disregard for its pastors' victims it's hard to imagine - defend a predatory pastor on the basis that others do it too! And to seem unconcerned that 'several other prominent churches' in his state have predators working for them that they and he are aware of!

Dr. Joe Ratliff, the pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church
In Houston, Michael Lee Jones started a Southern Baptist church, Cathedral of Faith, after his 1998 conviction for having sex with a teenage female congregant at a different SBC church nearby. Jones, also leader of a nonprofit called Touching the Future Today, was included on the list of convicted ministers released by the Baptist General Convention of Texas a decade ago.

In December, Cathedral of Faith celebrated its 20th anniversary at a downtown Houston hotel, according to the church's website. A flyer for the event touted sermons from Jones, another pastor and Joseph S. Ratliff, the longtime pastor of Houston's Brentwood Baptist Church.

Ratliff was sued in 2003 for sexual misconduct with a man he was counseling. The lawsuit was settled and dismissed by agreement of the parties, according to Harris County court records and interviews. The settlement is subject to a confidentiality agreement. Ratliff has been sued two other times, one involving another person who had come in for counseling; the other involved his handling of allegations against another church official, Harris County records show. The disposition of those two cases was not available.

Not only is a convicted sex offender allowed to start a church and affiliate it to the SBC, but that church is allowed to continue to employ a sexual predator in a position where he has an opportunity to offend again, and again and still remain on the staff.

Several Southern Baptist leaders and their churches have been criticized for ignoring the abused or covering for alleged predators, including at Houston's Second Baptist, where former SBC President Ed Young has been pastor since 1978. Young built the church into one of the largest and most important in the SBC; today, it counts more than 60,000 members who attend at multiple campuses.

John Neal Forse. Registered sex offender. Attacked a fourteen-year-old inside Second Baptist Church in 1994.
Before she was molested in the choir room at Second Baptist in 1994, Heather Schneider filled a black notebook with poems. The seventh-grader, with long white-blond hair and sparkling green eyes, had begun to work as a model. She soon attracted attention from John Forse, who coordinated church pageants and programs at Second Baptist.

He also used his position to recruit girls for private acting lessons, according to Harris County court documents.

A day after she was attacked, Schneider told her mother, Casados, that Forse had touched her inappropriately and tried to force her to do "horrendous things." Casados called police.

Casados, who was raised a Baptist, said she received a call from Young, who initially offered to do whatever he could to help her daughter. But after she told Young she already had called police, he hung up and "we never heard from him again," she said in an interview.

It took months — and the threat of criminal charges — before Forse left his position at the church, according to statements made by Forse's attorney at the time and Schneider's responses to questions in a related civil lawsuit.

In August 1994, Forse received deferred adjudication and 10 years' probation after pleading no contest to two counts of indecency with a child by contact. He remains a registered sex offender and was later convicted of a pornography charge. He is listed in the sex offender registry as transient; he could not be reached for comment.

[...]

In 1992, before Schneider was molested, a lawyer for the Southern Baptist Convention wrote in a court filing that the SBC did not distribute instructions to its member churches on handling sexual abuse claims. He said Second Baptist had no written procedures on the topic.

The lawyer, Neil Martin, was writing in response to a lawsuit that accused First Baptist Church of Conroe of continuing to employ Riley Edward Cox Jr. as a youth pastor after a family said that he had molested their child. In a court filing, Cox admitted to molesting three boys in the late 1980s.

Young, SBC president at the time of the lawsuit, was asked to outline the organization's policies on child sexual abuse as part of the lawsuit. He declined to testify, citing "local church autonomy" and saying in an affidavit that he had "no educational training in the area of sexual abuse or the investigation of sexual abuse claims." [My emphasis]

Young also said he feared testifying could jeopardize his blossoming TV ministry. [My emphasis]

His 'blossoming ministry' as a televangelist would have been jeopardized by the news that Young was at best indifferent to, and at worst complicit in, the sexual abuse of minors by SBC pastors and had "no educational training in the area of sexual abuse or the investigation of sexual abuse claims" - a deficit about which he could have done something to rectify, but didn't see the need to!

Other instances of rapes and inappropriate sexual contacts by pastors and church leaders which have been ignored by SBC leaders, exposed by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, include:

Another civil lawsuit asserted that Second Baptist helped conceal alleged rapes by Paul Pressler, a former Texas state judge and former SBC vice president. In that suit, brought by a member of Pressler's youth group, three other men have said in affidavits that Pressler groped them or tried to pressure them into sex. Second Baptist, however, has been dismissed from the suit, and the plaintiff's sexual abuse claims against Pressler have been dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

Pressler has been a prominent member of Second Baptist for much of his adult life.

In its statement to the Chronicle, Second Baptist said "our policy and practice have been and will continue to be that any complaint of sexual misconduct will be heard, investigated and handled in a lawful and appropriate way. Reports of sexual abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement officials as required by law."

Paul Pressler, pictured in this 1999 photo, is a former Texas state judge and prominent Southern Baptist figure. Multiple men have alleged in a lawsuit that Pressler raped, molested or tried to pressure them into sex, though those claims have since been dismissed because they were filed after the statute of limitations had expired.
Photo: Houston Chronicle
Another defendant in the lawsuit against Pressler: Paige Patterson, a former SBC president who, with Pressler, pushed the convention in the 1980s and 1990s to adopt literal interpretations of the Bible.

In May of last year, Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth after he said he wanted to meet alone with a female student who said she was raped so he could "break her down," according to a statement from seminary trustees.

But his handling of sexual abuse dates back decades. Several women have said that Patterson ignored their claims that his ex-protégé, Darrell Gilyard, assaulted them at Texas churches in the 1980s; some of those allegations were detailed in a 1991 Dallas Morning News article.

The Gilyard case was taken up with Patterson by Debbie Vasquez. His response was to lie about his and the SBC's actions. In an exchange of emails, he claimed he forced Gilyard to resign and "called pastors all over the USA and since that day (Gilyard) has never preached for any Southern Baptist organization."

The truth is that:

Gilyard preached after his Texas ouster at various churches, including Jacksonville's First Baptist Church, which was led by former SBC President Jerry Vines. It was there that Tiffany Thigpen said she met Gilyard, who she said later "viciously" attacked her.

Thigpen, who was 18 at the time, said that Vines tried to shame her into silence after she disclosed the abuse to him. "How embarrassing this will be for you," she recalled Vines telling her. As far as Thigpen knows, police were never notified.

Gilyard was convicted in 2009 of lewd and lascivious molestation of two other teenage girls, both under 16, while pastoring a Florida church. He found work at an SBC church after his three-year prison sentence, prompting the local Southern Baptist association to end its affiliation.

This has been an extract from Part 1 of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report. The rest of the 6-part report can be read at:


Clearly, the Southern Baptist Convention has as big a problem with paedophile and sexually predatory priests as does the Catholic Church and other churches where priests, and other clerics have trusted access to vulnerable people. As Harvey Rosenstock, a Houston psychiatrist who has worked for decades with victims and perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse, said:

If someone is identified as a man of God, then there are no holds barred," he said. "Your defense system is completely paralyzed. This man is speaking with the voice of God. ... So a person who is not only an authority figure, but God's servant, is telling you this is between us, this is a special relationship, this has been sanctioned by the Lord. That allows a young victim to have almost zero defenses. Totally vulnerable.

The Southern Baptist convention, given the easy way it is to become an ordained minister, is especially vulnerable to any predator sufficiently motivated to gain entry into the church and to work his way up to bigger churches or into positions of access to vulnerable victims and seems especially reluctant to do anything to prevent and control it. And Baptist congregations are notoriously gullible and credulous, with faith-healers, 'talking in tongues' and pastors who claim a personal relationship with Jesus and possession by 'the holy spirit' and the authority to speak for God - the perfect environment for these repugnant predators.







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