WARNING ALWAYS COMES BEFORE JUDGMENT

Reflections on Recent SBC Sexual Abuse Reports

By William Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Christa Brown of StopBaptistPredators.org has been sounding the alarm for many years that there was a major problem, widespread, among Southern Baptists regarding sexual abuse. Unfortunately, she was largely marginalized, rebuffed, rejected, and her claims were met with denial, by high profile SBC personalities and official entity responses. History has vindicated her. The recent Houston Chronicle article documents and details a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-ups in SBC Life. Ms. Brown actually deserves an apology from the personalities and entities that questioned her motives and veracity.

In 2010, my heart bled for how the SBC was treating Ms. Brown (https://baptistnews.com/article/church-honors-advocate-for-abuse-victims/#.XGXDm1VKiM8). I wanted to encourage and affirm her, and let her know that, I, for one, thought her story was authentic, and her claims were valid that there was a larger problem in SBC Life regarding this issue.

God always sends warning before judgment. The SBC ignored the warning from the “prophetess”—Christa Brown. Now, the SBC is facing judgment.

Another warning: Sherri Klouda, Karen Bullock, and Wendy Norvelle are three SBC women who were all mistreated professionals in SBC institutional life. They were all denied tenure, positions, demoted or fired, simply because they were women. The same conservative, inerrantist, trustee board that hired Sherri Klouda to teach the Hebrew alphabet at SWBTS, fired her because she was a woman teaching the Hebrew alphabet. Sherri Klouda’s firing was inexcusable and indefensible. Yet, SWBTS did so, unapologetically. It is no secret that SWBTS is experiencing major enrollment decline and financial challenges. Judgment for the ill treatment of Sherri Klouda and denying Dr. Karen Bullock, tenure, may have already begun.

I would hope that SWBTS/SBC does not wait for a secular newspaper to document and detail all the women who have been professionally violated and mistreated in SBC Life before they repent, lament, and declare a change of heart, leading to a change of actions.

Wendy Norvelle was appointed Interim VP at IMB. But trustees would not support a woman being permanently named to such a position, although there is nothing scripturally that forbids a woman functioning in such a capacity. Junia, Phoebe, Huldah, Deborah, Priscilla and Lydia are excellent biblical role models that would have not been allowed to function in today’s SBC, because of views toward women, out of sync with Scripture. The three SBC women were serving in roles analogous with their biblical role models; yet, the SBC denied these women.

I, for one, want to go on record, again, acknowledging the SBC’s complicity and guilt in the maltreatment of Sherri Klouda, Karen Bullock, and Wendy Norvelle. I pray that the powers that be in the SBC would offer an apology to these women before judgment fully comes.

In 2007, I resigned as a trustee after serving for only one year for several reasons. Included were health concerns, church leadership and my wife’s feeling as if I had been rejected by the trustees and SWBTS leadership; therefore, I could not be effective as a trustee; and Cornerstone needed, respected and appreciated my time and input, more so than SWBTS. In many respects, when SWBTS leadership recommended to the SBC that I be removed as a trustee, they were attempting to silence and marginalize me, just as they had done Sherri Klouda and Karen Bullock. Later, they recanted their recommendation and asked me to remain a trustee. By then, I was exasperated. Those factors did weigh heavily upon my thinking. But an underlying factor, that I have never expressed publicly before was, I did not feel comfortable serving on a board that could treat Sherri Klouda as she was treated without any repentance or remorse. My presence on the board made me complicit; in my conscience, I could not live with that thought. Therefore, I resigned.

The same mentality that says Sherri Klouda cannot teach Hebrew, Wendy Norvelle cannot be a VP at IMB and Karen Bullock cannot teach church history or speak in Chapel—all on the basis of gender—is the same mentality that devalues women, solely on the basis of gender and contributes to a mentality of abusing women, because they are viewed as less valuable. God, forgive us and grant us mercy as you give us space to repent (Revelation 2:20-23).

Just as sexual abuse is systemic in SBC Life, denying women professional opportunities outside of the role of senior pastor is also systemic in SBC Life; and…God is displeased with both practices in the SBC.

In January, my wife and I have re-enrolled as students at SWBTS. We are enjoying every second of it. But, I pray that the day will come that apologies are extended to Dr. Klouda and Dr. Bullock before judgment comes.

 Church honors advocate for abuse victims

NEWSABPNEWS  |  DECEMBER 7, 2010

ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) — A sometimes-controversial black Southern Baptist preacher recently honored an also-outspoken advocate for victims of sex abuse by Baptist clergy.

Dwight McKissic and Christa Brown

Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, presented Christa Brown of StopBaptistPredators.org with an award Nov. 21 for sacrificial service by a Christian woman.

The Phoebe Award is named for a woman mentioned in the Book of Romans as “a servant of the church” and “helper of many.” McKissic’s church gives it to a woman “who has made a difference in our world” or “someone who stands up for truth and right,” said Veronica Griffin, Cornerstone’s minister of communications and special events. She said the award is presented every three to five years.

Brown is former Baptist outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support-and-advocacy group formed in 1989 in response to Catholic pedophilia scandals but with a focus that has expanded in recent years to clergy sexual abuse in other denominations. Brown tells her personal story of sexual abuse at the hands of a Baptist youth minister when she was a teenager — and of decades later tracking the perpetrator down and finally getting him removed from the ministry — in a book titled This Little Light.

After hearing from others with similar experiences, Brown set out to pressure the Southern Baptist Convention to set up safeguards like an independent panel where individuals could report abuse and a database of ministers guilty or credibly accused of sexual abuse.

For her efforts Brown and other leaders of SNAP have been publicly branded by prominent SBC leaders as “evil doers,” “just as reprehensible as sex criminals” and “nothing more than opportunistic persons who are seeking to raise opportunities for personal gain.”

Time magazine ranked the Southern Baptist Convention’s refusal to create a database of child molesters one of the 10 most under-reported stories of 2008. More recently a review of Brown’s book appeared overseas in The Times Literary Supplement. A translation just out in the Paris publication Booksmagazine carries the headline, “L’Église baptiste, paradis des pedophiles,” French for, “The Baptist church, paradise for pedophiles.”

A Cornerstone Baptist Church press release said Brown “works tirelessly to protect the next generation of innocent girls from abuse by Baptist pastors and clergy.”

“Although Ms. Brown has been disrespected, shunned and treated harshly by some in the Baptist family, she has chosen to take her abuse, hurt and shame and turn it into an opportunity to protect other women and girls from the same abuse, hurt and shame,” the release continued. “Realizing that not all Baptist preachers are predators, Ms. Brown desires to make parents aware of predators while educating the parent to become more aware and savvy in protecting their children.”

“She deserves to receive dignity, honor and acknowledgment for her life’s mission to protect others from clergy sexual abuse and change the Baptist infrastructure so that children and families are safe,” the release concluded.

Brown, an appellate lawyer now pursuing a Ph.D. at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said that traveling to Texas to accept the award was the first time — except for funerals — she had set foot in a Baptist church in more than 30 years.

“I am grateful to the people of Cornerstone Baptist Church and to Rev. Dwight McKissic for the message of hope they have sent in the making of this award,” Brown said. “Like many other clergy sex-abuse survivors, I yearn for a day when kids in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer, and when abuse survivors will be heard with compassion and care.”

“As Dr. McKissic so wisely recognizes, the work of protecting against clergy predators is not work that attacks the church but work that seeks to serve the church,” she said.

“Though the stories of clergy sex abuse survivors may be deeply troubling, in truth, we bring a gift to the faith community. Our stories may serve to illuminate the care that is needed for the faith community itself, so that Baptists may bear a more faithful witness in the world and may become more true to their own vision of who they are.”

McKissic is no stranger to controversy. He was forced to resign as a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after saying in a chapel sermon that he uses a “private prayer language,” a practice common among Pentecostal and charismatic groups but controversial for many Southern Baptists.

More recently McKissic proposed amending the Southern Baptist Convention’s constitution to exclude churches that support “racial discrimination and bigotry in any form” and called for a resolutionapologizing for the convention’s mistreatment of women.

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Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.