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When the Headlines are Personal

Maybe you’ve seen the story. The Houston Chronicle ran the blockbuster story about the Southern Baptist Convention investigating 10 churches for sexual abuse. Two were here in Georgia. One was of particular interest to me. Because the accused was the Minister of Youth at my church in the 80’s. And one of his victims was my friend.

Rehoboth Baptist Church was a great place to attend youth group in the 80’s. We had a large, welcoming group of teens. We had a praise band! And we had a youth minister that was charismatic and charming. And he was sexually abusing several young men in his care.

Nobody knew at the time. Not the other kids in the group. Not their parents. Certainly not the pastor. I didn’t find out until about 10 years ago when my friend David Pittman came forward with his story. David has chosen to take the evil that was done to him and help other abuse victims. You can read more about his organization here: https://togetherweheal.wordpress.com/about/

David has shared his story of single handedly chasing down the man who abused him. It took him three trips to a south Georgia town to finally call him out. The first time, he arrived at the church but didn’t get out of his car. The second time, he made it all the way up the church steps but couldn’t bring himself to go in. The third time, he finally spoke to the pastor of the church. The pastor confronted the abuser, who confessed and was immediately fired. But he was hired at other churches. The SBC said there was nothing they could do since each church is responsible for calling its own clergy.

The scandal of abuse has haunted the Catholic church. The Baptist church has also been slow to react. I think there was an assumption that “we don’t have those kinds of problems.” After all, we allow pastors to marry. But the SBC has finally started to act on reports of abuse. This week, Trinity Baptist Church has finally fired the man who abused my friend. Hopefully, he won’t find another job at another Baptist Church.

Reverend Rodney Brown, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, asked for forgiveness from the victims and the Southern Baptist Convention in a statement published by the Christian Index, the publication of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

“Recently I have come to realize that I failed my duty as pastor in not taking action against an individual who had been accused of child abuse in the past at another church. This was because of my long-standing friendship with the accused.”

“Other victims have now come forward naming this person and he has admitted to assaulting several young people many years ago. I now realize that what I first thought was an isolated incident was much more. I should have understood that earlier and not doing so was a great mistake on my part. I cannot apologize enough for my actions.”

One reason predators like this escape scrutiny is due to the statute of limitations here in Georgia. The law was changed in 2012, but prior to that no charges could be brought for child molestation after the victim turned 23 years old. That means no charges can be filed against this man unless more recent victims come forward.

Reverend Brown has seen the error of his ways. The SBC is taking real steps to improve handling of abuse accustations (https://christianindex.org/hammond-statement-trinity-baptist-church/?fbclid=IwAR0XuPc5F3v73E3tr1H5CyUAhvt220QgR3IRv0C4qfMcuKLh4Q_UFIpv46Y). They were the only denomination to support the Hidden Predator Act this year, after years of opposing it.

But David Pittman is still angry. “It was horrible, disgusting and offensive. For him to say it was an isolated incident implies to a survivor that if it just happened one time, then it’s not as bad as if it happened multiple times. I can only assume that Pastor Brown still doesn’t get it, Pastor Brown doesn’t care or both.”

So much has changed in the wake of the “Me Too” movement. But this case shows how far we have left to go. Victims shouldn’t have to chase their abusers from job to job. I understand the reluctance to believe that such a monster could be hiding in plain sight. I know how hard it is to believe the victims. I know how it feels to find out that some one you respected and trusted abused that trust. What does it say about us that all of this went on and we had no clue?

It tells us that these pedophiles are really good at choosing their victims and covering their crimes. From Bill Cosby to Larry Nassar to Michael Jackson, we have learned that great men can still be capable of great evil. But they all had help. They had the assistance of people who covered for them. People who were more interested in protecting the institution – whether that was a movie studio or a University or a football program. Or a church. They had people like Rodney Brown who protected his friend instead of the children of his church.

And they have people like all of us, who would rather believe that the victims are lying than to believe that we have allowed evil to flourish in our midst.

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