A self-help group for victims of clergy sex abuse on Friday accused leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention of mischaracterizing their apology for saying they had not received a response letter later found to have been misplaced by the recipient to cover up for their "do-nothing" attitude.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a press release Feb. 19 saying that SNAP leaders had delivered a letter five months earlier to SBC President Frank Page, Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land requesting establishment of an independent review board to investigate allegations of clergy sex abuse, similar to panels set by Roman Catholics and Presbyterians.
"Our letter was met with silence," the press release stated. "We received no response."
The following day, a work group of the SBC Executive Committee discussed the convention's response to SNAP. Two SNAP representatives in Nashville at the time were not invited to the discussion, but they showed up after being informed by EthicsDaily.com the discussion was on the agenda.
At the meeting, which operates under rules that prohibit direct quotation or attribution, work group members called SNAP's press release inaccurate and unjustifiably accusatory, and said the Executive Committee had responded to every letter, an untrue picture was presented of SBC leaders and SNAP owed them an apology.
After checking with SNAP's Chicago office, an unopened letter from Executive Committee Vice President August Boto was found to have been misplaced and not delivered to SNAP leaders. Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist, apologized for saying mistakenly that Boto's letter was not received.
Baptist Press, in turn, followed with a story quoting Boto as saying: "The repeated claims of Ms. Brown and SNAP to the media that we had been unresponsive are untrue. SNAP and Ms. Brown received written replies to every communication they have sent--a total of five responses to date. Copies of these are available upon request. We have been informed that Ms. Brown and SNAP have recently determined they were in error, and did, in fact, receive our correspondence. SNAP has issued an apology for making those claims."
On Friday, more than a month after clearing the air with leaders in Nashville, SNAP issued another press release saying Boto's letter was a "brush off" and crying foul over SBC leaders using it for vindication.
"For Baptist officials to use their own Baptist Press to publicly twist that apology into a vindication of their do-nothing response was perverse," said David Clohessy, SNAP's national director. "It's the sort of self-serving tactics we've seen with many Catholic bishops, and it reveals men who are more focused on protecting appearances than on protecting kids."
Brown, who maintains the StopBaptistPredators.org Web site said she was "deeply disappointed" by the convention's tone and tactics. "If Baptist officials would instead use their powerful press arm to inform people in the pews about credibly reported clergy child molesters, Baptist kids could be made a whole lot safer," she said.
The most recent SNAP release coincided with news of the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals involving Baptist ministers, including some with high profile.
The Birmingham News on Friday reported that Rick Ousley, founding pastor of The Church at Brook Hills and chaplain for the Samford University football team, was suspended from his evangelistic ministry after he admitted to "moral and spiritual indiscretion."
The story quoted a woman who claimed she began baby-sitting Ousley's children when she was 15. They began having a sexual relationship when she was 18 and he was 29, she said, after he and his first wife divorced. But the woman said the two continued to meet for trysts during Ousley's travels, the most recent occurring Dec. 10-17, 2006, when he preached two consecutive Sundays at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston.
"Understand that the human dilemma is common for all of us," Ousley said in the second of those messages, Webcast on the church Web site. "We've got a sin nature to deal with. What an awesome thing when a pure sin-natured person like myself, like you, can come before a Holy God and come and worship him, and come and adore him and come and make a righteous response. A righteous response is when the spirit has overcome the flesh. It's when the anointing of God has been an actual occurrence. The Spirit of God has overwhelmed the flesh tendency. I am prone to wander. I am prone to leave the God that I ought to love. I am prone to want to do the selfish, prideful, egocentric, self-absorbed, self-serving thing. I am prone to just want to live for me."
Ousley, 55, was a nationally known evangelist whose recent speaking engagements included the 2007 Georgia Baptist Convention Evangelism Conference in February.
The board of directors of Quixotic Ministries, which Ousley founded after retiring from the 4,000-member Brook Hill church for health reasons in 2005, shut down the ministry's Web site. Ousley's speaking engagements, which included a "Celebrate Marriage Weekend" conference at Lakewood Baptist Church in Northpoint, Ala., were canceled.
According to the Birmingham newspaper, the woman, 43-year-old Donna Jones of Katy, Texas, said Ousley called her March 9, crying and begging her to stay silent. "He said, 'Don't hurt my family, don't hurt my ministry,'" she said. "I said, 'My God, you've done that to yourself. Don't put that back on me.'"
The Church at Brook Hills said in a statement that Ousley is no longer a member of the church but the current staff is shocked and saddened by the revelation. Senior Pastor David Platt devoted Sunday's sermon to a biblical response to "moral failure."
"This question is much broader than Rick Ousley," Platt said. "This is a question that is huge across the church in America today."
"I believe sexual sin among leaders in the church is an epidemic problem across the American church," Platt said. "I can't help but think if one of the reasons it is so rampant and so epidemic is because we have not faced the seriousness of it and addressed in it our lives and in the church.
Church leaders urged members to pray for all persons involved and provided a confidential e-mail link for church members with "any information or communication that would be helpful to providing closure to this issue."
Another recent abuse case involved the March 13 arrest of a North Carolina Baptist minister accused of sex crimes against children that occurred over a span of three decades.
The Asheville Citizen-Times said Roy Mace Honeycutt II, 63, was charged with six counts of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of first-degree sex offense with a boy under 13.
Honeycutt was affiliated with at least two churches in the area, including Bethel Baptist Church in Asheville and Trinity Baptist Church in Mars Hill, said Norman Jameson of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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