Clergy Sex Abuse, Off-Limits Questions & Pink Elephants

In yet another bizarre turn of events at SBC Voices — a place for Southern Baptist News and Opinion — I have found myself in the strange position (I’m in good company) of not only having my own comments deleted, but also the comments of others based upon my original comment that got the ball rolling, as it were. The comments, which I’m so relieved were deemed not “sinful or evil or anything,” were nevertheless deleted because I asked questions that were apparently uncomfortable for some at Voices. So, “based on advice” (from who we do not know), the editor of Voices, Dave Miller, decided to delete multiple comments because “they took the discussion in a direction it does not need to go.”

I thought I was offering discussion on a post by Mr. Miller, “An Update on William Birch.” Some will perhaps remember William “Billy” Birch, the Southeastern Seminary student and “up-and-coming” Southern Baptist blogger who was a self-identified Arminian. As late as November 2011, Birch was writing posts warning of Calvinists in our midst, the same type of “warning” that he began decrying when Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, penned his now infamous opinion piece, “The Calvinists are here.” Others will remember Mr. Birch for his arrest on sex assault charges this past March.

In a rather detailed update, Mr. Miller wanted his readers to be aware of what has transpired in Billy Birch’s life since his arrest in March. Much of the post dealt with the issues of repentance, God’s grace, forgiveness, and restoration. This last term, restoration, was never clearly defined by Mr. Miller. Did it include restoration into a right relationship with God? Was it a restoration to fellowship within the church? Was it restoration to a leadership role within the church. This issue of restoration to leadership was the impetus for my comment and questions:

I would wholeheartedly agree with what others have said regarding God’s grace and healing power being available in William’s life as well as the life of all those who fall into sin. None of us is beyond temptation to sin. I’m not sure many would disagree that we should follow the example of Jesus in showing “grace, kindness, and a forgiving spirit” to those who confess and repent of their sin.

However, what separates this case from others is that Mr. Birch was arrested, confessed, and entered into some type of deal with the State that reduced the original charge from a felony sexual assault to a misdemeanor sexual battery. That is certainly good for Mr. Birch, as a felony conviction would most likely render him a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. While we all would agree that God can and does restore those who have fallen into sin, what does that restoration look like in terms of leadership within the church? In light of the serious allegations that continue be uncovered regarding sexual abuse in our own Convention as well as in other Protestant and Catholic groups, is someone like Mr. Birch, who was charged with felony sexual assault and agreed to the lessor charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, eligible for leadership within the church ever? After a certain amount of time? I hope by asking that I am not running afoul of Dave’s warning, but these questions arise out of Mr. Birch’s case as well as other cases that continue to occur throughout the SBC. Restoration to fellowship is one thing. Restoration to leadership is something different. Thanks and God bless, Howell

Not only did Mr. Miller challenge my understanding of the legal process, but he did not address the key concerns of my questions, namely whether anyone with a criminal sexual assault or battery on their record (through either a conviction or some type of plea agreement) — including, but not limited to William Birch — is ever eligible for leadership within the church. That line of questioning, particularly as it regards restoration to leadership, was deemed off-limits in the discussion and was subsequently deleted (along with all other comments related to my original comment). I would not have even had to ask the questions had Mr. Miller been more clear as to William Birch’s intentions regarding future leadership roles within the church. However, as I re-read Dave Miller’s comment in response to this little kerfuffle, I am actually more disturbed than before. After all the off-limits comments were deleted, Miller wrote:

Here’s the fact, which I did not share immediately. William has no plans to ever be involved again in the SBC in ministry or leadership or anything. (emphasis added) Once he gets through this healing process, his intent is to go to another denomination to do whatever God leads him to do. (emphasis added)

Take just a moment to digest the import of that statement. William Birch, who admitted to sexually assaulting a fellow student at SEBTS and is now on three years probation because of that crime, has no plans to remain a Southern Baptist. Instead, according to Mr. Miller, he will go to another denomination “to do whatever God leads him to do.” What would this be? Why would he leave the SBC? We don’t know, but we do know enough to ask the question whether a person in Mr. Birch’s position (and there are scores of them both inside and outside the SBC) is ever eligible to serve in a leadership role within the church. That continues to be the pink elephant in the tent of the Southern Baptist Convention. Discussing the restoration of clergy sex offenders to leadership roles within the church should never be off-limits, even if some don’t like the direction that discussion takes us. To not ask these questions is to invite the elephant to make a bigger mess, not just inside the tent, but in the lives of the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

15 comments for “Clergy Sex Abuse, Off-Limits Questions & Pink Elephants

  1. Lydia
    April 27, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    Howell, Get with the program! It is no longer “opinion” in the comments unless you are on the team. It is now the Ed Setzer directed blog.

    You are one of the most irenic but “thinking” persons we have in the SBC blogosphere. That makes you dangerous. I can totally understand why they delete me…. but you?

    This is the new SBC…er GBC. They write a post but your comment “took it in a direction they did not want to go”. Hmm. Welcome to the REAL world. But no, they must control the direction and that is why some of us do not trust them anymore.

    “Instead, according to Mr. Miller, he will go to another denomination “to do whatever God leads him to do.” What would this be? Why would he leave the SBC? We don’t know, but we do know enough to ask the question whether a person in Mr. Birch’s position (and there are scores of them both inside and outside the SBC) is ever eligible to serve in a leadership role within the church. That continues to be the pink elephant in the tent of the Southern Baptist Convention. Discussing the restoration of clergy sex offenders to leadership roles within the church should never be off-limits, even if some don’t like the direction that discussion takes us. To not ask these questions is to invite the elephant to make a bigger mess, not just inside the tent, but in the lives of the victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

    And that is the whole point. We cannot fix problems we refuse to discuss or admit ARE problems. There are a ton of questions advanced by Dave’s comment. Why leave the SBC? (I thought the Reformed crowd believed in church discipline, keys to the kingdom stuff for elders discipining for the sheeple’s accountability)

    There is such a need to either quelch discussion through insults and making fun of people or just blatent censorship.

    Welcome to the GBC.

    Off topic: I am still trying to get my head around the fact that some really do believe that Acts 29 churches have nothing in common with Driscoll/Mars Hill. That is stated as a fact and is so incredible to me it makes me believe there really is no hope for the SBC to be unified.

    • April 28, 2012 at 12:14 AM

      Lydia,

      You are up late tonight! After today’s episode, I don’t really know why I bother to comment at Voices anymore. I have a few theories as to why Dave didn’t like the direction that my comment was taking his “update” on William Birch. When an “update” addresses issues that are not just a “how’s he doing” thing, Dave opens the door for questions, particularly in relation to “restoration,” which he never defined. The implication from reading the totality of the post — which I know that some don’t like for me and others to do — is that this “restoration” is not limited to spiritual/fellowship, but also has wiggle room for restoration to leadership. That Mr. Birch is going to another denomination — presumably where he would not be as well known — is disturbing, to say the least. This happens all the time with these situations. That Dave and others seem to be oblivious to the potential for this abuse to happen again is astounding and was the reason for my line of questioning. I’m all for offering people grace, forgiveness, and restoration to fellowship, but that doesn’t give a green light for restoration to leadership. As to Acts 29 and their relationship to the SBC, I think some folks are naive while others willfully turn a blind eye to what is going on. Driscoll is a major problem, but Acts 29, even without Driscoll at the helm, will be a source of contention within the SBC in the coming months. Some people are easily fooled and led. I guess that’s why some folks don’t like it when I ask uncomfortable questions. Thanks and hope you have a great weekend. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Lydia
    April 28, 2012 at 12:29 AM

    Howell,

    I am up very late. Had way too much coffee at the State Bible drill competition. (My girl won state!)

    While there, a woman I know pretty well was telling me about her son who went away to college and joined an Acts 29 church. Now he is telling her how her and her husband have had it all wrong about God. So they are going up to see him this weekend and attend the church. AFter all, they are paying the tuition to college. (wink)

    Just a note from my old training days: There are rules (the ones communicated and posted) and there are “unwritten rules”. Those are the ones that freeze people up. (In corporate lingo those are the rules that stifle innovation, transparency, efficiencies and progress)

    But the unwritten rules are rules that determine the culture. Unwritten rules can only be learned and understood by experience. There is a reason they are “unwritten”. Control. And it is best if you learn the unwritten rules by other’s experiences because they are usually learned in uncomfortable ways. SBCV now has a lot of “unwritten rules”.

    • April 28, 2012 at 11:24 AM

      Lydia,

      Congratulations to your daughter on winning the State Bible drill. It’s nice to know some churches still do that. We have our Associational competition today and state next week. I know what you mean about “unwritten rules.” What makes people crazy is for folks to understand the “unwritten rules” and then write in such a way so as to point out the inconsistencies in the rules. I think that’s why I may not be as liked on some sites as I once way. Oh well. I’ll keep writing so as to bring more light to subjects that otherwise would stay in the dark. Hope you have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

      • April 28, 2012 at 1:23 PM

        Welcome to the club, Howell. when folks build kingdoms for kingdoms’ sake, then kingdoms fail…it’s a fact of life. sooner or later that is what happens. There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Gideon who was going to battle. God kept subtracting from his army until there were so few in the band of brothers that complete loyalty and vigilance was observable. It seemed an impossible task before him, yet, all glory went to the Father for the success. Some who think they are in charge are not in charge at all. God is. And He knows exactly what He is going to do.

        God also looked down from heaven one time and noticed a group of folks who sought to build a tower to reach heaven. He knew the plans which they devised and for what purpose. Though man is not privy to all the plans of those building kingdoms and towers, God knows. And we all know what happened with the tower of Babel, don’t we?

        • April 28, 2012 at 6:25 PM

          Hariette,

          I’ve got some pretty good company in the club :-) As you say, these man-made kingdoms will come to nothing. Truth will eventually win out, even when people try to hide their motives. We just need to keep shining light on the situation. Light is the best disinfectant for this type of stuff. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  3. Rick Patrick
    April 28, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Brahtherr Scaughwtt, (fake Russian accent)

    Yooh vill not kvestion zee veesdom of zee krate und moheetee meaneesters Meeler und Stehtzurrrr! Zee all yooh kan eat buffay in Rahsha means, “Take theese leetle beet…that’s all yooh kan eat!!!”

    SBCVoices veel tell yooh vaht too sink. Eef yooh sink sometheeng vee dooh naught sink ees gooott, vee kaught yooh aughff und zee vaht Meeler und Stehtzurrr vant ahs tooh say!

    (Sorry, I saw Despicable Me for the first time last night and Steve Carell’s voice is still ringing in my head.

    • Lydia
      April 28, 2012 at 4:46 PM

      Rick, Loved your post on funding over at SBCV. I am having a hard time understanding why some cannot get the fact that Acts 29 only plants Calvinist churches. They are exclusive but expect us not to be? I mean what do they think was the draw to Acts 29 for these young church planters if not Driscoll style methods? (Now we have Sojourn suddenly leave Acts 29 when it hit the fan about Driscoll. I am sure the Driscoll DNA just magically disappeared)

      And this BFM tactic is getting old. It is nothing but a deflection the powers to be have taught them to say. Talk about Mantra. Nothing in the BFM will keep us from funding (in any way shape or form. Even one penny is too much to fund them) Driscollite style Acts 29 churches. It is on them to prove the Acts 29 church leaders are not like Driscoll or the church like Mars Hill. Do they really think we are going to fund churches where the leaders think sodomy in marriage is ok and teach Real Marriage?

      I spoke to a seniors SS class about it and gave them links to Driscoll, Joyful Exiles, etc, and explained that NAMB had helped some of these churches and even Sojourn church plants were modeled after Driscoll.

      One thing I like about the older people is they hate tyranny of any kind and especially in churches. They saw it first hand living through WW2 as kids. They are big believers in the Priesthood as Baptists. And these New Calvinist churches tend to be heavy on “authority”, keys to the kingdom in the hands of the elders types of churches. Seniors tend to see right through this for what it really is.

      The problem for the SBC/GBC NC is they need our money since most of the funding comes from Non Calvinist churches. Not even from the mega’s who pretty much run everything! I mentioned this here before when the associational figures came out Mohler’s large church, Highview (category over 1000 members) gave 10,000 to the CP while a church of less than a hundred, Hopewell, gave 30,000! The entire list was like that.

      People need to spread the word what is really going on and why they should do some homework rather than just believe what they are told by the leadership. When I hear the BFM tactic trotted out, I think of liberals who claim that republicans want to ‘cut’ a program when the truth is they are not funding the rate of growth. They are twisting things and that is what the BFM tactic is. The BFM is meaningless if it means we are funding church planters who believe sodomy and firing elders so you can have full control….. but yet they follow the BFM. How comforting.

    • April 28, 2012 at 6:29 PM

      Rick,

      The joys of “Dispicable Me.” I’ve lost count on how many times that I have watched that movie. The boys love it. Voices has lots of folks that apparently like to be told “vaht too sink.” But, we just keep hitting them with facts. As my favorite President ever said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Of course, that was Ronald Reagan. Another one of his maxims was, Trust, but verify.” I’m using that one more than ever in the debates that are taking place within the Convention. You are presenting facts about Acts 29 over at Voices. While the overwhelming number of comments are against your position, take heart. There are lots of folks that are probably reading that agree with your position, but they do not want to wade into the swamp that Voices has become. They have better things to do. Look forward to seeing you in NOLA. God bless,

      Howell

  4. BDW
    April 28, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    What I find interesting is how Dave has accepted what Birch tells him as Truth. He took Birch at his word on Day 1 and continues to accept his word (and characterizations of the legal process!) as Truth!

    I’m sorry. But I don’t find people who commit sexual crimes to be the definition of credible!

    You were 100% correct, Howell. Of course he took some sort of deal. I’m sure the D.A.’s office would characterize the events that transpired a bit differently than the perpetrator. Dave’s flippant response to you – a lawyer – revealed how biased he is. He was too close to Birch to be close to objective and did Birch no favors along the way, airing his private communication to the world.

    It was just a tad cheap for Dave to take shots at those such as myself and others who offered informed commentary with regard to what the words of the arrest warrant meant. He called it blind speculation. Again in that case, he took the confessed predator’s words as truth.

    I didn’t like how he tied Birch’s sex crime to homosexuality. That should have nothing to do with this. Whether homosexual or heterosexual or whatever, folks don’t go around committing sexual battery. When a guy sexually assaults a sleeping girl, do we pontificate about the problem of lust? To do so is to downplay the crime that was committed.

    • Lydia
      April 28, 2012 at 4:49 PM

      “But I don’t find people who commit sexual crimes to be the definition of credible!”

      Bingo.

      Who knows, he might be telling the truth but only time will tell and Dave did not give it time at all.

    • April 28, 2012 at 6:48 PM

      Aaron,

      Thanks for confirming that I am not insane (at least on this issue :-) ). I can’t know with 100% certainty what a person’s motivation is for writing a particular post, but you are correct to point out that Dave has shown an incredible amount of bias, both when this story originally broke and in his latest missive. I’m not sure how much, if any, of the comments that you saw at Voices before they were deleted, but Dave’s flippant response on the legal issues got increasingly foolish. I had forgotten that you had offered commentary on what the words of the arrest warrant meant. There may have been speculation as to what the facts were, but there was no blind speculation. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Birch was arrested for sexual assault. He was originally charged with felony sexual assault. The State’s Attorney will often charge the most serious crime that the facts warrant. That’s SOP. That gives them leverage to “make a deal” with the defendant, which is exactly what happened in this case, notwithstanding Dave’s nonsensical argument that there was no deal. Mr. Birch most likely entered a voluntary plea of guilty (with perhaps adjudication withheld if he completes probabtion with no further problems) or no contest. But, he entered into a deal which reduced the original charge to a misdemeanor sexual battery charge. You and I agree that Mr. Birch, at least in this case, has been found to be a sexual predator. I’m not so sure that others see it that way. Your point is well taken regarding trying to pontificate away a sexual assault on a woman as being the result of lust. That argument would be preposertous. Your statement that “whether homosexual or heterosexual, folks don’t go around committing sexual battery” got a hearty LOL from my wife :-)

      As to why Dave injected the homosexuality angle, it is most likely another defense of Dr. Mohler’s establishment position and a shot at Peter Lumpkins and others who have questioned SBC leadership on their “evolving” views of this issue. There was much in the 7-subpoint “update” that was more than a simple update. This opened the door, not only for my questions, but for others. That was not what Dave expected or wanted. Therefore, comments were deleted because everyone was just supposed to accept everything at face value, only 6 weeks (not 6 months) after the crime was committed. The tone deafness on the issue of clery sexual abuse as it relates to the issue of William Birch is astounding. Why such a public effort at “restoration” (whatever that means) in such a quick fashion? I have my theories. I think that many who know the landscape of SBC politics and how Mr. Birch was coming into his own as an “up-and-coming blogger” will be able to come to their own conclusions for Dave’s “update” and the subsequent deletion of my comments with the particular line of questioning that was taking the discussion in a direction that he didn’t want it to go.

      As always, thanks for your perspective. Hope all is well with you and your family in Waco. Have a great weekend and Lord’s Day. God bless,

      Howell

  5. April 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Howell,
    I thought your question regarding restoration for those who have gone through this kind of situation was pertinent to the issue at hand. Even if William doesn’t desire to go back into ministry, there are some who do. The question of how we handle that is a big one.

    Thanks for putting together this more thorough run at the issue. I checked out the last site that you linked in the post and bookmarked it for future reference. Sadly, I noticed a name that I recognized as he was a former pastor(over 30 years ago) of the church that I am serving at now. I say sadly, because I hate to think that he may have abused people at our church in the past during his tenure here, and because it was evident that he is still abusing people in the recent past in another state from the records they have.

    We have to find a way to deal with this issue and not bury it. These are the hard things of living out the Gospel that we profess to believe.

    • April 29, 2012 at 9:14 PM

      Jeff,

      I appreciate the encouragement. Your example of your church’s former pastor being listed on the StopBaptistPredators website just goes to illustrate the systemic problem that exits. Leave one church and go to another, all the while continuing the pattern of sexual abuse. I think it is exceedingly rare that sexual predators only commit abuse the one time that they are caught and that this was an isolated experience. Most likely, the predator has a life-long pattern of such abuse. If we would ask more questions and not be so easily duped by a predator’s use of spiritual language to deflect from their predatory nature, then we might prevent some of this garbage. What is most disturbing about Dave’s original post and his subsequent deletion of my comments (and others) is that he is taking everything that Mr. Birch has told him at face value. In this case, as in other cases of sexual abuse, what the sexual predator says may not always be the truth. The more I understand about this case, the more disturbed I am at the complete lack of judgment by some in believing Mr. Birch’s story. Thanks for your words of wisdom on this. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  6. Theodore A Jones
    September 16, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    Friend what is actually obvious in regard to the many sexual deviates showing up as members of the hierarchy of contemporary so called Christian churches is directly relative to the Lord’s statement “you shall know them” meaning you can recognize which church is the church he is not head of. Since it is obvious by fact that there is no hierarchy of any contemporary so called Christian church in existence that does not have this “problem”, but the church Jesus is head of cannot have this problem, because it cannot produce the fruit of sexual deviates in regard to homosexuals, incest, etc. So then who is the other spiritual entity that is head of this church you have incorrectly assumed Jesus to be head of? Bad seed, the another gospel was sown him, and by evidence in plain sight has produced the bad fruit. Do you people intend to continue to sow the bad seed which is what you are doing?

    The Dave Miller problem. I too have had a recent encounter with Mr. Miller and his shenanigans. Mr. Miller’s problem is that, as Jesus describes, the person who attempts to serve two masters who have a competing interest. One who has the will to bring you to life, but only by the faith of complying to what he demands from you by Jesus’ crucifixion, and the other that the Bible quotes saying “Did God really say?”. Whenever someone cites something Mr. Miller absolutely loathes, irrespective of the source, he completely avoids the quote and cuts off the poster.
    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    There has never been a Baptist on the face of this earth who does not contest that statement. Mr. Miller is not the only Baptist who is making the attempt to serve two masters.

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