Posts tagged ‘San Antonio Express-News’

More Sexual Assault in Churches Comes to Light

Although I find my theological and confessional home in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I have long been partial to the Southern Baptist Convention.  I admire its commitment to the primacy of the gospel, the authority of Scripture, and the need for evangelism.  This is why it disturbed me deeply when, last Sunday, the Houston Chronicle, in conjunction with the San Antonio Express-News, published a bombshell report chronicling decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of leaders inside the SBC.  The report opens with the heart-shuddering story of Debbie Vasquez:

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas.  It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

How did her church’s leadership respond when they learned she was pregnant by their pastor?

When Vasquez became pregnant, she said, leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was their pastor’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. 

The reporters who worked on this story uncovered 700 victims of sexual abuse in SBC churches over a 20-year time period.  But, as the president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, noted in a blog post:  “700 is not the total number.”  He knows that for every case that has been uncovered, there is likely a case that remains under-cover.

Sexual abuse scandals in churches seem to be everywhere these days, and victims are left with lives that are shattered and, in some cases, lives that are ended.  The report goes on to tell of Heather Schneider, a 14-year old girl who:

…was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, according to criminal and civil court records.  Her mother, Gwen Casados, said church leaders waited months to fire the attacker, who later pleaded no contest.  In response to her lawsuit, church leaders also denied responsibility.

Schneider slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casados said.  She survived, but she died 14 years later from a drug overdose that her mother blames on the trauma.

“I never got her back,” Casados said.

This abuse is evil and it must stop.

The question, of course, is: How does it stop?  Here are three thoughts that, though by no means exhaustive, may provide a starting place to address and curb sexual abuse.

Care for victims.

A common denominator in so many of today’s sexual abuse stories is that victims, rather than being supported and cared for, are dismissed, or worse, blamed.  A congregation grappling with a sexual abuse scandal becomes so focused on protecting itself as an institution that it forgets about its people.

Jesus’ care for sexually broken situations can serve as our model when we are confronted with cases of sexual assault.  In John 8, a group of religious leaders drag a woman before Jesus who has been “caught in adultery” (John 8:3).  Even if her encounter with this man was consensual, as it seems to be, the fact that the religious leaders do not bring the man to stand trial with her speaks volumes.  In a patriarchal culture such as this one, men could engage in sexual exploits and conquests, often, without repercussion.  It was, in fact, a boys’ club.  This case is no exception.  The “boy” is nowhere to be found while the religious leaders are howling for this lady to be stoned.  Jesus, however, sees through the religious leaders’ hypocrisy and cares for this accused woman by protecting her and ultimately rescuing her from her would-be executioners (John 8:7-11).

If this is how Jesus addresses a situation where a woman seems to have had some willful role in a sexual encounter, how much more should we seek to protect and rescue those who have had no willful role, as in cases of sexual abuse?

Bring darkness to light.

Sexual abuse continues because it is allowed to remain under the cover of darkness – many times for decades on end.  Bringing it to light may be the single greatest strategy to stop sexual abuse before it starts.  It sends a clear and present warning to any abuser that they will be brought to justice.  President Greear’s invitation to victims to “get help” is supremely important.  His list of crisis hotlines is worth reposting here:

  • The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Again, Jesus can serve as our model for what bringing dark hurt into the light looks like.  In Mark 5, when a woman who suffers from a form of hemophilia seeks to secretly steal a healing from Jesus by touching the edge of His cloak, Jesus will not let her remain in the shadows.  He wants to speak to her in her pain.  He wants her to come into the light.  So, He seeks her out and, after she reveals herself, He tenderly calls her, “Daughter” (Mark 5:34).  May the victims among us be met with the same tenderness as they bring their darkest secret hurts into the light of open truth.

Recommit ourselves to a biblical sexual ethic.

There is no way around it:  the hypocrisy between what we who attend church say about sexuality and what we live out in our own sexualities is sometimes stunning.  The Christian sexual ethic is good.  It exalts commitment.  It encourages tenderness.  It dignifies humanity.  Sadly, many in our churches have spent so much time criticizing what happens sexually “out there” in the world that we overlook the sexual assault happening “in here” among our congregations.  Let’s remove the redwood-sized sin from our own eyes before trying to help others with the sawdust-sized sin in theirs (Matthew 7:3-5).  Each one of us in the church should be asking ourselves:  How am I falling short sexually?  How am I tempted sexually?  How can I get help?

The apostle Paul says that Jesus treats His Church like His bride (Ephesians 5:25).  What does this mean?  It means He loves her.  It means He is faithful to her.  It means He honors her.  It means He exalts her.  It means He seeks her purity.  It means He is willing even to die for her.

To address and defeat sexual abuse, go and do likewise.

February 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Four Lessons From The Spurs You Probably Already Know

Credit:  Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

This past week was a great one to be living in San Antonio.  For the fifth time in franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs brought home the title of NBA National Champions.  As much as I enjoyed watching Game 5 of the National Championship and seeing the Spurs come back from a 16-point deficit to win 104 to 87, the Spurs have a lot more going for them than just one big win in one big game.  Their words and demeanor season after season offer some good, even if simple, lessons.  Here are four that I’ve been thinking about.

A Lesson in Teamwork

The Spurs, as sportscasters, fans, and bystanders alike will tell you, are a team.  But not just in the sense that they all happen to be wearing the same jersey.  No, they play like a team.  They act like a team.  And they win like a team.  Benjamin Morris noted that the Spurs “had nine different players take four or more field goal attempts per game throughout the playoffs, compared to just six for Miami.”[1]  In San Antonio, everybody gets to play because, in San Antonio, everybody needs to play to bring home a win.

Playing as a team, of course, is needed not only on the court, but in the Christian life.  To meet the challenges we face, everybody needs to play together.  I think of the apostle Paul and all of his teammates, or, as he called them, “partners” (e.g., 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 1:5; Philemon 1:7), in the gospel.  With whom do you need to team up so you can share and show God’s love more effectively?

A Lesson in Humility

When Kawhi Leonard was named Most Valuable Player for the Finals, his shock was apparent – and endearing.  I loved how he responded to his high honor:  “Right now, it’s just surreal to me,” he said. “I have a great group of guys behind me.”[2]  Kawhi knew he performed great in Game 5.  But he also knew it wasn’t just about him.  It was about them – all the Spurs behind him.

In a world where Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of people shouting, “Look at me!” – to have a man point to the men behind him is impressive and important.  This is true humility.  Indeed, true humility is not about degrading yourself, but about lifting others up, which Leonard did beautifully.  Who can you point to in humility?

A Lesson in Perseverance

Before they were the National Champion San Antonio Spurs of 2014, they were the team that let everything slip through their fingers in 2013.  The front page of the San Antonio Express-News reflected last year’s heartbreak in its headline:  “REDEMPTION!”  But it took 362 days after a heartbreaking Game 6 loss to get that redemption.  362 long days.  “A day didn’t go by when I didn’t think about Game 6,” said Coach Gregg Popovich. “For the group to have the fortitude to get back to this spot speaks volumes.”[3]  The Spurs took a fall, yes, but they turned that fall into fuel for fortitude.  In the words of Tim Duncan, “What happened last year definitely helped our drive … We could have reacted in different ways.  We reacted the right way.”

Where you in your life do you need to persevere?  Where do you need to take things that go wrong and learn from them so you can do right?

A Lesson in Inclusion

Scott Cacciola of The New York Times recently published an article hailing the Spurs as “The United Nations of the Hardwood”:

The Spurs, as has been well established, have developed an international flair under Coach Gregg Popovich.  Eight players on the current roster were born outside the United States.  Loosely translated, that means the Spurs use at least four languages – English, Spanish, French and Italian – to communicate among themselves.

Manu Ginobili, an Argentine, is the team’s one-man version of the United Nations, capable of conversing in Spanish with his Brazilian teammate Tiago Splitter and in Italian with Marco Belinelli, who was born outside Bologna.  (Ginobili speaks in English with everybody else.)

Boris Diaw, who is from France, converses en français with Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium but grew up in France.  Both players also know some Italian, enough to eavesdrop on conversations between Ginobili and Belinelli.

Even the two team’s two Australians, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes, have their own dialect.

“We’ll hear them and be like, ‘Whoa!’” the assistant coach Chad Forcier said.

Tim Duncan, who is from the United States Virgin Islands, is considered an international player by the NBA.[4]

During the championship ceremony, many of these players wrapped themselves in the flags of their home countries.

The inclusion of so many men from so many places, all together on one team, makes me smile.  It reminds me of the promise that anyone from any “nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) can be included as one redeemed by the Lamb through faith.  And the more, the merrier.  That’s why one of my prayers is that heaven is chocked full.  I’d hate to see one empty corner where a person could have been.  So would the Lord.  He wants as many people included in His Kingdom as possible.  Who can you pray for to be included in eternity’s celebration?

In reality, these lessons are pretty simple and straightforward.  Indeed, I suspect you have probably already learned these lessons somewhere along the way.  Nothing in this blog is probably news to you.  But lessons don’t have to be esoteric and unknown to be profound and helpful.  They just have to be true.  And these lessons most certainly are.  That’s why I thought we could all use a little reminder.

So congratulations, Spurs.  And thanks for the lessons.  They’re great.

________________________________

[1] Benjamin Morris, “The Spurs Were an Outlier of Unselfishness,” FiveThirtyEight (6.17.2014).

[2] Associated Press, “Kawhi Leonard named Finals MVP,” ESPN (6.16.2014).

[3] Jeff McDonald, “High five! Spurs dethrone Heat for fifth NBA championship,” San Antonio Express-News (6.15.2014)

[4] Scott Cacciola, “The United Nations of the Hardwood,” The New York Times (6.15.2014).

June 23, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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