I’ve just been through a very intense 48 hours since the airing of the 60 Minutes report on my family. The last thing I want to do right now is sit down and analyse the response to this programme, but it needs to be done.
First, let me give you the links you need to know about.
- The 60 Minutes programme (Part 1, Part 2)
- The Files
- Extra Minutes (more of Kevin, women in the movement, how to help the abused), (access outside Australia: 1, 2, 3)
Second, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the hundreds of notes and comments of support for Mum and the family at this time. I’d say 80-85% of the response has been positive and it has been very comforting to know that we’re not alone in this.
The Australian IB movement
Let me be very clear. I am not speaking of the American Independent Baptist (IB) movement. The American IB movement is where the Australian IB movement came from, but the two are very different things. Unfortunately, the involvement of VFBT in this story [EDIT: see here for details] has muddied the waters a bit, but on the other hand, VFBT has had a significant influence on the Australian IB movement, particularly when it comes to their view of marriage and family matters. So it’s quite relevant. Nevertheless, my comments here and elsewhere are almost exclusively intended to address the IB movement in Australia.
Ok. So this has been a tricky story because there were some fairly broad statements made about the IBs at the beginning of the programme. Which put a lot of people on edge. Let me clarify several things.
Neither I, my Mum, or Mel Thornton called the movement a cult in our interviews. We didn’t even call Kevin’s church a cult. I don’t have access to the raw footage of my interview, but when I was asked if Kevin’s church was a cult, I said something along the lines of this:
The word “cult” is a very strong term and we need to be careful about throwing it around too carelessly. But there are many things about Kevin and his church that are cult-like.
That is my view and I stand by it.
Of course 60 Minutes went well past that statement, attributing such views to “former members.” Is that accurate? Of course. There are easily tens of thousands of ex-IBs around the world who view the IB movement as a cult. IBs may not like that fact, but it is true. And that brings us to the next point.
It has been clear, in case after case after case, that the primary concern of the IB leaders in response to this story is self-preservation. We close ranks. We protect our own. We play childish word games like Kevin did in his interview. We look for flaws in the messenger so we can focus on that and ignore the message. We console ourselves with the absurd notion that all the other people are evil and are being used by Satan to attack us. If that is not cult-like, I don’t know what is.
The irony is that most of the pastors are standing up and saying to the abused “abuse is evil and we will protect you.” But then they are turning around and nitpicking me and my Mum because we stood up. These leaders may not be clever enough to see it, but the abused women and children get the message loud and clear: If you come to us about abuse, we will cross-examine you, we will doubt you, we will endanger you, we will use God to pressure you, we will blame you, and we will shame you. Nobody cares what you say in your official policy statement. They’re watching your life and ministry. If you’ve got bodies lining the road wherever you’ve been, they’re smart enough to try not to be the next one. They’re literally taking their chances with the abuser because you’re worse.
One of the major reasons IB leaders focus on self-protection so much is because insecure people like to protect themselves by maintaining power. I don’t have time to go into depth on this, but the bottom line is that many IBs simply don’t get the concept of power dynamics. Kevin doesn’t. He doesn’t believe in an age of consent because he doesn’t see the inherent power imbalance between a child and an adult. He doesn’t get that a pastor vs. a woman is not a fair fight. It’s a power imbalance. She is at his mercy in many cases. So he waltzes through ministry enjoying the benefits of having power, but not having the sense to be terrified about the responsibility that power brings. It’s not just immature. It’s evil. And IBs have got to come to grips with this issue.
Some will say this is all just hasty generalisation. First, it’s not hasty. I endured two odd decades of horrific child abuse. I have watched Mum suffer for even longer. For eleven years I have not made a single public statement about Kevin’s oppression of me, my family, and many who dared to be my friends against his will. So there is nothing hasty about this.
As far as being a generalisation, of course it is. And there’s nothing wrong with a generalisation. Of course a generalisation doesn’t mean every Australian IB is a certain way. It means Australian IBs in general tend to be like this. There is a culture of abuse. The misuse of power is structural, systematic, and endemic. I grew up in this movement. I’ve spoken in many of the churches. I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people who have been harmed in the movement. This generalisation is valid, though not universal. I’m honestly looking hopefully for someone to emerge as the clear exception to the generalisation. Someone to lead the charge for reformation. So far, it seems the crickets are leading the charge.
Every denomination has nutters
Many argue that every denomination has nutters. Which is true. But it’s also a cop out. If you expose a nutter in the Baptist Union, they will face accountability and disfellowship. Ironically, it’s the IBs that refuse to practice separation. Unless of course a pastor is exposed for using a modern Bible version or some other such evil. So it’s not ok to claim that the IB nutters are just a normal part of the way things are. It’s not. It’s evil. It’s more evil than the world to which they preach will tolerate. The irony is rich. And tragic.
You’ve brought shame on the name of God
Many have told me I’ve brought shame on the name of God. Nonsense. It is cultishly evil to pretend that the problem is the person who tells, not the evil they told. When a pastor condemns his mother for being raped, the shame is not the people who expose it. The evil is what they exposed. And when you condemn the people who told, you’re telling people that telling will not be tolerated. If you condemned Mum or I for telling this story, do not kid yourself that you are safe for women and children to tell about abuse. You’re not. You’re dangerous. And they know it. So they will keep sitting in the pew with a big smile while God is made a mockery of in your church and in their home, week after week after week. And then someday it will all explode. And you’ll condemn them too. And then you’ll go to some big conference and moan about how you don’t understand why all the young people are becoming atheists. And you’ll rail on them. But they’re not the problem. You are.
There IS a problem
The single most prominent theme that runs through the responses to this story, from what I’ve seen, is that Kevin’s church is obviously an extreme, but that it was unhelpful to generalise across the IB movement. Even the positive comments carried this theme. And as I’ve said, not all IBs are extremist. But that is not the point.
I have received many forceful rebukes in the last few days both publicly and privately because of what I did in speaking with the media. It is alleged that I am persecuting the IBs and trying to make this problem broader than it is. But I am yet to hear of a single IB church that has taken a public, unqualified stand against Kevin and his evil doctrines so far. I’ve seen pastors decry the way IBs have been “persecuted” by the media. I’ve seen statements which try to take a stand without actually doing so, and without giving any ground to the notion that there may be a problem in the movement; in their own church culture. I’ve seen pastors defending themselves. But I haven’t seen a single pastor say:
“You know, it’s true. We do have a problem. If Larry and Kevin happened right under our noses while we looked up to them as leaders in the area of marriage and family, there is clearly something terribly wrong in our culture. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to get better at this.”
And until that is what the majority of IBs are doing, the generalisation is true. It’s that simple. Almost no one in Australia thinks the IB movement has a healthy culture on the abuse issue. Except IBs. There is a problem. Admitting it is the first step toward change.
And whether you believe it or not, change is what I want to see. With all of my heart.
Grace to you.