Reporting these types of stories brings no joy, but must be done because the COGIC leadership has not gotten the message that sexual abuse and immorality among its clergy is rampant and the foot dragging must stop. When asked about the website we set up to monitor and advocate for victims, Bishop Blake told a Memphis reporter, “Brother Foster has a flavor of the year he usually focuses on. His flavor this year is sexual harassment and sexual abuse.”
But the facts prove clergy sexual abuse in COGIC is no joking matter. The Memphis Commercial Appeal broke yet another abuse story early this morning. Minister Dwayne Wilson [myspace page] (pictured), 25 of St Mark COGIC in Memphis was arrested and charged with statutory rape of a 16 year female member of the church’s choir where he served as music minister.
Ronald Rolfe, the church’s pastor refused to remove Wilson from his position saying that the Bible calls for us to love and forgive.
“The word of God teaches us to forgive and to pray,” said Rolfe. “The best thing I can do as a clergyman is to extend God’s hands of forgiveness.”
Apparently, Pastor Rolfe isn’t aware of COGIC’s zero tolerance policy. Through their public relations firm, COGIC officials refused comment until they had more information [source].
Although the Commerical Appeal reported that COGIC “has had a no-tolerance policy toward sexual misconduct since 1992, and COGIC members adopted additional policies earlier this month”, the Wilson case reveals that information is still vastly unknown to the denomation’s thousands of clergy leaders.
According to an unsourced article posted on cogic.com on November 24th, the denomination did not adopt any new sexual abuse measures. Only a small group of delegates were given an unnamed document to review and consider.
“He [Blake] then went on to discuss the Church’s official stance against sexual misconduct. Over the course of the last year, Bishop Blake has hand-picked a strong team of clergy and legal professionals familiar with addressing sexual misconduct to develop a document that details the responsibility of clergy over the protection of all members and reaffirm the official stance of the church concerning this heinous type of sexual victimization. This document was distributed to delegates for review and consideration.”(our bold)
The article snippet reflects no real sense of change, but rather more of the shell game COGIC leadership has become known for. It doesn’t even take into consideration the highly contradictory statement by COGIC’s PR representative Diedre Malone who said COGIC has been working on a clergy sexual abuse plan for over 15 years. How does that compare against “over the course of the last year” statement? Which one is accurate?
Given the serious and critical nature of clergy sexual abuse in the denomination, why is the document only issued for a “review and consideration” process? After 15 years, shouldnt COGIC have their policies and enforcement of policies in place by now. Who are the members of the “clergy and legal professionals team” allegedly assembled by Bishop Blake? Why all the continued secrecy? After all the damage done, why is Bishop Blake still acting as if this is a motion to add another pulpit seat at Mason Temple?
Will this document be made public for all of COGIC’s alleged 6.5 million members to review or is it only for the eyes of the 1000 attendees? If Bishop Blake and his team of professionals want to be taken seriously, they would be honest with the church’s members. Two sexual abuse cases are still in traction for trial so perhaps this is why there has been no measurable changes in the way COGIC appropriates its so called zero tolerance sexual abuse policy.
The victim’s father seems to speak the sentiments of many families who have been victimized by clergy sexual abuse. You can hear the anguish in his words.
“There’s so much sexual misconduct going on in COGIC right now, and he’s right in the middle of it,” the girl’s father said. “It’s out of control.”
Additional media coverage:
WMC TV reported the victim’s father (also a minister at the St Mark’s) says that Wilson has “had one sexual relationship after another since he’s been there.” [source]
UPDATE 12.01.09 9:12am eastern
The outrage over the Dwayne Wilson rape case continues to grow. The Tennessee Chapter of SNAP (Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests) will lead a press conference today in front of COGIC’s International headquarters Mason Temple (930 Mason St) at 1pm to address clergy sexual abuse and openly rebuke COGIC for not removing Wilson from office. SNAP plans to:
- urge anyone who saw, suspected or suffered the man’s crimes to come forward, get help & call police,
- offer to speak to the congregation about how to respond appropriately when child sex charges emerge, and
- prod denominational officials to hold an open public meeting at the church to address the controversy
David Brown, chapter president, spoke with me last night and told me of his plans. Brown will also read a prepared press statement from me on behalf of ReportCOGICAbuse.com. We fully support these efforts. If you are in Memphis and want to stand with SNAP and ReportCOGICAbuse, please let the church know that change must happen now.