As the parent of a small child, there was something that struck me as particularly discomfiting during the recent Memphis City Council meeting that I attended as a member of TEP. It is particularly disturbing to me as a parent and a citizen of Memphis that the opposition to a Non Discrimination Ordinance was represented before the City Council by Dr. Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. Frankly, it made me ill to be in the same room with a man who thinks that “traditional family values” include failing to report to authorities someone who admitted to sexually abusing a child.
Dr. Gaines began his appearance before the Council by disclaiming that he represented all Christians. However he went on to claim that people of faith were under attack by homosexuals. His remarks about “people of faith” were designed to represent himself as a paragon of moral values despite his disclaimer. He was accompanied by members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a far right wing group whose primary agenda is lobbying to “protect traditional marriage.” FACT blames the growing acceptance of marriage equality for the decline of traditional marriage, in defiance of any rational basis for that conclusion. They do not, interestingly, lobby against no-fault divorce, which can be rationally tied to the declining success rate of heterosexual marriages.
While the presence of the Family Action Council is disturbing enough, the mere presence of Dr. Gaines as a representative of “people of faith” was appalling. Dr. Gaines has shown questionable, if not an outright lack of, moral judgment as pastor of Bellevue. In 2006, Dr. Gaines was made aware that a staff member had confessed to sexually abusing his own son. While the abuse occurred many years prior to the admission, the admission of a sexual assault on child should be reported immediately to the proper authorities. (See TN Code Annotated 31-1-403) Dr. Gaines did not report this admission for six months. Dr. Gaines kept an admitted child molester on the staff, with free access to all areas of the church. It was only when a third party made the congregation aware of the issue that the staff member was reported.
On what planet is this acceptable behavior from anyone? According to one of the Commercial Appeal articles about the scandal, Dr. Gaines explained that he “acted out of a heartfelt concern and compassion for this minister because the event occurred many years ago, he was receiving professional counseling; and I was concerned about confidentiality.” Seriously? What about a “heartfelt concern and compassion” for the victim, or the other members of his church, or the rest of the Memphis community? What about a concern for the law? Did Dr. Gaines believe he had the right to decide if this was a crime or not? Did he seriously believe that his personal forgiveness of this perpetrator of a crime against a child was a substitute for the justice system? The part of all this that truly makes me furious as a parent is that he protected his church’s reputation and the “confidentiality” of a child molester before he protected the children of this community.
Dr. Gaines represented himself before the City Council as a moral authority, speaking for “people of faith.” That is outrageous. He has shown an egregious lack of respect for the members of his church, the members of this community, and the duty as a citizen under the law to report a crime. It is unfathomable that a person who has so blatantly circumvented the law in order to protect the reputation of his organization, with callous disregard for the health and safety of his church members and the community at large, should be representing the faith community in any capacity. Perhaps Dr. Gaines thinks the people of this community have forgotten about his so-called “moral failure”; I can assure him we have not. Dr. Steve Gaines did tell the truth about one thing at the Council meeting; he does NOT speak for all Christians. He does not speak with any moral authority at all. He speaks, as he has in the past, for his own twisted sense of morality, nothing more.
- Michelle Bliss