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Baylor Alumni

Permission Granted

By Claire St. Amant

Since May, Dr. Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, has made $500,000. No, she didn't win the lottery. She won grants. "It's been a good spell," Garland said.

In May, Garland was awarded $200,000 from the Ford Foundation to study clergy sexual abuse of adults. In June, the Henry Luce Foundation awarded a $300,000 joint grant to Garland and her husband, Dr. David Garland, dean of Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The couple (pictured) has previously published books together and will now study how to educate and equip indigenous church leaders for effective, holistic ministry in their home cultures.

While the latter grant is certainly nothing to scoff at, the former is unprecedented. The abuse of adult congregants by clergy members has yet to be studied at length, according to Garland. "We have anecdotal evidence, but we don't have any statistical evidence of how prevalent this issue is," she said. After publishing a book on the topic in 2006, Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing, Garland realized the dearth of scholarship. "I received calls and e-mails from all over the country that made me aware of how pervasive this problem really was and how little had been written about it," she said.

Garland believes a misconception about adult abuse has allowed it to fly under the radar. "There's been confusion that if a person is an adult and they are involved in a sexual relationship, then it must be consensual," she said. "But when a religious leader has sex with someone they have spiritual power over, it's never okay."

Although the abuse of power is nothing new to any sector of society, Garland believes sexual abuse within a church crosses another boundary. "It certainly is an abuse of power when an employer engages in sex with an employee or a military officer with a subordinate. But in a religious community, this person is a representative of God and is expected to be a bearer of truth and is trusted in a way that we don't trust other leaders. They have access to us at our most vulnerable times--in our grief and suffering," she said. "It's not just the breaking of a sexual boundary, but a spiritual boundary as well."

Christen Argueta '04, MSW '08, a research associate with the School of Social Work, is assisting Garland. In her initial contact with victims through field interviews, Argueta has seen the study's value. "Already we can see that there's a bigger pool of people who have been affected by clergy sexual misconduct than we imagined," she said. "It's an important issue, but people haven't had an opportunity to talk about it."

Before the Ford Foundation grant, Garland received partial funding from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the JES Edwards Foundation and was negotiating with researchers from the General Social Survey, a prestigious national survey conducted by the University of Chicago.

Garland and her research consultant, Mark Chaves of Duke University, developed questions to be included in the GSS survey. Garland and her team will also conduct personal interviews nationwide and across all faith groups to develop a theory of how abuse happens, how to prevent it, and how to deal with the victims. The GSS, which will release results in January 2009, will provide statistics on frequency.

Another goal for the study is to develop model legislation to make clergy sexual abuse illegal in all fifty states, Garland said. Currently, only Texas and Minnesota have such laws. "Because of the separation of church and state, the government has been reluctant to pass such legislation," she said. Garland said the model legislation would help advocates across the nation know how to navigate the legal system. However, the first line of defense will be equipping individual churches. "The goal is for the church to address the problem rather than waiting for the courts to do so."

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