Today’s post is about a long-time friend of Anglican Watch, Carson Barker. Barker’s situation exemplifies how badly the Church can behave, even as it prides itself on doing great things.
For starters, we like Carson. She’s been through some tough times, but she strikes us as kind, funny, and generous in her assessments of others.
Carson’s issues began with a complicated relationship with her mother and her 1998 pregnancy.
Soon after having her baby, Carson smoked marijuana. She did it in private, away from her baby.
Her mother called in Georgia’s Child and Family Services divisions, which collaborated in forcing her to take medications to treat a mental health disorder. These medications created issues for Carson and continued for years.
Because the psychiatrist in question was a friend of Carson’s mother and relied almost exclusively on the mother’s claims in making an adverse diagnosis, Carson believes hers may be a case of Munchausen by proxy. This possibility was raised by a therapist of hers.
In these situations, a parent or caregiver seeks attention by creating false medical symptoms for a child.
One thing led to another, and Carson’s local Episcopal parish cooperated with her mother to put Carson’s baby up for adoption. They even gave away furniture a family member had bought for Carson so the baby would have a comfortable home and emptied Carson’s apartment without her permission or a court order.
Even more telling was that her local priest, Dan Edwards, allegedly provided her with mental health counseling for free. Only years later did Carson find out that someone else, most likely Dr. Donna Groover, was paying Edwards.
That should be a red flag. We have no problem with someone else paying for mental health care. But the patient has a right to know the details. When the patient doesn’t, the situation is inherently suspect.
At one point, one of the people in Carson’s circle mentioned adopting her child, and Carson pointed out that he wasn’t up for adoption and that her mother was abusive. In response, the gaslighting and personal attacks ramped up.
Eventually. Carson was coerced into signing adoption papers. And the great irony is that the woman who adopted her baby was none other than Dr. Groover, whose spouse allegedly herself has bipolar disorder—the very same reason given for putting Carson’s baby up for adoption. How does that work?
And while the church and her family were saying Carson was an unfit mother, the adoptive parents’ daughter allegedly also has bipolar disorder, and while pregnant attacked Carson. And people used this violent incident to keep Carson from seeing her child, on the grounds that anything Carson said was a false accusation. Yikes.
Over the years, the drugs kept coming, generously prescribed by Dr. Groover. But why was Carson not the person seeking help? As an adult, why wasn’t she allowed to make her own decisions?
Nor was her Church helpful. Behind her back, parishioners trashed Carson, telling each other she was mentally ill and paranoid. But not so mentally ill that they couldn’t have her working for free in the church bookstore alone. Whatever happened to the Baptismal Covenant?
Carson eventually broke free of the coercive control.
She turned to the Episcopal Church and the State of Georgia for help.
The Episcopal Church was worse than unhelpful. Adding insult to her injury, Atlanta bishop Robert Wright blocked her on Facebook, gave the Canon to the Ordinary permission to ignore her, and more. He also removed her negative Google review of the Diocese — a foolish mistake, as more than one blog has started after the Episcopal Church tried to suppress criticism.
That also raises the issue: If the Church is willing to get involved in this situation in the first place, why won’t it respond to Carson’s concerns? Indeed, if she is mentally ill, why wouldn’t the Church respond compassionately and try to get her help? And if she’s not mentally ill, all the more reason to own up to things and make them right.
As for the State of Georgia, records going that far back simply aren’t available, so Carson is getting nowhere fast. That said, the State could back into the issue if it took things more seriously.
We also have to ask: Why isn’t the Church more attuned to the possibility that Carson’s mother is abusive? This situation smacks of the Native American boarding schools, where Anglicans smugly came in and imposed their faith, clothing, customs, and language on children to bring light to the darkness. And too often, these schools were dens of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, resulting in many deaths. Those who survived have suffered generations of trauma.
We also note that taking away someone’s baby is a profound thing. In this case, the situation sounds like another misuse of family court, in which the system oppresses and abuses women and others who lack power.
Nor does mental illness automatically mean someone is unfit to be a parent. Many who struggle with severe issues make wonderful parents, and there’s no correlation between mental illness and a propensity for violence.
Anglican Watch is also very troubled by the gaslighting we see going on. Time after time, parishioners have told Carson that discussing her mental health will make her look bad. But that’s an ugly and outdated trope, and having mental health issues is not a moral failing. Nor is it anyone’s right to tell another adult what they can or cannot say about their mental health.
Neither Bishop Wright nor Dan Edwards responded to requests for comment before this article was published. But we look forward to further exploring Carson’s abuse and raising awareness of how abusers can misuse family systems and the courts to hurt others.
Today, Carson is upfront about her struggles with PTSD resulting from this situation. We applaud her for being open and upfront about her experiences, and sharing to help others.
We also plan to explore how the Church creates labels to dehumanize others, including claims of mental illness, domestic terrorism, and more. And the Church then uses those labels to avoid responding to the very same people it hurt in the first instance.
And we plan to update this article, as we know it over-simplifies many big issues. But we wanted to get the story out there and invite readers to think about how churches and the courts often collaborate in abuse.
A word to the lawyers: Insert the word alleged before each assertion in this article. But we believe Carson, we find her credible, and we consider her a friend.
We stand with Carson in her efforts to obtain justice.