May 27, 2022

Southern Baptist Convention

“For decades, complaints of sex abuse by pastors and staff in the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, were either ignored or covered up by top clergy, according to an internal report released [last] Sunday… The year-long investigation was initiated by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2021, when a stream of complaints were raised at its annual meeting. The complaints focused on sexual abuse by pastors and volunteers and the lack of response by the religious body's executive committee.” Reuters

All sides are horrified by the report and criticize the SBC’s leadership:

“In 2007 a woman named Christa Brown had the courage to testify before Southern Baptist officials that her youth pastor had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was 16. She reported that one official turned his back, literally refusing to look at her, refusing to see her. That is the sort of dehumanization that creates indifference that enables rape, abuse and all the other horrific dehumanizing acts down the road…

“As social scientists have shown in one experiment after another, it’s very easy to get people to dehumanize each other. You divide people into in-groups and out-groups. You spread a tacit ideology that says women are less important than men or Black people are less important than white people. You use euphemistic language so that horrific acts can be abstracted into sanitized jargon. You tell a victimization story: We are under attack. They’re out to get us. They’re monsters. They deserve what they get. You tell a righteousness story: We do the Lord’s work. Our mission is vital. Anybody who interferes is a beast… Where will the forces of re-humanization come from? Apparently not from our religious elites.”
David Brooks, New York Times

“I remember that as the Catholic clergy abuse cases were becoming public in the 1990s, there was a bit of smugness in Baptist churches. The assumption was that it couldn’t happen here and that the Catholic policy of celibacy was at least partly to blame. Little did we know that it was happening under our very noses. The abuse itself is only half the story, however. The other half is the shocking callousness with which the victims were treated. Even pastors and officials who may have wanted to do the right thing don’t seem to have had the proper training in how to deal with revelations of abuse…

“It is difficult to say how many fundamental tenets of Christianity have been violated here. There is the commandment not to lie, commandments against sexual immorality, as well as commandments to help the weak and downtrodden and to be honest and just. There is also the important admonition that Christians should ensure that their behavior does not make them a ‘stumbling block’ to either unbelievers or their fellow Christians. The SBC leadership has done all of this and more.”
David Thornton, Racket News

“The grim story is told in abundant detail by investigators hired to review the denomination’s stubborn failure to address abuse by clergy and other church employees. Again and again, their report shows, victims and their supporters went in search of atonement only to find attorneys in their way. Neither Jesus nor the Bible figures prominently in the internal documents quoted in the report, but risk management and dodging liability are constant concerns…

[The lawyers] warned denomination leaders not to ‘elicit further information or details about reports of abuse, so that the EC not assume a legal duty to take further action.’ Imagine that: These soldiers of Christ were urged to go AWOL on a matter of great moral importance out of fear that if they showed any interest or concern, they might be expected to do something about it… There is a place for lawyers, of course. But they should never have been the first figures to meet the victims of abusive pastors and priests. By leading with the lawyers and hunkering down behind them, religious leaders abdicated their moral duty.”
David Von Drehle, Washington Post

“It’s not just that there was negligence or a lack of response but that there was an active resistance to the response and a demonization of the victims who were coming forward and trying to help. A lot of the victims that I’ve spoken with over this time are not people who have been knocking at the S.B.C. door because they want money from it or want to make their stories famous. They really don’t want the men who abused them to be in positions to continue to abuse children and other women. So they’re doing it out of this obligation and responsibility to protect against further harm. And, even with that approach, they’re being accused of trying to take down the S.B.C.”
Kate Shellnutt, New Yorker

Evangelicals have no problem pointing out the failures of secular America. When Harvey Weinstein was finally exposed and #MeToo ripped through Hollywood, evangelicals could clearly see the systemic, cultural rot that enabled exploitation and abuse. But now a different version of that same rot is destroying our own house. The majority of American evangelicals (and evangelical pastors) aren’t guilty of the abuse exposed in the Guidepost report—or of the abuse exposed in multiple other places at multiple other times—but we are all responsible for repairing our culture…

“Few denominations understand the power of character better than the Southern Baptist Church. In fact, in 1998 the Church passed a resolution on the importance of moral character in public officials that echoes beyond politicians. I’m haunted by one clause in particular. It says: ‘Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.’”
David French, The Atlantic

“One [SBC Executive Committee] trustee quoted in the report said, ‘Our job is not to guard the institution but guard the truth.’ That is the attitude that Christian leaders must uphold, and it’s an attitude that many Southern Baptists do uphold. But a few did not, and they were very influential over many years…

“That the SBC commissioned this report and ensured independence to the investigators was laudable, even if it was much too late and not without controversy. When the denomination meets in June, it will have a strong foundation upon which to build better practices going forward. The report offers 33 specific recommendations, and the messengers should consider them carefully.”
The Editors, National Review

“Credit the survivors of the abuse and their advocates for their persistence in seeking answers and accountability for the horrors they experienced. Credit also the pioneering journalism of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News for their landmark investigation in 2019…

“The thoroughness and transparency of the investigation — no cost was spared and no punches were pulled — [are] encouraging signs that the SBC might be serious about cleaning house and changing a culture that enabled molesters… SBC leaders held a public meeting Tuesday and said there would be an apology to survivors and that the organization was working on making the list of sex abusers available to the public. The convention next month will hold its annual meeting and should finish the job it started.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

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