February 21, 2007


My original headline was "this is not good," but I realized this could be construed badly--as if addressing the sex abuse is a bad thing. Tragic is a better descriptor and I hope that those involved will find help and support. I also know that I have not been a fan of the SBC (and that continues) but I certainly am saddened to see this.

Sex abuse victims' advocates go after Southern Baptists - CNN.com: "The victims' advocates who dogged the Roman Catholic Church over sex abuse by its clergy have now turned their attention to the Southern Baptists, accusing America's largest Protestant denomination of also failing to root out molesters.

The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has started a campaign to call attention to alleged sex abuse committed by Southern Baptist ministers and concealed by churches.

SNAP presented a letter Monday to Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members in Nashville, asking the group to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on sex abuse and to create an independent review board to investigate molestation reports.

Church leaders concede there have been some incidents of abuse in Southern Baptist congregations, but say their hands are tied when it comes to investigating complaints across the denomination."


Bootleg Blogger said...

I think some comparisons can be made to the Catholic cover-ups, but baptists being congregationalist is very different. Clergy are not employed and placed by the denomination like in the catholic situation. -BB

Dennis said...

There are quite a few differences, but in one or two important respects, there's no difference at all. The Baptist tradition doesn't have a connectional polity, but it does have a long tradition of strong pastoral authority. As a result, the way parishioners see their pastor has a lot in common with how parishioners see their priest: a high level of trust, an assumption that the member of the clergy is connected to God in a way not available to the laity, and a degree of authority (with little accountability) that would be unknown in many other traditions. It that sense, the danger for this kind of abuse is just as high in the Baptist tradition, especially in the conservative branches thereof. Individual congregations have the responsibility to keep their pastors accountable, and while they can't "place" the pastor somewhere else, they can do as the church in question did, and conspire to remain silent or even serve as references for the abuser to go somewhere else. The main difference, as I see it, is that the denomination can't take direct action, but there are lots of things they could do that they aren't doing.

Kevin said...

Even within a congregation structure like the SBC, both the local congregation and head office are vulnerable to lawsuits.

Regardless, sexual abuse of power is a problem within every sector of society. But it will be interesting to see how the SBC handles this, since they've appointed themselves as official moral guardians.


Bootleg Blogger said...

I'm in full agreement with the collective responsibility. I do think that legally (I'm no lawyer) that there's a strong distinction between local church and denomentation. I think it's a good point, though, regarding the potential for abuse. As a person long in the denomination (but no longer soI do know that there is huge potential for abuse in this area and has been- not just with pastors. Youth ministers, missionaries, and other leadership need accountability structures in place that protect them and those they serve from abuse and false accusations. The point about pastoral authority is excellent. This trend, I think, has been intensified over the last 25 years or so. This is one area where denominational responsibility runs strong. I've had several conversations with newer pastors who say they are taught in seminary that they are the spiritual leader in the church and should be the final authority. I, and I may assume we all, have been in conversations critical of a pastor in a church that always has someone or several people voicing their opinion that "he's (it's never she in these situations) CALLED OF GOD so we need to err in favor of the pastor." Never mind that every church member is CALLED OF GOD, too. Anyway, I don't mean to be hypercritical of the church structure- it has its great points. I do want to say that I'm a child of a pastor. In each church that my father pastored he intentionally put in place structures and checks and balances on himself in an attempt to eliminate any appearance or opportunity for problems. In addition, the churches were laity governed eliminating the centralized power of the pastor. His philosophy was that the pastor's leadership can be judged best by how well the church runs when he's absent. I say this not to brag on my dad, but to point out that he didn't come up with this all on his own. This pastoral style was modeled to him by his mentors and taught to him in seminary. It was in part the culture of the denomination during his time so long ago. I think that culture has made an effective shift to the star pastor with his own little kingdom in place. The congregations seem to have deferred to this style of leadership over the years without thinking about the remifications. Accountability is looked at as accusation and lack of trust. No matter what the setting, there's the potential abuse. Throw in the Spiritual Authority component and it's a recipe for disaster. Alot of these little kings have been spiritually abusing their flocks for years. The sexual abuse is, unfortunately, an additional step. Our prayer is, of course, that this is a rare exception and is dealth with strongly. Sorry for the rant. I'm putting off doing some work.-BB

Streak said...

I tend to agree with Kevin on this--the self-appointed moral guardian part is their achilles heel. And that feeds into the pastoral authority that Dennis and BB are talking about. I have seen that in churches where there is a unofficial hierarchy of spiritual "maturity." Those who are at the top are the "deciders," not the people at the bottom. Those at the bottom are not weaker people, but those less interested in bible-speech or asserting their knowledge of the scriptures.

Add to that the moral guardians and it would seem to me a recipe for denial and avoidance. The benefits of the congregational structure are also the weakness--requires church members and leaders who have a lot of self-awareness and humility.

selahV said...

Dennis: what things do you see that they could be doing? selahV

Kevin: when did the SBC appoint themselves as official moral guardians? Which Convention meeting? Just curious. SelahV

Streak said...

Hi, SelahV, and welcome,

I will let Kevin respond, but am sure there was no official statement. More of the old joke about people going to heaven and being told to be quiet as they are on their tour because, "the Baptists are here and they think they are the only ones."

I remember very well a conversation with a Baptist friend when the Catholic sex abuse scandal was just starting--and they were openly contemptuous of the Catholics and assumed that it was everything that was wrong with that church. It never dawned on this person that Baptists could have some of the same difficulties with sexuality. Southern Baptists, in my experience, have tended to assume that their approach on baptism, reading the bible, etc., are THE right ways. Sexual issues and sins were those issues that the "world" struggled with--not the church.

I think the Baptist conventions and leadership (and that formal and informal hierarchy is a potential problem) could be "proactive" on this and other sexual issues. They could have offered symposia to pastors on recognizing the signs of domestic and sexual abuse as well as giving them some suggestions for addressing them. They could also have some optional forums for church staffs to also know how to recognize some of these things and then the options for responding. I suspect that many people saw sexual abuse in their church and simply had no idea what to do about it.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse need to be discussed a little more openly, and this litigation may force that to happen.

Wasp Jerky said...


Totally off topic, but I thought you might want to know that David Bazan and Will Johnson of Centro-matic have some upcoming April shows in your neck of the woods. I think the only OK date is in Norman. Here for more info.

Streak said...

Excellent and thanks. that is the Monday after Neko Case plays in the city, so I am not sure I will make it, but would love to.

Bootleg Blogger said...

Streak- one other dynamic is that of an institution being regarded as an essential agent of God i.e. the institution and its mission can be seen as taking precedent over individuals. Seldom if ever will this be openly voiced, I think, but actions speak louder..... BB
BTW- my word verification this time was fkckd - thought you would like that.

Streak said...

Now that is funny. Both SOF and I got more than a little chuckle out of that particular word verification.

Dennis said...

Hi, selahV, thanks for asking. One thing they could do immediately is to promote a zero-tolerance ethic denomination-wide. They could include information in their magazines and newsletters with some of the stories we've been hearing recently, and communicate to the laity that pastors must be held accountable. While it may seem sad to have to tell our adolescent children that inappropriate touching is just as bad when it comes from the pastor as it is from anyone else, we need to do just that for their own protection.

Congregations could also take a leaf from the Boy Scouts handbook on protecting children. There are easy things to do, like making sure that no child is ever alone with an adult who is not the child's parent; there should always be two adults present with every kid or group; there should be no "private conversations" off where no one can see what's going on, and there should be training for the adults on what's appropriate and what is not.

The denomination could also make it clear that ministers who are found to be guilty of inappropriate conduct should expect their names to be revealed to congregational search committees as offenders. That doesn't threaten local autonomy, but it does at least give local search committees options they wouldn't otherwise have.

In my denomination, it's recently been announced that in order to enter the search and call process, ministers will have to pay for a criminal background check, which will theoretically be reimbursed by the hiring congregation. It's a pain, but I'm in favor of it.

I'm sure there are other options I haven't thought of; the main thing, I think, is that the larger church has to communicate that the cover-ups have to stop. People try to sweep it under the rug, and they think they're showing grace to a pastor who has made a mistake, but it doesn't really help the pastor and may be condemning some child to future abuse.