The Continued Spread of #ChurchToo

The fallout continues.

Or, as Nadia Bolz-Weber, the apocalypse continues — literally, the unveiling or the revelation continues.

Following the rather anemic responses to sexual abuse allegations within Southern Baptist circles prior to the national convention this summer…

No, first, let’s continue to call out Albert Mohler. Up until the convention itself, Mohler continued to sidestep the issue. Read the transcript in that last link. Count how many times Mohler mentions his colleague Patterson by name. Tell me what he says about his pal CJ Mahaney and the abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Tell me his position on the importance of consent or believing accusers. Instead, he plays the old “we’re so poorly organized” card. σκύβαλον. If the SBC is organized enough to forcibly remove congregations that ordain women, then they are organized enough to take seriously accusations of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault. Mohler, the man who has made his career by demanding liberals submit to a fundamentalist ethic on sexual activity, who has slammed LGBTQ-affirming Christians for not confronting “the reality of their sin” is now suddenly struck dumb. Al, take Stephen Colbert’s advice and confront the reality that “accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody.

Now back to the convention. Patterson did not address the meeting — presumably to head off a lengthy floor battle to officially remove him. The churchwide gathering seemed to produce some results. Voting members (called “messengers”) addressed the importance of women in the Church, committed to investigating the extent of sexual abuse in the SBC, and, after the meeting, announced the formation an advisory panel to examine how best to handle accusations of sexual abuse. To be certain, these steps are long overdue and do not go far enough in addressing the widespread culture of silent complacency. (Indeed, the SBC also reaffirmed its commitment to the wrongheaded view of gender roles, continuing to lay the foundation for further abuse.) I pray, though, that these may be solid first steps towards confronting misogyny and abuse in the Church.

These scandals are not limited to the Southern Baptist world, though. In December, famed apologist Ravi Zacharias was accused of pursuing an inappropriate relationship.

Meanwhile, even after his expedited retirement in April, new scandals continue to unfold around Bill Hybels. Willow Creek is launching a much larger (and overdue) investigation into these new accusations, and one of Hybels’ replacements is stepping down over their mishandling of the case. [Update: Now both lead pastors have resigned.]

And the Roman Catholic Church, which has been publicly and internationally (mis)handling accusations for decades, has faced new crises across the globe. To get a sense of the scope of these events, take a peak at Whispers in the Loggia, the premier Catholic insider blog; as of this writing, the first four articles deal with abuse scandals. The fifth is set in the context of unfolding scandals. There’s Chile, which has seen the unprecedented resignation of every single bishop in the country (following Pope Francis’ humiliating failure after his visit to the country and his public repentance). The Pope has begun accepting those resignations as local police raid church offices. Then there’s the conviction of an Australian cardinal for his cover-up of sexual abuse. In Pennsylvania, stunning reports detail 71 priests and other church leaders accused of abuse. [Update: A newly-released investigation puts the number at over 300 priests and over 1,000 victims.] [Update: The grand jury report details an informal network of predators working together to further their abuse. The details are some of the most vile I have read.] [Update: As in Boston, Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania pressured state officials to keep these allegations quiet for years.] And then there’s the case of the retired Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington and ex-cardinal. The accusations leveled against him are some of the worst. As Fr. James Martin put it:

According to the accusation, he abused his first baptism as a priest. What a nightmarish detail. God help us.

Even as the crisis continues, the Vatican is struggling to act appropriately. The mere fact that no-one could say for certain that McCarrick would lose his place in the College of Cardinals speaks volumes. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop for the troubled city of Boston and the Vatican’s point person for handling sexual abuse, has spoken forcibly about the matter but still lacks the necessary traction to affect real change. [Update: Allegations have come to light at a Boston seminary. Pray that Cardinal O’Malley’s handling of this most recent scandal lives up to his own high standard.] [Update: New allegations have also come to light in multiple English schools run by the Benedictines. The report targets “the prioritisation of monks and their reputations over the protection of children.”]

Jesuit publication America Magazine asks an important question: when the victims of such heinous acts are priests, pastors, and seminarians, why are they hesitant to speak out? Fear. The powers that be are slow to listen, slower to act, and quick to anger. The powers that be value the system over the people.

Take note of that America article: even leaders in Christ’s Church are hesitant to speak out. If an ordained priest is hesitant to accuse their mentor for fear of rocking the boat, how much more courage must it take for a woman in a denomination that discounts her voice?

The abuse crisis is not new; it’s finally coming to light. It’s not going away; abusers will be revealed for years to come.

And it’s not isolated. We cannot so naïve as to believe it won’t hit us. Even with the safeguards and the boundary training that the mainline denominations require, this will show up in our pews.

So, dear clergy and lay leaders, listen. It’s only by listening and hearing God’s children cry that we can ever hope to address the sin of sexual abuse.

May God help us to hear, to act, to protect, and to heal.

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