Infuriating but not surprising. That’s my response to the latest news in the unfolding scandal in the #ChurchToo era.
The Houston Chronicle has broken the story that everyone knew was coming. At first, I felt numb, as though there was nothing else could shock me following the waves of accused clergy in the Roman Catholic Church — but then I read about just how close the abuse was to the top. Baptists may not have Bishops, but their conventions come damn close. And, just as on the other side of the Tiber, these false prophets have sacrificed children to demons, covering up criminal acts and sins.
Women impregnated by their abusers, forced to “confess” their trauma in a perverse display of church “discipline,” urged to get an abortion by leaders in a denomination that exiled moderates through a thin veneer of pro-life language.
And we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of abusers — and it is only the start.
We’ve known this is coming. We heard rumblings of it when Page Patterson was ousted this summer. Rachel Denhollander tried to warn us, using her platform in the wake of the Larry Nasser trial; she was excoriated by her coreligionists. The New Republican ran an article in 2017 warning that the storm was coming. Boz Tchividjian, a member of America’s Evangelical First Family and faculty member at Liberty University, was warning us more than six years ago.
Now, the wave is starting to break — it is neither the first nor the last, but given our current climate, stands to have the largest impact to date. As the Chronicle reports:
Several factors make it likely that the abuse is even more widespread than can be documented: Victims of sexual assault come forward at a low rate; many cases in churches are handled internally; and many Southern Baptist churches are in rural communities where media coverage is sparse.
It’s clear, however, that SBC leaders have long been aware of the problem.
Indeed, this is only the first in a series of planned pieces from the Chronicle.
Already the typical weeping and gnashing of teeth have begun. SBC leaders will shed many a tear, some of which may even be sincere. Expect over the coming days to hear stirring apologies and promises to “do more” because “more can be done and must be done.” I don’t doubt that this morning pastors stood before their SBC congregations to acknowledge the church’s sinful actions. And by God I hope some of them actually do something productive.
But if I were one to gamble, I’d say the smart money is on tears and inaction. Again, this is not a new issue. The SBC was gnashing their teeth over it in 2013, too. And, as the article states, the SBC took decisive action in 2008 — to vote down resolutions aimed at the issue. Per the article:
At the core of Southern Baptist doctrine is local church autonomy, the idea that each church is independent and self-governing. It’s one of the main reasons that Boto said most of the proposals a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the executive committee because the committee doesn’t have the authority to force churches to report sexual abuse to a central registry.
And that might be believable if the SBC weren’t so eager to cast out congregations led by women. Remember, this is a denomination that spent thirty years chasing out faculty members who favored even a discussion about the possibility of women in ministry. They have the ability to act — when they choose to. Again, from the article:
Other leaders have acknowledged that Baptist churches are troubled by predators but that they could not interfere in local church affairs. Even so, the SBC has ended its affiliation with at least four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.
This issue is not going to go away until the SBC decides that they’re more disgusted by sexual abuse than a woman at the pulpit.
Abuse in the SBC will not cease until perpetrators and enablers are forced out. It’s time for Russell Moore and Albert Mohler to take decisive action rather than take to Twitter. It’s time for John Piper and his books to be taken out of the Sunday school classroom. It’s time for men like CJ Mahaney and Doug Wilson to be shown to the door. It’s time for churches to report abusers rather than juggle them between pulpits.
Abuse will not cease until the SBC casts off its abusive theology — a theology that states that women are inferior to men and must submit, a theology that says that women are made for men, a theology that removes women from the biblical narrative, a theology that states that consent is secondary to healthy sexuality, a theology that permits child abuse, a theology that requires survivors to make false confessions of guilt, a theology that silences the voices of women and children.
Southern Baptists, you deserve better.