Friday, February 9, 2007

Excuses and Rationalizations

Why do Baptist leaders fail to take action to protect kids against clergy sex abuse? These are the excuses and rationalizations I've heard: (a) They tell themselves "it's not my responsibility"; (b) They recite the trance-inducing mantra of "congregational autonomy"; (c) They act as though if they close their eyes long enough the problem will go away - and it usually does because victims trying to report abuse are pretty easily worn down; and (d) They wash their hands of it by saying they acted consistent with the advice of legal counsel.

Taking any kind of action involves some measure of risk. Will an individual take that risk voluntarily? Too often, the answer is no. It's much easier for an individual to do one of the above - a, b, c or d. But none of those choices serve to make other kids safer, and nor do they help the already-wounded. This is why there must be a system for accountability, so that the system itself will nudge individuals to do the right thing for the protection of others.

The worst of the horror rests not in the individuals who molest and rape kids, because as beastly as their deeds may be, they are the deeds of individuals. The worst of the horror is in an institutionalized system that ALLOWS countless other church and denominational leaders to turn a blind eye. The silent complicity of the many is where the evil really resides.

And for those of you who are pondering d and wondering why the advice of legal counsel isn't a good excuse, let me say this. That seems to be the favorite excuse of leaders at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and it's an excuse I find particularly repugnant. It's an all-too-easy cop-out of moral responsibility and a way to evade difficult questions. An attorney can advise all manner of things that are within the bounds of the law, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing to do or the best thing to do. Other questions need to be asked. Is it the best course of conduct ethically? Is it morally right? Is the attorney's tactic consistent with the mission of the organization? And perhaps most importantly for this issue, is it the course of action that will best serve to protect other kids? Those are the sorts of questions you might reasonably expect religious leaders to ask, and yet they are the very questions that they shirk.

1 comment:

Gene Scarborough said...

Christa, you are right on target about excuses and denial. This is one of the basic psychological defense mechanisms wherever guilt is involved. Sadly, it does not help correct the situation.

Jesus had words about such religious zealots and leaders in Matthew 23 and it should be re-read as an assurance you are on the right track and your message needs to be heard clearly.

Many well-intended religious people have tried to start societies based on religion and good. Sadly, most degenerated into mush due to an ignorance that all things human have imperfections attached to them. These imperfections only become worse when we deny and rationalize our human frailty.

It believe Jesus way was to know the truth so the truth can set you free. Also to confess our sins so that God can forgive them and help us to overcome human frailty in the future.

Sadly, the favorite Baptist pastime continues to be "confessing the sins of others." As long as we focus on the speck of sawdust in our brother's eye ignoring the stick poking out of our own eye, we will never get very far inspiring the unchurched to find a better way. Those who tell the truth and walk away from evil are more often outside the church than inside--hence Jesus' choice of common men to walk beside him rather than those with theological educations!

Anyone can educate and rationalize himself / herself right out of the Kingdom of God, sadly, without knowing it. Hold up the mirror. Look yourself square in the eye. See what is there with realistic eyes. If it is evil, confess it and change. If it is good, use the good to tell the world there is a better way!

I agree with your completely, Christa. Put truth to work to shed so much light that evil goes back into its ugly hole and leaves the church to more righteous people than those now leading it in Southern Baptist circles.