The phone call came late at night. She’s shrieking, and I’m tired. But I think she’s right and I understand her frustration.
She’s seen news about how the Baptist General Convention of Texas claims to be “cracking down” on clergy sex abuse. Her perpetrator is still in the pulpit – the BGCT did nothing to help her - and she wants to know why the newspaper is printing this “cracking down” story when it’s so obvious that it’s “just a dad-gum publicity stunt.”
I can’t really answer her question. The BGCT has lots of money, and it hires public relations people who are very good at promoting the BGCT with the press. What they aren’t good at is protecting kids against clergy child molesters.
Supposedly, the BGCT is “cracking down” on clergy sex abuse because it will now accept whatever churches tell them about a minister and will no longer review churches’ reports to decide whether there is “substantial evidence” of abuse. The BGCT packaged this change by saying it was making things easier for churches.
Of course, what everyone really knows is this: Most churches don’t report abuse. “In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret.” So why did the BGCT give so much attention to whether it should review church reports when everyone knows that churches don’t usually even make reports?
Rather than addressing the real problem, which is that churches don’t report abuse, the BGCT chose to address the very rare instance of what the BGCT should do when a church actually does report something. Why did the BGCT address the rare issue instead of the real problem?
The lawyers I talk to think the answer is obvious.
“It’s a no-brainer,” they say. “They’re trying to limit their exposure to liability.”
That’s exactly the way it looks to me as well. Rather than doing more to protect kids, the BGCT chose to do more to protect itself. (I guess the BGCT didn’t like getting named as a defendant in the recent case of Roush v. Reynolds.)
Bill Leonard’s recent remarks reminded me of all this. He’s dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and a long-time observer of Southern Baptist life. He said that Baptist leadership “is in a precarious position because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits.”
“That’s the whole issue,” said Leonard. “That’s the fear.”
I agree with Leonard. The fear that the BGCT seems to be addressing is a fear of liability; it’s not addressing the horror of clergy sex abuse.
Of course, the BGCT could have addressed the fear of liability in other ways. It could have chosen to institute abuse-curbing mechanisms similar to those of other faith groups and then purchased insurance for the liability risk. But instead the BGCT simply chose to wash its hands of abuse reports – apparently to minimize the appearance of having any oversight role.
Then the BGCT wrapped up this maneuver in a pretty package with a lovely little bow. The BGCT got itself some great press and patted itself on the back. But for those of us who have been around the block with the BGCT on its handling of clergy abuse, we know that what’s underneath the wrapping isn’t pretty at all.