Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is it about money?

Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of comments suggesting that money may be the root of the reason why Southern Baptist leaders don’t take action to effectively combat clergy abuse. If that’s the reason, God help them, for they have truly lost their way.

Here’s just one example. Someone named Louis talked about the fear that, if the SBC were to investigate clergy abuse reports and maintain a database, it might subject the SBC to liability for negligence. He said this:

“To date, the SBC and the money sent to it for missions… have not been subject to liability for things like this because it's not part of their job. If the SBC takes this on, and makes a mistake, the liability could be huge - in cases of false negatives (we failed to list someone or keep them on the list) or false positives (someone got on the list who should not have been put on it).

I have no idea how many people it would take to adequately staff an office that would be responsible for keeping track of 40,000 churches … but it can't be run on a shoe string. It would take really knowledgeable people, lots of them…. And even then, mistakes happen.”

So, according to Louis, rather than risk making a mistake in the DOING of something, SBC leaders choose to do nothing and risk horrific harm to kids.

And rather than DOING something and securing insurance to minimize the risk to SBC coffers from possible mistakes, SBC leaders choose to do nothing and leave clergy-predators secure in their pulpits.

If this is their reasoning, it means they are prioritizing the protection of their coffers over the protection of kids.

Of course, Louis is certainly right about one thing. They would need “knowledgeable people.” That’s the point. This is a very serious problem, and Southern Baptists need to have knowledgeable, objective, experienced people to address it.

But let’s be clear about something. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a “shoe string” organization. Last year, Southern Baptists took in more than $10.4 billion in offerings, and gave $500 million to the Cooperative Program, which not only funds missions, but also the work of the SBC people in Nashville. With those sorts of revenues on an annual basis, it’s hard to believe that SBC leaders can’t come up with the dollars to fund a professionally-staffed review board to assess clergy abuse reports and to provide objective information back to the congregations.

Mistakes happen in almost all human endeavors. But other major faith groups in this country have stepped up to the plate and taken on the risk of potential liability in order to lessen the risk of predatory clergy and to provide better protection for kids.

Why aren’t Southern Baptist kids just as worthy of protection as Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran kids?

On another blog, the many money-oriented comments caught the attention of someone named Lin, who had this response (comment 1:36 on 3/16/08):

“Not only do most churches refuse to tell other churches about sexual misconduct, they send them on their way with references to get rid of them! I have read comments from lawyers on SBC blogs telling us how smart the SBC is for refusing to do anything about this...including preaching against it at pastors conferences and conventions! Know why? Liability. If they even admit publicly that it could be a problem then they admit they know and have done nothing about it and could be liable…. So they hide behind 'autonomous' even though they are doing everything they can to dictate everything else…. Their high salaries and prestige are more important to them than victims, many of whom are young children. Can you say, 'millstone'?”

Tragically, Lin is right that most Baptist churches don’t tell other churches about clergy abuse. The reality of this fact didn’t escape the notice of Texas Monthly magazine either. In its March 2008 cover story on the murder accusation against Southern Baptist preacher Matt Baker, Texas Monthly pointed out that, according to investigators, Baker led a “secret life as a sexual predator” … and got away with it.

“To avoid defamation lawsuits,” explained the article, “leaders of a [Baptist] church have an incentive to keep their mouths shut when it comes to questionable behavior among their clergy….”

Bill Leonard, Dean of Wake Forest University and longtime observer of Southern Baptist life, expressed a similar view about how the fear of potential liability is what stops Southern Baptists from addressing abuse.

“The convention is in a precarious position,” he said, “because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits…. I think that’s the whole issue… that’s the fear.”

So, churches don’t tell other churches about clergy abuse because they fear the risk of liability. And denominational leaders don’t take action because they too fear the risk of liability.

If these are the reasons, it means it’s mostly about money. And if these are the reasons, it looks as though raped and molested kids are just the collateral consequence of SBC leaders' determination to protect their almighty dollars.

Of course, it’s not the first time leaders have countered a call for moral action with fear of financial devastation.

It was the same fear that kept the slave trade alive in England despite calls for abolition.

It was the same fear that resisted child labor laws in this country on the ground that, without child labor, the mills would shut down.

If indeed the fear of financial liability is the reason why SBC leaders don’t take action to combat clergy abuse, then they should let people in the pews know this is the reason. Debate it openly.

Let people in the pews know that their leaders are choosing the protection of dollars as being more precious than the protection of kids. Let people know that their leaders are choosing self-protection for the institution rather than protection of young and vulnerable human beings.

Do you think parents in the pews would support that if they knew? Does that reasoning reflect “family values”?

One thing for sure: People may say a lot of different things about that guy Jesus, but his life was NOT about self-protection.


Anonymous said...

For me there is not a good enough reason for the SBC not to take action against clergy sexual abuse. And if they choose to not take action, tell us, so we can leave. They may as well close the doors to all the churches because it would be open season for all sexual predators. It would just be too unsafe to be there in the church.

Family values would mean nothing if money is more important than children, teens and adults. Godly values would be void of meaning without action behind it. Self preservation would mean everything according to the SBC if they continue to protect themselves at all costs.

Anonymous said...

Even Paul named those like Alexander that were viewed as harmful and a threat. I don't get this stance to not red flag their reference.

Jeri said...

I think the fear of loss of money is probably a big part of the SBC's (and IFB's) unacknowledged policy of looking the other way. But I also think IMAGE plays a big part of it: the fear of appearing to be desperately wicked at heart. That's kind of ironic, since doctrinally, Bible-believing Baptists are supposed to believe we are all depraved sinners at heart. And I think loss of influence is another fear. You know, you can't direct the Republican Party and sway votes and put men into or out of pooitical office if you have to publicly mourn over sin in your own pulpits, and repent, and call upon God to declare to Him that you "grope for the wall as a blind man" and need the light of His grace and wisdom.

In short, the SBC loves this present world, and the comforts, powers, and privileges this present world affords the SBC, far too much to give up the game of religion in order to choose true religion.

It's an age old reality, as true today as it was in the days when Christ called upon the religious conservative leaders of His day to repent, and they crucified Him instead.

Anonymous said...

Fear of the loss of image, influence, power, position, money...

I think you have nailed it, Jeri. People who love those things will neglect spiritual values in striving to hold onto them.

Jeri said...

Thank you, anonymous! (So many people here have the same name! :))

I would take it one step further and say people who love image, influence, power, position, and money (in short, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life) are at enmity with spiritual treasures.

The people who are destroying (or trying to destroy) the children of the Kingdom of God by preying upon them or covering for those who prey upon them are actually at war with the Kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right on the "money". Most preachers have too much time and too much money and are not held to account where they spend either.

Watch out for the three "p's"

Pastors, Professors, and Politicians. They will lie, take your money and your daughters.