Former President Jimmy Carter has opened the door to a dialogue on how the word of God gets twisted into a justification for discrimination and injustice toward women. Writing on behalf of a group of world leaders from many faiths, Carter publicly urged religious leaders to repudiate teachings that subjugate women and undermine their equal human dignity.
In his written statement, Carter also spoke about his painful decision to sever ties with the faith group in which he himself spent six decades -- the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason is apparent from his paper: He could no longer be part of a faith group whose leaders twisted religion in a way that did so much harm to so many.
Those of us who are Baptist clergy abuse survivors have also seen how Baptist leaders twist religion for other perverse and inhumane ends. We have seen how Baptist clergy-molesters often twist Bible verses and “God’s will” into powerful weapons for sexual abuse and rape of the young. Even worse, we have seen how other Baptist leaders then twist the doctrine of local church autonomy into a rationalization for doing nothing to hold such ministers accountable… and for doing nothing to protect others against them.
A faith group that so devalues women and children as to render unaccountable the ministers who abuse, molest and rape them is a faith group that has utterly lost its moral bearings. No amount of invoking “religion” or pontificating about the “biblical” autonomy of local churches can possibly make it right.
No one is saying that Baptists should abandon their doctrine of local church autonomy. But they should stop allowing that religious doctrine to be twisted into a rationalization for turning a blind-eye to clergy sex abuse.
Rather than radicalizing the doctrine so as to rigidly preclude a denominational system of routing out clergy-predators, Baptist leaders need to work with the spirit of the doctrine so as to facilitate a cooperative effort at routing out predators, protecting congregants, and ministering to the wounded.
It is flat-out cruel the way Baptist leaders persist in telling clergy abuse survivors that they must go to the church of the perpetrator to report it. That’s like sending the bloody sheep back to the den of the wolf who savaged them. It almost invariably inflicts much greater wounds on the survivors, and it certainly doesn’t work to protect others.
Yet, this dysfunctional cruelty is inflicted under the rationalization of Baptist religious doctrine.
I hope that the conversation, which Carter has begun, may eventually be expanded so as to also speak of how religious doctrine is twisted to justify such a do-nothing response to clergy sex abuse… in his own former faith group and in some other groups with a congregationalist polity.
After all, as Carter points out, virtually all faiths call for “proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.” And even those of us who have been so dehumanized as to be sexually abused by “anointed ones” are nevertheless children of God.