Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Baptist propaganda

Baptists promote a line of propaganda that essentially goes like this:

"Oh gee whiz, we know it's bad, but for Baptists, our clergy sex abuse problem is mainly about married ministers who 'have affairs.’ At least we aren't as bad as the Catholics whose problem is about priests having sex with kids."

I’ve seen this basic message over and over again in Baptistland. I’ve seen it from Baptist PR people, Baptist academic people, and Baptist state convention leaders.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But when I saw David Gushee spout this same dangerous drivel, I still felt the same dismay.

Gushee’s column began well enough. He talked about how three of the four main factors that have fueled the Catholic scandal are also present in Baptistland: the imbalances of power, the secrecy within the power structure, and the dominance of the sin-forgiveness paradigm.

But then he ended by suggesting that, for Protestant ministers, the problem “more often” involves ministers who “fall prey to heterosexual misconduct, as when married male ministers have affairs….” For Catholics, he said, the problem “more often” is “homosexual or involves the abuse of children.”

This dichotomy is false. It’s the Baptist propaganda.

That doesn’t mean Gushee is being insincere. To the contrary, I think he believes what he’s saying. That’s the problem. Too many good Baptists have bought into their own propaganda.

And as long as they keep telling themselves that clergy abuse of kids is mainly a Catholic problem, they aren’t going to effectively address it in their own ranks.

Child predators prey on kids. Period.

It’s not a matter of heterosexual or homosexual. It’s a matter of child predation.

An adolescent girl who is sexually abused by a pastor is no less traumatized than an adolescent boy who is sexually abused by a priest. Both suffer profound psychological and spiritual damage.

We’ve seen a whole slew of Baptist clergy abuse cases that involved married ministers. If priestly celibacy were the catalyst for child predation, then how should we explain the fact that so many molestation cases involve married men?

Basically, it’s impossible to explain because the assumption that underlies it is wrong. As Penn State religious studies professor Philip Jenkins said: “No evidence indicates that Catholic or celibate clergy are more (or less) involved than their non-celibate counterparts. Some of the worst cases of persistent serial abuse by clergy have involved Baptist or Pentecostal ministers, rather than Catholic priests.” (Jenkins, 2003)

There is simply no comparative data to support David Gushee’s suggestion that, for Protestants, the problem has more to do with married ministers who “have affairs,” while for Catholics, the problem has more to do with priests who abuse kids. To the contrary, the data that exists -- two decades’ worth of insurance data gathered by the Associated Press in 2007 -- suggests exactly the opposite. It suggests that Baptists likely have every bit as big a problem as Catholics with clergy who sexually abuse kids.

Do I wish we had even better data? Of course. But therein lies a big part of the problem. Baptists don’t bother with systematic record-keeping on reports of clergy child molestation. They say that local church autonomy prevents such record-keeping. Meanwhile, Catholic canon law requires record-keeping on priests.

Most of the media reports about Catholic clergy abuse are accounts that ultimately derive from disclosure of the Church’s own internal records.

But with Baptists, reporters can usually write only about cases involving criminal charges and criminal convictions. Without church records, there’s little way for reporters to write about the sorts of “credible accusations” that they can write about with Catholics.

In the United States, Catholic bishops commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do a million-dollar study on the extent of the abuse problem, and the researchers mined the Church’s own records for their data. Similarly, much of what we know about abuse in the Irish Catholic Church is derived from the report of an investigative body that spent nine years delving into the Church’s own records and collecting individuals’ statements. Now the German Catholic Church has also begun an investigation into abuse allegations.

But who has even attempted to study the extent of the Baptist clergy abuse problem? And even if someone wanted to study it, what data would they look to? Baptists don’t bother with denominational record-keeping on clergy molestation allegations.

Can you imagine what it would be like in Baptistland if we started seeing, not only the news about criminal charges and convictions, but also news about internal complaints and denominational review proceedings? The number of cases coming into public attention would skyrocket.

Maybe that’s exactly why Baptists don’t keep records.

Baptists find it so much easier to spew unfounded propaganda than to do the hard and scary work of assessing their own problem.

Update 3/31/10: David Gushee responded to this challenge by revising his column. In the revised version, he now concludes by stating: "The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view." Kudos to David Gushee for acknowledging this reality!

See also Religious Connections: "Baptist self-delusion about pastor/priest sexual predation."


BaptistPlanet said...

No doubt it is naive, but I dropped hoping David Gushee had visited to offer unexpected data support or at least better explanation for his penultimate paragraph.

David Gushee said...

Christa, I thank you for this challenge, and grieve along with you that the evidence leads where it does. I should not have written that last paragraph as it now stands.

David Gushee

BaptistPlanet said...

My congratulations to David Gushee for his statement to Christa, above.

David Gushee said...

Today a revised version of my article will appear on ABP that reflects the lessons learned through this exchange. Thank you.

David Gushee

Christa Brown said...

David: I am rendered virtually speechless. In my experience, on this subject, your consideration and response on this are something truly extraordinary in Baptist life. I am grateful and I look forward to reading your revised article.

Thy Peace said...

ABP News > Opinion (UPDATED): The churches and sexual abuse By David Gushee.
(Editor's note: The original version of this column, published March 29, contained an assertion -- regarding differences in clergy-sex-abuse scandals between the Roman Catholic context and the Protestant context -- that many readers found unsupportable. The author agreed to change the column. The version published below contains a slight alteration to the second sentence of the second paragraph, elimination of what had been the eighth paragraph, and a replacement of the final paragraph.)

Christa Brown said...

"The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view."

These words of acknowledgement about the problem of Baptist clergy child molestation are from David Gushee's revised column. I am grateful for them.

I also note his final sentence: "The situation demands reform, immediately...."

I pray that these words may become more than words, and that they will be transformed into deeds.

Jim said...

Christa, obviously you DO NOT know David Gushee. I was taken aback when I read your post concerning his article in ABP and I was not at all surprised when I saw his statement: "I should not have written he last paragraph as it now stands." I do not need to defend Dr. Gushee, but I think I understood what he was trying to say in the initial article. However, I am pleased he has rewritten the paragraph in question. His really is one of the good guys.

BaptistPlanet said...

We believe that David Gushee's handling of this matter was distinguished by its integrity.

Christa Brown said...

"...distinguished by its integrity."

I think so too, and on this issue in particular, it was certainly something unusual to see in Baptist life.

Anonymous said...

"This situation demands reform, immediately, for the sake of the vulnerable and abused children among us — not to mention for the sake of the gospel witness, so desecrated by the abuse behind our stained-glass windows."

I'm profoundly grateful to David Gushee for his acknowledgement of Baptist clergy abuse. This has most definitely desecrated the vulnerable among us and the gospel witness.
I hope he will not back down from his revised statement when those who have turned a blind eye show their disapproval. Maybe this is a step forward.I hope so.

Anonymous said...

It's about time some Baptist leader admitted this. But what will he actually do about it?