It’s not enough -- not nearly enough. People are still upset, and for very good reasons.
But consider this. In Baptistland, there has been no apology at all from any high denominational official, nor any rebuke of church leaders who covered up for clergy sex abuse. To the contrary, when the prior president of the Southern Baptist Convention addressed the matter, the people he chose to rebuke were the clergy abuse survivors themselves. He publicly castigated the survivor support groups as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”
That fact alone shows how far behind Baptist leaders are in dealing with this. They’re still so over-confident in thinking their polity makes them untouchable (and so inured to their own arrogance), that they don’t even bother with words that at least sound pastoral. They’re still in a kick-the-victims frame of mind.
“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen…. I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”
That’s part of what was in the Pope’s letter. They’re just words, of course, but at least they’re nice words, public words, and words of acknowledgement.
For those of you who were abused by Baptist clergy, and especially for those of you who have experienced the nightmare of trying to report abuse to Baptist leaders, I ask you . . . Can you even imagine the possibility of a Baptist leader saying such a thing publicly? Putting it in writing in a letter? Insisting that the letter be read aloud all across Baptistland?
Baptists are literally decades behind the Catholics in even attempting to systematically address clergy sex abuse.
This means a whole lot of kids and congregants are at risk.
In Texas alone, Southern Baptists are the equivalent of about half the population of Ireland. Across the U.S., they’re about 2 ½ times as big as Ireland.
Yet, though Baptists have plenty of their own problems, on Monday, Texas Baptists’ “theologian-in-residence,” Jim Denison, took a jab at the Irish Catholic scandal.
How in the world does he justify jabbing the Catholics when the Baptist General Convention of Texas has remained so utterly mute on so many of its own clergy sex scandals?
(But hey … I bet most of you didn’t even know they had such a highfalutin thing as a “theologian-in-residence,” did you? That’s another one of those things they spend God’s money on, apparently thinking that a “theologican-in-residence” is more important than funding a system to track admitted and credibly-accused clergy predators. But I digress . . . )
That’s Jim Denison in the photo. I could have just as easily put up a picture of the Pope, but I figure most of you already know what the Pope looks like. So I decided to show you what a “theologian-in-residence” looks like.
Perhaps Denison’s column just hit me wrong because of its timing. After all, the scandal of Texas Baptist pastor Matt Baker was in the news through all of January, and again as recently as March 11. But we heard no mention of it from the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence”… or from any other BGCT official.
Despite multiple reports of sexual assault and sexual abuse, Baptist pastor Matt Baker moved with ease through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. There were Baptist leaders who knew, but there was no one who cared enough to do anything. So for 18 years, Matt Baker was able to keep moving on.
Not until he committed murder was Matt Baker’s career as a preacher-predator finally ended. That’s what it took in Baptistland. It took a dead body.
And amazingly, even in the face of a dead body, Baptist officials still turned a blind eye.
With such a huge and horrific institutional failure, you would ordinarily expect some high official to make some public statement. You would expect someone to at least offer up words of sorrow and to explain how they were going to get to the bottom of it so that such a thing would never happen again.
But from officials at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we heard only silence.
A prominent Oklahoma Baptist pastor, Wade Burleson, looked at the Matt Baker scenario and was troubled. He posed this question: “You wonder if those of us in a position to do something to stop people like this from advancing in the Southern Baptist Convention, but don’t do anything… if we become accomplices to murder.”
Now THAT would be a good question for a paid “theologian-in-residence.” And since almost all the churches and organizations in which “murdering minister” Matt Baker worked were affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, it would seem that the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” would be particularly well-suited to speak to the subject.
But he’s been mute on that one. I guess a murder and 13 reported abuse and assault victims just aren’t on his radar. He’s more interested in jabbing the Catholics.
And what about the pesky matter of that confidential file that the BGCT keeps? It’s the file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, “including child molestation.” Perhaps the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” should speak to the ethics and morality of THAT . . . of how they leave such ministers in their pulpits without telling people in the pews. While he’s at it, he could also talk about the fact that, unlike Catholics, Baptists don’t even bother with keeping records on abuse reports made by victims themselves.
But no. He doesn’t want to talk about the Baptists; he prefers to talk about the Catholics.
And while the Irish cardinal is under scrutiny for secrecy agreements signed by two clergy abuse victims in 1975, perhaps the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” could address the fact that, as recently as 2007, the BGCT’s own longtime attorney publicly defended such secrecy agreements as being “standard.” (The original source is no longer online, but I kept a print-out.)
But no. The “theologican-in-residence” doesn’t want to look in the closets of his own house, does he?
And while we’re looking at Catholic cover-ups, let’s not forget that former BGCT director Sonny Spurger flat-out acknowledged the long history of Baptist clergy abuse cover-ups. In 2002, Spurger said this:
“For many years, churches seemed to say to offenders, ‘We won't say anything if you won't say anything, and you go on down the road’…” Consequently, churches “ended up passing perpetrators to other churches.”
So make no mistake about it. Baptist leaders know that, for many years, child molesting ministers were passed to other churches. But to this day, they do nothing to track those ministers and nothing to help the wounded.
Oh gee whiz . . . I guess I got on a roll, didn’t I? But the thing is, I’ve barely skimmed the surface. There’s just so much of this stuff that Baptist leaders really ought to talk about. And who better for that task than the “theologian-in-residence”?
But oh gee whiz . . . I guess the BGCT’s “theologian-in-residence” is just too busy jabbing the Catholics to bother with talking about the moral travesty of his own organization.