Thursday, December 30, 2010

Columnists summed up Baptist clergy abuse story

In 2010, the writings of four columnists gave a good overview of the Baptist clergy sex abuse story. The columnists are Norman Jameson (former editor of the Biblical Recorder), Douglas Sharp (dean of the American Academy for the Common Good), Robert Parham (executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics), and David Briggs (Association of Religion Data Archives). Here are their combined and excerpted words.

“It would be a mistake to give in to the convenient temptation that this is ‘a Catholic problem’.” (David Briggs)

“Sex-abuse cases also rock Baptist churches. Individually they are just as bad, and collectively we are doing a lot less than the Catholics about resolution.

"Southern Baptists as a national entity have nothing in place to prevent abusers from carrying their satchels of pain to another church or to yank credentials from an abusive clergyman.

"A motion to institute a national registry of abusers was rejected by the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in 2008 on the basis of church autonomy. The Executive Committee recommended instead that churches run background checks through an already available U.S. Department of Justice system. That system contains names only of those convicted of a crime and not those times when a church forces a minister to leave and keep the reasons unstated to avoid lawsuits or embarrassment.” (Norman Jameson)

"The sexual abuse of children is going on in Protestant churches, and it is social, sexual and religious irresponsibility to ignore it, camouflage it, minimize it or think one's faith community is immune from it." (Douglas Sharp)

“Since the late 1990s, denominational judicatories in the mainline Protestant traditions have taken formal structural, educational, ethical and policy steps to prevent and report all forms of sexual abuse in their churches. . . . These efforts are indicative of attempts to cultivate ‘safe’ and ‘hospitable’ churches for all, but especially for children. (See for example, American Baptist Churches, USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church.)” (Douglas Sharp)

[Note that the largest Protestant denomination in the land – the Southern Baptist Convention – is not included in Sharp’s list.]

“Protecting the Baptist denomination and churches from public humiliation and discrediting has been a higher priority for many Baptist leaders than protecting children from the predatory ministers – ministers who move from church to church, state to state, without punishment, only to harm again. . . . The shield of local church autonomy is a false one that should not be used to protect predatory preachers. . . Baptist leaders know too well about the official church connectivity and ‘unofficial web of clergy connectivity’. . . .

"The biblical concept of church autonomy should not be used to override the biblical concept of protecting the vulnerable. . . .

"Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front. Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems. And both have covered up predatory behavior . . . .

"Sacraments may differ. But the systems, secrecy and spin are similar – and shameful.” (Robert Parham)

“We know it takes extraordinary courage for even one victim to come forward amid the shame associated with sexual abuse. Most clergy abusers are likely to have several victims, and should never again have access to children. Yet when the unimaginable happens, few are willing to believe the victim. Congregants remember the minister . . . as someone who visited them in the hospital or comforted them at funerals. Religious leaders tend to view them as friends and colleagues, and are likely to take their word over the victim’s word or give the abuser a second or third chance. Fear of lawsuits or damage to the institution hardens their hearts further.

“And the children suffer, many for the rest of their lives. . . . The most religious, those who are most likely to accept a cleric’s authority and most dependent on their faith . . . are the most vulnerable.” (David Briggs)

“While many other structures of modern life have heightened the protections offered to children, the churches have lagged behind – with disastrous consequences. The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view.

“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 . . . .” (David Gushee)

The situation demands immediate reform . . . but how much longer until reform actually happens? And how many more Baptist church kids will suffer?

My hope for 2011 is that Baptists will make protection of "the least of these" the most important thing on their agenda.

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