The convicted man, Richard Steven Sweat, was a youth pastor at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Jacksonville, and Mike Hogan was active at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. Both churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hogan didn’t attend the 5-day trial and didn’t hear any of the evidence. Nevertheless, after Sweat was convicted, Hogan testified at the sentencing hearing and swore to the judge that he didn’t have “any reservation whatsoever” about Sweat’s innocence.
So given that Hogan hadn’t heard any of the evidence, why was he so certain of Sweat’s innocence? According to Hogan’s testimony, it was because he had known Sweat for 15 years, because Hogan’s son said Sweat was a person “of great character,” and because Sweat “was unashamed of his love for and his commitment to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Did I mention that Hogan didn’t attend even a single day of the 5-day trial? Twelve jurors actually did sit and hear all the evidence and they concluded that Sweat was guilty. The FBI reached the same conclusion based on a year-long investigation. But apparently Hogan didn’t think the evidence mattered. Hogan was more than willing to proclaim Sweat’s innocence based on his own gut belief that he “knew” the man.
So far, there’s not much of anything in this story that’s unusual, is there? We’ve seen dozens of these kinds of cases in which people insist that they just “know” a minister is innocent.
But here’s what grabbed my attention. When “Watchdog” blogged about this case, a frequent Baptist blog commenter named “Louis” posted this remark:
“This is a very common human trait. If we love something (an idea) or someone so much, we will ignore things or minimize things that show that idea or person in a bad light.
"Mr. Hogan's testimony is so illogical, there is no explaining it except to say that when the evidence contradicts a human's love for someone, that person will ignore the evidence or try to explain it away. . . . History is full of people who do this.”
“Louis” is exactly right: “This is a very common human trait.” But here’s why it’s so puzzling to see such words coming from “Louis.”
“Louis” is the same guy who has repeatedly denounced the notion of providing Southern Baptist churches with the denominational resource of a trained review board to more objectively assess clergy abuse reports that cannot be criminally prosecuted (which is most of them). He is an attorney; he is reportedly on an SBC board; and his blog comments often give the appearance that he is a Southern Baptist official. I’m only about 90 percent certain of who “Louis” actually is, and so I won’t state his presumed identity, but suffice it to say that I think “Louis” is someone who has likely done as much or more than almost any other individual to dissuade Southern Baptist officials from implementing denominational review boards to assess complaints about Baptist clergy sex abuse and to provide Baptist congregations with more reliable information about credibly-accused clergy.
So what in the world is “Louis” thinking? He knows and understands full well about this “common human trait” – i.e., that, as human beings, we tend to overlook, deny and minimize ugly information about awful conduct when the conduct involves someone we love and trust. Yet, “Louis" still proclaims that congregants in local Southern Baptist churches can responsibly assess clergy abuse reports, even when those reports involve their own loved and trusted ministers. Congregants can’t, and the reason they can’t is precisely because of the very “common human trait” that “Louis” himself acknowledges.
This is why other professional groups and other religious groups have accountability systems that seek to procedurally compensate for the reality of this “common human trait.” They have accountability systems that allow for ethical review processes to be conducted by those outside the accused’s immediate circle of influence and trust.
But Southern Baptists don’t bother. Baptist honchos like “Louis” know about this “common human trait” but they still sit back and do nothing to effectively deal with it. This institutional failure is part of what makes Baptistland such a perfect paradise for predators.
Rather than using the words of Jesus as a reason for protecting “the least of these,” Southern Baptists have used their “religion” of autonomy as an excuse to avoid accountability for the powerful. They have done so with the help and advice of men like “Louis.”
Related post:Baptists must face fears and prioritize risks, 8/24/10