Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Late again

“The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t yet ready to respond” on the issue of creating a database of convicted, confessed and credibly accused clergy. The committee met yesterday, and that’s what EthicsDaily reported.

It “isn’t yet ready” even though action is long overdue.

It “isn’t yet ready” even though Southern Baptists are way behind the curve compared to what most other major faith groups are already doing.

It “isn’t yet ready” even though the committee has only one more scheduled meeting, which will be on the very day before it’s supposed to report back to the convention in June. If something was going to get done, it should have been much further along by now.

But of course, Southern Baptist leaders have a long history of being late on issues of human dignity and justice.

A few days ago, the Washington Post reported on how Southern Baptists are finally attempting to reach out to minorities, and the article recounted the sad history of the Southern Baptist Convention on race relations.

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded as “a haven for white Baptists who supported slavery,” and for 150 years, it was “hostile to black progress.” Not until 1995 did the Southern Baptist Convention issue an apology for its history of bigotry and for “condoning and perpetuating individual and systemic racism.”

It was a nice gesture, but it was decades late in arriving.

Where were Southern Baptist leaders back in the 1950s and 1960s? Where were they when Martin Luther King and others were marching for civil rights? Where were they when standing up for an oppressed group might have required of them a bit of courage?

Martin Luther King himself pondered that question and expressed “deep disappointment” in the silence of the “white religious leadership.” In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he spoke of how “too many have been more cautious than courageous.”

“In the midst of blatant injustices,” he said, “I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

Much the same could now be said about Southern Baptist leaders’ lack of courage in stepping up to the plate to effectively address clergy sex abuse. Instead of taking action, they stand on the sideline, mouthing “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” about “autonomy” and “polity”… as if any of that could possibly be more important than protecting kids against clergy who molest and rape them.

I wept at an email recently forwarded to me from the mom of a girl who was sexually abused in a Southern Baptist church. She wrote to numerous SBC officials and told them about how none of her children would now have anything to do with Southern Baptists. “The resistance of the Southern Baptist Convention to do something about clergy abuse within its ranks has spoken loudly to them that the sexual abuse of minors in the Baptist church is of little significance to the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

With a rote-sounding response, a top SBC official wrote back, “I am saddened to hear that your daughter was molested…I hope and pray that the Lord has healed her wounds...and that she is living a joyous life in the Lord Jesus.”

I wondered how anyone could possibly look at that mom’s email and imagine that her daughter’s wounds were healed. Did he even read what that mom said?

He went on to talk about “the autonomy of the local church” and how the leadership needs “to arrive at a conclusion that is palatable with the concerns of Southern Baptists as well as the Convention’s polity.”

That’s what I would call “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

And then Baptist leaders wonder why they seem “uncaring” to victims of abuse.” Isn’t it obvious? They’re way more concerned about polity than they are about victims.

If Southern Baptist leaders expect others to view them as champions of morality, then they need to start acting like champions and go to battle to clean up the mess in their own ranks.

Where are they when the rubber meets the road? Where are they when there is a crisis in their own faith group? Where are they when standing up for those oppressed by their own clergy would mean actually doing something?

Once again, Southern Baptist leaders are late.

Though virtually every other major faith group in the country has begun implementing review boards to assess the credibility of clergy abuse reports, Southern Baptist leaders continue to sit on the sidelines.

How late will they be this time? Will they wait decades? How many more kids will be hurt?

Once again, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King: “I hope, sirs, that you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”


Anonymous said...

The more I hear from leadership in the SBC, the angrier I become at their lack of responsiveness, not only to the victims of SBC clergy abusers, but also to the mandate for action given to them by the convention itself (in the form of Burleson's resolution).

I am finding, in my own attempts to contact leadership, that they are becoming even less responsive (if that is possible) to inquiry and suggestion.

I know that it is still early, but is action being planned for the SBC in June on behalf of victims? I would certainly be interested to know.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I am at a loss for words for how things are handled in regards to clergy sexual abuse. For the SBC Executive Committee to think that "in time" they will have reform for the denomination is not an answer I can give to the mother whose school-aged children were sexually assaulted. I am not going to tell an adult woman who was sodomized by a minister that "in time" the SBC Executive Committee will have a plan so this will not happen to someone else. What about the abuse that will happen in the next few days, weeks or months? "In time" is not the answer to stopping clergy sexual abuse. Just ask any victim or family member of a victim if it is ok for the SBC Executive Committee to do something about the abuse "in time". Sorry fellows (Executive Committee), passing out pamphlets at the annual convention is not going to stop a clergy abuser. Maybe we could give them a gold star for everyday they behave!

Christa Brown said...

Anonymous: Even as I write these words, I feel certain that there is likely a kid somewhere in a Southern Baptist church who is being groomed for abuse. And in a matter of mere days or weeks, that kid will be quietly weeping in their bed, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. And even as I write this, there is likely a vulnerable woman in a Baptist church who is asking herself "did he really just do that - what do I do now?" But where will she turn? And even as I write this, there is likely an adult who was wounded by a Baptist minister many years ago and who is now contemplating suicide because he never received the counseling he so desperately needs. But to this day, no one in the faith community will help him.

And in each of these instances, the predatory minister might easily be a minister whom some other prior victim tried desperately to report, only to be ignored, turned away, shunned, and further shamed.

Christa Brown said...

Texas Pastor: I too feel dismayed by the seemingly-dismissive manner in which SBC leadership appears to treat the mandate that 8600 messengers gave to them. I hope and expect that we will do something in June, and I welcome all ideas and any help, and I'll try to keep people posted.