Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More talk from Mr. So-called Ethics

“I am disturbed that the cardinals don’t seem to be able to bring themselves to say, ‘One strike and you’re out,’ when it comes to the molestation of children by priests.”

That’s what Richard Land said in April 2002 after the Catholic abuse scandal broke. In essence, Land got on his high-horse and wagged his finger at Catholic leaders.

But what did Land do to protect kids in Southern Baptist churches? After all, he’s the Southern Baptist Convention’s top-dog on ethics.

So instead of wagging his finger at Catholics, why didn't Land look close to home and see the horror of clergy abuse and cover-ups in Baptist churches?

By July 2002, and after massive media pressure, Catholic leaders had amended their policy to make it a “one strike and you’re out” policy. “For even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor…the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry,” reads the policy in article 5.

So here we are, 6 years after Richard Land’s 2002 finger-wagging remarks. Catholic leaders have had a “one strike and you’re out” policy for the past 5 1/2 years, but Southern Baptist leaders don’t yet have any policy at all.

In fact, Southern Baptist leaders can’t yet come up with anyone who will even do the umpiring job of calling the strikes. Unlike Catholics and other Protestant groups, Southern Baptists haven’t implemented any sort of review board for abuse reports.

Instead, Southern Baptist leaders seem to take the view that if no one calls the strikes, the strikes don’t happen. That’s a very dangerous game of pretend and one that leaves kids in harms’ way.

Yet, Land wagged his finger at Catholics and pontificated on “the importance of proper handling of abuse reports.”

If Land thinks “proper handling of abuse reports” is so important, why isn’t he working to create a system for “proper handling of abuse reports” about Baptist clergy? That’s what we in SNAP have been begging Southern Baptist leaders to do, and Land has remained remarkably quiet on the subject.

Shouldn’t “proper handling of abuse reports” be just as important when it involves Southern Baptist clergy as when it involves the clergy of other faith groups?

But judging by his 2002 remarks, Land seemed to think Southern Baptists already had the problem solved.

While wagging his finger at Catholics, Land bragged that Southern Baptists “had a couple of high-profile, child-sex-abuse scandals with ministerial staff in some churches in the late ‘80s, and that really caused us to focus on this.”

In other words, Land claimed that Southern Baptists didn’t have the same problem as Catholics because Southern Baptists really “focused on this” after just “a couple” cases.

This 2002 brag carries a hubris that would block the sun.

Worst of all, given the extensive reports of abuse and cover-ups in Southern Baptist churches, it’s clear it was also a hubris that sacrificed the safety of kids.

There had already been more than just “a couple” cases even in 2002, and by now, there have been many, many more. This is what makes Land’s 2002 braggadocio so terribly tragic.

If instead of wagging his finger at Catholics, Land had undertaken to implement protective measures for Baptists, countless kids could have been spared from horrific harm in the years since 2002. For example, the victims of Shawn Davies may have been spared, and the victims of Doug Myers, Larry Neathery, and Steven Haney… to name just a few.

Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders “bring themselves to say ‘one strike and you’re out’ when it comes to the molestation of children by Baptist clergy”? Why can’t Southern Baptist leaders bring themselves to say ‘one strike and you’re out’ for Baptist churches that turn a blind eye to clergy predators?

Why isn’t Richard Land himself asking these questions and wagging his finger at his own home-turf?

It is time for Southern Baptist leaders to stop hiding in their dug-out of autonomy while wagging their fingers at others. It is time for Southern Baptist leaders to step up to the plate and go to bat against Baptist clergy sex abuse.


Anonymous said...

While I do not agree with Richard Land in the least please do not suggest that the Catholics have actually cured their problems. There isn't a week that goes by that we don't read about yet another priest who has been molesting young boys. The "one strike" rule is a joke in the Catholic church.

One thing I do see in today's world is that the Catholics are being sued and losing huge financial judgments against themselves. I'm sure that's what Land and the SBC are afraid of--but then it would be hard to bring a lawsuit against the SBC when something is done in a local autonomous church. Most local churches don't even begin to have the funds to pay the kind of financial judgments the Catholic church is experiencing.

Just a little food for thought...

Christa Brown said...

Anonymous: I'm not in any way suggesting that Catholics have solved their problem. Clearly, they haven't. Some dioceses are better than others, and some are downright abysmal. But Catholics (along with other major Protestant groups) have at last begun the process of addressing clergy abuse in a systematic manner. That's more than Southern Baptists have done, and so Southern Baptists have no basis for finger-wagging.

Ultimately, any policy is only as good as the people who implement it. But policies do at least provide a basis for assessing compliance. They're a starting point. As compared to other faith groups on this issue, Southern Baptists haven't even yet stepped up to the starting point.

If what you say is true - that Land and the SBC fear the risk of financial judgments - then this means they are prioritizing the safety of the institution's financial coffers over and above the safety of kids. God help them if indeed this is the callous assessment they are making. I blogged about this a few postings earlier - here.

Anonymous said...

I think money has a lot to do with it. But I also think pride, ego, and the whole "we have arrived and we can tell you how to do it" attitude has a lot to do with it.

If the SBC churches as a whole actually admitted that their churches were full of pedophiles and sexual perverts, then their little perfect kingdoms would come crashing down. They have to be PERFECT as Jesus was perfect; and if you work at it hard enough you just might come close to making it.

My gosh! That's how I was raised. And, so many believe, I know because I was one of them, that they really are the Lord's CHOSEN. They just are not real sure about everyone else -- whether or not any other group will make it to heaven or not. I am ranting.

Bottom line -- I think there is so much more than money involved. I think it is who these people have made themselves out to be -- not God's servants but God's first in command. If they became honest and transparent and seekers of the truth, they could no longer be who they really are -- shallow, shallow people who are just not in touch with reality.


Anonymous said...

A friend was asked if she had heard what happened at FB _______ and she said she did not want to know. She knew what happened to me and it disturbed her. Now I am afraid something similar might have happened and I am feeling guilty as if somehow I am responsible. If only the ministers on staff with clergy abusers would feel responsible to stop the abuse, instead of the victims carrying that burden. Experiencing clergy abuse makes one feel compelled to protect others.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,
Please do not blame yourself for anything that happened to you or to anyone else. You are not responsible and you are not at fault. I don't think feeling compelled to protect others is a bad thing. Just do your best to now protect and take care of yourself. It would be nice if the other ministers would feel responsible to stop the abuse. I just don't know that that is going to happen any time soon. I encourage you to join a sexual-abuse survivors group and to also consider therapy if you are not already doing that. Please know we (all sexual abuse survivors) are here for you. You reached out by commenting on this blog. Keep reaching out.

Take care. My prayers are with you.


Christa Brown said...

Anon 5:04 - I couldn't have said it any better than Phyllis just did. Welcome to this blog. We're sort of like a club that no one would ever choose to be a member of, but we're happy to have you anyway.

Junkster said...

Something just occurred to me ... please bear with me as I try to out it into words...

Baptist leaders are quick to say that the SBC can't do anything about abusive ministers because of the doctrine of local church autonomy. This indicates that autonomy is such a highly prized doctrine that it over-rides pretty much everything, including concerns about protecting children. In essence they say, "Catholics can handle the problem differently than we can because their church government is structured differently; our hands are tied by our form of church government."

Yet Baptists believe in (cling to) the doctrine of autonomy not just out of tradition, but because they believe it is right. They believe it is what the Bible teaches, and that other forms of church government (like the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church) are unbiblical. Put another way, Baptist believe that the way Catholics are organized is wrong, just as they believe Catholics are wrong on their doctrines of justification, sanctification, purgatory, saints, Mary, etc.

All that said, wouldn't if follow that when the Catholic church as an organization removes a Priest's ordination and refuses him a place of service in any Catholic church, according to Baptist doctrine, the Catholic church is wrong for doing so? I mean, if Baptists believe they are right about church government (autonomy) and Catholics are wrong (hierarchy), then doesn't that mean that the Catholic church is wrong when they act according to their wrong doctrine?

But I have yet to hear a Baptist leader say that. They simply throw up their hands and say, "Oh well, Catholics do things differently than we do; we can't do what they do."

This raises the question ... if autonomy is really the primary concern, and if it is so strongly believed to be true Bible doctrine, why do Baptist preachers not have the courage of their convictions to come right out and say, "What we are doing [leaving it to local churches] is right and what the Catholics are doing [handling it as an organization as a whole] is wrong"?

I will answer my own question ... because they know how bad it would sound. It would be plain for all to see that they are saying that it is preferable to allow abuse to continue in order to protect autonomy.

And that is one reason I believe autonomy to be just a smokescreen, a convenient excuse to do nothing. There may be many reasons the SBC has chosen not to address this issue as it should (fear of lawsuits, pride, potential loss of esteem and power, laziness, apathy, etc.) but autonomy is not the reason; it is just an excuse.

Christa Brown said...

Amen Brother Junkster!