When asked about the problem of clergy sex abuse and church cover-ups, one of the religious leaders who was a lawyer said, “Our polity requires that we protect the autonomy of the local church. This has been our law for generations, and the Bible commands us to preserve it.”
But Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
You notice, of course, that Jesus didn’t say to merely “love the people in your own autonomous church.” He said “love thy neighbor.”
And Jesus didn’t build in any exclusions to that commandment. For example, He didn’t say that you should love the children in your own autonomous church but not worry about the children in the church of another town. He said “love thy neighbor.”
And He didn’t say that religious leaders outside the local church are exempted from the commandment’s obligation because each autonomous church looks after its own. He said “love thy neighbor.”
And He didn’t say that clergy abuse survivors are excluded from the category of "neighbors" because they bring such deeply troubling news that no one wants to hear it. He said “love thy neighbor.”
So how loving is it when Baptist leaders respond to reports of clergy sex abuse by washing their hands of the problem and saying “it’s a local church matter”?
How loving is it when they do that even while knowing that the result of their hand-washing will mean that child molesting ministers may more readily move on to molest again?
How loving is it when Baptist leaders insist that any review of clergy sex abuse allegations should be done by criminal authorities in the secular world rather than by any denominational review board? How loving is it when they say this, even while knowing that most child molestation cases cannot be criminally prosecuted and that their refusal to intervene will likely mean that credibly reported clergy-predators may move on to molest again?
And how loving is it when Baptist leaders persist in saying that each autonomous church should handle a clergy abuse problem on its own, despite the difficulty of the problem and the dire risk of additional wounds inflicted by poor handling? How loving is it when they say this, even while knowing that most churches cannot properly handle a clergy abuse report on their own for the simple reason that they lack the objectivity to assess allegations against their own beloved pastor?
Where is there anything in this great commandment to “love thy neighbor” that excuses people who proclaim the autonomy of local churches from the moral obligation to protect children in other churches?
How can it possibly show “love” when religious leaders use the legalism of autonomy to turn a blind-eye to the molestation and rape of church kids by clergy?
And when did Southern Baptist leaders develop such a knee-jerk version of autonomy that they couldn’t even imagine the possibility that a clergy abuse review board might be instituted in a manner consistent with autonomous principles? When did they become so focused on their own self-serving, radicalized version of autonomy that they failed to notice that some other Baptist groups, who also have autonomous churches, are already implementing denominational review board processes for clergy abuse?
When did the Baptist doctrine of church autonomy get so degraded that it functionally serves as a shield for allowing clergy child molesters to persist in their pulpits with impunity?
When did “autonomy” become a catch-word with such over-bearing importance that it replaced the great commandment to “love thy neighbor”?
[Some of the thought behind this posting was inspired in part by Jeri Massi’s new book, “Schizophrenic Christianity.” Thanks, Jeri.].
Monday, April 28, 2008
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We show love to our children by holding them accountable for their sins....we teach them about consequences because we want them to be "safe"...by learning to obey God.
We don't show love to anyone as Christians or adults by excusing and minimizing or ignoring their sin.
That's called enabling...and causing your brother to stumble....
IF THEY WANTED TO SHOW LOVE....they would care for the wounded...they would sacrifice to bring healing to a person in pain...they would carry the burden of the broken hearted...they would speak the truth. They would call sin SIN.
Sexual abuse is never a crime to be defended or excused....never a mistake.
Covering for those who abuse is just as sinful as the abuse itself. All should be held accountable and suffer the consequences.
Victims have suffered enough.
I do find it interesting that the SBC will refuse to seat messengers from churches that ordain gay people but turn a deaf ear to child abuse. If they can spot a gay person behind every bush surely they could learn how to spot a child molester. (Especially if they have a criminal record.)
Good point RM. A few examples - In 1993, the SBC went to the trouble of amending its constitution to deny affiliation to "churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior." The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (the nation's second-largest statewide Southern Baptist group) followed the SBC's lead by amending its articles of incorporation so state denominational leaders can even undertake to investigate churches that may allow gays as members. In 2006, The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ousted a church for the simple reason that it allowed a part of its facilities to be used as a meeting place for a completely separate ministry group that welcomed gay people and that was run by a female Presbyterian minister.
I think the North Carolina example is particularly interesting. If the principle of local church autonomy doesn't preclude denominational leaders from investigating churches on whether they have gay members, why does autonomy prevent denominational leaders from investigating churches on whether they may be harboring a predatory preacher?
Great insight Christa. Baptists tend to hyperventilate over something like someone being gay and then stick their heads in the sand when there is a child molester. Imagine what it will be like to stand before the Lord and give an account for doing that...
From Christa's post: Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
If we love God and love our neighbor, how can we as leaders in the SBC allow others to be sexually abused and not take action? How is that showing love for them? When I hear pastors preach from the pulpit that "Jesus died for all sins, and there is not one that is not under the blood, including child abuse", how can that be tolerated?
Thank you for the reference to my book.
And next time anybody tells you that they are commanded to protect the autonomy of the local church, request a chapter and verse on that. There is no such command in Scripture. Paul himself over rode local church autonomy when he excommunicated the fornicating young man in I Corinthians. And he over rode it again when he reinstated him in II Corinthians.
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