Friday, May 30, 2008

Priesthood of the unaccountable

I’m still pondering Suzii Paynter’s explanation for why Southern Baptists can’t institute the same sorts of pro-active protective measures as other faith groups.

Remember? She said “because there are no bishops.”

What’s sad is that I think Paynter actually believes this blasphemous Baptist spin. I think she actually believes that words such as these can somehow excuse the reality of a powerful religious organization that leaves clergy child molesters in their pulpits without warning people in the pews. She says the words like a loyal foot soldier for Baptist power-brokers.

Baptists have a truly amazing capacity for denial when it comes to the consequences of their own acts and beliefs. As long as they can couch it in the rule-based language of “autonomy,” they can even convince themselves that it’s O.K. to leave kids in harm’s way of clergy-predators.

Paynter’s “because there are no bishops” explanation reminded me of something a high-level official from the Baptist General Convention of Texas said to me at last year’s SBC annual meeting. I was trying to tell him about how desperately clergy abuse survivors need a safe place to report abuse -- a place that is outside the church of the pastor-perpetrator.

He said “maybe so” but insisted that, for Baptists to implement such a system “would make us into slaves.” Baptists aren’t subject to bishops, he explained. “What we lose in safety, we gain in freedom.”

Apparently, this seemed like a fair trade-off to him -- the safety of kids for the freedom of a free-wheeling polity that renders clergy unaccountable.

I realized then that we were having parallel conversations. His abstract words about religious slavery seemed meaningless to me as I tried to tell him about the real problems of real people who have been terribly wounded by real Baptist preachers, many of whom still stand in real Baptist pulpits. But from his vantage of religious nobility, it seemed that my talk about real people was equally meaningless to him.

Perhaps this is how it has always been. The religious high-honchos talk high-falutin’ religious talk, but they are blind to the real-world human beings who are hurt by their religiousity.

Baptist leaders toss out rote words - “because there are no bishops” - to displace the emotional immediacy of real people raped and molested by Baptist clergy. Abuse survivors ask for bread, and Baptist leaders give them only the stone of wrong-headed religious talk.

They wall themselves off behind their “no bishops” excuse and use it to proclaim their own powerlessness. Powerlessness to prevent reported Baptist clergy child molesters from abusing others. Powerlessness to warn congregants. Powerlessness to minister to the wounded.

With all their self-proclaimed powerlessness, it seems to me that Southern Baptists are already slaves.

They are slaves to a belief system that says it is better to protect the status-quo than to protect kids. They are slaves to a belief system that says it is better to allow credibly accused clergy child molesters to stay in their pulpits than to do anything about it. They are slaves to a belief system that spews forth religious rhetoric at the cost of kids’ safety.

Southern Baptist leaders have turned “priesthood of the believer” into “priesthood of the unaccountable.”


Jeri said...

And the Baptist declaration of not having bishops is a declaration of not obeying the Scripture, because there were bishops in the New testament church, as that is where we get the word from.

I wrote an entire book about the lack of accountability of the Independent Fundamental Baptist, specifically, so I do not want to belabor the point: But it is true that the radical autonomy of the SBC/IFB is *NOT* the biblical model of church government. It is a man-made system, and as such, it is doomed to failure and it is disobedient to Scripture.

Christa Brown said...

Jeri's book is insightful and well-documented. It's "Schizophrenic Christianity" and I wrote a review of it here.

And thanks for pointing out, Jeri, that the problem isn't the Baptist polity of local church autonomy - it's this self-serving, radicalized version of autonomy that Southern Baptist and IFB leaders have created as a man-made construct.

Danni said...

Another excellent article, Christa! What you said about parallel conversations is so true. And it's very frustrating.

Keep it up!

-- Danni

New BBC Open Forum said...

It's interesting how the SBC powers-that-be preach "autonomy" of the individual churches when it comes to maintaining a database of known clergy sex abusers, but when it comes to requiring allegiance to the BFM2000, that's a different story. "Autonomy" only counts when it's convenient.

And Bellevue's Dr. Steve Gaines, who was on the committee which drafted the BFM2000 (but who apparently skipped a few English classes), has stated, "An elder is a pastor is a bishop is a pastor is an elder is a bishop -- all the same stuff. There's only two offices in the New Testament -- pastor, which is also an elder and a bishop and deacons."

Therefore, Baptists do have bishops. Context here.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Link on the site.

New BBC Open Forum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
New BBC Open Forum said...

Copy and paste this link in a new browser window to view the above full size...

Anonymous said...

Bishops did not stop the abuse in teh Catholic church. Even so, I agree with BBC, our leaders act as Bishops when it is convenient and the issue is something they want to push. Such as keeping women from preaching and teaching the Word and forcing secondary doctrines on all missionaries AND making a big deal of these to churches to try and shame them into believing the same things. And stacking committees and trustees with those who believe the same way. They do this all the time.

Oh, when they care enough, they do something. They can't force any church to do anything but there have been several associations who have denied a church membership because they had women in leadership. And we know what a bigger sin that is compared to a predator minister. (sarcasm intended)

They can't even be bothered with REBUKING a predator minster!!! Notice how they always say THAT is up to the church!

Christa Brown said...

Bishops or no bishops, people in the pews need to be warned about credibly accused clergy predators. In 2002, U.S. Catholic bishops cooperated with one another to establish the office of child and youth protection (despite the fact that each bishop claimed dominion over his own fiefdom), and cooperatively they agreed that dioceses would establish lay person review boards to assess the credibility of accusations against priests. Over 800 Catholic priests have now been removed from ministry - NOT because they were criminally convicted - but because review boards recommended it based on "credible accusations." So, maybe U.S. Catholic kids today ARE safer, thanks to the implementation of review boards. And even if a Baptist review board couldn't "remove" a preacher from ministry, the review board could at least serve as a resource to the congregation to provide an objective assessment and to warn the people in the pews. And it would also be a ministry to the victims by affording them a safe place to which they could report abuse with some reasonable expectation of being objectively heard - and hopefully without having to endure the additional "stone-the-messenger" wounds that most churches typically inflict on the victim who tries to report.

Jeri said...

The sin of the SBC (and IFB) is permitting child molesters to continue unrebuked, and failing to protect children. That is a separate issue from not having women preachers. There is room in Scripture (such as Paul's direct injunction against it) to see that obeying a literal interpretation of Scripture may include disallowing women preachers.

But there is nothing in Scripture to allow a child molesting pastor, elder, deacon, or church member to continue unrebuked. Quite the contrary: the same Bible that does spell out that women are not to teach men, also spells out that men who have blame attached to them must not be allowed to hold church office.

The clamor of women to hold authority chills my heart. It's by this same trap that the men fell: thinking that holding the reins of authority, gaining CONTROL, would solve the problems. It's by that thinking that the entire religious right was created, and the Religious Right is an incredibly corrupt entity.

It is much more effective to hold the POWER of the facts and the Scripture than to hold authority, and there is a distinction between authority and genuine power.

I don't want to sidetrack Christa's blog, but the question at hand is child molesting, not patriarchy. Women have done so little so far to confront the problem, and so many women have played along with the silence about it, that I have no hope that a change in patriarchy will accomplish anything except spread the corruption further.

It's so easy to carve out a niche of position and authority and then fight to keep it. Much harder to let it all go and say the truth directly, without the bolstering of insignias, office, bestowed authority, or a following.

Anonymous said...

Oh, but patriarchy and abuse are intertwined in very complex ways we need to begin to understand. Simply calling for rebuke of the abusers because of a higher ethic will at best provide only minimal and temporary improvement. And Jeri - I think you are right - extending "authority" will not fix the problem. But any system where hierarchy and power positions are used to continue to oppress ANY group of people (which is what patriarchy does) sets us up for misuse and ABUSE of that power. Until EVERY PERSON is afforded the dignity and respect of equality - men in power positions will equate their position and power with superiority and will be able to continue to justify abuse. So, yes, turning patriarchy upside down would make a difference - the true equality of every man, woman, and child that Jesus demonstrated and Paul speaks to in Galatians 3:28 - would help a lot.

Lin said...

" Women have done so little so far to confront the problem, and so many women have played along with the silence about it, that I have no hope that a change in patriarchy will accomplish anything except spread the corruption further.

I have to agree with Renae. The issues are intertwined. After all, this leaning toward Patriarchy is what keeps women from speaking up about anything. Their views are not respected. Think of how many times Christa's posts have been called 'emotive', 'gossip', 'bitter', etc. These are key terms used to deal with any views from women that are disagreeable.

I can see the parallels distinctly between the hard comp teaching and devaluing of women's views. After all, your 'God designed' role is to nurture and be sweet. Your role is NOT to proclam truth that may teach or correct men in any way. That is verboten.

And scripture is NOT clear at all that women cannot teach men or even be pastors. We have to ignore lots of NT scripture to come to that conclusion. I could cite you chapter and verse. But, I agree that we should NOT get into that here. It is a secondary doctrine that should NOT divide believers. Even though many use it to do just that.

Jeri said...

Sorry ladies, there is no evidence that patriarchy in and of itself is the culprit, as there are patriarchal denominations where child abuse is identified, nailed, and the perpetrators dealt with (PCA is the best example.)

Women have done as little as men regarding the problem of sex abuse in the IFB/SBC. They have colluded against the victims, stayed silent, lied to protect the guilty, and refused to look at evidence. There is no reason to believe that being placed in a position of authority would make such a woman possess one iota more of integrity. Indeed, the current situation indicates that they would simply be players of the game in high station as they now are in mid and low stations.

Righteousness comes about by being contrite in heart before God and meekly accepting the correction and guidance of His Word. There is no text of Scripture any where that says that women will set things right if they gain equal authority.

In fact, sinful humans have always struggled to get authority to fix wrongs, and then either become part of the same infrastructure or simply replaced one system of evil with another. But righteousness, justice, and help for the oppressed come about by the exact opposite methods in Christiandom: humility before God and service. Mother Teresa went out and lived on those streets for decades for she became "Mother" Teresa, and she never got past that station, yet she rebuked the UN and her life changed the world.

Like the guy in the movie says, "We don't need no stinkin badges." We need the humility to act in the power of what is right without struggling towards authority and position.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to belabor the point - but it isn't about authority - it's about respect and dignity and inherent equality as human beings.

I'm not an expert on PCA - but the Presbyterian women I know did not grow up with the same sense of being "less than" that the Baptist women I know have been oppressed with all of their lives.

You are right. Gaining authority will not make a colluding female any less likely to collude.

And you are right, there are other denominations, patriarchal ones at that - where abuse is dealt with in a much better way.

Patriarchy isn't the cause of the problem - but it IS correlated with the problem. The attitude that women are inherently LESS than men, that children are inherently LESS important - creates an atmosphere where abuse can happen. And it creates an atmosphere where MANY who SHOULD speak up DO NOT, not because they are power hungry and unhumble, but because they are AFRAID - often with a fear steeped so deep in their unconsciousness that they don't even know what they are afraid of.

Women in position of authority in the church is a sidebar issue - and there are various reasonable arguments to support both sides. Abuse and collusion occur even in the most liberal of denominations.

Baptists HAVE to begin to take a real look at this issue and do something about it. But until the men in suits, insulated in their cozy little patriarchal world, who think about nothing but their own position and power, and thank God on their knees every morning that they are not a woman, can show some of the humilty being advocated, little is going to change.

Lin said...

Any situation where we are not to question or disagree with the 'authority' sets up the ideal environment for abuse.

I was certainly NOT advocating authority for women in the church or home. I believe only Jesus Christ is the authority in both for adult believers. Not some depraved mere mortal saved by Grace just like me. There are NO earthly priests or mediators between women and Jesus Christ. And the sooner we start teaching the Holy Priesthood again, the better. All believers..real ones...are ministers and have anointing.

The 'functions' in the church such as 'elder' are really the spiritually mature who are SERVANTS. They are ONLY authorites to the extent they teach and practice the truth of the Word. Being given a title by mere men does not make a REAL elder in the Biblical sense.

But we have been taught the opposite for so long by those who love their power that very few really understand this and continue to follow mere men instead of Christ alone.