Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 by white Baptists who supported slavery. For 150 years, it remained a faith group that was hostile to black progress, and its leaders often used words of religion to justify their belief in white supremacy.

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.

Where were Southern Baptist leaders back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s? Where were they when Martin Luther King Jr. 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 “white religious leadership.” Rather than helping in the cause of justice and human dignity, many white clergymen criticized King and claimed that his actions, “even though peaceful must be condemned.”

While sitting in a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King answered them. He penned a letter that was smuggled out on toilet tissue and in the margins of newspapers. “My dear fellow clergymen,” he began, and he went on to speak 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.

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 Southern Baptist leaders when standing up for those oppressed by their own clergy would mean actually doing something?

Once again, Southern Baptist leaders are showing that they will likely be decades late at doing the right thing.

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 and “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”

More words from Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind: “I hope, sirs, that you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”


Anonymous said...

Personally and fortunately, I was bigger fan of reading Harriet Tubman's testimony than Robert E. Lee. Because the Southern churches would not go along with the North helping the slaves in the Underground railroad, from what I understand they split off believing submission to the authority of the state was primary even over the federal and also the debate was a distraction to a mission focus. Here lies the whole problem, when submission to authority exemplify obedience ot God at the expense of an serious issue that is being ignored.

George Frink said...

Fine analysis. I am still tortured by one simple question: Why?

Christa Brown said...

I wish I knew the answer to the "why" question... but I don't. Here's one piece of my speculation on it: I think that at the highest levels of leadership, they understand that their whole radicalized autonomy excuse is a sham. But they stand by it because it gives them a religious-sounding excuse. (Note to all: I am NOT saying that Baptists' belief in local church autonomy is a sham; I'm saying that the way in which Baptist leaders have distorted that belief for their self-serving ends is a sham.) At mid-levels of leadership, I think many are simply good soldiers who spout the party-line and who actually believe it -- i.e., they have accepted the ruse that "because there are no bishops," Baptist leaders are powerless to do anything about clergy abuse.

At the highest levels, I think they are protecting their coffers. They're choosing money over the safety of kids. And I personally believe that they're more afraid of lawsuits brought by their own ministers (who may claim that the review board ruined their career) than they are of lawsuits brought by clergy abuse survivors.

What I find saddest of all is what I perceive as disingenuousness on the subject. If they would be upfront and transparent about what their real concerns are, then I think there would likely be some good lawyers (and maybe some insurance executives as well) who would find ways to address those concerns to the maximum extent possible. But Baptist leaders are simply choosing to stick with the status quo because it's always worked for them in the past and it's always protected THEM. But their status quo is morally unconscionable. A system that shames and silences the victims while leaving reported perpetrators in their pulpits is dysfunctional and wrong.

For Baptist leaders to veer from that status quo, and take some sort of action such as establishing a review board, would necessarily mean taking on some new risk. If they actually cared enough to do something, they could work to minimize the risk, and they could try to insure against it, but some risk would still be inevitable. I believe that risk should rightly be borne by the faith community -- i.e., by the Southern Baptist Convention -- because these are men who used the trust they carried as "Southern Baptist" ministers as a weapon for child molestation. The problem is that there is also a terrible risk from inaction, and that's what they're ignoring. They're choosing to let that far-greater risk be borne by kids, congregants and families.

Of course, whatever the real answer to the "why" question may be, it doesn't really matter much. Whatever the motivation of Southern Baptist leaders may be, their choice of inaction is morally unconscionable and betrays everything they purport to stand for.

BaptistPlanet said...

It seems to me that some reasons "why" are more resistant to change than others. "Brand protection" is one Web 2.0ish theory. That's about the same as your "protecting their coffers."
Either way, admitting there is a problem appears to them to be worse for business than ignoring the problem.
Worse economically.
The way cleaning up the International Mission Board statistics would be worse for business than continuing with padded figures.

Anonymous said...

1. Why get involved?
2. Why rock the boat?
3. Why tell someother independent free believer what to believe?
4. Why get involved in something that has never happened to me?
5. Why listen to a bunch of emotional females who just need to forgive and get over it?
6. Why will addressing this issue help my church?
7. Why should I take a side and pretend to be a judge?
8. Why, I have made it this fer without having to address this issue?
9. Why not let my leaders tell me what to do?
10. Why do this when other things brng in more people [money]?

Why? Because they are blind, cold, and totally insinsitive to the pain of others.

I think I know why, my question is how much longer?

Ramesh said...

Under Much Grace Blog: Bad Apples or Bad Barrels? The Short and Long Versions of Zimbardo on the Lucifer Effect by Cindy Kunsman

"I am very happy to discover two different versions of Dr. Philip Zimbardo's lectures about the content of his book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Become Evil.

In the longer version of the talk that was presented at MIT, he gives a more detailed description of how he looks as systems and how systems and environments promote bad behavior. It is, of course, a much longer video, nearly 2 hours long. There is also a shorter version, circa 24 minutes long, but it does not include as detailed of a description of the "bad barrel" promoting "bad apples.""

The above videos are not directly related to the focus of this blog, but it speaks volumes about the systemic effects and the origin of evil from good people. (WARNING) Please note it contains graphic material and also may disturb you if you support blindly the US military's work in Iraq. I watched both the videos, they are very educational. The short video, Zimbardo talks little bit faster, because he has lot of material to cover in a short time. The longer version of the video is preferred for eye opening talk.

Christa Brown said...

Philip Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect, is well worth reading. Its subtitle - "Understanding how good people turn evil" - reveals much of what the book is about. It provides insights into the psychological processes that induce good people to participate in evil acts -- things like obedience to authority, passivity, the drive toward conformity, the desire for acceptance, the instinct for self-justification and rationalization, and the dehumanization of "the other."

Almost everyone likes to think of himself as a good person, but in reality, there is no fixed chasm that separates the good from the evil. It's a comforting thought to imagine that the good-evil dichotomy is somehow fixed, but it's an illusion. It's an illusion that frees good people from considering their own possible role in creating, sustaining, and perpetuating the conditions that allow for terrible deeds to unchecked.

I often think about the hateful words of former Southern Baptist president Frank Page when he publicly described the clergy-abuse survivors support group as "nothing more than opportunistic persons." As leader of a 16.2 million-member organization, do you think he has a clue about how his own hateful, dehumanizing words helped to create the climate that allows so many other Southern Baptist leaders and churches to turn a blind eye to clergy child molestation? Do you think he realizes that he himself helped to perpetuate this system in which clergy abuse survivors who speak out are treated as pariahs -- as less than human -- as unworthy of care or compassion? I doubt it. I imagine he sees himself as a good and righteous man. But that's the point of Zimbardo' book. Good people do evil. Good people allow evil. Good people perpetuate evil.

So many of Zimbardo's words ring so true in the clergy abuse context: "Aberrant, illegal or immoral behavior by individuals... is typically labeled the misdeeds of 'a few bad apples.' The implication is that they are the rare exception and must be set on one side of the impermeable line between evil and good... Usually it is the guardians of the system who want to isolate the problem in order to deflect attention and blame away from those at the top who may be responsible for ... a lack of oversight or supervision.... The bad apple.. view ignores the apple barrel and its potentially corrupting situational impact on those within it. A systems analysis focuses on the barrel makers, on those with the power to design the barrel."