Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Autonomy Schmonomy

Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to continue studying whether a Texas church should be disfellowshipped for having gay members. The Committee will conduct “further inquiries.”

At issue is whether Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church acts in ways that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”

The Executive Committee’s Executive Vice-President and General Counsel, Augie Boto, sent the church an “investigative questionnaire.”

Rather than answering Boto’s “investigative questionnaire,” the church offered a letter, explaining its position that the church extends “Christian hospitality” to everyone.

Apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy the SBC’s Executive Committee. Some of them said the church’s declaration that it does not affirm homosexuality “seemed in tension” with its admission that 5 church members are gay, and 2 of the 5 serve on a church committee.

Given Broadway’s strong history of ministry, I can’t help but wonder whether the gay members were on a church committee that worked with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts or that worked with providing food and clothing for the homeless. But I digress… the Executive Committee’s focus was on gay members, not on ministry.

So here’s my real question. When people started rumbling about Broadway’s gay members, why didn’t the SBC Executive Committee recite the same line that they recite whenever clergy abuse survivors seek denominational help?

“Every Southern Baptist church is autonomous.”

Remember? That’s their standard excuse for why they can’t do anything about reported clergy child molesters. So why didn’t they say that to the people who complained about Broadway’s gay members?

When it comes to a church with gay members, it’s autonomy schmonomy. The SBC chooses to take action. It sends out an “investigative questionnaire.”

But when it comes to a church with a reported clergy child molester in the pulpit, the SBC throws up the autonomy wall and says, “We have no authority.”

More and more, this two-faced version of autonomy looks like a sham of an excuse.

If congregational autonomy doesn’t preclude the SBC from investigating a church with gay members, why does congregational autonomy preclude the SBC from investigating a church with a reported clergy child molester in the pulpit?

In fact, if the SBC Executive Committee wants to conduct “inquiries” on Texas churches, why don’t they start with Bolivar Baptist in Sanger, Texas? That’s the church of pastor Dickie Amyx. Remember him? He’s the guy whose best defense against child molestation allegations was to claim in sworn testimony that “I didn’t have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”

Debbie says that Amyx’ abuse began when she was 14 and that Amyx raped her when she was 15. For myself, there’s not the slightest doubt about who I believe. But even if you take Dickie Amyx at his own words, do you think such a man belongs in a Southern Baptist pulpit?

Apparently, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee doesn’t have much problem with it. Debbie sought help from them, and also from the state convention. But she didn’t get any.

I guess, from the SBC’s point of view, it’s more important to investigate a church with a few gay members helping the homeless than it is to investigate a church with an admitted sex abuser in the pulpit.

Did I mention that Debbie also has a paternity judgment against Amyx? She had to go to court to get him to support the child that he impregnated her with when she was 18.

“Dickie Amyx” is still listed as a “Senior Pastor” in the recently released 2008 SBC Annual. (See p. 491.) He and his church are also listed as being affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Denton Baptist Association.

But of course, Debbie isn’t the only one with a perpetrator still in ministry.

In the photo, you see Stephen Wilson, chair of the Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup, on the right. I know some of you wrote to Wilson and to other Executive Committee members. Some of you even told bits of your stories and told about your perpetrators. But I haven’t heard of a single Baptist clergy abuse survivor who got assistance from Wilson or from any other SBC official.

I’m told that my own perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, is now a member at a prominent Orlando church that’s home to an SBC Executive Committee officer. Maybe the Executive Committee should send an “investigative questionnaire” to that church to consider whether they're affirming clergy child molestation by having an unrepentant clergy child molester as a member.

I find it ironic that SBC officials would justify their continuing inquiry of Broadway Baptist on the basis of the seeming “tension” between what Broadway says -- “we do not affirm homosexual behavior” -- and what it does -- allowing 5 church members who are admittedly gay.

If “tension” between words and deeds will justify SBC “inquiries,” then this denomination should turn a giant magnifying glass on itself and its own leaders. No matter how much they may say they find clergy child molestation to be deplorable, their words are “in tension” with their deeds when they do nothing about clergy child molesters who are actually reported to them.

Information about the SBC Executive Committee's action was taken from the Associated Baptist Press and EthicsDaily.

You can read more about Debbie’s story in the Nashville Scene article, “
What would Jesus say?” and in my prior blog posting, “Start with this one.”


W said...

EVERY Baptist church has gay members whether they know it or not or whether they acknowledge it or not. Many have gay staff members and they are actually human beings with feelings and contribute to the Kingdom of God. Just another example of the SBC's total lack of understanding of reality.

There is a huge difference in being gay and being a child molester. Maybe someone needs to have a class on sex education for the Executive Committee. While they are it, maybe they could teach them what autonomous actually means. In reality they practice "selective autonomy" which is a hypocritical joke.

I am gay and I understand your feelings...

Christa Brown said...

W: Welcome here! "Selective autonomy" - such an apt phrase to describe what the SBC does.

gmommy said...

My guess is that you would be more outraged by God's most vulnerable being abused by clergy than many members of a Baptist congregation.

My friends and I have tried very hard to keep child molester and homosexual separate...but some are too ignorant.

Christa Brown said...

Gmommy knows of what she speaks, having seen up close what happened at a flagship Southern Baptist church in Tennessee. At Bellevue Baptist, senior pastor Steve Gaines knew about another minister's sexual abuse of a kid, and yet Gaines kept quiet about it until news about it finally broke in a blog and then in other media. Not only did Gaines keep quiet, but he even allowed the perp to serve as a counselor to people who had been sexually abused by others. Can you imagine how a person sexually abused in childhood would feel when they learn that the minister who counseled them as an adult was also a pedophile? And that their senior pastor knew about it and allowed him to counsel child molestation victims anyway? It's abhorrent, and yet Gaines remains widely respected within the SBC and even speaks at pastor conferences. Why doesn't the SBC Executive Committee treat Gaines' act of keeping quiet about clergy child molestation as an act that implicity "affirmed" clergy child molestation? Why don't they conduct "inquiries" on him and his church? Isn't the church itself implicitly acting in a way that "affirms" clergy child molestation by keeping a man like Gaines as senior pastor?

Anonymous said...

Can you say Ted Haggard? No, he is not baptist but more common of what is out there posing as a pastor these days.

Yes, they do have selective autonomy. Here is the reason: A homosexual offends them more than a pervert who rapes young girls. It is that simple.


George Frink said...

Broadway Baptist Church may have some vanishingly faint hope of somehow being found to be "acceptable," whereas even well-earned international humiliation has not moved the Southern Baptist Convention hierarchy.
Is it not all so very Batholic with its new canon law on the one hand and thundering silence on the other.

W said...

And to think you might actually have a gay person in your family--or even worse pedophiles actually are part of someone's family.

Its time we got Biblical in some of our attitudes.

Christa Brown said...

You're right, gwfrink3, it's "Batholic" fundamentalism on the rise. (Great word, by the way) By its very nature, fundamentalism INSISTS on its own rightness. So we see their doctrinal inquiries and demands for rigid conformity. So great is their authoritarian insistence on rightness that they demand of clergy abuse survivors that they ignore the very reality of their own experience for the sake of deferring to the authority of denominational leaders and pastoral power. We are banished. In effect, we are the dead bodies of this Batholic cabal, and they prefer that we stay buried.

It's bizarre, isn't it? If you look to the deeds of most Baptist leaders, including even many who self-describe as "moderates," I think you have to conclude that they consider it worse to have a gay person in the denominational family than to have a clergy child molester in the family. There's nothing biblical about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are dull headed indeed. Why they don't they look at the stats again that show that close to 70 percent of homosexuals were abused by someone in authority...I think by also recently reading several of the leaders views on tithing that they are straying from the the premise of grace anyway....

Anonymous said...

The ultimate end to the investigation of Broadway Baptist Church will be that the church will either remain with the SBC or its ties to the convention will be severed. It is the church itself that has the authority to do whatever it chooses to do with regard to its five gay members.

Likewise, in the case of a church that has an abuser still serving as a pastor, the SBC has no authority to remove him, but the local church does. So if these things are known, why do these churches not remove these guys?

Lydia said...

Likewise, in the case of a church that has an abuser still serving as a pastor, the SBC has no authority to remove him, but the local church does. So if these things are known, why do these churches not remove these guys?

February 21, 2009 8:05 AM

That is not the point, Lee. The associations have removed churches for having women ministers. But they are NOT removing churches for ministers and staff who rape boys and girls.


Christa Brown said...

"So if these things are known, why do these churches not remove these guys?"

Churches are not capable of objectively assessing clergy sex abuse reports related to their own ministers. They find ways to deny, to minimize, to not see it, to not know. They find ways to demonize the messenger who brings such unwelcome news. We've seen the pattern over and over again, in big churches and small, in city churches and rural churches, in churches with highly-educated congregations, in churches with highly affluent congregations, etc. etc. It's the human instinct for denial in the face of evil... particularly when the evil deeds involve a person you trust and love.

The SBC obviously has the power and the will to conduct "inquiries" about local churches when it wants to. Even if the SBC can't actually remove credibly-accused abusive pastors from ministry (as other faith groups do), the SBC could at least provide local churches with the resource of an independent, professionally trained review board to objectively assess clergy abuse reports and to relay information about their assessment to people in the pews.

Anonymous said...

"to relay information about their assessment to people in the pews"

Christa, thanks for keeping us focused on our true goal. We cannot afford to get bogged down with arguments about women in the ministry, homosexuals, etc. It is my understanding that we want to encourage a review system that will provide information to all religious leaders and menbers that will in turn offer some degree of protection as well as an effective reporting system for victims.
It is possible that if a church refused to dismiss a sex perp that the Association, State Convention, and the SBC could refuse that chiurch membership in their particular body. This would be an effective warning to the community as this type of action is always news worthy.
There is a hugh job to be done and I believe by encouraging our leaders and staying focused ourselves we will see progress.

Anonymous said...

There are some things worth notig aconcerning Broadway. I speaking with a member over a year ago from that church they mentioned that the liberal leadership was constantly overstepping their boundaries and utilizing their "authority" to get enforce their policies. Several members began to leave. It was a church held hostage. It was recommended to bring in other ministers to confront the problem but members instead left. They really should not be excommunicated but leaders kicked out.

Anonymous said...

Correction "worth noting concerning Broadway. In speaking with"

Anonymous said...

I don't know where this "local church autonomy" comes from...all churches are bound by the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.