Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Baptist record-keeping

I saw the movie Frost/Nixon recently and was reminded of the fact that, in large measure, it was record-keeping that brought down a president.

Remember those Watergate tapes? If there hadn’t been a record of Nixon’s conversations, he may not have been forced to resign.

Catholic canon law requires record-keeping on priests. That’s been their law for a very long time. And when the clergy sex abuse scandal finally saw daylight, it was the Catholic Church’s own practice of record-keeping that caused a lot of trouble for a lot of dioceses.

Often, it was their own record-keeping that showed how leaders knew about abuse accusations but allowed priests to continue in ministry anyway.

Compare this to how Southern Baptists do things. Usually, they not only allow the accused ministers to continue in ministry, but they don’t even keep any records about victims’ accusations. It is as though it never happened.

It is as though Baptist leaders believe “no records” means “no abuse.”

But of course, a whole lot of us know that’s not true, don’t we? “No records” means “no records”… nothing more.

The records of Catholic dioceses often revealed, not only those who preyed on children, but also high leaders who complicitly turned a blind eye. By failing to keep records, Southern Baptist leaders protect, not only the predatory preachers, but also their own do-nothing complicity. They hide their own complicity behind their lack of record-keeping.

But again… a lack of record-keeping doesn’t mean it never happened. A whole lot of us know that, don’t we?

For Catholic leaders, even when a diocese manages to avoid disclosure of the records, the very existence of the records still has an impact. The fact that the records exist may make some dioceses more inclined to settle lawsuits (and provide counseling money to victims) so as to avoid trials in which the documents might actually see the light of day. They know the records exist, and they’re embarrassed by them, and so they sometimes wind up “helping” the victims as a means to “help” themselves avoid further embarrassment.

Nixon took it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep his records secret. The Los Angeles diocese also went to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s how important records can be.

Both Nixon and the Los Angeles diocese lost. Their own record-keeping wound up hurting them.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist leaders simply don’t keep records. Is that better? I don’t think so.

I’m no Pollyanna. I figure there have probably been plenty of things that didn’t make it into Catholic records, and I figure that incriminating records may have sometimes been destroyed. But even destroyed records carry a risk when the official policy is one of record-keeping.

Remember those 18 ½ missing minutes from the Watergate tapes? Even missing records can become incriminating.

Southern Baptists’ failure to establish any record-keeping policy is a failure that helps to shield the denomination and its leaders from scrutiny.

But no one should get confused. By refusing to keep records, Southern Baptist leaders may keep themselves better insulated against media scrutiny and possible legal liability, but their lack of record-keeping does nothing to insulate kids against clergy sex abuse.

To the contrary, no record-keeping means no safeguard for kids.

Baptist leaders know this. They just don’t want to do anything about it.

Remember when former Southern Baptist president Frank Page tried to explain why he didn’t think a clergy predator database was a good idea? With typical Baptist-leader double-talk, he said this: “What we know happens with true abusers, they just switch to another denomination that doesn’t access a denominational database.”

In his effort to defend the indefensible, Page unwittingly wound up giving the very reason for there SHOULD be a denominational database. Baptist leaders KNOW what happens without a denominational database.

By refusing even the minimal responsibility of record-keeping, the largest Protestant denomination in the land leaves its doors wide open for clergy child molesters.


BaptistPlanet said...

I find it interesting that despite modern-day failures, the Catholic Church does have a long history of record-keeping about and in the early church punishment for sexually predatory behavior. Brendan Kiley explains:
"The first official decree on the subject was written at the Council of Elvira, held around A.D. 305 near Granada, Spain. The precise history is complicated, but the council is traditionally believed to have set down 81 rules for behavior, the 71st of which is: 'Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches.'"
Of course pointing that out gives proponents of SBC inaction an opportunity to confuse the issue.
They offer rejoinders about SBC local-church autonomy, as though local-church autonomy somehow precludes the creation and maintenance of an appropriate SBC database of predators.

Christa Brown said...

" though local-church autonomy somehow precludes the creation and maintenance of an appropriate SBC database of predators."

Sometimes I think that's really the worst part of all of it... the way they pervert religion to conjure a twisted pseudo-biblical basis for their own blind-eyed do-nothingness.

No records - no trace - no trouble. That's the Baptist way. But while the "no records" system means "no trouble" for Baptist leaders, it's hell on kids.

Anonymous said...

The SBC preachers are great at remembering how many they had in Sunday School and how big the offering was but they can't remember who did what to kids.

Come on--you've got to be kidding.

Anonymous said...

Who ever heard of getting a promotion with bad numbers?

Anonymous said...

Who ever heard of getting a promotion with bad numbers?