Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Compassion for Southern Baptist leaders

“It is better for the heart to break, than not to break.”
-- Mary Oliver, poet

The core teaching of Christian faith is love. But for Southern Baptist clergy abuse survivors, what we consistently see from this denomination is anything but love.

It’s shaming. It’s wall-building. It’s institutional inertia. It’s institutional self-protection. It’s arrogance. It’s greed. It’s image-building and appearances. In short, it’s something that makes the whole faith group look like a fraud.

Collectively, Baptists fail miserably in dealing with clergy sex abuse.

I struggle to find compassion for their leaders who allow such a systemic failure.

How should I feel compassion for Baptist leaders who refuse to lead on such a desperate issue and who instead twist religion into an excuse for do-nothingness?

How should I feel compassion for Baptist leaders who hold the power to protect kids against clergy who molest and rape them, but who choose instead to piously mouth their mantra of “autonomy.”

How should I feel compassion for Baptist leaders who have so radicalized the Baptist doctrine of church autonomy that they refuse to facilitate the cooperation of churches for the ferreting out of clergy predators?

How should I feel compassion for Baptist leaders who persistently turn a blind eye in the face of such monstrous ministerial deeds?

This is something I struggle with.

I often think that Baptist leaders just can’t help themselves. Our stories remind them of parts of themselves that they don’t want to see. We remind them of their own failures, dark deeds and cover-ups. We remind them of a time, perhaps years ago, when they realized that a fellow-minister was engaged in “inappropriate behavior” with an underage teen, and rather than look into it too closely, they minimized it and allowed the perpetrator to move on to another church.

Once upon a time, they convinced themselves that this stuff wasn’t really such a big deal. They convinced themselves that the kid would forget about it. They convinced themselves that it was just a one-time aberration for the perpetrator and that he would never do it again. They may have even convinced themselves that they were doing the right thing by not hurting his career. Or perhaps they told themselves that the girl came from a “white trash” family. She must have brought it on herself. And besides, the minister said that they didn’t really “have sex” – he “just touched her a little.”

So it was really no big deal. Right? Right?

Oh sure. . . they were a little troubled by it at first. And they know they probably should have done more. But with all their self-convincings, they eventually grew comfortable with their failure.

They thought they left those memories of their failure behind . . . and now here we are. . . reminding them.

How dare we? How dare we disrupt their comfort?

They would rather shove all their cover-ups into a dark corner, and assume that it all turned out okay. But we’re the ones who bring them to the verge of seeing how they themselves were complicit with child molestation and child rape. And they don’t want to see that.

So, rather than owning up to their own past failures and working toward healing, they engage the easy devise of denial. And they choose to keep slamming the victims instead. It’s a lot easier than looking at themselves.

They take the easy road. And they take it with an air of confidence.

So many Baptist leaders seem so certain of their rightness in all that they do and say. I often look at them in wonder. How can anyone be so certain of themselves? Is their self-certainty authentic or is it just a mask? What must such self-certainty feel like? I can’t imagine. Were they born with that level of self-confidence or did they acquire it through years of watching others listen attentively while they stood in the pulpit? It’s a mystery to me.

But I don’t necessarily think their self-certainty is such a good thing.

I think it limits them.

They wear their religion as a sort of armor against uncertainty. But uncertainty is the nature of life. If you shield yourself too surely against it, then you shield yourself against life itself.

Their self-certainty separates them from humanity.

And for that loss -- a loss they probably don’t even see because they’re so armored up -- I feel compassion for them.

They have isolated themselves behind an illusion.

Men who are so certain they’re right are usually the very ones who act so wrong.

Meanwhile, clergy abuse survivors struggle to see the truth. We fail. We back-step. We stumble. We pry open our eyes. We force ourselves to see. And we keep struggling.


Because we know the importance of truth and the ease of deception that can rest in words of religion.

It’s a lot more than a lot of Baptist leaders know.


Unknown said...

"Because we know the importance of truth and the ease of deception that can rest in words of religion."

One sentence that says so much in so many ways. I just twittered that. :-)

Michelle said...

Oh, I just love Mary Oliver, and you used her words in a way that she'd be so proud of.

Anonymous said...

I was not a victim of clergy sex abuse, so I cannot begin to understand the hurt that so many experience from it. But as someone who detests that churches hide so much sin and abuse, I commend you for exposing the fact that clergy sex abuse happens in so many baptist churches. I am a baptist and I once knew someone who was a victim of it from her baptist church. Keep up the good work calling churches to repentance!