Saturday, June 12, 2010

Basically no one

A reader recently answered the question of my prior posting: “Among Baptists, who will give a hoot?”

The answer: “Basically no one.”

Of course, he didn’t realize he was answering the “who gives a hoot” question. He thought he was explaining Baptist polity to me. His answer came in a comment under one of my postings about the murder trial of Southern Baptist preacher Matt Baker.

Remember Matt Baker? He’s the Baptist preacher who, despite multiple reports of sexual assault and abuse, continued to move through a slew of schools, churches and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. No one stopped him. There was “basically no one” who cared enough to track the allegations, assess the allegations, or inform others about the allegations.

Ultimately, it took a murder for people to find out about the long history of abuse allegations against this Baptist pastor. At the start of the murder trial, prosecutors said they had evidence of 13 abuse and assault reports, including 4 that involved minors, and investigators said Baker had spent years leading “a secret life as a sexual predator.”

My take on the story was that it shouldn’t take a murder for people in Baptist pews to find out that a Baptist pastor has multiple allegations of abuse and assault. It seemed particularly tragic to me because almost all of Baker’s jobs were in schools, churches and organizations affiliated with the exact same umbrella organization -- the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Wouldn’t you think that there should have been some way for this Baptist umbrella organization to monitor abuse allegations and inform people?

That’s what I thought.

But the reader who made the “basically no one” comment thought otherwise. Here’s what he wrote:

“Obviously this is a tragedy, however it's extremely near sighted to blame the BGCT for the work of one individual. Perhaps a better understanding of Baptist polity would bring light to the situation. The BGCT isn't an episcopal organization- there is no mechanism in place, no chain of command to deal with such instances. . . . we Baptist's are no monarchy. Who exactly was this guy reporting to? In an organization that runs from a system of autonomy the answer is: basically no one.”

[Incidentally, as you might note, he made this anonymous comment 4 months after the posting. Baptistland seems to have a lot of these lily-livered poltroons who try to get the last word by skulking onto the blog with anonymous late comments. . . but I digress.]

So this guy thinks I’m “near-sighted” because, if only I understood Baptist polity, I’d realize that there is “basically no one” who can rein in these church-hopping preacher-predators or who can even warn people in the pews.

But he’s wrong in thinking our difference turns on an understanding of polity. Our difference turns on perspective.

I see quite clearly that there is “basically no one” in Baptistland who will do diddly-squat about reports of clergy sex abuse. The difference in our points of view is that he seems to think this is something for Baptists to be proud of, while I think it’s a travesty.

It’s as though Baptist preachers just thumb their nose and say “nanny nanny boo boo… we’re accountable to no one… it’s our religion.”

Isn’t that the worst of it? They use religion as an excuse for irresponsibility.

And they do it when what’s at stake is the safety of kids.

Personally, I expect that most parents in Baptist pews would probably place far greater value on protecting their kids against predators than on protecting the parameters of Baptist polity in precisely the manner that Baptist leaders proclaim it.

After all, every time a Baptist official turns his back on a clergy abuse report by pontificating about polity, he is increasing the probability that another kid will be sexually abused. That’s the near-sighted trade-off that Baptist officials are making.

They are choosing the protection of their own self-created, radicalized polity at the cost of kids’ safety against predators.

There is nothing theoretical about this. In a face-to-face conversation, a Texas Baptist official bluntly explained to me that “for Baptists, what we lose in safety, we gain in freedom.”

He obviously thought this was a fair trade-off. I don’t. I think it’s reckless and callous.

Besides, there is nothing contrary to Baptist polity in the notion of denominationally providing churches with information. It is only for Baptist officials’ own pontificated polity that it winds up being a problem . . . not for authentic Baptist polity.

In fact, for authentic Baptist polity, it would actually strengthen the power and freedom of local churches if they could have ready access to information about ministers.

The secrecy in Baptistland serves no one… except those with something to hide.


Jim said...

Christa, I am beyond tired of the official Baptist excuse that "local church autonomy" trumps the safety of women and children in "Baptistland." They keep records of numbers of baptisms, numbers in Sunday School, amount of offerings collected and monies given to missions. Those data are collected by regional Associations and State Conventions, organized into spreadsheets, published and routinely compared among churches. For one to believe that those same organizations cannot collect, collate and publish the names of clergy/church staff sex abusers, requires the suspense of all logical thinking.

Anonymous said...

hmm. grumble grumble snort. raising anger that i'm still working on releasing.

i get that life isn't fair and i'm ok with that. but dag gummmit, i'm sitll not ok with congregations ok'ing that crap.

/end rant/ thx for the blog, bookmarking for referring people to when needed.

Anonymous said...

Autonomy did not work for the congregations that allow homosexual members or women preachers. They get the boot by the SBC! And it is a swift kick!

So, I must conclude that Baptists believe that homosexuality is wrong but not the rape and molestation of children at church.

after all, one preacher, Steve Gaines, who coddled a pedophile minister on staff was invited to speak all over the SBC when it became public. Was he booted out? Of course not. He was promoted as a speaker!

Just following their logic.

Christa Brown said...

"He was promoted as a speaker!"

Was and still is. I think I saw where Steve Gaines is going to be one of the featured speakers this next week at the Southern Baptist brouhaha in Orlando.

Anonymous said...

Of course, this is my opinion and that's fine for those who disagree. I think SG is a pitiful speaker and preacher! "Mega men" don't have to know or live by the Bible anymore OR know how to preach intelligently!!! It amazes me that people accept so little from these guys but call them "great men of God!" Good grief!!!!!
The last time I had to sit thru a PP "sermon" it was about himself, his adventures in the wild,(probably a "mission" trip...wink,wink) and some good ol boy stories!!!It's just sad that these guys are guaranteed a high dollar spot on the docket if they are in the club!

Jeri said...

" there is no mechanism in place, no chain of command to deal with such instances. . . . we Baptist's are no monarchy. Who exactly was this guy reporting to? In an organization that runs from a system of autonomy the answer is: basically no one."

And that is what makes their form of church government unbiblical, disobedient to the intent of Scripture, and outrageously unsafe.

jim said...

The "mechanism" to identify, expose and track Southern Baptist clergy sex offenders is in place. It is simply not being utilized. The mechanism is the Association and State Convention reporting systems.
It ain't rocket science; it just takes a desire to protect women and children more than church reputations and Cooperative Program "profits." Local church autonomy was abandoned by the SBC years ago. Anyone who believes the "their form of church government" is devoid of hierarchy knows little of contemporary Baptist ecclesiology.

Christa Brown said...

"The mechanism is the Association and State Convention reporting systems."

Nope. "There is no mechanism." The anonymous commenter got that part right. The few state conventions that purport to have "reporting systems" will accept reports only from church officials and not from mere victims of abuse. So as a practical matter, the victims still have nowhere safe to turn. And of course, if a victim goes to the local church, we know what happens in the real world: A church almost never reports its own minister. Furthermore, even in the extremely rare case when church officials do report the minister to the state convention, the information just sits in a closed file cabinet. There is no "mechanism" for assuring that information reaches people in the pews.

"Anyone who believes the 'their form of church government' is devoid of hierarchy knows little of contemporary Baptist ecclesiology."

You're absolutely right on this. Despite all that they say, the reality is that Baptists function in a hierarchical manner.

"It ain't rocket science."

I definitely agree with you on THAT! Baptists are so far behind the curve that they've got plenty of models from other faith groups that they could adapt. They don't have to reinvent the wheel. They just have to step up to the plate.

Christa Brown said...

Re Steve Gaines ... Here's a link showing him as a featured speaker at the SBC's June 2010 Pastors' Conference. Thus, Southern Baptist leaders STILL continue to promote Gaines, despite the well-known and widely-publicized fact that he kept quiet about an admitted clergy child molester on his ministerial staff at Bellevue Baptist in Cordova, TN. In doing so, not only do Baptist leaders send the message that clergy abuse cover-ups are no big deal, but they actually send the message that such cover-up conduct will be REWARDED.

I also can't help but notice that Andy Stanley is another speaker. In an online sermon, my own perpetrator claimed that he was friends with Andy Stanley, and since he was children's minister for many years at FBC-Atlanta (where Charles Stanley is pastor), that's probably true. But despite the fact that this guy had a substantiated report of child sex abuse at a church in Texas, and despite the fact that he was in the BGCT's list of "known offenders," I never saw that anyone at FBC-Atlanta took any steps to warn people in the pews or to reach out to others who may have been wounded. Nope. It's still another example of how, at even the highest levels, Baptist leaders work to keep-it-quiet about clergy sex abuse and to protect their cronies.

Anonymous said...

I used to be an independent Baptist pastor / missionary. I left when my level of dissonance became to great. Being free of religion has been the best thing for me and my family.