Monday, September 27, 2010

Power in partnerships

Frank Page, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, addressed the Committee last week and emphasized the importance of “partnerships” in Baptist life.

“Partners work alongside one another. They take care of one another,” said Page. “Without partnerships, it is a lost cause.”

These are nice-sounding words, but what about actually applying the "partnership" principle to the problem of clergy sex abuse in Baptist churches?

Will the Southern Baptist Convention “partner” with local churches to provide them with the resource of a professionally-trained review board for objectively assessing clergy abuse allegations?

Will the Southern Baptist Convention “partner” with local churches to provide them with information about ministers who have been credibly-accused of abuse?

We already know the answer to these questions, don’t we?

Southern Baptist leaders have rejected these possibilities for “partnering” with churches to help prevent predatory pastors from church-hopping.

Indeed, even when the churches’ “messengers” directed the Executive Committee to conduct a study on the creation of a denominational database of credibly-accused clergy, the Executive Committee never even set aside a budget for the study. In effect, they ignored the will of their “partners” – the local churches who send over $200 million per year to national headquarters.

Usually, having a “partnership” will mean that the “partners” share responsibility. But we already know that shared responsibility is not what Page has in mind when it comes to Baptist clergy sex abuse. Indeed, that seems to be exactly what denominational leaders don’t want.

Though Baptists are a faith group with a shared sense of identity, they remain a faith group with no shared sense of responsibility for the ministers who carry the “Baptist” name. When a person seeks to report a Baptist pastor for sexual abuse, denominational leaders close rank, wash their hands of the problem, and recite their “all churches are autonomous” line. They don’t talk about “partnering” then, do they?

Of course, I agree with Page when he says, “There is power in partnerships.” What I want is for Southern Baptist leaders to actually apply that concept within the context of clergy sex abuse.

Sadly, I doubt that we’re going to see that sort of “partnership” anytime soon in Baptist life. After all, Frank Page is the new CEO of this tentacular faith group, and Frank Page is the man who publicly castigated clergy rape and molestation survivors who speak out as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”

It was a shockingly hateful thing for a high religious leader to say. But Page has never uttered a word of apology.

Perhaps Page has now shown us some insight into why he would make such a hostile response to clergy abuse survivors.

In his recent talk about “partnerships,” Page explained his view of “partners” as being like two Greek soldiers paired together. “When the fighting got intense and even became hand-to-hand combat, one’s paraclete backed up to your back and you fought to the front and to the side, knowing that someone was behind you protecting that which you could not protect yourself.”

So, Page seems to take a sort of militaristic view of “partnering” . . . as though the primary purpose is to fend off attackers.

What about the more positive view of “partnering” that allows those who work together to step forward into new ventures that they couldn’t handle alone?

This is my hope for Southern Baptists – that they may find within themselves the faith and courage to step forward into a future in which denominational bodies will "partner" with churches to more effectively rid the ranks of clergy predators, to make churches into safer sanctuaries, and to minister to those who have been wounded.

I pray for the day when Baptist leaders like Frank Page will abandon their hostile perception of clergy sex abuse survivors, and will instead see that survivors bring a gift of truth. It is a difficult truth, but it is also a truth that carries the opportunity for change.

Clergy sex abuse survivors bring to Southern Baptists the opportunity to decide how they really want to live with respect to the power of their faith. Will Baptists continue to turn a denominational blind eye toward horrific abuses and cover-ups within the faith, or will they “partner” together for more effective accountability of those who carry the "Baptist" name as pastors?

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