Saturday, October 2, 2010

Independent Baptist Eddie Long

Kudos to BaptistPlanet for putting “Baptist” together with “Eddie Long” in the same headline: "Words still unspoken by Independent Baptist Eddie Long."

The name of Eddie Long’s 25,000 member Atlanta megachurch is New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. So it clearly carries the “Baptist” name.

Yet, most media stories on the Eddie Long scandal have minimized the “Baptist” connection.

If Eddie Long’s 25,000 member megachurch were called St. Mary’s Catholic Church, don’t you imagine that news articles would make mention of the “Catholic” connection?

True enough, Baptists may be a bit harder to get a handle on than Catholics because there are so many different kinds of Baptists, including independent Baptists. And Baptists argue even among themselves about which Baptists are the right Baptists.

But here’s the reality, almost anyone can call himself a “Baptist” preacher and build a “Baptist” church. And almost no one in Baptistland will say diddly-squat about it . . . until there’s a scandal. It’s only after there’s a scandal that other Baptists will say things like, “Oh, he’s not really part of us – he’s not a real Baptist.”

That loosey-goosey reality, in and of itself, is part of the problem in Baptistland.

Rather than dodging the “Baptist” part of the church’s identity, the media ought to be asking why it is so easy for a preacher to make use of the “Baptist” name. And when people see other Baptists trying to suddenly disclaim a scandal-plagued “Baptist” preacher as being “not a typical Baptist,” they should realize the weakness of the “Baptist” brand. It’s a name that can be attached to almost any preacher and any church.

And when something goes wrong, there is no one who will take responsibility or exercise oversight. As Baptist historian Timothy Weber once said, when things go wrong in Baptistland, “there is no there, out there.”

In 2002, renowned religion writer Terry Mattingly wrote one of the most concise explanations of Baptistland’s “no accountability” problem that I have ever seen. The headline for his column was “Where does the Baptist buck stop?” And the answer he gave was essentially this: Nowhere.

In Baptistland, the buck stops nowhere. And when the buck stops nowhere, no one takes responsibility and actually does anything.

Be sure to observe that, when Terry Mattingly talks about “why it will be hard for freewheeling and autonomous Protestant congregations to attack clergy sex abuse,” he uses Southern Baptist churches as the prime example. Why? Because when it comes to the lack of accountability and oversight, the denominationally-affiliated Southern Baptist churches are just as freewheeling and unaccountable as independent Baptist churches such as those of Eddie Long.

Kudos again to BaptistPlanet for plainly stating the “Baptist” connection in the Eddie Long story. It is only when people begin to see the patterns in these “Baptist” stories – patterns that Terry Mattingly wrote about in 2002 – that the problem may finally be responsibly addressed.

BaptistPlanet is written by “two prize-winning, veteran, mainstream daily newspaper and online journalists” who are both Southerners. These guys know the Baptist terrain, and they know what they’re talking about. They rightly identified Eddie Long as “Baptist."


Debbie Kaufman said...

He is definitely Baptist, Independent simply means he is not a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but he is definitely Baptist and as a Southern Baptist I say we had better be paying attention. It's interesting that none of the leaders said a thing about any of those involved in the Southern Baptist convention who molested kids, but Eddie Long is written about all over the Southern Baptist blogs by leaders. That is the height of hypocrisy and makes me wonder why none of those in the Southern Baptist Convention were mentioned. Well, actually I know why.

Laura said...

The convention (Southern Baptist anyways, can't speak for the rest of them) *will* drop churches if they are discovered to condone, preach, or do things outside of of the church's mission statement. Churches are autonomous, but the convention does have a certain amount of control. It's hard to explain. There ARE measures and some accountability when things go wrong, at least in the Southern Baptist Convention, but they aren't publicized. I was always taught that churches are autonomous, but they aren't really. And yes, anyone can build a "Baptist" church outside of any convention, so there is no accountability in those.

Christa Brown said...

"I was always taught that churches are autonomous, but they aren't really."

Southern Baptist officials have shown that they can intervene if a church designates a woman as senior pastor, or if a church has a deacon who is openly gay, or possibly if a church simply includes a statement on its website saying that the church welcomes gay people into its congregation. But if it's a problem of clergy sex abuse, there is no one in denominational leadership -- NO ONE -- who will intervene. It is exactly as Terry Mattingly described. When someone tries to report clergy sex abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention, "there is no there, out there." There is no one who will help. There is no one who will even keep a record of it. That's when Southern Baptist officials proclaim that "all churches are autonomous." (See my prior posting on "Denominational Double-talk.")

When it comes to clergy sex abuse, there is no system of accountability within the Southern Baptist Convention.

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