Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Baptists zealous on prison violence, paralyzed on clergy violence

In my March 29th post, I posed the question that Dee Miller asked over a decade ago:

“What is it that keeps people in the church zealous about confronting the evils of this world, yet paralyzed when confronted with the evils of violence in our own front yards?”

The next day, the Southern Baptist Convention provided a good illustration of the kind of duality that Dee was talking about. Writing for the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Doug Carlson published a column urging that the government should do more for the prevention of prison rapes. He requests that people submit comments to the U.S. Department of Justice as it considers standards for minimizing the incidence of sexual abuse in prisons and for providing assistance to those who have been abused.

"Protection from sexual violence” is “a basic human right,” he says.

I agree: Protection from sexual violence should be considered a basic human right. But what I don’t understand is why the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t advocate just as forcefully for the protection of kids in its own churches against the sexual violence of its own Baptist clergy predators.

Why is the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission so zealous about sexual violence in prisons when it remains so mute about sexual violence in Baptist churches?

The “basic human right” to be protected from sexual violence is a right that should also extend to kids in Southern Baptist churches. At a minimum, Baptist church kids deserve at least the same sorts of safeguards against clergy violence as what kids in other major faith groups get. Yet, Southern Baptists do not even provide a safe place to which victims of clergy violence may make a report.

The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission uses its Baptist-funded voice to urge that people should write to the U.S. Attorney General with this statement: “As a person of faith, I hold as sacred the basic right of all people, including those in custody, to be free from sexual abuse. . . . I believe some standards must be strengthened to better protect incarcerated adults and youth from abuse.”

Much the same could be said to the Southern Baptist Convention itself: “As a person of faith, I hold as sacred the basic right of all people, including kids in Baptist churches, to be free from sexual abuse . . . . I believe some standards must be implemented to better protect Baptist church kids from abuse.”

The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission complains that immigration detention facilities and military facilities are exempted from the federal standards for protection against prison violence. Yet, the Southern Baptist Convention exempts itself from the basic standards that other major faith groups now apply for protecting church kids against clergy violence. Worst of all, it uses religion as its rationalization, claiming that because local churches are autonomous, the denomination has no obligation concerning the clergy who carry forth the Southern Baptist brand.

So nonexistent is any denominational oversight for Southern Baptist clergy that, if a pastor isn’t sitting in prison, he can probably find a Baptist pulpit to stand in. There is no denominational system that would prevent him. Yet, experts recognize that less than 10 percent of child sex abuse cases can be criminally prosecuted.

Other major faith groups attempt to deal with this reality, and to prioritize the safety of congregants, by implementing internal denominational mechanisms for assessing clergy abuse reports and for assuring that credibly-accused clergy cannot easily church-hop. Southern Baptists don’t bother.

That’s why Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker was able to work as a chaplain at a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed youth, even though multiple reports of sexual abuse and assault had been lodged against him with various Baptist officials. There those kids were, confined in a treatment facility, and Baptists threw those kids a rattlesnake.

Where was the voice of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with respect to this travesty on their own Baptist turf? I heard nothing but a deafening silence.

Despite multiple reports of sexual assault and sexual abuse, Baptist officials sat silent while Matt Baker hopped from one church to another and another and another, with nary a consequence. It took the murder of a young woman, and the unrelenting perseverance of her mother, for people to finally learn the truth about Baptist pastor Matt Baker’s long history of abuse and violence.

Matt Baker personified the evil of violence in Baptists’ own front yard. Yet, despite multiple opportunities, Baptist officials were paralyzed in confronting it. To this day, they remain paralyzed. They have given no indication of having learned any lesson from that horrific tragedy. The do-nothing system remains the status-quo for dealing with sexual violence in Baptists’ own front yard.

Finally, ask yourself this: Why is it that Baptist officials have no problem with using the pooled dollars of autonomous churches to fund a commission that advocates for protections against prison violence, and yet Baptist officials refuse to use those same pooled dollars for funding a commission that could provide their own churches with information about credibly-accused Baptist clergy?

Why does the doctrine of local church autonomy preclude a cooperative effort toward addressing the evil in Baptists’ own front yard when it does not preclude a cooperative effort toward addressing the evil in other yards?


Related post: "More talk from Mr. So-called Ethics," 3/18/08


Anonymous said...

Christa Brown said...

The news story that Anon linked above involves a Southern Baptist pastor arrested on a child porn charge. I've got it posted as the current top headline on the StopBaptistPredators website, and several more news articles on it are here:
WREG news and video >
Commercial Appeal >
WMCTV news >

Anonymous said...

Christa, having been raised as a catholic and having been indoctrinated by the RCC system I am more familiar with that system's protection of abusers. Having said that I do respect your efforts toward outing the system of your upbringing.