Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Truth and Reconciliation Needed in Baptistland

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, journalist Peter Beinart posed this piercing question: “Why, in recent days, has the American media focused so much more on Mandela’s capacity for reconciliation than his demand for truth?”

Beinart, who is also an associate professor at City University of New York, presented a possible answer: “Perhaps,” he said, “it’s because, all too often, America wants reconciliation without truth itself.”

I think Beinart may be on to something.

“Truth itself” can be terribly hard. It’s way easier to skip straight to the reconciliation part.

Certainly, we have seen this pattern in Baptistland, where religious leaders are fast to preach on forgiveness but disinterested in the truth about clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.

Indeed, in America’s largest Protestant faith group – the Southern Baptist Convention – religious leaders are so disinterested in – or afraid of – the truth about the extent of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups that there doesn’t even exist the possibility of a denominational process for assessing clergy abuse reports. Nor does there exist any denominational process for keeping records on how many abuse reports a minister may have, for informing congregations about multi-accused ministers, or for disciplining those clergy who cover-up for the unspeakable crimes of their colleagues.

One of the best ways to protect children in the future is to hear the voices of those who are attempting to tell about abuse in the past. Those voices almost always carry ugly, hard truths – truths about not only the preacher-predators but also about the many others who turned a blind eye or who were complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations.

Baptists need their own sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring the truth of these voices into an arena where they can be heard.

Those who have been victimized by clergy sex abuse are in desperate need of a safe place where they can tell their stories and be heard with respect and compassion. Those who have known about abusive clergy or who had reason to suspect, those who have been complicit in cover-ups, those who have engaged in intimidation tactics for the silencing of victims, and those who have followed the direction of senior pastors to keep such things within the church family – all of these people – are in need of a safe place where they may now tell what they know, express their remorse, and do what is still possible for making kids safer in the future.

Those parents who sit in pews and wonder about how many of their leaders may have been complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations – those parents also are in need. They need a credible outside resource to illuminate the truth for them – or at least as much of the truth as can possibly be ascertained.

So long as Baptists persist in trying to deal with clergy sex abuse “without truth,” kids in Baptist churches will not be made safer.

They will not be made safer by Baptists’ all-talk-no-action resolutions, and they will not be made safer by hollow pronouncements on the preciousness of children.

Rather, if kids in Baptist churches are to be made safer against clergy sex abuse, then Baptists everywhere must engage a sacred commitment to shared truth.

A faith so feeble that it fears the truth is no faith at all.
Some of my remarks in this posting were previously quoted by journalist Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal in an article called “Evangelicals urged to confront sexual abuse.”

Thanks to Frederick Clarkson for quoting extensively from this posting in his 12/10/2013 article titled "Child Sex Abuse Crisis of the Religious Right Grows."