Well, ain’t this nice. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) hasn’t yet released their 2018 Annual Report. But they did just announce a commission to address their raging problem with sexual scandals and abuses. Today, I’ll show you what they might be finally getting right on this topic, and what they are decidedly getting wrong. Lord Snow Presides over the SBC’s predictable response to its own self-created problems.
The SBC has a serious problem with sexual scandals and abuse. That’s simply a fact. In fact, this problem has existed for years. It’s a direct consequence of their disastrous policy of sexism-for-Jesus called complementarianism.
Southern Baptists introduced this policy during their Conservative Resurgence, which was a complete takeover of the denomination by ultra-hardline misogynists. They intended complementarianism to be an answer to the dangerous feminism threatening their male dominance–and it was. Indeed, the policy stopped dead in its tracks all progress by women in the organization. But it did richly reward the men in the group with quite a lot of power over women.
That policy also irrevocably turned the SBC into what I call a broken system. A broken system is one that has been taken over by predators and abusers, control-lusting despots and connivers. Whatever its original mission might have been, it becomes perverted at that point. Its members begin to focus single-mindedly upon growing and guarding their own personal power over others. In that process, they deal considerable damage to any victims they can.
A broken system isn’t necessarily short-lived. Some of these systems last for centuries! It means that the group can no longer fulfill its stated purpose. Instead, the group’s members now focus mainly on power–without a care for the very real people damaged by their quest.
Broken systems tend to work similarly. Once you spot one, you can spot others–and be on guard against their members and tactics. In particular, the powerful people in these groups tend to behave in predictable ways. One of their most predictable traits is that they will not do anything to jeopardize their personal power over others.
Consequently, the SBC has tried for years to avoid engaging with its rash of sexual scandals and abuse allegations. The chickens may be coming home to roost on that score. As Religion News Service points out, the past month alone has revealed some especially-serious accusations against SBC leaders and missionaries.
Avoiding the Obvious.
After the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC firmly joined the ranks of fundagelicals.
I use the term fundagelical to describe that unholy fusion of evangelicals with fundamentalists. (It’s not original to me. I saw it a while ago and instantly fell in love with it.) The combination mixes the very worst traits of both groups. One of their greatest triumphs involved re-framing their group’s huge systemic flaws as personal shortcomings. Basically, they ensured that members consider their overall beliefs both unassailable and too sacred to criticize. They followed up that teaching with another involving vicious, over-the-top retaliation against anybody who dares to question those beliefs. By now, fundagelicals in general can’t second-guess their group’s beliefs and social rules. They all know what happens to anyone who tries.
Nowadays, SBC leaders’ main task is ensuring that nobody makes any big changes to the group’s structure. Even the smallest and most healing of changes would almost certainly whittle away at the personal power of anybody in the declining denomination currently holding any.
When you look at how the SBC has responded to abuse and sex scandals in their ranks, you can see the sheer, white-knuckle desperation of its leaders to prevent this constant rash of stories of hypocrisy from leading to systemic change.
It’s why they have always opposed the notion of starting an abuse/predator database to track volunteers and ministers across churches. It’s also why they are only now beginning to acknowledge the severity of sexual scandals and abuse in their ranks–but only in a way that ensures that their power-holding members don’t lose any of their precious power over others.
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss. (SSDD)
J.D. Greear is the SBC’s new president. He’s strikingly young by the standards of the office. I suspect he’s selling himself to the SBC as someone who can fix their ever-growing evangelical churn problem.
One of his first actions as president has been to pretend to address his denomination’s equally-pressing hypocrisy problem. I say “pretend” because he gets one thing right in how he’s addressing it, but gets way more wrong. His efforts will almost certainly amount to no real changes getting made to the denomination.
Through the office of the SBC’s comically-and-tragically-misnamed Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC),1 Greear released a statement recently. He says the SBC will be forming a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group. The group won’t just be Southern Baptists; they’re also inviting “outside experts” to help them out.
We don’t know how how these “outside experts” will be selected. We also don’t know how many people in this group will be women, how many will be professional victim advocates, or how many will be SBC members who have suffered abuse. If those “outside experts” are the ersatz “counselors” in the ACBC, for example, they sure won’t get much good advice from their assembled group.
Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). It ain’t just a computing truth. But when a group dedicates itself solely to guarding and growing power over others, GIGO becomes a defense maneuver for them.
The Chickens Have Noticed That Foxes Guard Their Henhouse.
I suspect that the SBC’s members and leaders alike are starting to realize that their constant show of hypocrisy has some vast effects both on their bottom line and their credibility. We’ll talk more later about this point, because I think Christians tend to reverse the cart and horse on that whole process. For now, I’ll just chuckle over some of their leaders’ hand-wringing over what the denomination’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump and other regressive, ultraconservative fundagelical political candidates means for their credibility–and future.
In short, Southern Baptists seem vaguely aware that their credibility with non-members is at an all-time low. And they know that hypocrisy comes up often as a criticism of their denomination’s members and leaders.2 They also know that their response to these constant outbreaks of abuse and scandal is starting to seriously alienate their own members, prompting social media movements like #ChurchToo and #EmptyThePews.
Worse, the various victims of abuse in their denomination are beginning to talk–loudly and publicly–about their experiences. Worst of all, they also agitate for change–real change, not lip service to change.
Unfortunately, the powerful people in their denomination only want to offer lip service to its serious, pressing problems.
A Systemic Problem, Framed as an Individual Failing.
The entire resolution frames sexual, spousal, and child abuse as individual failings–specifically, as sins against their god. In fact, abuse is now “uniquely sinful.” That is 100% pushing the responsibility for the SBC’s grandest failures onto individuals. Absolutely nothing in the document indicates any understanding of the systemic issues that have brought the SBC to this pass, where scandals and abuse allegations erupt against even their top leaders on a constant basis.
Because the SBC frames such offenses as personal failings, they don’t have to use systemic measures to resolve them. Instead, they demand that people drill down on stuff that they already aren’t doing adequately–and put more of an onus on victims themselves to report their abuse to “civil authorities!”
It’s an astonishing and grotesque “resolution,” one designed to keep their privileged subgroups’ power exactly where it is right now. I’m amazed that Southern Baptists keep falling for this idiocy.
At the end of the resolution, we finally see a request for church leaders to “foster safe environments,” including “an obligation to implement policies and practices that protect against and confront any form of abuse.”
But without a mechanism in place to ensure these goals, and without very clear, unavoidable penalties for leaders who don’t do what has been resolved, it ain’t gonna happen.
Power protects its own, and it does not ever like to share.
What Russell Moore’s “Satanism” Crack Means.
On the ERLC post, Russell Moore added something that we really need to look at here.
He claimed the following (bracketed comments are, of course, mine):
Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core [no, they’re not], and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators [should be, but weirdly, Jesus isn’t helping there at all]. Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues [suuuuuuure they do]. We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches [but not the victims, of course] to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis [… except anything that’ll actually help fix things]. That’s exactly what an advisory council like this is able to do [if you repeat lies they don’t become true, there, Hoss], and I am eager [no, he’s not] to work alongside this group in any way possible to serve our churches [but not the victims] and minister to those in our pews who have suffered abuse [yes, because that ministering has done so, so, so much good in the past].
I want to add here that Satanists tend to be right front and center in defending the vulnerable against people exactly like the powerful men in charge of the SBC. They have an absolutely sterling reputation in terms of human rights and civil liberties.
Indeed, sexual assault and sexual abuse are actually quintessentially fundagelical to the core–not Satanic. Fundagelicals only wish that they could come close to emulating the superior ethics of their most-hated tribal enemies. Oh, they wish they could do as little harm and as much good as Satanists have done in just the past decade.
Russell Moore wants to position abuse and scandals as some kind of massive battle between Satan and Jesus. It’s nothing of the sort. But it’ll keep his flock of sheep thinking in the directions that benefit him the most.
I’ll add as well that we’ll know when SBC pastors really want to act to fix their problems. That’ll be the day they take determined, tangible action to stop it. But that’ll also curtail their own privileges and prerogative, so don’t hold your breath.
Russell Moore sure isn’t!
Why the SBC Can’t Actually Fix Their Problem.
I don’t know if the leaders of the SBC consciously know that fixing their serious problems will entail a serious loss of personal power, no. However, I do suspect they deeply dread and despise the changes they’d face in such an event. Institutionally-enshrined male privilege constitutes a huge part of the SBC identity by now. The leaders of the denomination even claim that their god personally told them to enact and maintain this policy.
They can’t walk it all back now.
If they do, they risk enraging and alienating their main fanboys: misogynists (and for that matter racists) who feel threatened and challenged by changes in modern society. But if they do, then there’s no promise that they will draw back the people who currently reject them and their ridiculous, one-sided system. Those fanboys will leave without a second glance backward to find extremist groups will coddle their injured senses of pride and privilege.
All those leaders can do is make pretendy noises about fixing the problem. If their mouth-noises fool enough of their critics, that’s great! Then nothing serious has to change. The fanboys will be happy, the critics will be happy, the leaders will be happy. Oh, sure, the abuse and scandals will continue to erupt, but hey, the women of the SBC can’t have everything.
Hell, they can’t even have something.
NEXT UP: Busy week, as always! The Unequally Yoked Club, evangelism, and the terrible marriage advice Christians get–it’s all coming up. See you soon!
2 Urban Dictionary has some good–and largely completely accurate–descriptions of the denomination. Remember, these are submitted and voted upon by users.
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat, who knew a lot more than he ever let on.