Hi! Last time we met up, I showed you the news story that exposed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for what it is: a hopelessly-corrupt, self-serving, cowardly organization. “Abuse of Faith” has revealed that the SBC power structure allows abuse, protects abusers, and shamelessly protects itself at victims’ expense. That fact was apparently new to a lot of people! Today, let’s see what the hopelessly-corrupt, self-serving, and cowardly leader of this organization has been saying about the story.
(Mr. Captain: “So… Shots fired?” Me: “You damn’ right, shots fired.”)
J.D. Greear: OMG! WE’LL GET RIGHT ON IT!
In it, he declared that he’d only “recently” found out about the Houston Chronicle writeup. A writer for that paper confirmed that assertion, saying they’d “reached out to Greear’s camp on Jan. 7.” Around mid-January, the writer says, they provided Greear’s people with some information they’d discovered, such as them turning up some 700 victims of sex abuse.
In essence, J.D. Greear has known about the broad strokes of this investigation for over a month, and about the specific number of victims for almost a month. He’s known about much of the abuse for much longer–Al Mohler, one of the SBC’s top lickspittles, wrote about being SHOCKED, YES SHOCKED about the pervasiveness of abuse in SBC churches some nine months ago. Greear released an essay about how he totally planned to fix the SBC’s misogyny problem shortly afterward. This essay functioned as a sort of response to overwhelming calls for reform. As expected, those reforms–weak and impotent as they would have been–have largely gone forgotten since then.
But okay, sure, fine. Let’s all pretend that J.D. Greear only found out about the vast extent of sex abuse when these journalists contacted him in early January.
Let’s see what he did when he found out about it.
How J.D. Greear GOT RIGHT ON IT.
Moving backwards through his blog, in early February, we discover some tweets about the World Cup and the anti-abortion culture war. Greear also made sure to advertise upcoming SBC events and glowingly endorse a Christian woman’s statement about cleanliness and tidiness in the home being secondary to “being owned forever by God.”
In late January, he chit-chatted about his sermons and guest speakers and talked about racism and “white privilege.” He released a deepity about the difference between spenders, savers, and “stewards.” Of course, he spent a lot of time clutching his well-worn clutchin’ pearls about the New York abortion bill that protects women’s rights.
In mid-January, we arrive at the time when he would have learned of 700 sex-abuse victims in his denomination. He tweeted about ZOMG CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION. On January 14, he mentioned an SBC statement regarding something called the Presidential Study on Sexual Abuse. (The “president” in the title refers to Greear himself). The statement talks about the Catholic sex-abuse scandal and a December Star-Telegram story about growing numbers of sex-abuse reports from independent Baptist churches, which aren’t any part of the SBC. The statement says, in part,
We grieve over the stories we have heard. Because this is an evil with far-reaching devastation, and because we realize it can also happen within Southern Baptist churches, we knew we needed to take action. So, we have undertaken the Presidential Study on Sexual Abuse to address this issue with humility, seriousness, and gospel courage.
Oh, can it? Can it really, now?
Cuz by then Greear already knew that two newspapers had embarked on a deep-dive investigation into the SBC.
The early-January tweets all center around Jesusing super-hard.
His Blog Sure GOT RIGHT ON IT.
His official blog, over on his official site, doesn’t look any better. He blathers about the anti-abortion culture war and racism a lot, but mostly talks about Jesusing harder. In the same rough timeframe, I spotted a couple different posts seeking to encourage Southern Baptists to give till it hurts.
A February 1 post by someone who isn’t Greear offers a single paragraph about an essay at The Gospel Coalition (TGC) about “why abuse victims stay silent,” before immediately offering a funny joke about “sparking joy” in a section called “On the Lighter Side.” I’m guessing nobody thought to tell Greear’s people that this progression of topics might look insensitive.
Greear himself wrote a post on January 30 called “Two Ways to Suppress the Truth.” One way involves Christians who care about stuff he doesn’t care about, which in Bizarro Christian Land becomes idolatry. The other way involves atheism. See, all atheists all totally secretly believe in his imaginary friend, but “they don’t want to admit [that they’re accountable to that imaginary friend] to themselves, so they convince themselves that there is no God.”
Yeah. He’s JUST SO GOOD at listening to the people the SBC victimizes, y’all! /s
So he managed to abuse tons of people with SBC-sanctioned lies, battle the culture wars nonstop, and keep entrenched, systemic racism and sexism on the menu for his good-ole-boys’ clubhouse. But of sex abuse victims, one paragraph–and that, not even written by his hand–leavened immediately by linking to another site’s joke about housecleaning.
Yep, J.D. Greear’s “recent” knowledge of pervasive SBC sex abuse sure sparked his instant and unequivocal response!
Finally, A Wild Relevant Post Appears.
Yesterday, Greear and a sub-pastor of his, Brad Hambrick, published a post directly addressing the “Abuse of Faith” story.
Remember, at this point he has literally known about the broad strokes of this investigation for a solid month.
In a way, Greear’s post functions grandly as a good reason not to take seriously anything evangelical Christians say to sell themselves or their religion to others. He trips over his own two feet as he rushes to protect his beloved denomination from further damage.
For a start, Greear only briefly, obliquely mentions mandatory reporting and “justice” in points 4 and 5. But don’t imagine for a moment that he means justice by Reality-Land’s standards. He means the SBC’s redefinition of it.
I’d suggest that abuse victims contact the police as soon as they can, especially if the abuse happened recently and could qualify as sexual assault. Women in particular often feel unable to report abuse right away–especially if they’re enmeshed in toxic religious groups like the SBC.
If a high-up authority figure gave them permission to seek official help, it could go a long way toward ensuring that abusers get caught and held accountable. But Greear doesn’t give victims that permission. Instead, he subtly encourages them to wait to seek “justice.”
He provides a few hotline numbers, yes. But instead of linking to real psychological care, his therapy suggestions link to Brad Hambrick, a “Christian counselor” and fellow SBC leader (and the post’s co-writer) from his own megachurch. Worse, his “justice” link in point 5 goes to that same SBC guy—not to real authorities. Brad Hambrick does not have any real counseling training or education. He’s another made man like Ed Stetzer is, and he’s profiting from his close association with the SBC’s president. It’s reprehensible that Greear would engage in such blatant cronyism at this delicate time.
Yes, Yes, But What About the PASTORS?
Even worse, then he starts addressing the pastors of the SBC. Mainly, J.D. Greear wants them to “be patient with those who are understandably slow to trust.” He wants them to “remember that trust should not be an assumed entitlement.”
His finger-wagging comes off as monumentally misguided at best, and creepy and gross at worst.
Very possibly, Greear intends this part of the post to reassure the SBC’s many victims that they can expect support, love, and help from their pastors. He can point to this post and say I told them to be nice when victims come to them! But the effort backfires spectacularly when one considers what he accidentally slipped here:
If the SBC’s leaders actually possessed the capacity for dealing compassionately with abuse victims, this whole scandal wouldn’t have gotten an inch off the ground. Instead, now their top dog has to remind them to be compassionate when they get confronted by clear evidence that their denomination has failed utterly to protect anybody. He must also give these leaders pointers in how to respond.
The leaders of the SBC have neither the training nor the inclination to put victims ahead of abusers, any more than they’re capable of advocating for the powerless instead of guarding the interests of the powerful. And scolding won’t make that reality change–not one iota.
Not even Greear himself can manage the trick.
Just ask the atheists he smears all the time!
What’s At Stake.
Early on, evangelical Christians redefined a bunch of words to give themselves permission to mistreat people. The more power is at stake, the more horrific the deeds are that evangelicals will do–and more, and worse–to get their hands on it.
In their hands, hatred and cruelty became love. They allowed naked self-interest to decide what actions were acceptable to their god. Then, to maintain the power structures that benefit themselves so grandly, they sliced away their victims’ reactions from their worldview. Thus, they can act without any concerns about how their behavior makes others feel.
As a result of this many-decades-long campaign to construct and maintain an insular bubble for themselves, Greear’s tribemates literally have no idea how to behave in a loving, empathetic, compassionate way toward abuse victims.
Originally, all of this careful bubble construction occurred to facilitate their culture wars. Normally, compassionate people recoil away from treating people the way culture-warriors treat their enemies. We couldn’t do that stuff to our worst enemies. Polarized, politicized leaders had to scorch that compassion right out of their followers.
What I describe is the working dynamic for an authoritarian system. And in this case, the SBC’s leaders succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They’ve constructed a dreamland for abusers and predators–and then handed these wolves the keys to the sheepfold.
Why Abuse Inevitably Follows Authoritarian Systems.
But it turns out that people whose compassion has been scorched out don’t draw lines at mistreating people. Anybody becomes fair game, if those scorched-hearted folks think they can get away with it. All that matters to them is this: Will abusing this person blow back at me–or not? If not, then that person appears on the abuse menu.
You can’t peel rights away from people without exposing those people to abuse from the group doing the peeling. There’s no loving way to disenfranchise anybody. The Republic of Gilead is the only end-run of authoritarianism. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ can’t have their Republic of Gilead without all of the abuses that always show up in such systems. “Jesus” won’t make their authoritarianism the kindhearted, compassionate, loving one that everybody marvels at. And in that dystopian world, the rulers of Gilead will always be the bad guys that all good people must oppose in order to be able to look at themselves in the mirror in future days.
So if the SBC’s pastors behave like tin-pot dictators, a little post from their president–one who will only serve another year, mind–won’t change a thing. He demands that Gilead’s future rulers be nicer to their oppressed serfs. But flexing power against those serfs is why a good many of them chased after their current positions in the first place.
And I think Greear knows that he ain’t gonna change anything in his time as president. He’s been talking a big game about fixing the SBC for a year now. But what’s he actually done to improve anything? He’ll likely be voted out in another year, and a new president will take charge. And the merry-go-round will begin again, with the same music playing as it goes.1
When Ignoring It Couldn’t Work Anymore.
Greear’s fanbase adores him for making even this weak-sauce response, of course. They’ve thanked him for blathering his oh-guys-we’ll-totally-get-ON-this message. He did what his tribe does best in a crisis: he ensured that people think he’s going to fix everything, while ensuring that nothing at all changes.
But I wonder who’ll see through his charade. I sure don’t buy what he’s selling. Here, today, I’ve shown that he knew weeks ago about this report and the abuses contained within it–and he did nothing whatsoever about it till the outcry got so big that he couldn’t keep ignoring it. Now that he absolutely can’t just ignore it, he’s keeping the focus on how totally sorry he is and how he’s totally going to fix this horrific problem that everybody has known about for decades.
If this report had never seen the light of day, you can bet the farm on this: J.D. Greear wouldn’t be out here today crying his oh-so-BROKEN-YAWL crocodile tears for his denomination’s victims. You can bet on this, too: His goal through this massive scandal is to get the SBC through it as intact and as unchanged as possible. His focus will be on maintaining the SBC’s laser-lock on the culture wars.
And if those victims get too much in the way of his goal and his focus, you’ll see very quickly how easy it’ll be for him to push them right over the ledge.
NEXT UP: The SBC continues to circle the wagons. We’ve seen this response before on this blog. We’ll see why it’s such a common response–next time. See you soon!
1 The Renaissance Florentines constructed a government for themselves much like this. Foreigners in particular complained constantly about it. Leaders came into power so briefly, and so many governmental groups rotated representatives so constantly, that absolutely nothing got done. Anybody voted into power who actually wanted to accomplish anything tangible soon discovered that endless bickering and dithering was the order for the day in that government. But a few people at the time noted that at least it kept the Florentines out of serious trouble. “Nothing” beat “something disastrous” every time. The Florentines also relied very heavily on patronage. I wonder if J.D. Greear is a history nerd. (Back to the post!)
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