Above Reproach: What Jesus Isn’t Telling the SBC

Above Reproach: What Jesus Isn’t Telling the SBC May 16, 2019

Hi and welcome back! Last time, we looked at the biggest broken promise Christians make about their religion. That promise involves love. Today, we examine a similar broken promise. This time, the promise centers around the supposed two-way communication Christians claim to experience with their god. A bunch of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ accidentally revealed that reindeer game recently with a study called Above Reproach. Today, I’m going to show you just how bad this situation looks for them.

(Scott Rodgerson.)

The Promise…

Me personally, this promise holds no appeal at all. But to Christians of almost all stripes, it draws them like moths to flame. In short, I speak here of nothing less than a solid assurance that a real live god is standing by to receive their calls–and to answer them in turn.

Of all Christians, evangelicals take this idea to its furthest–and most literal–heights. Over at Got Questions, a popular evangelical apologetics site, we find this page about prayer. On it, we learn that why yes, the Christian god totally communicates all the time with Christians. He tells them when they’re “sinning,” which is to say doing something he dislikes, and steers them toward “all truth,” whatever that means to them on any given day. The page writers also regurgitate all the usual talking points about the power of prayer.

So yes. Most of these Christians think they talk to a real live god–and that this god often answers them in kind. Sometimes they insist they sorta-kinda hear his voice; at other times they fall back to the timeworn still small voice in their hearts to describe it. And at still other times, they rely on very pagan-feeling signs and portents (which some of ’em call setting out a fleece; Biff was BIG on this phrase) to tell them what their god wants of them right then.

… Broken Right Out of the Gate.

When Christians can’t even pretend that their god is talking back to them, they try to figure out why. After all, this two-way communication is a long-standing and venerable claim in the religion.

Often in their flailing, they land on the notion that he is “testing” them for some reason. Once they have passed his Mean Girls-esque loyalty test, then he’ll start returning their texts again instead of leaving them on read.

Christians who go this route get mad at non-Christians who point out that “the silent treatment” is a form of emotional abuse. But that is exactly what this kind of test is. Narcissists in particular like inflicting punitive silence on their victims, who in turn break themselves trying to figure out what they did wrong.

Of course, there is literally always a way to blame Christians for their shortcomings rather than their grievously inadequate message. In this case, the other usual explanation for divine silence (or a failed interpretation of divine will) is some sinful urge or speck of doubt in the person doing the praying. If the praying person successfully dodges that accusation, then the accusation falls upon someone around them.

This blame-game also fails the smell test, since in Christianity literally everybody is considered a flawed sinner. Evangelicals in particular tend to believe that absolutely nothing they can do to improve or purify themselves really impresses their god.

Answering Important Questions. Or Not.

That said, most of them think that their god definitely communicates with them about stuff that is important. If they pray to ask something really important to themselves, like who they should marry or what to do for a living, they think their god answers. Definitely, their god wants to keep them away from sinful ideas and plans, as well as bless them with good fortune when they’re obedient little sheep.

And that leaves Christians with a serious problem.

You see, it is abundantly clear that their god does nothing of the sort–not even when the help being requested centers on ensuring the physical safety of the most vulnerable members of their flocks.

If the strikingly-high divorce rate of evangelicals didn’t clue anybody in about that point, then the copious scandals erupting nonstop out of Christian churches definitely should.

In fact, that’s kinda where we find ourselves today.

Church Ordination Study Reveals Glaring Problems.

Remember that huge, widespread abuse scandal erupting in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)? As a result of that scandal, the SBC’s leaders immediately addressed it in their usual way. In other words, they formed committees and vowed to perform surveys and studies about the topic. Oh, and their top leaders cried a whole bunch of crocodile tears.

SBC leaders deployed these tactics to distract the flocks from asking any serious questions about their broken system. Most of all, those leaders want to make sure that that system won’t change overmuch. After all, nobody in power in a broken system wants to see any big changes made to the system that’s benefited them so much.

One of those delaying tactics involved an extensive study of exactly how all these abuse-riddled churches choose their pastors. J.D. Greear’s task forces finished their study on the topic, so he presented their findings the other day.

AMAZINGLY,

STUNNINGLY,

SHOCKINGLY,

This study discovered that churches aren’t doing enough much at all to keep abusers out of their top leadership positions.

“Above Reproach,” And Other Hilarious Christian Jokes.

The sheer self-serving nature of this report, “Above Reproach,” surprises even me. It’s 40 pages long, and one solid page consists of Bible verses about how thuper-duper important it is for church leaders to be, well, above reproach–plus a blurb from the SBC’s operating rules about how important it is for churches to be choosy about who they ordain.

In its introduction, the report writers begin, “Southern Baptists, we have a problem.”

OH. YOU DON’T SAY.

See, SBC member churches don’t follow any particular standardized ruleset in selecting pastors (or any other staffers). Al Mohler calls the situation “lackadaisical.” Thom Rainer says it’s “so weak” that churches:

‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at the worst.

Another pastor’s comment sneaks in one of the SBC’s new current favorite meaningless buzzwords, intentional, by saying that churches need to be “a lot more intentional on this effort.”

O RLY?

The Study Itself.

As you can imagine, this study suffers from the usual problems we encounter in evangelical-created, -led, and -funded efforts. We’ve discussed those shortcomings at such length lately that I’ll just leave it at that. This is more of the same dreck. We cannot trust this study to be rigorous or completely accurate at capturing the reality on the ground in SBC churches. At best, this study represents a general trend, if that, and it’s going to garner aspirational or shamefully-altered answers to its questions.

Even so, it’s a damning report.

We learn from it that most churches utilize ordination councils to hire their pastors. In essence, these councils are simply hiring committees. Usually, they’re made up of the most powerful members of the church–often deacons and sub-ministry leaders along with the wealthiest donors of the church.

These councils make the call for resumes, evaluate them, interview prospects, and then decide upon the final hiring call. So naturally, the study focuses on these councils: their composition, their techniques, and how successful they are at finding a good pastor for their churches.

The Quality of Composition.

Most of these councils have at least a couple of ordained pastors participating in the hiring search. (Deacons often participate in these councils, but deacons aren’t pastors; their duties don’t usually come anywhere near that level.)

Ideally, these councils comprise at least six ordained active or retired pastors. These pastors help select a church’s next pastor. Generally, they come from multiple local churches. Indeed, almost no churches had zero ordained pastors helping with hiring. They almost all had at least one on board. (Also, the SBC study found that a church’s size did not determine how likely it was to have six or more ordained pastors on their hiring committee. I found that interesting.)

However, the study discovered that in the past 20 years, as evangelical churches have begun losing both credibility and members (and thus income!), the number of councils containing 6+ ordained pastors has shrunk precipitously. The number of councils containing that many pastors has shrunk from 66.7% of them to 31.3%.

WAY to demonstrate yer priorities there, guys.

Asking About “Sexual Purity.”

(Ignite your cringe engines now. We’re going into overdrive shortly.)

The SBC study creators really loved this bit:

More churches are asking pastors about their “sexual purity” than did in years past.

Seriously.

They’ve made a table of the topics hiring councils discussed in interviews. As we’d expect, PR-sensitive megachurches were more likely (45%) to ask about “sexual purity” than smaller churches were (25-35%), but generally speaking about 40% of hiring committees overall brought up that topic.

Meanwhile, damned near 100% of all hiring committees wanted to hear the candidate’s “salvation testimony” and about his (let’s face it–probably “his”) “call to ministry” (that’s Christianese for how sure he is that he wants to be a pastor, expressed as Jesus-flavored). Generally speaking, of all the topics these committees raised to candidates, “sexual purity” was the least often mentioned of them all.

(Source: Above Reproach, page 18.) Wait, I wonder if this means they’re asking about n-counts?

They’d ask about how supportive the candidate’s wife was long before asking about his sexual background. Something about those out-of-whack priorities makes me snerk and sigh all at once.

And remember: the SBC leaders think that this is a solid-gold WIN that literally ANY of their churches ask about “sexual purity.”

It’s like they think a sexual predator is going to answer them honestly anyway.

But Hey Y’all, Let’s Not Waste All Dang Day Here.

This study discovered some other very telling aspects of SBC hiring practices. For example, look at this graph:

(Source, page 19.) OMG. WHAT.

Some 90% of hiring councils met one time and almost a third of those meetings lasted less than one hour. Only 10% of the councils met more than once to hire their churches’ leaders! Worse, over the last couple of decades the percentage of long meets dropped, while the percentage of shorter ones rose.

Also, the study surveyed respondents about how often they scheduled their one meeting on the same day they ordained their winner winner chicken dinner.

More than half did exactly this, and that percentage hasn’t changed a whole lot over time. In fact, a few of ’em ordain their new pastor before holding the council meeting confirming his hiring. Rural churches were way more likely to do this same-day stuff, probably because of how hard it is to get everybody in one place for the meeting.

The whole situation smacks of “rubber-stamping,” as the study report puts it.

And well, I can’t argue with ’em there.

That’s exactly what it seems like.

Can’t Be TOO Choosy, Now.

I have to admit, little of this report surprised me. The SBC isn’t too far away from the United Pentecostal Church, International (UPCI) that I attended.

We learn that dang near a quarter of hired pastors have been Christian for fewer than 11 years, that about half of them haven’t ever been pastors before then or even been licensed by anybody official to be pastors, and that most of the hired pastors were set to lead their own home churches (and thus were selected from their own congregations).

About 2/3 of them had no formal training at all to be pastors (and about 60% of SBC churches currently require no such training). As we likely expect, rural churches were vastly more likely to require no training from pastors. Megachurches and urban churches, which usually enjoy larger congregations and more money to play with, generally had higher standards.

Dishearteningly, just over half of SBC churches require background checks of pastoral candidates. And again, small and rural churches are the least likely to conduct them (about 25%-37% of ’em, vs. 65% of urban churches).

Once they hire someone, about 44% of the hiring councils conduct no follow-up interviews at all. Hey, that Luby’s won’t be open all day. GET IT IN GEAR, Y’ALL. We gotta GOOOOOOOOOOOOO. BAPTISTS, START YOUR ENGINES!

The Big Picture.

Ugh.

Just ugh.

The picture emerging from this study, as lackluster as it is, should rightly alarm Southern Baptists. It does not differ overmuch from what I personally saw going on in the UPCI 25+ years ago, either.

Predators would find it incredibly easy to get into a position of powerful leadership in fundagelical churches. Even the most authoritarian of them are incredibly lax about exactly who ends up in power–as long as they can say the right things. Remember how I’m always talking about how untrustworthy Christian testimonies are? Look at that one table about how many church hiring committees ask about candidates’ testimonies. Almost 100% do. But very few ask any hard questions about candidates’ sexual pasts–or conduct background checks that are a bit harder to fudge.

Rural and smaller churches don’t have a lot of money to throw at a new pastor. Consequently, they tend to take whoever they can who’s willing to work for the paycheck they can afford to offer–and to ask the fewest important questions about those hires.

Once an abusive person gets into a pastor position at one of these more-desperate churches, he’s in. It’ll be that much easier for him to rise up through the ranks once he’s got his foot in the door. He can progress all the way up to a megachurch, if he plays his cards right.

And because of the power dynamics in place in these super-authoritarian church groups, abusers can count on their wrongdoing to remain behind themselves with every upward step they take.

And We Gotta Ask.

You can’t tell me these hiring committees don’t squinch up their preacher eyebrows and moan and mutter at the ceiling for at least a few minutes before making their decisions so they can light out to Golden Corral. You can’t, cuz I won’t believe it. These nutjobs pray before deciding what fast-food restaurant to eat lunch at. They definitely pray before making super-important hiring decisions for their churches.

So, um, hey. Quick Q-wittle-westion-lette here. Just one. Promise. This:

Why is Jesus not tipping these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ off about the potential predators sitting in their interview chairs?

Surely not all of these committee members are facing divine tests of their loyalty. Surely at least a few of them pass all the asterisked conditions required for two-way communication. They can’t seriously think we’ve forgotten their second-biggest claim as Christians: that their god talks to them and helps them in ways that non-Christians just can’t access.

Obligatory.

Even if their god needs to issue them high-school-mentality “tests” to figure out just how dedicated they are as his stans, cuz even in his omnipotence he apparently doesn’t know that, it’s impossible to accept that he’s happy to allow his most fervent followers to allow a wolf into their sheepfolds. Seriously, the sheer number of totally contradictory claims here break my brainpan:

  • an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god…
  • … who embodies perfectly the qualities of justice, love, and compassion…
  • … who considers his followers to be his children…
  • … with whom he literally communicates constantly and helps out constantly in the real world…
  • But y’all, he just can’t figure out how to warn them about sexual predators applying for pastor gigs in the groups dedicated to his worship and service.
Also, he’s suuuuuper-bad with money.

Sorry, but I’m not buying what they’re selling. I’m not picking up what they’re putting down. I’m not.

And I can’t help but think that fewer and fewer other folks are either.

Oopsiedoodleboodle.

The SBC’s done nothing less with this report (and J.D. Greear’s pathetic speech around it, ugh twice there!) than concede that no gods are helping them hire safe people for their churches. No gods help them protect the children and other vulnerable people in their congregations. Nothing divine informs their decisions or behavior.

Instead, they’ve got to run their churches like any other business. They’ve got to ensure that earthly protections and processes keep dangerous people out of their leadership ranks. And they must ensure that those same protections and processes hold their leaders accountable.

But they’d sooner gnaw their own ankles off than admit that.

Indeed, remember that pathetic speech I just mentioned? J.D. Greear’s studied response to this thoroughly damning report is to demand that member churches Jesus harder. Seriously. He didn’t even try to demand anything more than that. Committees needed to get more serious about the “sacred responsibility” they had to screen pastoral candidates.

JFC. What a coward.

What a thrice-damned coward.

Y’all, I think he’s just hoping to squeak out of his presidency on a good note.

I’m sure his potty-occupied god adores him though. They’re both apparently scared to death to do anything definitive to protect the people under them.

The final word. (Blame Artor. And don’t look up Goatse at work.)

NEXT UP: We look at yet another Christian who thinks he’s found a definitive list of persuasive sales points. I don’t know why, but I think these lists are hilarious. I hope you’ll like this one too! See you soon, friends… <3


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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