The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) just finished its big Annual Meeting. About 8100 Messengers showed up to what sounds like one of the worst three-ring-circuses the SBC has ever had. One of the primary agendas for the meeting–sorta–involved the denomination’s sex-abuse scandal. It’s hard to tell which is worse: the scandal as it is, or the SBC’s lack of interest in addressing that scandal in any meaningful way. Today, let me show you how the SBC treated the victims of that scandal at their 2019 Annual Meeting, and what that treatment shows about their priorities–and their future.
The Bell-End–er, Bellwether Denomination.
I focus on the SBC because, firstly, they represent the biggest clutch of white evangelicals around. Trends come to them a bit late sometimes, but they cling to them a bit longer. Where the SBC goes, therefore, the rest of the gaggle follows.
Secondly, they make (some) of their metrics and statistics available to the public. You can 100% bet your last dollar that, say, the United Pentecostal Church, International (UPCI) suffers from the exact same problems, infighting, and of course the same scandals. They simply don’t tend to release figures or have giant denominational meetings like the SBC does.
Thirdly, the SBC represents one of the most politicized groups around, with leaders who stand as some of the most deeply-embedded in our current president’s regime out of all their end of Christianity. Thus, keeping an eye on their antics seems like basic common sense to me.
(Fourthly, their willful ignorance, total and willful lack of self-awareness, and absolute and willful hypocrisy–and their evolution from the 1980s to now–kinda fascinates me. How could it not?)
“The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart.”
Of course, the 2019 Annual Meeting focused greatly on the SBC’s big sex-abuse scandal. Haha, never mind. Actually, they first focused on fighting the culture wars! Then they touched on the scandal briefly before plunging into the culture wars again.
Resolution #2 simpered about how eeeeeeeeeevil sex abuse is. (YA THINK?)
Then we get a bunch more culture-war brouhaha. #7 talks about “biblical justice,” which means whatever evangelicals want it to mean at any given moment. Then we get more resolutions confirming and drilling-down on the culture wars. #13, the last one, functions as a sort of simpering declaration of mutual admiration. YAY TEAM JESUS!
Even that one resolution about sex abuse, as per normal for the SBC, stops well short of demanding real changes be made by anybody. Nor does the resolution impose any real penalties on abusers or those covering up abuse.
SBC resolutions are exactly as binding as the messages scribbled in Sharpie pen in high-school yearbooks, except the SBC comes nowhere near that level of goodwill and sincerity.
Outside the convention, a group organized and demonstrated. Jules Woodson appeared with them. Last year, she publicly revealed that Memphis megapastor Andy Savage had assaulted her years ago. In the years between that assault and now, the SBC has steadfastly refused to change their response to abuse accusations.
Along with Ms. Woodson, Christa Brown appeared at the rally. Years ago, she started StopBaptistPredators.com, a website cataloguing accusations against Baptist sex abusers–which included her own abuse story.
The demonstrators demanded:
- the creation of a database of sex abusers in the SBC who have been caught or who have confessed
- that women to be shown more respect by men
- mandatory sex abuse training for all SBC ministers and aspiring ministers.
These demands represent some tall orders. But please remember them, cuz we’re circling back to ’em.
From the sound of the story, most of the attendees walked right past the demonstrators–which is likely exactly what the SBC had hoped would happen, as we’ll see in just a moment.
Captured on Our Get-A-Load-of-THIS-Guy-Cam.
One of the few who didn’t walk past was a pastor who stopped to listen. Then, he declared that he totally felt their pain: “I hurt, I bleed, I cry with you. Your pain is our pain. If you are hurting, we are hurting. It’s time for us to stand up with Bibles in our hands.”
This guy’s brain would break if he ever realized how little anybody cares if he hurts, bleeds, or cries with his denomination’s sex-abuse victims. They’ve heard that kind of rhetoric for years. Unless the speaker’s other hand contains a vote to give some teeth to the SBC’s stupid resolutions, these overdramatic expressions of man-pain over abuse victims’ very real pain means nothing whatsoever.
We’ll be talking soon about why so many complementarian men act like that around their leaders’ abuse victims. For now, I’ll just leave this here:
These displays function as carefully-concocted performance art offered in lieu of real action.
And for all that, the SBC couldn’t be arsed to do even that little as a group, but left it to individual members to display as they wished.
Aaaaand Preening Paternalism Inside.
More sex-abuse survivors appeared inside. The SBC oh-so-very-graciously allowed some of them to speak in various panels related to the scandal. These brave people relayed their stories and issued clarion calls for justice and tangible action.
Among those survivors, we found Beth Moore.
Beth Moore has been nipping lately at the heels of the SBC’s culture wars against women’s rights. As a popular writer and speaker, she aims her message at evangelical women. She’s preached to and written for women for her entire decades-long career. And like most of the women operating in similar positions, she is nowhere near as hardline as the SBC’s leaders would like.
Remember this past week, when I was talking about how the SBC’s entire Conservative Resurgence seemed like an overreaction to the inroads women were making in their group? Indeed, most of the modern SBC’s social structure seems centered around white male supremacy–and preserving that supremacy at all costs, against all comers. That right-wing takeover wasn’t about becoming more Jesus-y. It was about creating a completely patriarchal, misogynistic culture, then cloaking it in words like biblical to give it just enough of a veneer of credibility that their target audience would buy in and adopt it.
We’ll talk soon about why that veneer is already cracking. For now, just know that it’s taken a beating from the sex-abuse scandal–and from the popularity of female Christian leaders like Beth Moore.
What Beth Moore Did.
Recently, Beth Moore took solid aim at the SBC’s decades-old crackdown on female leadership. Specifically, she spoke out against Donald Trump and pushed back against complementarian restrictions on women “teaching” men or speaking from pulpits. Predictably, the hardliners in the group exploded. The fight soon migrated over to female leadership generally.
Since that exact squabble was the spark that ignited the SBC decades ago, obviously they plunged right into it.
However, Beth Moore is also an abuse survivor herself. Given her high status in evangelical women’s circles, that double threat makes her downright dangerous to the SBC’s leadership. She can speak to their organizational and ideological flaws like very few other people can. Moreover, she commands a demographic that is already poised to fly right out of the denomination’s hands.
Indeed, Beth Moore might well be one of the most influential women in evangelical Christianity right now. Out of all of them, she might also be one of the only female leaders around who can tackle the entrenched sexists leading her denomination. I think she knows it, too. Back in October she told The Atlantic, “The old way is over. . . The stakes are too high now.”
I think she meant complementarianism. I’d like to think that, anyway. She preached from an SBC pulpit on Mother’s Day this year–and she wasn’t the only woman doing so! Clearly she’s making some inroads–slowly, but still.
So it looks like the SBC felt obligated to play as nicely with her as they could, under the circumstances. They need women a lot more than women need the SBC.
The SBC: Doing As Little As Possible.
As much as they barely humored Beth Moore at their convention panel, the SBC’s leaders did as little as possible everywhere else–because they could afford to, with relative nobodies.
While Beth Moore spoke at a panel of sex-abuse survivors, the SBC refused even to allow those rally organizers into their space. The smarmy git presiding over the denomination, J.D. Greear, pretended to be thinking about inviting the rally into their convention hall. He dragged his feet for nine months, then suddenly decided not to allow them through the doors.
It seems that somehow, despite having nine months’ notice, the convention organizers simply couldn’t find enough room at the venue to include the rally’s participants. They’d already settled on exactly how much time and effort they were willing to devote to this issue, and such a gesture would have vastly exceeded both levels.
I mean, it’s not like what was happening inside was one-giant-leap-for-humankind or nothin’. Sure, it would have been a really gracious gesture, but today’s SBC ain’t about grace.
A Disturbing Display.
It is hard to put into words exactly how hugely disturbing this whole dog-and-pony show was for me to watch.
All of the survivors generally had the same very good ideas regarding how the SBC could meaningfully address their sex-abuse scandal. Unsurprisingly, their ideas all ran along the same lines as what the rally participants demanded.
Also unsurprisingly, all of these folks’ ideas ran along the same lines as the ones Christa Brown suggested years ago when she began her one-stop shopping site for Reasons to Totally Reject Fundagelicalism.
And I’m betting that those ideas sound eerily similar to any objections to complementarianism made by the 1900 churches who left the SBC during the Conservative Resurgence to create the slightly-more-progressive Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1990.
And the white male supremacists leading the SBC and speaking for all of its members pretended to be taking any of it seriously.
Most painfully, though, common patterns to so many of the abuse stories stood out quite clearly here–as they do with Catholics amid their child-rape scandal:
- a general pervasive lack of accountability–unsurprising, I suppose, given the SBC’s drumbeat focus on the idea of accountability
- objectification of women on a constant basis–all the way up to the top levels of leadership–so leaders don’t take abuse accusations seriously
- a culture of silence that demonizes and vilifies victims and leaps to the defense of accused abusers
- leaders who consistently care more about the denomination’s (or their individual churches’) image and their own reputations than about the welfare of abuse victims–or the protection of potential future victims
- a denomination that refuses to hand power only to the deserving–much less to remove power from those found undeserving of it
And you can bet that if the SBC’s top leaders had been able to completely ignore all of those abuse stories–and all of those survivors–then yes, they absolutely would have.
But they couldn’t.
Because of Beth Moore.
The Convergence of Factors.
In a way, one could see the SBC’s general response to Beth Moore as one of relief that she’s granted them such an easy avenue for distraction. Instead of taking on sex abuse with their full attention, and thus drawing even more attention to how little they’re really doing to address it, they can bellow in rage at her for daring to push back at them over female ordination and leadership.
What those bellowing, enraged misogynists don’t realize is gonna destroy them, if that’s all they see happening. But that appears to be exactly what’s happening. Know how I know? Remember the other day when I showed you Wade Burleson’s blog post about the two pastors’ conferences happening at once at the Jamboree this year, and how that’s never happened in modern SBC history before this year?
That other conference was titled “Mature Manhood in an Immature Age.”
It was about complementarianism–and how ickie those SBC hardliners think female leadership is.
Yeah, I suspect those hardliners are scared to death of what Beth Moore represents to them–both as a herald of their abuse scandal and as a harbinger of the potential end of their complementarian boys’ club sausage party.
Beth Moore might understand at a base level what her leaders wish their group’s female members would never see: leadership opportunities equal power and protection.
The flipside of that coin remains true as well: lack of leadership opportunities equals marginalization, which equals powerlessness. That powerlessness creates a subsequent huge potential for abuse by those in the dominant group.
The Attack of the “Godly Misogynists.”
Nobody will ever advocate for a marginalized group like someone from their own group can. That’s why, over here in Freedom Land, we think that the governed should possess a meaningful say in their own governance, and to have equal opportunities to represent their groups and local citizenry. A leader chosen from outside their group by those who aren’t even connected to them generally feels no particular compunction to represent them fairly and with only their best interests in mind. (That’s a big part of why the citizens of Washington, D.C. are so rightly angry about how Congress governs their district.)
Dominant groups routinely strip leadership opportunities from people they seek to control. Oppressors know that once they fully strip power from that group, very few others will dare speak up for them. It’s much easier to simply stomp harder on the marginalized and powerless than to convince the dominant group to change anything they’re doing. There’s no real difference in the dominant group’s minds between silence and peaceful assent. Either one works fine for them!
That’s why you almost never see fundagelicals talking about making their menfolk better husbands; instead, they froth and rage about no-fault divorce. Similarly, you never see Republicans making serious changes to their toxic message to gain the votes of women, young people, and people of color (POC); instead, they try their best to disenfranchise any groups they perceive as hostile to their political party.
Oppressors feel terrified of the idea of their victims gaining any tangible, meaningful power. They know what they’re doing with that kind of power, after all. The last thing they want is their victims suddenly wielding it against them.
What the SBC’s leaders fear most is real change.
They love how the denomination currently operates. And really, they should: it operates exactly to plans. They sit on their thrones and chortle in glee at the bright facades they’ve built. How pretty it all must seem to their childish eyes! How charmingly retro!
But those facades hide quite a lot of pain, injustice, and hypocrisy.
Literally the only way to make headway in ending the SBC’s sex-abuse scandal is to make meaningful changes to the dysfunctional culture their leaders painstakingly created in setting up their little kingdom.
That’s why the SBC won’t be ending that scandal anytime soon.
It blows my mind how the SBC’s top brass can even open their pie-holes to fart out platitudes about how super-duper-Jesus-y they are without getting struck by errant lightning. If any gods existed at all, I don’t see how they wouldn’t have a few things to say about this hopelessly-corrupt denomination and the system they put into place to benefit themselves literally at the expense of literally every single human being who isn’t literally them.
But here we are.
The leaders of the SBC would rather ride the fail-train all the way to the bottom than to do anything to protect the women they’ve carefully stripped of power and then oppressed for decades. They’d rather enjoy their last few years of absolute (and absolutely-corrupted) power than to do a single thing to whittle away at it. Even if doing so would stop disgusting sexual abuse of the people they claim power over, they won’t do it.
Yeah. Y’all. I’m with Beth Moore on this one. If SBC leaders disapprove so mightily of women like her–and like me–then really, that’s about as close to an endorsement of our decency as human beings as we could ever hope to have.
NEXT UP: Performance art, man-pain, and the people who (heartbreakingly) mistake it all for meaningful improvements and tangible change. See you soon!
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