The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) just had its big Annual Meeting this year. There, they featured three main messages. First, they registered dim awareness of the huge sex-abuse scandal engulfing their denomination. Second, they outlined their response to that scandal. And third, they drilled down harder than ever on their culture wars–and sent a firm message to those clamoring for changes. Today, let me show you how we know where their real priorities are, what their real message was, and why they had to send it.
The Scandal Heats Up.
Early this year, two Texas newspapers released a story called “Abuse of Faith.” It detailed the sex abuse scandal erupting in the SBC. Even more, it had the potential to do to the SBC what the Spotlight stories had done to the Catholic Church, and for the same reasons, and in the same ways.
In “Abuse of Faith,” hundreds of victims shared stories of abuse at the hands of many dozens of SBC church ministers. Those victims also openly discussed the many ways that the SBC’s biggest denominational leaders had tried to bury those stories, silence them, and pretend nothing bad was happening.
After the story broke, the SBC dithered about what to do. A few leaders cried copious crocodile tears, including J.D. Greear, their current denominational president. Clearly they all hoped it would just blow over. But it didn’t. It got worse and worse.
When Greear insisted on an “investigation” into some of the churches named in “Abuse of Faith,” the resulting circus farce only drew attention to the SBC’s shortcomings. (See endnotes. This one runs deep.)
Addressing a Scandal, Sort Of.
Having failed utterly to quell outrage, of course, the SBC’s top leaders now felt they had to say something about the scandal at their Annual Meeting. They couldn’t just ignore it.
But they sure came as close as they humanly could to it.
First: They passed a whole ONE RESOLUTION OUT OF THIRTEEN condemning sex abuse. The resolution contained no penalties for sex abusers or cover-up-happy denominational and church leaders. Nor did it contain a single definitive change to the way the SBC’s churches are set up.
Right now, this is a time for lament. It is a time for sorrow. It is a time for humility and brokenness.
Next time, we’ll be covering how he and his pals use man-pain to prevent change. But for now, I’ll just leave that quote here. Unfortunately, those survivors unfortunately took the panel’s existence to mean that the SBC intended to do anything definitive to prevent further abuse from happening to others.
(Greear blathered then: “The credibility of what we actually believe about the Gospel is at stake.” Oof. The Good Ship Credibility sailed quite some time ago–without the SBC. And we know exactly what he and his pals believe.)
Third: The SBC voted to amend its bylaws to allow them to kick out member churches over sex abuse. Here’s what that really means: If an accusation gets raised about a minister/worker in one of these churches, then the SBC’s Executive Committee (EC) springs into action by forming a special committee to examine that accusation. This special committee would “conduct inquiries,” not make actual investigations. If you saw the first endnote, you already know how absolutely pointless these committees are.
If this special committee finds that the church wasn’t taking the accusation seriously enough, whatever that means, then they “make a recommendation” to the EC about “whether the convention should be in fellowship with the church in question.”
GOSH, that all just sounds so definitive! How very BRAVE of the SBC to tackle their scandals so strongly!
A Symbol of the SBC’s General Take on Sex Abuse.
I can imagine no more potent symbol of exactly where the SBC’s leadership stands on sex abuse than this:
A subgroup called Baptist21 gave the pastor of The Village Church (TVC), Matt Chandler, some podium time at their #SBC2019 get-together.
Chandler’s address concerned accusations that he and TVC had grievously mishandled recent sex-abuse allegations against one of their youth ministers.
The TVC became an integral part of the Jordan Root scandal in 2015. Matt Chandler had to apologize for being “too domineering” toward a woman who reported her husband, a TVC missionary, for viewing child porn. See, she filed for an annulment, but Chandler and the rest of his pals over at TVC decided to butt in on that personal decision. Then, they decided to “discipline” her for ignoring their demands. Meanwhile, they protected her pedo ex 100%. Chandler only apologized because the story went completely viral.
Well, much the same thing happened this time. A woman named Christi Bragg accused a TVC youth minister of molesting her daughter. When she reported the abuse, she felt that Chandler and TVC cared more about protecting their reputations than about helping her daughter or doing something about the molester.
In fact, TVC and its leaders handled this scandal much like they had that earlier one.
They never warned the other families attending TVC about the pedo in their midst. They never apologized to Ms. Bragg for allowing such a terrible thing to happen. In lieu of anything like that, Chandler continued to give sermons about how evil church-affiliated sex abusers were and promising to love and care for any victims they heard about. And Ms. Bragg got to hear all that, knowing they’d done the complete opposite in the case of her daughter.
And now the SBC is giving this horrible pastor a microphone and time to defend his actions/inactions.
He insisted that gosh, they wanna do better, but y’all, dang man, gosh, they’re jus’ “an imperfect church with imperfect people.”
How meeeeeeeeean of everyone to expect any more from him!
But Wait. There’s More.
Wanna hear how this bit of the story gets even worse?
Cuz it does. (Doesn’t it always, with fundagelicals?)
Chandler performed that song-and-dance at a meeting of Baptist21. Like a lot of subgroups within the SBC, this one held its own little shindig during the big jamboree.
At that link, we discover that the molesting youth minister “was a family friend” of Chandler’s. Yay! More SBC cronyism! The Good Ol’ Boy Network shines again! Boy, the SBC’s biggest names sure do pick bad friends and mentors, don’t they? It’s the weirdest thing. Why doesn’t their imaginary wizard friend “Jesus” ever tip them off?
The scuzzbucket in question this time got fired, sure. But his church fired him for being drunk–not for molestation. Chandler claims he didn’t yet know about Ms. Bragg’s accusations at that point. Then he claims that he was never “trained in any of this,” meaning how to deal with sex-abuse accusations against his employees.So “Jesus” told this megachurch to hire Matt Chandler as its pastor, but apparently “Jesus” didn’t clue the hiring committee in to their star quarterback’s lack of essential training in releases.
But hey. It’s not like entire courses, resources, and books on exactly that topic exist–oh wait.
Here’s another wrinkle to consider:
Baptist21 functions as (obviously) a Southern Baptist subgroup. Just reading their biography page, you’d be hard-pressed to tell what exactly they do that the SBC itself doesn’t as a group in general.
Well, they really like the idea of evangelism, helping newbie churches and pastors succeed, and pushing ultraconservative fundagelicalism all the way.
The main difference between them and the regular SBC is that the members of Baptist21 tend to be young guns. So they’re the wave of the SBC’s future–the next big-name leaders.
And they don’t have a problem with giving a platform to a sexist creep like Matt Chandler to simper and preen onstage about his handling of his latest scandal.
Are Southern Baptists Listening?
I wish I could tell Southern Baptists this one thing, if it’d do any good: “When someone tells you who they are, listen to them.” Listen to what people do, not just what they say. When messages mismatch, that’s a big sign of dysfunction and should not be ignored.
With the denomination’s increasing polarization and focus on its culture wars, it’s getting harder and harder to find compassionate people in that group. Eventually, they’ll successfully drive all of those dissenters away from their banner. Oh, they’ll try hard to keep those people around, at least for the tithes and butts-in-seats boost to headcounts they provide. Inevitably, though, those folks will leave. On that fine day, the SBC’s biggest names will only passive-aggressively advise them not to let the door hit ’em where the good lord split ’em.
That’s what the 2019 Annual Meeting was all about, really: keeping the dissenters mollified enough to stay while sufficiently appeasing the hardliners.
When toxic Christians can’t ignore bad news any longer, they do this bizarre half-assed shuffle that pretends they’re dealing with it when they aren’t. They pretend to listen to their victims’ stories of abuse and predation, pretend to care about what those victims have gone through, and pretend to be totally fixing the problem. That pathetic show has largely satisfied the people crying out for change. For now.
Meanwhile, what they actually do–nothing!–satisfies the hardliners, who will openly revolt if the culture-war message softens.
Painted Into a Corner.
It’s almost comical to see how badly the SBC’s leaders have painted themselves into a corner.
They can’t make real changes to anything they’re doing. And change is what it’s going to take to solve the SBC’s abuse scandal. This denomination’s deep organizational flaws open the door wide to predators and make abuse a given. However, those flaws were designed into their denomination by its leaders, and directly led to those leaders gaining the dizzying amounts of personal power they wield today.
In a very real way, those flaws represent a feature, not a bug. Worse still, those flaws are part of the SBC’s infrastructure. If they’re changed, then the SBC as we know it–and as its leaders love it–collapses.
There is literally no way that J.D. Greear and his pals can win this one. Either they maintain the SBC as-is, and see its credibility ground into the dirt and lose a lot more people, or they make real changes to their structural philosophy, outrage the culture warriors they’ve painstakingly taught to be so rigidly extremist, and lose tons of people anyway.
So they’ve settled into a routine of keeping everything as-is as much as possible and looting the ship while it sinks.
Pass the popcorn.
NEXT UP: The SBC’s man-pain, or: Performance art in lieu of change. See you soon!
About that farce of an investigation: Back in March, J.D. Greear asked the SBC’s Executive Committee (EC) to totally investigate 10 churches named in “Abuse of Faith.” They apparently handed that order off to a bylaw workgroup that was by no means equipped to handle that assignment. Naturally, that workgroup promptly decided that 7 of the 10 churches needed “no further inquiry.” The other 3 got official letters, whatever that means. Amazing, right? The foxes discovered that of the 10 henhouses raided by their fellow foxes, 7 were fine! Immediately, critics leaped on them for conducting such an obviously weak and self-serving “investigation.”
But this farce gets better.
One of the EC bylaw workgroup foxes was Ken Alford, the pastor of a Valdosta, Georgia church. He ended up resigning the EC over the 10-henhouses “investigation.” His resignation letter cited those meaniepie critics of it, among other factors. What other factors? Ah. See, Alford himself had a little secret: back in 2002, he resigned from a Florida church. At the time, he cited marital issues and a “one-time moral indiscretion.” Also at the time, he was trustee chairman of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), which has definitely seen more than its share of cronyism-induced drama. And from 1999-2000, Alford was the president of the Florida state convention of the SBC.
So Alford is kind of a big deal in the SBC. And the SBC treated the situation accordingly. Bob Reccord, who was still president of NAMB at that point, called Alford’s adultery “such a tragic mistake” and “applauded” him for “accepting responsibility for this sin.” Reccord piously opined, “We are facing an epidemic of moral failure by some of our very best leaders.” Then he blamed Satan for everything. Reccord himself, of course, resigned over a cronyism scandal a few years later in 2006.
For real! Why does ANYBODY take this clownshoes circus seriously? (Back to the post!)
See the first endnote. Then click to go back to the section about the SBC not-addressing sex abuse.
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