Hi and welcome back! In mid-May, Russell Moore quit his Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) job. Soon afterward, not one but two leaked letters of his reached the public eye. Both letters deal with the hypocrisy he encountered at the highest levels of SBC leadership. Yesterday, we talked about the sheerly vicious racism on display in these leaked letters. Today, let’s talk about the mind-blowing but entirely unsurprising sexism he reveals in them.
(Related posts about Russell Moore: SBC Racism; The Letters’ Provenance and Named Names; Refusing to Play Ball; Don’t Ever Believe the Hype; How Russell Moore Got His ERLC Job; Yes But Was He Hateful Enough; How to Fool a Monster; Russell Moore Reveals the SBC’s ‘Abuse of Faith’ Strategy; The SBC Just Drove Out Another Dissenter. Lastly, here are links to the February 2020 letter and the May 2021 letter.)
Sexism Behind the Scenes at the SBC.
Russell Moore wrote these letters in, respectively, February 2020 and May 2021. These letters are products of their times, especially the first — written just a year after “Abuse of Faith” revealed widespread sex abuse in SBC leadership and pastoral ranks.
It’d be interesting to see what letters Moore might have written in 2017, when the SBC came under fire for its bizarre handling of a resolution condemning white nationalism and the alt-right movement.
(Seriously, that vote was an absolute fustercluck of epic proportions. Any time you hear about it, imagine the SBC’s leaders and convention attendees dressed as Keystone Kops and bumbling around town in an old silent movie. You won’t be far off from how it went down. They eventually voted to accept the resolution, but WTAF?)
But we’re in 2020 and 2021 now. Racism is still a big issue, as it damn well should be, and yet now we’ve got this huge sex-abuse scandal that the SBC’s top leaders seem incapable of addressing.
Maybe the answer is right in front of SBC members’ faces: their Dear Leaders can’t resolve this abuse scandal because they really like male supremacy as a lifestyle and don’t want to give it up. Unfortunately for them, that’s what it’d take to resolve this abuse scandal in any meaningful way.
Oh sure, we’ve certainly theorized about this stuff in the past. Lots of people have.
But now we’ve got Russell Moore on hand to share his observations of shocking-but-entirely-unsurprising sexism behind the scenes at the SBC.
Sexism: Just Ignore Sex Abuse and What, It Goes Away?
The 2020 letter relates the tireless efforts of the Executive Committee (EC) to neuter and defuse the SBC’s sex abuse scandal by doing as little as humanly possible about it. Most of both letters detail the ongoing infighting and slapfighting between the EC and Moore’s own top-level SBC subgroup, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
In fact, Russell Moore blames the EC entirely for obstructing J.D. Greear’s attempts to do something meaningful about the crisis:
This Executive Committee, through their bylaws workgroup, “exonerated” churches, in a spur-of-the-moment meeting, from serious charges of sexual abuse cover-up. One of those churches actively had on staff at the time a sex offender. J.D. Greear, our SBC president, and I were critical of this move, believing that it jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but, more importantly, the lives of vulnerable children in Southern Baptist churches.
(We’ll talk tomorrow about just how heroic J.D. Greear and Russell Moore really are here. For starters, let’s not forget Greear’s own weird hiring decision.)
Unfortunately, Southern Baptists stopped caring about their witness many years ago. Now all they want is power over others.
The 2019 ERLC National Conference (and More).
Russell Moore also discusses the 2019 ERLC National Conference, which was a real flashpoint for the SBC — at least behind the scenes. Its topic was the sex abuse scandal, and Moore invited Rachael Denhollander to give a speech during it. In her speech, she criticized the EC for mistreating an abuse survivor. Moore never names this survivor, but he says he knows the woman personally and thus could vouch for Denhollander’s description. But the EC freaked out about the criticism. Moore wrote:
This [Denhollander’s criticism] enraged some Executive Committee trustee leadership, who communicated that they were incensed that we would allow such a story to be told. That was communicated with special outrage since the Executive Committee had contributed some money to Caring Well as a reason why we should not have allowed this story to be told.
Moore summarized his meeting with these trustees in quite an interesting way:
“You’ve got a nice little Commission there; would be a shame if something happened to it.” It was, and is, chilling — especially seeing what they had in mind to do under cover of darkness.
Considering non-Christians often summarize evangelicals’ “plan of salvation” in exactly those terms and likewise feel that it’s a chilling admission of potential harmfulness, it caught my attention. Then, Moore tells us of shocking cruelty shown by SBC leaders toward women who’ve been abused by SBC leaders:
These are the tactics that have been used to create a culture where countless children have been torn to shreds, where women have been raped and then “broken down.”
There’s more in that first letter — SBC leaders’ stated intention to hammer shame down upon women who seek abortion care rather than treat them like Jesus commanded them to treat everyone; calling an accomplished Black writer “girl”; rushing forward to award the disgraced Paige Patterson a “Defender of the Faith” award; and probably more besides.
It is a sickening litany of deliberate mistreatment and oppression of women — so that these male supremacist good ol’ boys could continue to cavort on their thrones of lies.
The Second Letter: Sexism on Parade.
We see even more sexism in Russell Moore’s second leaked letter. This one, written shortly after he’d quit his ERLC job, goes into way more detail and names way more names — and it focuses much more closely on the SBC’s sexism than on its racism. Moore’s still very angry and upset about his ongoing slapfight with the EC, but he’s trying to position that slapfight against the bigger picture:
Behind all of this, though, is the larger question of sexual abuse within our churches, and the spiritual and psychological abuse of sexual abuse survivors by the Executive Committee itself along with a pattern of attempted intimidation of those who speak on such matters.
And hooboy, this letter is a doozy. Moore describes EC members as referring to at least one accuser as “Potiphar’s wife.” That’s a reference to a Bible story. Joseph refused the sexual advances of his master’s wife, so she retaliated by falsely accusing him of rape. Outraged, her husband threw Joseph into prison.
Moore also describes other shocking statements:
And, as you know, this comes on the heels of a track-record of the Executive Committee staff and others referring to victims as “crazy” and, at least in one case, as worse than the sexual predators themselves.
He mentions the 2020 letter’s unnamed abuse survivor again, this time to reveal that he heard EC members refer to her as a “whore,” spin her testimony to make the abuse she’d suffered seem more like a “consensual affair,” and generally bully and intimidate her to try to silence her. (I’m pretty sure I know who this survivor is, and yeah, none of this surprises me in the least.)
And, of course, Moore tells us, the EC continued to block and stonewall any progress on the SBC sex abuse scandal.
Sexism as a Political Football.
Now, someone might read about this huge slapfight between the ERLC and EC and think to themselves, Self, why would the EC try so hard to fight against the ERLC about the sex abuse crisis? Wouldn’t the EC want that resolved just as much as the ERLC says it does? What’s up with that?
And the simple answer is that the EC and ERLC find themselves at opposite ends of the current SBC schism. The EC is dominated by what I’ve come to call the Old Guard — conservative hardliners who are outraged about what they see as the SBC’s increasing liberalism. And sexism is their currency. They stand completely against anything that might peel away even a tiny jot of their own white male privilege.
(YES. They think this. I linked a hardliner just the other day who snarled that Russell Moore is “a lifelong Democrat.” Moore even mentions in both letters that he keeps getting accused of liberalism.)
The Old Guard’s opponent is the Pretend Progressive faction. This faction wants to seem like it wants to address the sex abuse crisis and the SBC’s racism. These guys are banking on there being a lot of people in the SBC’s rank-and-file who want actual progress. No progress will happen, I’m afraid. But the Pretend Progressives will do their best to make it seem like they’re trying to make progress.
Pretend Progressives still embrace sexism. They still support all sorts of culture-war causes that directly link to the abuse and oppression of women. However, they think they can adequately resolve their scandals while retaining complementarianism and all that other awful stuff. And the Old Guard is fighting them tooth and nail because any change at all is an unwelcome one to them.
Once again, women’s bodies and rights have become the pawns on a Southern Baptist battleground.
Who’s Surprised About SBC Sexism?
The second letter, in particular, contains some dizzying allegations. Russell Moore all but accuses Augie Boto, a recently-retired EC leader who helped with the Conservative Resurgence, of helping a sex offender cover up his crimes. Moore also claims that Paige Patterson, Mike Stone (his nemesis at the EC), and Rod Martin (an Old Guard with a lot of influence) met together. His guess? They were likely plotting revenge against their political enemies in the SBC — like him.
Moore goes even further in his letter:
They wish to caricature media who report on sexual abuse as biased, sexual abuse victims as, at best, mentally disturbed and, at worst, as sexually-promiscuous sinners, and those who stand with those victims as “liberals” or as dedicated to a “godless and secular MeToo movement.” [. . .]
We are not allowed to ask why a recent president of the Executive Committee is in the pastorate despite a misuse of spiritual authority and why a high-ranking former member of the Executive Committee is in the press for allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse at his own church.
And really, now. Who’s even surprised at any of this stuff Moore reveals?
The Natural Outcome We Should Expect.
The sexism we see in the SBC is just one sign of its overall dysfunction. So is its racism.
In authoritarianism, a group gravitates around a powerful leader. The group’s masters strip power from followers, adding it all to the leader. Whatever that leader says, goes. Of course, most leaders have their own higher-level leaders to obey. Thus, the goal in these groups becomes clawing one’s way as close to the top of their power ladder as possible.
In a broken system, a group can’t fulfill its own stated goals. Instead, those leaders pursue their own unstated goals. Often, those goals involve abusing other people or amassing great amounts of wealth and power.
Indeed, abusers sure seem to love broken authoritarian systems. These groups can’t effectively keep abusers out of power — or reliably remove them once they’re there. Nepotism and cronyism become the way to gain more power. Leaders protect each other, making it all but impossible to hold them accountable for their own behavior.
So you can’t have authoritarianism and broken systems without also having tons of scandals. There’s not a way to fix these groups.
That’s why the SBC has made no real headway at all in dealing with its sexism, its sex abuse, or its racism crises. It can’t. The organization was designed to resist reform and progress. And its leaders like it that way.
All you can do in these cases is exactly what Russell Moore did: walk away, and loudly proclaim in the daylight what he heard in the darkness.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, let’s finish up our Leaked Letters series by looking at why SBC-lings’ effusive recent praise for Russell Moore (and J.D. Greear) is entirely misplaced. And then, maybe a gaming story to round out the week! See you tomorrow! <3
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Check out this interesting post about the differences between sexism and misogyny.