Hi and welcome back! As I indicated yesterday, I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) isn’t handling its sex abuse megascandal. Two Texas newspapers released their ‘Abuse of Faith’ expose of this scandal in February 2019. Since then, the SBC has done everything but throw a Please Ignore This (Pretty Pretty Please) Telethon to avoid dealing with it. Today, let’s get an overview of what’s going on in this scandal-infested denomination.
(Previous ‘Abuse of Faith’ posts: The SBC Braces for a Long-Overdue Reckoning; J.D. Greear Lies About Feeling ‘BROKEN’ About ‘Abuse of Faith’; Circling the Wagons; The SBC’s Response Strategy So Far; Two Years Later: What’s (Not) Changed; The SBC’s Looking Guilty as Sin; Mark Lanier Holds Forth. Also: Don’t Ever Believe They Care; Playing a Shell Game With Christian Predators.)
The ‘Abuse of Faith’ Megascandal That Won’t Die.
Many years ago, back in the 2000s, I remember evangelicals looking down their noses at Catholics — who were just starting to face a huge sex-abuse megascandal. Those evangelicals claimed up and down that their superior Jesus Power kept their own women and children safe from any abuse. They were far too Jesus-y to ever face such a scandal.
So evangelicals studiously ignored evangelical whistleblowers like Boz Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham. Tchividjian leads a group called GRACE, which helps churches investigate and deal with sex abuse scandals. He warned evangelicals for years that the tribe teetered on the very brink of a sex-abuse megascandal that was just as bad as anything Catholic leaders had wrought. Heck, it might even be worse, he hinted.
And as I mentioned, evangelicals largely ignored him.
Then, in February 2019, two Texas newspapers released a six-part series exposing a widespread sex-abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Those journalists called the scandal “Abuse of Faith.” They uncovered 700+ victims and over 200 sex abusers who worked or volunteered in SBC ministries in churches across the country and around the world.
And they could already tell that these numbers were just the tip of a massive iceberg.
The SBC’s Response to ‘Abuse of Faith.’
As for the SBC’s top leaders, oh, well, obvi they instantly swung into action to take accountability for the systemic -isms and authoritarian power structures that had allowed “Abuse of Faith” to happen, and began dismantling it all to protect those they’d entirely shorn of power and voices…
As if I had to say it, just kidding.
What they really did was spend the next 2.5 years trying to ignore all that sex abuse they’d helped to foster.
And we found out more and more about what had happened, about how the SBC’s top leaders had turned away from all those accusations and shuffled sex predators around and around (sometimes flinging them across the globe), about the decisions they’d made that seemed to aim specifically to protect the many SBC ministers accused of sex abuse. All the time, the SBC seemed to try harder and harder to avoid engaging with what they’d helped along.
The SBC trotted out endless committees and task forces. These beholden groups did a lot of busy-work. But somehow, nothing tangible changed in the denomination.
They also instituted an entirely voluntary initiative called “Caring Well.” It was supposed to fix everything, even though it only enrolled a tiny fraction of SBC churches. That abysmally low participation rate didn’t matter. The SBC declared victory over sex abuse anyway.
I mean, immediately after crowing about Caring Well’s success, then-SBC President J.D. Greear gave an abuser-shielding pastor, Bryan Loritts, a ministry job with his own megachurch.
So two and a half, almost three years later, nothing’s changed.
Nothing at all.
The Big Problem Now in Handling ‘Abuse of Faith.’
Its Executive Committee is really not happy about the idea of being formally investigated. The EC handles budgets for a bunch of other subgroups within the SBC. They also disburse funds for the SBC’s major missionary efforts.
And they felt alarmed by something the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force wanted to do.
Officially, the task force reports to the SBC President (currently Ed Litton). But the EC clearly has some say here, and they’re sayin’ it.
They want everyone to think they’re conducting a completely transparent and unbiased investigation of their wrongdoing without actually being completely transparent and avoiding bias.
It is just astonishing to see how hard its top leaders are trying to square that impossible circle.
The Guidepost Connection.
First, they told the EC to waive attorney-client privilege with the investigators handling the scandal.
Second, they voted to hire Guidepost Solutions, a third-party reputation repair service, to perform that investigation.
Remember that pastor I mentioned a moment ago? The one J.D. Greear hired for his megachurch?
When Greear got
purely assblasted deluged with criticism over the move, he hired this same group. I read their contract with Greear. They conducted a very limited investigation of Bryan Loritts’ behavior in one church years ago. Then, that investigation magically cleared his reputation. As of today, a year and a half later, Bryan Loritts still works for Greear. I’m sure his brother-in-law’s many victims are just tha-rilllllled.
As obviously inadequate as the task force’s decision seems, though, it’s still enough to alarm the pants off the EC. They’re worried about what information Guidepost will receive. They’re even more worried about how Guidepost will communicate their findings in a public-facing report.
So the EC decided they didn’t want to waive attorney-client privilege.
The SBC’s top leaders are very obviously sitting on top of some downright explosive skeletons. And the Messengers don’t care. They’re getting royally pissed off at all this foot-dragging.
The SBC’s EC Continues to Drag Its Feet.
On September 28, according to Baptist News, the EC refused for the second time in a week to waive attorney-client privilege. Even SBC-lings on the EC itself were shocked. One of the EC’s members, Jared Wellman, even tweeted this response to that refusal:
“A historic moment in the SBC as the EC has chosen to defy the messengers in an investigation concerning themselves.”
Alas, his beliefs in this regard are as just as untrue as his beliefs about his god.
See, SBC-lings like to imagine that their denomination is a loose federation of churches that govern the denomination from the bottom up. Yep, they’re all just big ol’ Jesus-ers who Jesus together — and, coincidentally, pool material resources to convert and control the whole world. The opposite is actually the case, as the EC demonstrated in spades that week.
After all, the entire reason the SBC has a Sexual Abuse Task Force in the first place was that the EC tried to investigate itself without oversight from outside groups or even other SBC entities.
And after an absolute fustercluck of a meeting, the leader of the task force, Bruce Frank, gave the EC an ultimatum: the investigation would go forward, with or without the EC’s approval. Ed Litton seemed to like this idea.
The Rats Begin to Flee the Sinking Ship.
On September 25, a bivocational pastor who’d served on the EC for seven years resigned from it. Paul Hicks specifically cited “incompetence” and “denominational wide corruption” as the reason for his decision. He quipped,
“The SBC stands for Secret Backroom Control. Most decisions are made in a backroom by the Elites before it ever goes to the entity trustees.”
(Bivocational is just Christianese for a pastor who must take a day job to survive. As churches shrink, the number of such pastors has risen sharply. Fewer and fewer churches can now afford to pay their leader a living wage — or often any wages at all. Sometimes Christians call these pastors tentmakers.)
Before you celebrate this show of amazing integrity, however, let me burst that bubble. His main concern was that if the EC waived privilege, that would open up “personal liability” for the men serving on the EC — which included him. He said,
“I wanted to resign while I was still covered under our protection,” Hicks said. “I felt that I needed to resign immediately because I personally believe part of what is taking place now with the current ‘scandal’ or whatever, either they are attempting to do it or give impression of doing it and they want to open up individual EC members for lawsuits.”
Hicks also suggested that reforming the SBC would be quite easy. Churches just needed to stop giving money to the SBC’s top-level donation drives (the Cooperative Program that funds the EC’s budget, as well as their two missionary fundraisers, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong).
Speaking of Which: The Real Concern in ‘Abuse of Faith.’
On September 30, a bunch of South Carolina pastors in the SBC wrote the EC a public letter. In it, they declared that they would withhold funds from the EC’s various donation drives. You can see the release of the letter on Twitter, and I’ve captured a copy of it here. At the end, it says:
Should the Executive Committee fail to comply [with the declared will of the Messengers about waiving privilege], we will lead our churches to consider how to reallocate funds away from the Executive Committee while continuing to fund the cooperative mission and education endeavors that have always made Southern Baptists great.
Whew. A few years ago, a rumor reached the EC’s ears about a few churches that threatened to withhold money from the Cooperative Fund — which is what the quote above references, the money the EC uses to fund big SBC programs. The problem then was massive disapproval of Russell Moore.
And y’all, just the rumored threat of a few churches withholding funds put the EC into absolute overdrive. Moore almost lost his job over that rumor. Well, now a couple dozen pastors — far more than the number in that earlier threat — have laid down the hammer over waiving privilege, and this isn’t even a rumor. They’ve issued a formal declaration of intent. And I’ve heard that hundreds of other churches were ready to do the same.
I was intensely interested in seeing how the EC would respond to this far bigger and more credible threat.
The Big October 5th Meeting.
After many months of successfully delaying the task force, the EC finally had a big special meeting on October 5th. At this meeting, they voted to waive attorney-client privileges as part of the scandal investigation.
The vote itself is interesting. They’ve now had three votes on this topic. All three happened after motions raised by Jared Wellman, and all three motions were largely identical. The first vote (on September 21) failed 55-20. Its second vote (on September 28) failed 39-35. This October 5th vote succeeded 44-31. Three members recorded a “present” vote instead of actually voting.
That means they only had 78 people voting. When it’s fully staffed, the EC has 86 members. Indeed, John Yeats, the SBC’s recording secretary (and thus an EC member) wrote after the meeting that the EC lost “10 to 15 professional business laypeople” to resignations. Their main concern appears to have been the same one raised by Paul Hicks: they’re worried that the results of a full, transparent investigation will lead to lawsuits against the EC and its members.
But it looks like the SBC’s Messengers have finally brought the EC to heel — perhaps.
Spin Doctor Ronnie Floyd Has Entered the ‘Abuse of Faith’ Chat.
Ronnie Floyd became the new president of the EC in 2019. He has officially given his blessing to the October 5th vote to waive privilege. But I’ve seen the letter he wrote before that vote. When I describe the EC’s efforts as trying to square an impossible circle, Ronnie Floyd is the person I’m thinking of most. In that letter, this reprehensible, double-talking coward writes:
To my knowledge, no one is trying to defy the will of the messengers, rather to prayerfully and carefully fulfill the will of the messengers.
Talk about gaslighting!
I hope no SBC-lings think he seriously wants to “fulfill the will of the messengers,” not after he and his group have spent the better part of the summer trying with all their might to stymie it and bury the entire megascandal investigation.
The four-point list he gives as “the path forward” from this scandal drives home that point. Like the rest of the EC, he sounds beyond terrified of facing any real accountability for the SBC’s dogged determination to shield abusers and predators. Like them, he’s all for the idea of an investigation. Sure.
He just wants absolute control over what gets discovered and then shared.
Using Christianese to Obfuscate.
Hilariously, in his letter Ronnie Floyd uses a lot of Christianese like “I have been broken before the Lord” and pretending that the SBC’s top concern is recruitment — er, sorry, soulwinning. So gosh, y’all, the SBC needs to finish this up and get on with the Great Commision already!
In reality, the SBC may have just put the final nails in its decline-coffin with their catastrophically-inept mishandling of “Abuse of Faith.”
I really, really hope that the SBC’s flocks realize just how scared their Dear Leaders are of accountability.
If I, as a teenager, could notice SBC leaders’ sharklike money-grubbing and do the mental arithmetic to figure out how un-Jesus-y they were, then the EC’s obviously self-serving behavior ought to ring the mental alarms so hard that even the firmest-planted butts in the pews ought to notice.
NEXT UP: QAnon-addled fundagelicals hate one number above all. And now, they’ve tied it to their overall conspiracy theory beliefs about COVID-19 vaccination. We’ll check it out on Sunday — see you then!
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