Welcome back! Recently, we’ve been talking about that “Abuse of Faith” story series. This journalistic report exposed a great deal of sexual abuse in the ministry ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I showed you some basics about the report already, as well as the hypocritical crocodile tears of the SBC’s current president, J.D. Greear. The way the SBC’s leaders have so far responded to that story reveals exactly why their denomination is dying, and why it deserves to die.
Always Remember: THEY KNEW. And They Did Nothing.
First and foremost, I want to stress one point beyond all points.
The SBC’s leaders already knew all about the abuse in their churches.
They knew quite well that their ministers abused people indiscriminately–because they helped create the engine that shuffled those predators around from church to church.
As well, they knew that pedophile child-rapists roamed freely in the ranks of their ministries–because they have, for years, steadfastly resisted all calls to create a predator database to prevent that abuse. Stories of abuse abound in even party-line Baptist news sites, as that last link demonstrates (don’t miss the “related stories” on that one).
Beyond and outside of their party-line media, SBC leaders knew about the watchdog groups that have raised awareness about Baptist predators for many years. They demonstrated that awareness by insulting those groups and impugning their motives in the most vile, irresponsible, and malicious ways.1
More to the point, J.D. Greear himself knew about the “Abuse of Faith” report well over a month ago. He knew about some of its specific findings, like the 700 victims the journalists turned up, about a month ago. But his social media throughout that period breathed not a word about the abuse, the 700 victims, or that report. Not a word. He spent that month-and-a-half or so whining about abortion, pretending to care about racism, and plugging SBC events and books.
Generally speaking, he and the entirety of the SBC’s top leadership knew what was going on. They simply avoided the topic till they simply couldn’t anymore. Their goal now appears to be getting a handle on the public-relations nightmare that this report represents, as well as avoiding having to make tangible changes to their denomination’s organization and ideology.
The King of Baptist County.
LeekSoup brought up a very good point recently.
JD [Greear] got this position with no training on how to be a CEO, probably no proper media training, no strategic management skills, no organizational psychology skills. That’s stuff that isn’t taught to church leaders. He’s got where he is by preachin’ and knowin’ his Bible and playing the church politics game – kiss the right asses; condemn the right things.
So, here he is, King of Baptist County, when he’s contacted by a newspaper who ask him to comment on a story they are about to break. He probably doesn’t understand the danger. And he isn’t curious to find out more.
Then the story breaks and suddenly he realises (or someone explains to him) just what a catastrophe this is – how he is suddenly the King of Sex Predator County and, maybe even he realises that people will be looking at him squint-eyed from now on. And that scares and confuses and annoys him. But he really doesn’t know what to do about the situation.
As we study J.D. Greear himself, we learn exactly why the SBC responds so poorly to its scandals. The SBC created this guy from start to finish. He represents exactly what they want to see in a leader.
The King of Sex Predator County.
Consequently, J.D. Greear never learned to handle a huge, sprawling business like the SBC.
His education and training occurred within SBC institutions like Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before that, he earned a BA from a tiny private Baptist college and attended some kind of Bible “institute” that doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. (It might be this even tinier school, but if so, it doesn’t grant degrees. Instead, it focuses solely on indoctrination and apologetics.)
So Greear has never, ever in his life undergone any kind of education or training in the running of a business. He earned his current position through his command of SBC culture and rules. His entire campaign to become president of the SBC focused solely on how he was totally gonna turn around their decline. And he promised to create this turnaround by inspiring rank-and-file members to get off their duffs and get out there and SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.
Christians like those in the SBC bristle at the mere idea that they are a business that requires business-like administration and leadership, as we saw very recently. So very likely he’d have rejected out of hand the notion that he even needed those skills.
His presidency was literally always going to be a placeholder. He constantly told his flocks not to worry–he wouldn’t be scaring or enraging them with any proposals of any real changes. Everything he told them to do would always fit perfectly within their existing ideology.
And now “Abuse of Faith” comes along and reveals that the SBC’s existing ideology opens the door wide to predators.
Authoritarians and Antiprocess.
Authoritarians can be roughly categorized into two subgroups: authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers. As we talked about recently, authoritarian groups like the SBC cherish comforting routines. But the two subgroups cherish them for different reasons.
Authoritarian followers feel lost and uncertain without their routines. As a result, they feel safer and more in-control with dishonestly-inflated certainty than with honestly-stated uncertainty. Also, they will cling to the death to a routine that doesn’t actually work but fits in with their existing ideology. And they completely reject a new routine that actually works but requires any changes to that ideology.
Meanwhile, as you can guess, authoritarian leaders find these routines useful from a utilitarian standpoint. Hucksters and shills learn quickly that if they simply bellow their assertions as loudly and as confidently as they can, authoritarian followers often fall right into line behind them without questioning a word of it.
Worse still, predators learn just as quickly that it’s painfully easy to trick authoritarian groups into welcoming them with open arms. Authoritarians’ ideology is all too often disconnected from reality. Assertions made by group members are impossible to verify or support through reality. Thus, these groups have no way to tell if a particular group member means them good or ill, or if that person sincerely believes or fakes belief entirely. They base their opinions on the person’s ability to perform convincingly.
(Yes, I speak here of the problem with wingnuts.)
Al Mohler and His Very Brief Mention.
One of the SBC’s very top leaders, Al Mohler, last May declared his astonishment that abusin’ was happenin’ in HIS denomination. He wrote a post on his blog about “Abuse of Faith” on the 11th. Though it’s difficult to imagine that he knew nothing about “Abuse of Faith,” during that critical month-and-a-half period he concentrated on calling out what he regards as “heresy,” fighting culture wars, and issuing fightin’ words to people who criticize any of the Republicans busily pandering to his tribe.
But he did manage to shart out a post about this story–one single post. Hey, we mustn’t be greedy! He wrote four more after that, all pertaining to the culture wars and how mad he is that churches don’t Jesus as hard anymore as he thinks they should. So we can tell he totally takes this huge scandal as seriously as he should be taking it. (/s)
The post, if you’re wondering, concerns his ideas for why this abuse happened and his suggested solutions for ending it. Very little of it relates to reality, and even less of it relates to the SBC’s culpability as a denomination for these endless waves of victims now sharing their stories at last. He lays the blame on individual member churches and makes excuses for the organization as a whole.
Al Mohler is a big name in the SBC. He’s written in the past–as recently as last summer, even–about abuse occurring within the denomination. His near-radio-silence in this scandal now catches my attention in a major way. It smells very much like a damage-control operation.
Ed Stetzer’s Radio Silence.
Ed Stetzer used to help run LifeWay, the SBC’s propaganda arm. He created, administered, and discussed the biased, lame-o “studies” that LifeWay ran. Nothing he did there worked to reverse the denomination’s self-described “baptism drought.” He now teaches up-and-coming Southern Baptist kids how to evangelize. On the side, he hustles “revitalization” courses to pastors. Seriously.
I checked in on his Twitter. On February 8th, before the “Abuse of Faith” story fully dropped, he tweeted a very big show of support:
This Sunday, the HoustonChron will release their investigation on sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches. Don’t look away. The survivors matter too much. There is so much more to do and we must do better. Just. don’t. look. away.
Then, hilariously, he didn’t tweet another word about the story. He just. looked. away.
Abuse survivors and allies gave him plenty of hell about it in comments. Apparently, he simply blocked them (which is, according to them, how he always handles abuse survivors asking him difficult questions). I suppose he’s been taking notes from Mark Driscoll about how to handle dissenters. Yep, Ed Stetzer certainly finds himself in a season of deep lament!
He’s written no essays or blog posts about “Abuse of Faith” either, at least that I’ve found. On Christianity Today, one of his usual stomping-grounds, he didn’t bother even with that nominal show of support. But he did find time to criticize what he calls “nominal Christians.” (Dangit, they just don’t Jesus hard enough for King Him!)
Russell Moore’s Response!
Russell Moore works as the president of the SBC’s ironically-named Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). They released that “Presidential Report” that J.D. Greear mentioned. So I wasn’t super-surprised to see that Moore had talked about the “Abuse of Faith” story.
Interestingly, he uses exactly the same word that Greear did to describe his feelings about it: “grieved.” That’s a very important Christianese word. It means sad, but in a really Jesus-flavored way. Christians use it to convey sincerity. They’re not simply saddened; they’re saddened in the same way that they imagine Jesus would be.
His tweet references a blog post he wrote and published the evening the story broke. In his blog post, he declares that sex abuse happens cuz people are totally sinful. Blaming everything on sin and demons and whatnot is how Christians get away from fixing their problems through systemic change. He does go on to write that churches need to report ALL abuse to authorities, and that his fellow SBC leaders need to quit relying on “church autonomy” to escape their own culpability and necessary change.
In terms of necessary change, he says that the ERLC is totally studying the problem right now.
Aside from that blog post, he hasn’t written a word about SBC sex abuse in the last couple of months. Maybe Greear’s camp didn’t tell him about the journalists’ investigation. But he did make sure to fight in the culture wars against his tribe’s chosen enemies: women and LGBT people.
The Scandal Erupts.
The SBC’s leaders, then, seem to be doing everything they can to contain what they must see as a complete PR nightmare. As LeekSoup mentioned, though, those same leaders don’t actually know how to run a giant company like the SBC. Consequently, they have no idea how to deal with something like this.
They dedicated their entire lives to maintaining the SBC’s power structures. Their educations and early careers revolved around learning the skills necessary to accomplish that one task.
Now those selfsame structures have caused damage that they can’t simply ignore, hand-wave away, or blame local churches for creating or allowing.
About the only somewhat-positive thing those SBC leaders have done is affirm the truth of the report’s accusations and claims. Though in coming days I fully expect to see a distressing but expected number of Southern Baptists going there, none of their biggest names tried to claim that those two newspapers just had it in for the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ of the SBC.
Around the World.
Despite these leaders’ best efforts, people outside their denomination certainly have drawn exactly the mental lines that “Abuse of Faith” meant for them to draw.
- National Catholic Reporter (NCR), probably relieved that for once a sex-abuse scandal doesn’t center on Catholicism, printed a puff piece focusing on Greear’s promises of “pervasive change.” As well, NCR reprinted several SBC leaders’ claims that the abuse was “pure evil” and “satanic.”
- The Houston Chronicle printed a follow-up to “Abuse of Faith” that details how SBC leaders are coming around to the idea of creating an abuse database/offender registry for the denomination. The story also details the many efforts of denominational leaders to stymie people calling out for the database.
- An NBC opinion piece written by a purity-culture survivor calls for the SBC to “reject purity culture” and “renounce authoritarianism,” among other things. Good luck with that, but it does at least shine a strong light on how those two power structures enable abuse and create a culture of cover-ups and lies.
- Newsweek published an article about “Abuse of Faith” that makes special mention of how the SBC “was forced to admit last year” to committing many abuses against women.
- Newser brings us a story about how Al Mohler finally realized he was totally wrong to support C.J. Mahaney, the disgraced founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries. In the wake of “Abuse of Faith,” he saw the light at last. He formally begged forgiveness in a statement. Y’all, he was totally “grieved!”
Yeah, I don’t think the SBC is going to successfully silence this one. People are all too aware of how, in past scandals, the SBC talked a big game and then did nothing. Something feels different about this scandal. I truly hope it results in their “baptism drought” becoming a Level 4 crisis.
NEXT UP: It is painfully easy for liars, conjobs, and predators to trick authoritarian leaders. I’ll show you how Biff did it next time–and how predators today do it with the SBC.
1 I’m sure those watchdog groups do not take pleasure in the fact that the man who accused them on that particular occasion and in that fashion was Paige Patterson, who himself ended up getting in deep trouble. But if it did give them pleasure, not a shade court in the land would convict them over it. (Back to the post!)
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