Hi and welcome back! You know the saying, right? Another day, another evangelical sex abuse scandal. This time, it hits close to home for the top leader of the biggest evangelical denomination in America: J.D. Greear, President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Accordingly with their traditions, the SBC’s top leaders have consistently mishandled their nonstop scandals — and their President is no exception. Today, let me show you what a careful observer can learn from J.D. Greear’s mishandling of the SBC’s latest scandal, the one involving Bryan Loritts.
(A broken system is one that does not and cannot fulfill its own stated goals. Instead, its leaders and powerful members seek to fulfill a covert set of unspoken goals. Often, these unspoken goals get met at the expense of the group’s rank-and-file members. Broken systems tend to be very similar in operation.)
First, let me offer a quick bit of background about the people involved.
A few days ago, yet another sex scandal blew wide open for evangelicals. This time, it involves the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), J.D. Greear, and his megachurch, Summit Church.
A guy named Sam James founded Summit Church in 1961. After a period of growth, by the 1990s the church sat at a stable membership of about 400 people. Around 2000, the church hired J.D. Greear to be its “college pastor.” In 2002, they promoted Greear to be their full-time lead pastor. He’s a charismatic speaker, so he quickly grew the church’s membership to megachurch status. They now boast many campuses and satellite ministries and a membership of about 10,000 people.
J.D. Greear parlayed his success with Summit Church into leadership of the SBC itself. I doubt he could have been elected otherwise. The SBC’s pew-warmers have been taught to consider such success as a sign of divine approval. Unfortunately for them, he’s never been able to reproduce it elsewhere.
He’s been trying to recapture his earlier success ever since.
And Now, Bryan Loritts.
On June 1, 2020, Summit Church hired a Black pastor named Bryan Loritts to join their staff as their Executive Pastor of Teaching and Development. Loritts was already a “well-known preacher,” according to one evangelical news site.
In his announcement, J.D. Greear called Loritts “one of the most gifted pastors and preachers in the United States.” Indeed, Loritts had cultivated a very successful career — much of it centering around trying to fix the SBC’s well-entrenched racist streak.
However, this oh-so-very-gifted pastor/preacher and his oh-so-very-useful anti-racism bona fides came with a hefty price tag: a serious and disturbing scandal from his past.
Immediately, all kinds of sex-abuse activists freaked out over the hiring decision. Julie Roys and Rachael Denhollander, so instrumental in gaining justice for victims in earlier SBC abuse scandals, spoke out against Summit’s announcement.
Bryan Loritts’ Predator-Shielding Church: “Here For the Victims.”
It seemed that during one of his past gigs as pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church in 2010, Bryan Loritts had very seriously mishandled a sex-abuse scandal that had landed on his desk.
The whole thing makes Loritts’ weird behavior around his false educational claims look downright inconsequential. (Seriously: he wore his fake doctoral-graduation robe to a wedding a month after his honorary degree was conferred upon him by a fly-by-night diploma mill. Naturally, Biola University, proud employer of sex-abuse shielders and home of totes amazing apologetics courses, doesn’t care.)
Bryan Loritts pastored Fellowship Memphis Church from, it seems, 2003 to 2015. The church also employed Loritts’ brother-in-law, Rick Trotter, as its worship director from 2005 to 2010 (gee, I wonder how much nepotism went into that decision?). That year, someone noticed that Trotter had installed a hidden camera in the women’s bathroom.
Once confronted, Rick Trotter confessed to his perverted crimes. In response, the church fired him. But they also covered three months of (probably fake fundie-style) of “intense” counseling for him for his self-diagnosed “sex addiction,” and they also covered his family’s expenses while he got it.
What Bryan Loritts Absolutely Didn’t Do.
Hey, can you guess what Bryan Loritts and his Fellowship Memphis Church didn’t do in 2010?
They didn’t report Rick Trotter to the police.
Nor did Bryan Loritts bar Rick Trotter from ever holding ministry positions ever again.
Nope! They just certified him as restored — Hooray Team Jesus! — and sent this wolf right back out into the evangelical sheepfold. And another church hired him soon enough.
Predictably, Rick Trotter ended up in a strikingly similar scandal in 2016. He got caught taking upskirt photos of women at his church. He confessed in fact to having taking such photos and videos in all kinds of places — including one at fundies’ favorite place to get hate sandwiches, Chick-fil-A!
At least this time the perv got reported to the police! He went to trial, got convicted, and now has a criminal record. Hopefully, that record will prevent at least some churches from hiring him again.
And y’all, J.D. Greear said in his hiring decision that he had known about all of this at the time.
Greear had known that Loritts had shielded his brother-in-law from the repercussions of his creepy, criminal behavior. And Mr. I’m-So-Totally-BROKEN-About-All-This-Sex-Abusin’ hired Bryan Loritts anyway.
J.D. Greear: OMG Y’all, Sex Abuse is the Worst! I’m SO BROKEN!
Also J.D. Greear: OMG! We MUST Hire a Sex-Abuse Shielder!
J.D. Greear has tried for years now to position himself as totally caring about the SBC’s many, many sex-abuse victims. He does this while at the same time hiring a pastor who has shielded at least one sex abuser. (At least. Think this is the only time he’s ever pulled this stunt? I don’t.)
For all of Bryan Loritts’ accomplishments (and weird honorary doctorates from questionable, unaccredited schools), he shielded Rick Trotter from justice after committing sex abuse. He cared more about his family member and fellow evangelical church leader — and himself, really, when one gets down to it — than he did about the many victims of Rick Trotter.
Then, in June, Julie Roys uncovered evidence suggesting that Greear had conducted a purely “‘sham’ investigation” to get Bryan Loritts hired at Summit in 2020:
In a May 24 letter, Greear, who’s also president of the Southern Baptist Convention, assured his congregation that Summit leaders had thoroughly investigated Loritts to ensure that “his prior conduct aligns with our missional values and beliefs.” [Missional = sales]
However, Greg Selby, a former insider at Fellowship Memphis, and Jennifer Baker, one of Trotter’s victims, say Summit’s investigation of Loritts was neither thorough nor objective.
Selby describes that investigation not as a “research mission” but as a way to rationalize the hiring decision they had already made:
Instead, Selby characterized the call as “a mission to find out what Jennifer and I were willing to say” so Summit could do “some sort of jujitsu” [sic] to defend against it.
In short, J.D. Greear simply wanted to hire Bryan Loritts.
And what the King of Baptist County wants, the King of Baptist County gets.
Last week, Summit Church finally issued a press release about the situation. In it, they say they’ve hired a third-party group to investigate the goings-on at Fellowship Memphis Church back in 2010.
Summit’s press release insists they totally did a real live investigation back in June, and they’re sure they got a totally accurate read on the situation.
But just in case, y’all, just to get everyone off their case, they’ve asked Guidepost Solutions LLC to investigate the matter. It’s part of their Caring Well thingie, after all! They might have ignored it utterly in June, but now that everyone’s bein’ all mean about the hiring, they’ll reluctantly return to its principles.
I’ve checked out the website of this Guidepost place. They don’t even mention religion, and I don’t recognize any of their top leaders off the top of my head as being religious. That’s a good sign.However, since their investigation only centers on exactly what Bryan Loritts did in 2010 and not on how appropriate Summit’s hiring decision was in 2020, I don’t see how this helps anybody…
… Anybody, that is, except J.D. Greear.
At most, the results of Guidepost’s investigation will allow Greear fire Loritts without further ado — or to justify his hiring decision and subsequent allegedly-sham investigation.
Never change, SBC. I mean that. This is exactly the kind of performative caaaaaaaring that tells all and sundry just how awful evangelical leaders really are.
Shooting Himself in the Foot with the Hypocrisy Gun.
Evangelical leaders tend to think that reality will always align with their whackadoodle desires as long as they repeat their lies often enough and with enough bluster. And J.D. Greear has more reason than almost anybody else in the SBC to need reality to do a little re-alignin’ right about now!
It’s crystal-clear to me that J.D. Greear hired Bryan Loritts for his anti-racism bona fides. The SBC is performing faux-concern about racism right now, and J.D. Greear has positioned himself at the head of the faux-change faux-racial-justice side of the SBC. So he really needs to have a Black minister on staff, especially one whose career has involved a lot of racial-justice action.
I mean, I wish they were truly concerned, not faux-concerned and hoping desperately that everyone will forget to be outraged about their racism — soon.
But with this hire, Greear has undermined both his entire fake anti-racism commitment and his fake anti-sex-abuse commitment. He’s finally made it crystal-clear to women in the SBC that his oh-so-broooookennnnn act doesn’t even go skin deep.
That act dissolves on impact with his own ambitions and interests — just like every single ideal professed by those in broken systems always does.
The Falling Tide Sinks All Boats.
Intersectionality tells us that all the facets and traits of a person come together to create differing modes and contexts of discrimination and privilege. This theory is an important one in feminism nowadays, for good reason. We’re seeing its applications in more and more fields.
When we encounter someone in QAnon muttering anti-semitic slurs, are we really surprised to learn they’re also serious science denialists, racists, sexists, classists, and bigots as well? No, we are not. We know that discrimination doesn’t tend to stop at just one group. In similar ways, we know that one false wingnut belief tends to accumulate more over time. (See also: crank magnetism.)
So J.D. Greear’s attempt to shore up his reputation as the racism-fixin’ King of Baptist County may have backfired. And I hope so. It’d be hilarious if Al Mohler actually became the King of Baptist County next. Greear gives Southern Baptists that thin veneer of performative caaaaaaaaaring that they treasure. But Mohler tells those demanding even that veneer to kindly FOAD.
But that’s neither here nor there, right now. Right now, I’m focused on J.D. Greear and the all-too-revealing mental calculus he performed as he decided to throw female sex-abuse victims under the power-grab bus.
Bryan Loritts Shows Us Why the SBC’s Boat is Sinking.
Greear and his sympathizers don’t get yet that the problem they’re having is one of power dynamics gone out of control — which leads to both racist behavior and sex abuse.
When someone hungers for the power to abuse and control others, typically they rationalize it by deciding that their victims are less-than themselves. A well-off person might abuse low-wage workers. Men abuse women. White people abuse Black people. Christians abuse Jews, atheists, and well, everyone imaginable. And so on. Those are the obvious ones.
But within a marginalized group, a similar power-struggle can be occurring. What Rick Trotter did was an expression of his need to abuse and control those he saw as less-than himself. In this case, that means women. He even told his local news site that filming women without their consent gave him “a feeling of control.”
The power structure itself is the problem here. It’s expressed in racism, but also in sexism and bigotry and all the other culture war bullshit the SBC loves so much.
So yes, J.D. Greear hired Bryan Loritts, who almost certainly shielded his family member from the law. Greear didn’t care about Loritts’ sexism and very obviously can’t even relate it to the SBC’s flagrant mishandling of sex-abuse cases. He just wanted to convince Black Southern Baptists (and performatively-progressive White ones) that the SBC totally cares about eliminating racism, y’all.
But women? Women are still not quite people to male Southern Baptists.
The Broken System Remains Inviolate.
Greear doesn’t actually want to solve the SBC’s racism problem, any more than he wants to cast out sexism and the group’s other prejudices. No SBC big-name leader wants to solve the actual problem here: their broken system as a whole. The mechanisms of racism are just way too useful to them.
We’ll return to this question later on. For now, I just wanted to set this here. When you hear about any big-name SBC leader wittering on about racism or sex abuse, know that they’re all trying their hardest to preserve the broken system they love so much while giving the impression alone that they actually intend for anything substantive to change. The most they want is for leaders to use their unlimited, unilateral power more nicely. But there’s no real-world reason why they should, and so they never will.
People who ask for reforms without pushing for real changes to the SBC’s existing power-structures will not get real reform. That’s just not possible.
With respect to the accomplishments Bryan Loritts has achieved, he himself has benefited from the SBC’s utterly-dysfunctional relationship with power for years, and so has his weird, pervy brother-in-law. He would have continued to benefit from it, but for the efforts of people who demanded better accountability.
The only way the SBC will ever truly fix its problems is by making it impossible for pastors like Bryan Loritts to do anything but the right thing in abuse cases of all kinds.
NEXT UP: An anti-MLM content creator has done the unthinkable! We’ll check it out tomorrow. See you then!
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