Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we looked at what the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are doing about their huge sex-abuse scandal. The answer turned out to be nothing whatsoever that’s tangible and effective. One of the worst examples of that answer might be their “CaringWell” website. Today, let’s look at CaringWell and see how well it addresses the SBC’s endemic, systemic, far-reaching abuse scandal.
(Previous ‘Abuse of Faith’ posts: Russell Moore Reveals the Strategy; A Long-Overdue Reckoning; J.D. Greear Is SO BROKEN Over This; Circling the Wagons; #SBC2019’s Distraction Tactics; Pretending to Care About Sex Abuse; It’s Getting Worse.)
The Domain Name.
When I first encountered the name “CaringWell,” I immediately noticed that strange “.com” ending to the URL itself. That’s a weird ending for a Christian denomination, isn’t it? Officially, that’s for commercial sites (or at least sites whose owners expect to do business at some point, or make money from the site somehow). Why wouldn’t the SBC use a .org or a .info ending? Or even a .church ending?
For that matter, isn’t “CaringWell” an odd name to begin with for the SBC to use? It sounds extremely healthcare-ish, not at all protective, scandal-addressing, or even religious.
So I checked its domain name before doing anything else.
Here’s what I found:
It kinda looks like someone created CaringWell as a domain name around 2008. According to that information page (and others I checked), someone at the ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a powerful SBC subgroup) updated its DNS info in April of 2019 — probably to redirect the address to an actual website when they realized they needed to do something that looked semi-tangible about their abuse scandal.
(Thom Rainer did something very similar with his “new” church revitalization business. He’d registered the domain years before formally starting it up.)
An Odd Coincidence.
Interestingly, in 2008 an Ohio mail-order pharmacy called CaringWell found itself in very serious legal trouble.
I began wondering if this pharmacy had any overlap with the SBC’s leadership. See, the founder of CaringWell is a Christian. He says he founded the mail-order business to help people in his church congregation. (From what I could find, this church is nondenominational but sounds basically fundagelical.) Then, the power of internet turned this guy’s side hustle into a booming opiates-by-mail pill mill.
And the very same year the feds first swarmed this business, someone reserved the domain name CaringWell. Then, in 2019 it got reassigned as the site of the SBC’s pretendy scandal remedy.
Diving further into that potential connection (and definite odd coincidence) falls far outside my journalistic grasp. Such an endeavor also falls well outside the focus of today’s post. But dang, I’ve just got to say this:
We’re starting off with a BANG, y’all. With a BANG.
The Site Itself.
We find this text on the site’s main page:
The American church is facing an abuse crisis.
Is your church doing all it can to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse?
Churches should be a refuge for those who have experienced abuse. But, too often, survivors haven’t found the protection they deserve and the care they need from the church. Are you ready to join us in changing that?
At the bottom, we find this blurb:
A unified call to action for churches to confront the abuse crisis
And so far, I’m not impressed at all. The scandal the SBC faces involves their own systemic, entrenched pattern of complicity and collusion in hiding abuse from congregations, ignoring or gosh, just somehow not noticing abuse and allegations of it, protecting and shielding abusers from the repercussions of their abuse, elevating abusers and predators into positions of power and then helping keep them there, and creating and fostering a culture that blames victims for their own abuse.
For that matter, abuse scandals have erupted out of every single level of SBC leadership — all the way to the top levels of this depraved and grotesque bureaucracy.
The biggest names in the SBC have participated in this sick and broken system, have helped build it even, and perpetuate it even today.
When we speak of “Abuse of Faith,” that’s what we’re talking about.
But sure, CaringWell, shoot off. Plead with individual churches to Jesus harder so they can fix what their Dear Leaders have wrought and now maintain.
CaringWell: Please Pretty Please, Do This For Daddy?
Worst of all, the SBC seems completely unwilling to force its member churches to abide by common-sense protections and precautions. This website functions as a demonstration of their strange unwillingness to lay down the law to member churches.
And that’s a strange unwillingness because they’re happy to lay down the law when it comes to their culture wars. They called a special meeting six years ago to kick out a member church whose pastor defected from the anti-gay culture war. In 2018, they didn’t seem to hesitate much when they kicked out a super-racist church in Georgia.
But when it comes to widespread sexual abuse, they’ve done nothing tangible at all there. Instead, they plead with their churches to pretty, pretty please think about maybe taking a quiz to PROVE YES PROVE that they’re doing something to address their scandals.
“The Caring Well Challenge.”
To complete the Caring Well Challenge, church leaders complete modules at the CaringWell site. (Individual Christians can also complete many of these, of course, but many of them require action from church leaders.) According to their website, here are the modules required:
- Commit (to the Caring Well Challenge)
- Build (a church-based Caring Well Team)
- Launch (the Caring Well Challenge at the church)
- Train (the church team)
- Care (by reading/watching Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused)
- Prepare (by “enhanc[ing] policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse”)
- Share (by addressing abuse at a Sunday morning service “on a date that works for your church”)
- Reflect (on the Caring Well Challenge)
thinking at the ceiling prayer happens throughout this “challenge.”
I notice that none of these modules involves mandatory sex-abuse training for all positions of leadership, participation in a denomination-wide predator database to keep abusers out of positions of power, requirements for background checks for all staff, mandatory-reporting policies, or penalties for not doing any of that real stuff.
Instead, we get watch this video y’all! and enhance your protective policies since we all know you had SOMETHING in place there, right y’all?
And then the site asks churches and individuals to sign up with their information to declare that they’ve done at least some of these things. As far as I can see, nobody checks up on these assertions.
How Well That’s Going So Far.
The ERLC held a big convention for this program in October. Through the summer and fall, their leaders certainly hyped the program plenty.
But I’ve found no hard statistics for how many churches have even bothered with this “challenge.”
The best I found was a few people (including some denominational leaders) claiming that “hundreds of churches and thousands of individuals” have submitted their information to the site and claimed they completed the “challenge.” One church-news site tells us that about 750 churches committed to the program.
And yet the SBC’s leaders sound soooooo proud of those numbers. They haven’t actually revealed exactly how many churches have taken their “challenge,” but Christianity Today estimated in February that as of last August, participation stood at less than 2% of churches. That is downright pathetic.
Granted, the program itself looks beyond silly, impotent, and inconsequential. But that so few member churches even bothered going through that busy-work speaks volumes about just how committed the SBC is to ending its steady stream of scandals.
What’s Happened Since Last Winter.
And reinforcing that opinion, I see that nothing much has happened with CaringWell since last winter.
Last spring, the Houston Chronicle discovered that the SBC put someone new in charge of the whole program. Travis Wussow already worked as the ERLC’s “general counsel and vice president for public policy.” But now he’s also going to spend whatever spare time he has administering this lackluster, busy-work, pretendy-action initiative that nobody cares about anymore.
The SBC wouldn’t even pull him from whatever he’s already doing for them to do it. That’s how little extra work they expect this assignment to represent for its new leader.
Indeed, I’ve seen nothing whatsoever about this initiative in 2020 besides that slight leadership change. It’s like the SBC started it, expected the start-up itself to resolve the whole problem, and then forgot all about it.
I haven’t seen any other SBC efforts to address their scandals since last fall, either.
Could this denomination even make it any more obvious that they don’t see constant streams of sex abuse scandals as the actual problem here, but rather they seek to address the bad press about it that might be affecting their sales and retention metrics?
Sidebar: The “Challenge” Itself.
Just the entire idea of addressing sex abuse through a “challenge” in the first place offends me on so many levels.
Challenges are what people create and engage in when they can’t be motivated to do something good and right just because it’s the good and right thing to do. These short-term shifts fail far more often than they work because they don’t tend to create lasting behavioral changes. People take these “challenges,” and after the challenge ends life returns to normal again.
I’m used to seeing “challenges” in the context of diet and fitness (“take the water challenge!”), but I sure never expected to see one in the context of church-based systemic sex abuse.
It’s just so astonishingly insensitive-sounding. Ending systemic abuse and denomination-wide protection of abusers needs to be an ongoing effort resulting in permanent change, not a “challenge” that comes and goes without a word or any real changes.
Then again, what the SBC actually wrought in “CaringWell” sounds exactly like one of those diet and fitness challenges, doesn’t it?
A Curious Oversight.
Incidentally, at no point has the SBC revealed how effective this silly “challenge” is in addressing abuse or lowering the amount of abuse going on in churches. I don’t think they’ve even bothered studying it. Whoever proposed it got their money for developing it, the denomination’s leaders took credit for starting something, anything to address their scandals, and that was that.
But we knew that without my saying so.
Evangelicals never test their ideas — they just set them in motion like a big grand ol’ social experiment and then expect their critics to SHUT UP ALREADY about them not doing anything.
This time, the social experiment seems extra-grotesque because of its subject, but this ain’t the first time the SBC’s gone off with a new program without even seeing if it works first.
The Triumph of Evil.
I hope none of the SBC’s flocks are lulled into complacency by this initiative or their leaders’ obvious desire to memory-hole this entire crisis.
All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, as the saying goes. That saying might have been invented to describe the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s all but their mission statement.
If their flocks do not ride them hard over this scandal — and that includes refusing to accept halfway, do-nothing measures like CaringWell as resolutions for that scandal — then the SBC will do what it’s always done in response to its own shortcomings: they’ll ignore ’em.
NEXT UP: Happy Fourth of July!
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