Another day, another bunch of scandals erupting out of fundagelical Christianity, and yet more predators exposed. Nobody’s even surprised by any of it anymore; it’s all become just part of our cultural landscape: hypocrites gonna hypocrite. I’m just wondering when people are going to realize the sheer scope of this situation. Fundagelicals are facing an endemic, entrenched sex abuse scandal. The only reason it isn’t dwarfing the Catholic child-rape scandal is purely because fundagelicals just haven’t had that same kind of time and organization. And it’s time that we called attention to that similarity, so I’m doing it today.
Another Day, Another Dozen Sex Scandals.
Fundagelical hypocrites create sex scandals constantly, despite marketing themselves as the most moral and law-abiding people on the planet–like they are far, far better than those mean ole atheists. This claim is apparently true except when it’s not because “demons” are hunting “big game” like elderly elected officials. Then we get the simpering rationalizations about not being perfect, just forgiven. This mindset and these claims are so endemic to the religion that criticizing it has been a theme of this blog from the beginning.
Back in 2016, a reporter for The Daily Beast marveled that “the real Christian preacher sex scandal is how many there are.” I wonder if he’d say the situation’s gotten any better in the two years since then.
Me, I’d say it’s gotten even worse.
When the Catholic child-rape scandal broke open years ago, people were astonished at the sheer breadth of it. Those first few bombshell reports from the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team shocked the entire world–both because of the scope and cruelty of the abuse and because of the mind-boggling number of victims all around the world.
Times have sure changed–for the better in this case, which is itself a bit of a change. Now we’ve got systems in place for dealing with these accusations as well as plenty of precedent in law for punishing predators in what turned out to be the biggest, oldest organized pedophile ring on the planet. We’ve even got a publicly-searchable database of Catholic clerical abusers now.
But another huge scandal in Christianity lurks just across the aisle from Catholicism.
An Astonishing Outpouring of Hypocrisy.
Just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen the usual outpouring of sex scandals out of fundagelicalism.
Elliott Broidy is–or rather was–the GOP’s Deputy Finance Chair. He announced last week that he’d not only had an adulterous affair with a Playboy Playmate, but that he’d given her financial help to obtain an abortion after he’d impregnated her. This admission and his subsequent resignation both have a strong whiff of coercion to them, as if they were done preemptively. Even if they’re not, they’re bad enough admissions all on their own. And doncha just love the distancing and blaming language Broidy used in his admission:
At the end of our relationship, this woman shared with me that she was pregnant. She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period. We have not spoken since that time.
Weirdly, “Jesus” didn’t help Broidy stay faithful to his wife, nor express any tangible concerns about a medical procedure that fundagelicals have demonized for decades.
Bill Hybels, a megachurch pastor who has got to be one of the top 100 in the country in terms of power and following, stepped down from his position last week. He did it after an “internal investigation” at the church regarding charges of sexual misconduct with female staffers at the church. The investigation apparently cleared him, but he stepped down anyway. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions; I certainly have. (I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I ever hear that he had been given an invitation to the big shindig happening on Monday before all this came out.) Notably, “Jesus” didn’t help him keep his dick where it belonged.
Bill Voge, who was a lawyer at what I’m assured is one of the biggest law firms in the world, resigned last month. He’d been sending lewd texts to a woman he was distinctly not married to. She got creeped out by his invitation to come up to his hotel room and his perverted text messages, at which point he allegedly threatened her (through her husband no less) with prison if she reported him to anybody or publicly revealed what had happened. He’d met his victim through a Christian men’s group called New Canaan Society. He was on its board of directors, because obviously “Jesus” was too busy appearing on toast and finding car keys to warn this huge national-level ministry about the predator in their midst. Incidentally, Voge described his abusive, threatening behavior as “sinful, but not a crime.”
Fernando Maldonado was convicted last week of sexually abusing a young female member of his church for years starting in her childhood; this charge went along with 20+ other charges for which he’d already been convicted. He had tried to escape justice by fleeing to Mexico for a while–which was a big problem for his church, because six of its families had put up their houses for his bail bond. The only reason those six families weren’t evicted and their houses seized was that the bail bond company had more compassion and morality than Maldonado himself ever did. Strangely, “Jesus” didn’t help at any stage of this entire situation.
Again, these are just a few of the recent scandals that “Jesus” couldn’t be arsed to help with.
Another Day, Another Dozen Sex Scandals.
We’re now about ten years into Christianity’s decline, with no bottom in sight. It seems like the faster the religion disintegrates, the more of these hypocrites we discover lurking in ministry. Now it’s not uncommon to have two or three national-level scandals erupting all at the same time.
Most of these scandals are happening around the Christian Right. Nobody should be surprised by that. Their version of Christianity is the most toxic of them all, with a social system designed around the seizing, holding, and growing of power more than anything else. Fundagelical groups tend to be the most lopsided in terms of power imbalances, and they tend to emphasize more than any other kinds of Christians a warped form of submission and obedience in slavish service to a hypermasculine ideal. Anywhere else, that philosophy would raise eyebrows and provoke mass exits–but not in fundagelicalism.
Fundagelicals’ flawed social structure attracts predators who know that they will find there plentiful victims to groom and take advantage of. And when the abuse goes too far, or strays into illegal territory, these predators know that there’ll be no police involvement–and their secrets will likely stay safe forever. If the scandal is too outrageous for the predator to remain in the flock of victims he’s cultivated, the worst he’d ever expect to happen is to be shuffled off to another group–which will not be warned about why he was moving there.
The rest of the church will rally around the predator, and excoriate and blame the victim(s) involved. They may either eject or shun those victims, in great part because they will insist to the very skies that their predatory minister did nothing wrong that “Jesus” can’t forgive and restore to rights. Often these enabling congregations will pay their ministers’ fees and fines for them–as Maldonado’s church did for their predatory pastor, and as another church did for an embezzling church bookkeeper.
At least, that’s how it used to be–though fundagelical predators certainly still act like this is a valid expectation to have.
The Inevitability of Abuse in the Christian Right.
When you hear about a sex abuse scandal involving a Protestant group, that group will almost always be hard-right fundagelical. I don’t think that’s any kind of coincidence. In fact, these scandal-ridden groups share a number of similar traits.
The more unequal the haves and have-nots in the group, the more power is divided along demographic lines like gender or race, the more likely an abuse situation will erupt against whatever the have-not faction is for that group. It doesn’t matter what ideology the group is based around–it’s the dynamic of control and inequality of power that really matters. It can even be atheist, or generally secular in outlook; it can be a government group or one devoted to education; it can be recreational or vocational or whatever else.
A reader sent me this interesting essay exploring that exact question. It concerns Scientology and a few other religions besides Christianity, and comes to many of the same conclusions we have here. You’ll see the exact same similarities in cults of personality like Nxivm, whose leader claims to be more about self-improvement generally than anything else and yet still turned out to care more about personal power than any official goals.
Mainline Christian groups have largely escaped the same tarring brush. And generally, they subscribe to modern sexual ethics that include stuff like the value of consent and the primacy of keeping predators away from victims. Holding this philosophy allows these groups to create and enforce protective measures that are almost unthinkable for a far-right group even to consider.
When we examine the Catholics’ child-rape scandal, we can start perceiving the systemic flaws that helped create it:
- Power is concentrated in a few hands (the haves); those not in power (the have-nots) are not allowed to have any impact on the group, or on the decisions of the powerful.
- The group maintains a culture of secrecy: nobody really knows what’s going on, not even in upper-level departments.
- Powerful members of the group are considered to be more “holy” — wiser, smarter, more discerning, more morally pure. When disputes arise between the group’s haves and have-nots, often the group’s sympathies lie entirely with the haves. Powerful abusers are protected by their fellow haves, even if doing so creates more victims.
- Victims hail from the have-not faction in the group.
- Victims are coerced into silence at all stages of their abuse; the entire group–from leaders on down–retaliates viciously if victims don’t fall into line with these demands.
Well, that all describes fundagelicalism as well. Ever since the 1970s, when fundagelicals hopped into bed with Catholics over their shared culture-war against abortion rights, the two groups have been merging. That merger is now so complete that we often can’t tell which group we’re hearing when we encounter this or that extremist Christianist blather!
This similarity extends as well to the sex abuse scandals that both ends of Christianity are facing.
The Scope of the Full Scandal.
Granted, nobody’s discovered hundreds of baby skeletons in septic tanks, as we have in Tuam. Fundagelicals might operate a number of sad and weird “unwed mothers’ homes” in the name of their anti-abortion culture war, but I haven’t heard about a lot of formal Magdalene Laundries situations from them. It’s clear that the sex abuse problem is huge in fundagelicalism; it just isn’t quite as formal or as large as what the Catholics developed and fostered for centuries to protect their child-rapist clergymen.
Indeed, here are the only two reasons why the fundagelical sex abuse scandal isn’t as big as the Catholic one:
- Fundagelicals aren’t as united as Catholics are; they are scattered across denominations, so the pattern isn’t quite as easy to discern. Even if folks have begun noticing trends within denominations, they haven’t connected the dots fully yet; and
- Neither have fundagelicals had the same kind of time Catholics have had to get their predator-protecting systems in place and gain near-total power in the areas in which their worst abusers operated.
Luckily, the general decline of Christianity happened before fundagelicals could become fully entrenched. And this exact situation here is one of many reasons why we ought to view fundagelicals’ theocratic tendencies and their endless desire to whitewash their own history with great concern.
A few outliers in fundagelicalism are trying hard to sound the alarm about how widespread endemic abuse is in fundagelicalism generally.
Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, has turned her attention to another big sex abuse cover-up in fundagelicalism in a group called Sovereign Grace Churches. One hopes sincerely that she’ll eventually notice (if she hasn’t already) that similar cover-ups exist in every other far-right religious group in the world, creating a pattern across that entire end of her religion.
For years, Billy Graham’s grandson Boz Tchividjian of GRACE, an organization that investigates sex abuse claims, has been ringing a similar alarm. GRACE gets hired by Christian groups to figure out if they’ve got a sex abuse problem, and–if and when it turns out they do–to help end it, bring abusers to accountability and justice, and help the victims involved. So he’s in a position to know just how bad things are on the ground. He’s been telling Christians for at least five years that they need to quit being so “very arrogant when pointing to Catholics” because what they’re facing is “worse.”
And the cosmic irony is that Boz Tchividjian has a brother, Tullian, who is himself the perpetrator in a sex abuse scandal that erupted a few years ago. He lost his cushy megapastor job because of it. He hasn’t found a new pastor position that I know of, but he’s still being invited to speak at big fundagelical events. Christians’ big problem with him isn’t that he engaged in a long campaign of emotional and sexual manipulation and abuse of various women; it’s that he cheated on his then-wife. (His website is super-gross considering what he’s accused of doing.)
Obviously any group will have outliers who don’t embody the group’s best ideals and highest hopes for members. That’s natural. A group becomes toxic when it cannot reliably identify those outliers and keep them far away from any positions of leadership or influence that might allow them to prey upon the have-nots in the group.
When a group isn’t designed from the ground up to identify, stop, and force accountability upon predators, the door is opened to them. They will flood into the group and overrun it very quickly–and make its already-precarious power imbalance even more lopsided to benefit themselves. When abuses occur, the leaders of these groups–now weighted firmly in favor of toxicity–can easily weather those storms and move past them without having to make any big changes to the group’s architecture.
A group like that becomes a broken system. This term doesn’t mean that the group isn’t chugging along; some broken systems last for centuries–like Catholicism. A broken system is simply a group that causes consistent, devastating, and lasting damage to its own members, and that is long past being anywhere capable of fulfilling its own stated goals.
It is irretrievably damaged. It cannot be fixed. I’ve never seen it happen, not once that power imbalance gets set fully into place. At that point, only its leaders can make any meaningful changes in the group–precisely because of that imbalance–and doing so would negatively impact the power they personally hold in the group. The rank-and-file members in the group might try very hard to fix a broken system, but because they lack any meaningful power within the group, they will bash their brains against the wall (erected by the leaders of the group!) until they finally get the clue and leave.
Once these rabble-rousers leave, too, you can bet that two things will happen: first, the leaders of the group will wearily rejoice; second, the other rank-and-file, the ones who don’t see the brokenness of their system, will exult. A few days after that leavetaking, there’ll be no sign whatsoever that the struggle even happened.
No, we really have only two options in dealing with a broken system. We can do one or both of the available options:
We can completely reject the group. We can refuse to join; we can walk away if we’ve already joined; we can tear down the group’s power from the outside.
And we can give the group’s members safety to leave, and permission to reject it along with us.
It’s going to take a mighty big machine to rip through all the accumulated lies and cover-ups that fundagelical leaders have thrown up to protect themselves from their own hypocrisy. But we’ve got just what we need, now. Right now this second, fundagelicals are, I guarantee this, praying to their nonexistent god that nobody will ever notice the skeletons eagerly rattling the door-handles of their own closets.
They are afraid. Of us. Of the truth. Of the light of reality.
And they are right to fear.
Worse, though, fundagelicals don’t realize yet that even if they themselves aren’t personally guilty of abuses, this door handle turns for every one of them.
NEXT UP: A very special Lord Snow Presides for its one-year anniversary! (Well, close enough, anyway.) Our EXTIMONY TIME AHOY subthread got so much response that we’re going to do it formally! If you missed the subthread, hang in there because you’re going to get to share your story with the world if you like. See you next time! (I’ll try to battle Disqus to link up all of the beautiful, courageous, moving, and triumphant stories from the subthread too–don’t worry, nothing will be overlooked if I can help it.)
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