Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Would Jesus Say?

Via Civil Commotion (see my blog roll), I came upon this story in Nashville Scene ( which looks at the apparently huge problem of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist clergy and the Southern Baptist Convention’s failure (perhaps refusal) to take action to address the problem. I guess, the SBC thinks – much like the Roman Catholic Church – that if they pretend the problem does not exist, it will somehow miraculously disappear. Of course, meanwhile countless young lives are damaged or destroyed. For a denomination that is so obsessed with the repression of sex and sexuality, not to mention the constant oppression of gays, the hypocrisy is mind numbing. I recommend that the entire story be read, but here are some highlights:

Churchgoers are asking for protection against clergy sex abuse, but the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention says there’s little it can do to fend for the flock. . . . The scourge of sex abuse within churches belonging to Nashville’s SBC has been well documented, though the denomination continues to ignore, and in some cases deny, the problem.

In July, police arrested Steven Haney—the former pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., who led the church for two decades—after a 21-year-old man told police that Haney had molested him for a period of five years. According to a police affidavit, the abuse started when the victim was 15 and lasted from September 2001 through December 2006, during which time the boy turned to Haney for mentoring. In those years, the victim says Haney forced him to take “obedience tests”—acts that required oral sex, masturbation and anal sex—that the pastor required as a test of faith. In October, a grand jury indicted Haney on charges of rape and sexual battery by an authority figure. But it certainly was not the first time that Cordova was rocked by a clergy abuse scandal. Paul Williams was minister of prayer and special projects at Bellevue Baptist Church, a Cordova mega-church. In the summer of 2006, Williams told two Bellevue officials—the minister of biblical guidance and later, the church’s pastor—that two decades earlier, he molested his own son.

But it seems that the Southern Baptist abuse survivor network may have been too quick to place faith in their leaders. And there’s no indication that the executive committee has consulted with experts or officials from other religious groups who have already established their own standards to deal with clergy abuse. Christa Brown, a survivor of sex abuse and the leader of SNAP’s Baptist arm, says it would seem like a logical step for Southern Baptists to look at how other religious groups have responded.

From the abusers’ ability to move from church to church, to church officials asking victims to remain quiet and failing to report incidents to police, SNAP says sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches has all the trappings of a full-blown nightmare of Catholic proportions, though plenty of Southern Baptists would scoff at the idea that it’s a system wide pestilence. In his book Pedophiles and Priests, Pennsylvania State University professor Philip Jenkins determined that between .2 and 1.7 percent of Catholic priests are pedophiles. Among Protestant clergy—a group in which Southern Baptists are the largest denomination—that figure, according to the book, ranges from 2 to 3 percent.

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