Child Sex Abuse Crisis of the Religious Right Grows
A few months ago I wrote
about how the child sex abuse crisis in evangelical Christianity, although less reported, is at least as bad as it is in the Catholic Church. Taken together, this suggests that there is a crisis of a different kind looming for the leaders of the Religious Right, whose concern for the victims of abuse has been too muted, and too often belated when it is evident at all. There is also too often an obvious and alarming tendency to sympathize and side with the abuser over the victims. The proud defenders of what they call "family values" become bizarre self-parodies, at best, under such circumstances.
There are signs that accountability is coming.
This week as the the world considers the life of Nelson Mandela, a leading advocate for victims of sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention offered a remarkable idea.
Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators suggested a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled on the one that helped South Africans put the horrors of apartheid behind them, might help the Southern Baptist Convention come to grips with it's child sex abuse scandal. She thinks that Baptist leaders have been long on reconciliation and short on truth, and that maybe a comprehensive effort at both might help.
Certainly, we have seen this pattern in Baptistland, where religious leaders are fast to preach on forgiveness but disinterested in the truth about clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.
Indeed, in America’s largest Protestant faith group – the Southern Baptist Convention – religious leaders are so disinterested in – or afraid of – the truth about the extent of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups that there doesn’t even exist the possibility of a denominational process for assessing clergy abuse reports. Nor does there exist any denominational process for keeping records on how many abuse reports a minister may have, for informing congregations about multi-accused ministers, or for disciplining those clergy who cover-up for the unspeakable crimes of their colleagues.
One of the best ways to protect children in the future is to hear the voices of those who are attempting to tell about abuse in the past. Those voices almost always carry ugly, hard truths – truths about not only the preacher-predators but also about the many others who turned a blind eye or who were complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations.
Baptists need their own sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring the truth of these voices into an arena where they can be heard.
Indeed, the closing of ranks by an old boy network may not be enough to prevent accountability. Veteran religion reporter Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal
, has noticed
the efforts at accountability and reform that are percolating throughout the Baptist world. This is significant in part because Louisville is the home of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
, led by the culture warring
Albert Mohler; and of C.J. Mahaney, the leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries which is engulfed in a child sex abuse scandal of historic proportions. This means their friends, neighbors and colleagues now know that accountability may be on the way.
Meanwhile, top Baptist leaders, notably Mohler and Russell Moore, the new head of the SBC's public policy arm have both recently shared podiums with Mahaney who they continue treat as a respected leader despite his involvement in the child sex abuse scandal. Mahaney, is sticking close to Mohler and laying the public flattery on thick. He recently called Mohler a "world class intellectual" and compared him to Jonathan Edwards, the influential colonial era preacher.
Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press wrote:
An embattled preacher at the center of what has been called the biggest evangelical sexual-abuse scandal to date heaped praise on a Southern Baptist leader criticized for sticking by him at a weekend conference attended by both men...
Mahaney stepped down in April as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church-planting network he helped launch 30 years ago, amid challenges to his leadership that included being named in a class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up.
Mohler and Mahaney’s friendship includes co-sponsoring with two other colleagues a biennial preaching conference called Together for the Gospel. In May, Mohler and the other two leaders — Baptist pastor Mark Dever and Presbyterian Ligon Duncan — used the T4G website to release a statement vouching for their friend’s integrity.
“A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry,” said the statement about a lawsuit accusing Mahaney and other church leaders of failure to report sex crimes to police. “We believe this lawsuit failed that test.”
“For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way,” the statement continued. “We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many gospel-minded people.”
The statement was later taken down without explanation, but not before a Georgia pastor sponsored a resolution passed at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting urging denominational leaders “to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
That Georgia pastor, Rev. Peter Lumpkins thinks
church officials are ignoring a resolution adopted by the SBC's governing body this year which, according to the Associated Baptist Press
, called for "a zero-tolerance policy toward the sexual abuse of children in churches."
Meanwhile, Ken Starr, best known for catalyzing the impeachment and trial of president Bill Clinton over his affair with a consenting adult named Monica Lewinsky, thinks Christopher Kloman, a teacher who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing several female students should not have to do time. Over a period of at least two decades the perp confessed to sometimes luring the girls aged 12 to 14 from the elite Potomac School in McLean,VA, to isolated locations under the guise of helping them with homework.
But these days Ken Starr is no longer a scowlingly partisan special prosecutor. He is the President and Chancellor of Baylor University in Waco, Texas -- the largest Baptist University in the world. Christa Brown, writing at Stop Baptist Predators wonders:
Why should parents of high-school students feel any trust in sending their kids off to a university whose president writes a letter urging leniency for a man who molested teens?
But as the scandal-plagued
Baptists and Catholics collect headlines, let's not forget the churches that do not turn a blind eye to such problems, but actively seek to prevent and address
These include Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ (PDF), The Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association. What's more, the progressive Religious Institute has resources for religious organizations considering developing policies and programs in this area, and consults with those who are looking to improve their policies and performance.