Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"One of the Battles of Our Time Is About Who the Story Is About, Who Matters and Who Decides": Southern Baptist Leader Deposed, Chilean Bishops Resign, Pope Said to Affirm Gay Man


Before I went to bed last evening, I read Sarah Pulliam Bailey reporting in Washington Post, "Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says":

A prominent Southern Baptist leader [Rev. Paige Patterson] at the center of controversy this spring over comments he has made about abused women allegedly encouraged a woman who said she had been raped not to report it to the police and told her to forgive her alleged assailant, the woman has told The Washington Post.

When I got up this morning, I saw the tweet by Sarah Pulliam Bailey that is at the head of this posting. That tweet pointed me to this morning's headline by Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and Michelle Boorstein: "Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women." The article reports:

Prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was removed from his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary amid an evangelical #MeToo moment: a massive backlash from women upset over comments he made in the past that are being newly perceived as sexist and demeaning. Seminary leaders were unspecific about why they made the dramatic move, issuing a statement that didn’t mention the controversial comments and saying they were moving "in the direction of new leadership" due to challenges related to "enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity."
The brief statement released early Wednesday said Patterson will be president emeritus, "for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary." He will receive compensation and may live on campus as “theologian-in-residence” at a brand new Baptist Heritage Center, the statement said.

This story made me think of Emma Green's essay in The Atlantic two days ago, "The Pope's Turnaround on Sex Abuse May Have a 'Tsunami Effect.'" She reports on the combined story of the mass resignation of the Catholic bishops of Chile and the report by a Chilean sex-abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz that, in a private meeting with him, Pope Francis stated, 

It doesn't matter that you're gay. God made you that way and that is the way he wants you to be, and I don't mind. The pope wants you this way, too, and you have to be happy with who you are.

Emma Green writes,

Most importantly, Francis has made a tonal change. Where he was once defensive and barbed about the situation in Chile, accusing the Church's critics of being "led by the nose by the leftists who orchestrated all of this," he has shifted his focus to the pain of the victims and the errors of the Church…. 
Pope Francis's efforts to repair the situation in Chile are only just beginning, and these and other cases may yet challenge his papacy. But Cruz, in his interview with El País, was optimistic. "This is having a tsunami effect," he said. "We have the Chilean precedent, and it will happen in other countries."

English writer Greg Hogben responds to the story of what Pope Francis ostensibly told Juan Carlos Cruz: 

As I was thinking about the preceding reports, I read today's email newsfeed from the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, which pointed me to an editorial in yesterday's Guardian entitled "The Guardian view on papal infallibility: an authoritarian U-turn." The editorial states, 

This [Pope Francis' apology for his "grave errors" in how he had viewed the sex abuse situation in the Chilean church, the mass resignation of Chile's bishops, what Francis said to Juan Carlos Cruz] is good. Will it be enough? The Irish campaigner against sexual abuse, and survivor, Marie Collins, has suggested that it doesn't go far enough: if the bishops are allowed to resign but none are punished further, they will have got away too lightly, she argues. There needs to be a proper disciplinary process as well. The sex abuse scandals were not confined to Chile. In Australia, the archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, has just been found guilty of covering up the activities of a paedophile priest in the 1970s. The former number three man in the Vatican, Cardinal George Pell, goes on trial in Melbourne this summer on charges of historic sexual abuse. He protests his innocence, and the Vatican has supported him. If he were to be found guilty, it would pose the greatest challenge yet to Pope Francis’s willingness to change his mind when the facts change.

The reports about these issues I've read this morning (and in the past day or so) led me to the following tweeted conclusions: 

(Note an important correction to the preceding tweet: Paige Patterson is being removed as president of Southwestern seminary, not of the SBC. I should know this, because two of my first cousins — and one of their daughters — graduated from Southwestern. I apologize for the misleading statement in the tweet.)

Now I'd like to conclude these reflections by pointing you to John Pavlovitz, "A Letter to Young White Men About What the World Owes You": 

Guys, it's easy to buy into the entitled alpha-male nonsense having a Renaissance in America right now because it is so prevalent; the idea that you are somehow owed something from the world or from women, and that your response to your perceived slights and imagined disrespect is always merited. 
You may not realize it, but you and I, we've had it easy. We've been the baselines for what the world calls "normal" here. We get the benefit of the doubt in almost every case. We are afforded countless advantages simply by showing up. 
The least we can do, in the face of such weighted favor and unrivaled privilege—is to respond to the world with decency, with humility, with gentleness. 

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to quote Rebecca Solnit again (I shared this passage several days ago) in her essay "Whose Story (and Country) Is This?":

The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It's white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.

"One of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides," indeed. And that battle runs right through the hearts of Christian churches — the vast majority of which "belong" to men, to straight or straight-posturing men, especially white ones. In the religious spaces those men have constructed, in which they claim to be representing God in a unique and exclusive way — that God is made in their own image — they have astonishing power and privilege, mulligans aplenty.

We can't by any means say the same about women and LGBTQ people, or people of color insofar as they interact with predominantly white churches. Can we?

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