Monday, February 11, 2019

Houston Chronicle Invites Readers to Share Stories of Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches: My Commentary

Houston Chronicle is not playing, with its exhaustive investigation of abuse within Southern Baptist churches. On a page attached to its exposé report yesterday, the Chronicle invites readers to reply directly via an online form and share their own experiences of abuse in Southern Baptist churches with the Chronicle reporting team:

Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Southern Baptist churches? Help us investigate by filling out the form below.

What many U.S. Catholics will perhaps not know, because of their intense tribalistic parochialism and lack of sound religious education, is that Southern Baptists share with Catholics the position that women are not to be ordained. Because Bible ….

A few women have been ordained sporadically in SBC churches, and those that took this radical step have usually been punished by the SBC.

So there's an all-male governing and pastoral structure parallel to the all-male governing structure of the Catholic church — with the big difference that not only are almost all pastors in the SBC married, but they are expected to marry. An SBC pastor who chose not to marry would be regarded with great suspicion and would find it well-nigh impossible to be called to pastor a church.

From the time the abuse mess in the Catholic church began to be exposed, the SBC led the way in accusing the Catholic church of having a unique problem of abuse, one not found in churches like the SBC churches, because the Catholic church has a high percentage of gay priests. Suddenly the "gays are the problem" meme has been radically problematized by the emergence of reports — and they will not go away — of widespread abuse in one of the most rabidly homophobic (and heterosexist and male-dominated) of evangelical churches, the SBC. 

The "celibacy permits gay priests to hide in the Catholic church and abuse minors" meme sounds less compelling, doesn't it, when one looks at the extensive abuse now being found in SBC churches — which overwhelmingly have married heterosexual (or purportedly heterosexual) males at their helms. And none of this is even to mention how the reports now breaking forth — and they, too, will not go away — of widespread abuse of nuns by priests also radically complicate the "gay priests are the problem" meme.

What many people outside evangelical circles will also not know is that Texas was the epicenter of the right-wing takeover of the SBC, which resulted in purges of seminary faculty and people teaching in SBC institutions who were considered "liberal" or "soft" on issues like women's ordination and homosexuality. Those purges were at their height in the very same time frame that Saint John Paul II and his orthodoxy watchdog Cardinal Ratzinger were also mounting a similar purge of theologians and gay-affirming ministers in the Catholic church. It's no accident that a leading do-or-die defender of Donald Trump is the pastor of the powerful and rich First Baptist church in Dallas, Robert Jeffress — a graduate of two SBC institutions in Texas, Baylor and Southwestern seminary (from which my two SBC-pastor first cousins also graduated, as it happens). 

There's grand poetic justice in the fact that this investigation of abuse in SBC churches is being spearheaded by the Houston Chronicle. Perhaps a religious institution can be hateful for only so long before it attracts pushback and uncomfortable questions about what is hidden in its own glass houses and closets.

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