Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Southern Baptist Abuse Report, Next Installment: "Preying on Teens"

The third installment in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News investigation of abuse in Southern Baptist churches is out today. It's entitled "Preying on teens: More than 100 Southern Baptist youth pastors convicted or charged in sex crimes." An excerpt:

Scores of Southern Baptist youth pastors across the country, many with little oversight or formal training, used their church positions to groom and sexually abuse children in their flocks, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reveals. 
More than 100 Southern Baptists described as former youth pastors or youth ministers are now in prison, are registered as sex offenders or have been charged with sex crimes, the newspapers found. Their most common targets were teenage girls and boys, though smaller children also were molested, sometimes in pastors' studies and Sunday school rooms.

Some commentary about the Southern Baptist abuse issues I've been reading, which seems to me noteworthy:

In the thread following this statement, Carol Howard Merritt states that she's responding to some pastors commenting on Twitter about the SBC report. She names no names and I surely do not intend to put words into her mouth, but want to point you to the trolling statement that one Georgia pastor, Seth Dunn, made on Twitter to light a fire as this report was released. Dunn then published an article defending the statement which throws more troll-fuel on the fire.

His initial tweet states that it's just as bad (theologically) for a women to claim to be a pastor as for a sex offender to be hired as a pastor. In his article expounding on this outrageous (and intentionally outrageous) claim, he goes on to say, 

Is there any vocation more important than that of the pastor? Churches with females who claim that office essentially have no pastoral leadership. Their congregants walk this earth as sheep (or goats as the case may be) without a shepherd. They look for leadership to women who are in open rebellion against God.

I'm reading Carol Howard Merrit's excellent statement as a rejoinder to this kind of toxic silliness being shopped around now on Twitter by right-wing evangelical (and Catholic) men — though, I want to repeat, she names no names as she responds to "pastors" on Twitter, and I do not want to put words into her mouth.

Those who speak out about sexual abuse in authoritarian religious communities are often shamed in an attempt to quiet them. They may be accused of seeking attention, or of trying to bring down a godly man. They may be told they're selfish — indulging in their own pain when they should be paying attention to the pain they are causing others, including the people who will turn away from the church and spend an eternity in hell because of the poor light they’ve portrayed the church in. 
After all, abusers don't just groom victims, they groom communities, preparing them to rise up and protect them. 
Women and girls, in particular, can be silenced in hierarchic churches that teach "complementarianism" — the belief that God ordains male authority especially in the church and the home. Having been conditioned not to question men, some women struggle to stand up to male misconduct when they see it, and when they do are often dismissed. For example, when my youth pastor was applying for the position, he was given a kind of audition: lead a youth retreat. Our head pastor asked us to report back on his performance. I did. As did at least one other girl. Each of us told the head pastor that the man applying for the position made us uncomfortable. Soon afterward, it was announced that he was our new youth pastor. 
Meanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture — which focuses largely on them — can be used against them. Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage — the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault. 

The map at the head of the posting is produced by U.S. Religion Census and is online at the website of that group.

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