Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Southern Baptist and U.S. Catholic Leaders Meet in Same Week, Both Confronting Serious Sexual Abuse Problems: A "Gender Hurricane" Results

At the same time, the Southern Baptist Convention is holding its annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Catholic bishops are meeting in Baltimore. High on the agenda of both sets of gentlemen: what to do about sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable church members? What to do about the fact that the public knows and will not now unknow? 

Whom to blame? For a long time, Southern Baptists had a good, clear scapegoat: this abuse thing was, many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals said, a Catholic problem. And a gay thing, since all those gay priests…. And the liberals are surely to blame, which is why we weeded them out of our churches and institutions and why we have had thriving membership rolls as a result. People want good old-time conservative religion (which keeps men and women in their proper places).

This particular blame game no longer works. And in the Catholic context the game of scapegoating gays — a game played adroitly by the Catholic hierarchy — is proving more and more dicey as news breaks of the serious problem of abuse of women including nuns by priests.

Both the SBC and the Catholic church exclude women from ordination. Both want women to remain in their "God-given" roles as helpmeets. The Vatican has done all but stand on its head to drum home that message, issuing yet another heinous gender-roles-are-inscribed-in-our-bodies document only days ago, a document blithely ignoring the findings of contemporary science about issues of gender and sexuality. 

The Southern Baptist leadership refuses to budge on gender matters, either. The more the all-male leadership of both institutions is pushed on the sexual abuse they have hidden for years, the more they appear inclined to trot out ever harder, ever less dialogic, statements seeking to put women and queer people in their places. Here are some things I've read in the past few days making valuable statements about all of this:

Stereotypes of victims who "count" in the abuse conversation emerge from the commonly mistaken belief that only children, especially heterosexual boys, matter as the most legitimate or serious victims. Much of the American panic about sexual abuse draws from an ugly and inaccurate conflation of pedophilia and homosexuality, a stew of official Church teaching about homosexuality (as a "disordered" identity), broader patterns of homophobia, and mistrust of women’s sexuality, bodily autonomy, and personal authority. 
Catholic women and girls are taught, at a muscle-memory level, how their bodies are always the territory of male doctrines, opinions, and aesthetic fantasies that originate in Western European ideals. Women's "weakness" is assumed as default by the very authorities who judge and blame for any and all perceived impurities and expected flaws. And yet — in the most effective gaslighting technique ever — there are statues and icons of women's bodies on display everywhere. ... 
The white bros always show who really matters to them. Women across a spectrum of identities use church networks for safety and connection. But all too often assumed sanctuaries repeat broader structures of pervasive dehumanization. In still-segregated faith communities, women's service is always demanded and expected. Some women are seen while others are rendered invisible, elbowed aside for other women scratching for validation in a doomed hierarchy. Poison for all. 
In the same families where men's pain and victimhood may be admitted as tragic or disgraceful, women’s abuse may be accepted or normalized. This disorientation creates environments where abusers, and their handlers, have prevailed.

SBCTalk from Megan on Vimeo.

David B. Cox in the preceding video: 

The low view of women has contributed to an abuser-empowering church culture. 

What I want to say to my own family of Southern Baptists: Our family is sick. We need help. We have a very, very serious problem because we have this built-in disesteem for women and it's got to change.

For male Southern Baptists who are biblical literalists, the more that they attend church the less likely they are to support female pastors. In fact, support for women clergy is incredibly low among Southern Baptist men who are biblical literalists and attend church multiple times a week.

Evangelical churches have long distanced themselves from the sexual abuse crisis that has consumed the Catholic Church. Many Southern Baptists have dismissed sexual abuse as a problem caused by "corrupt Hollywood" or "liberal theology." But a reckoning has arrived. 
Nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders, from youth pastors to top ministers, have pleaded guilty or were convicted of sex crimes against more than 700 victims since 1998, according to a recent investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News. Superstar pastors like Bill Hybels and Andy Savage have been forced to resign over allegations of misconduct." 

The public is divided over whether sexual abuse and misconduct is an issue that is unique to the Catholic Church. Roughly half of U.S. adults (48%) think abuse is more common in the Catholic Church than in other religious groups. A similar share (47%) say sexual abuse and misconduct is just as common among clergy in other religious traditions as it is among Catholic priests and bishops.

Dee Parsons, Southern Baptist abuse survivor, by way of Tom Gjelten, "Southern Baptists To Confront Sexual Abuse And Role Of Women In The Church":

I think the problem in evangelical churches is worse than in the Catholic church.

Christa Brown quoting "one survivor" of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist network of churches in "Sexual abuse in the SBC: what will it take to prompt meaningful action?":

For decades, pedophiles have been using the Southern Baptist legal strategy of autonomy to maneuver through their large network of churches undetected. While most of the public is only now learning about this, the SBC leadership has been very aware for a long time. They have repeatedly chosen not to act…. 
For many years now, survivors of Southern Baptist abuse have pleaded with the SBC to take action to protect vulnerable children. They have refused to implement even the smallest of safeguards and have continued to allow predator preachers to move through their churches, raping children in the name of God. Only once their public reputation is tarnished do they decide to take any action. 
Were the lives of hundreds of children not enough?

Southern Baptist abuse survivors have been claiming for some time now that the situation among Southern Baptists is worse than it is among Catholics. There are strong indicators that abuse of minors and other vulnerable people is a serious problem across Christian churches and across religious groups in general.

There's a strong undercurrent of anti-Catholicism in some parts of American culture that made many Americans predisposed to see this as a uniquely Catholic problem and to blame it on homosexuality — on gay priests.

But what many of these groups have in common — e.g., Catholics and Southern Baptists — is not a large proportion of gay clergy, but male-exclusive clubs that deliberately denigrate and exclude women, and put unchecked power into the hands of men solely because they are men. This is a deep root of the abuse problem.

Catholics also should not take comfort in the fact that this problem is far from confined to the Catholic community. Nor should Protestants who would love to see this as an exclusively Catholic problem caused by gay priests pat themselves on the back: the Southern Baptist story tells us how blind and foolish that response is.

Jonathan Merritt, "Southern Baptists' Midlife Crisis": 

"The liberals are long gone now, leaving no enemies for these "battling Baptists" to fight—except themselves.
The SBC is contracting in both membership and church attendance. It has shed a stunning 1 million members since 2003, and is on pace to lose nearly 100,000 people each year for the foreseeable future. Annual baptisms, which are of obvious importance to Baptists, have plummeted to a 70-year low. Additionally, the denomination is failing to either attract new young people or retain the ones it has. Only half of children raised Southern Baptist choose to remain Southern Baptist. Although the denomination has made attempts to curb the decline through evangelism task forces and mission efforts, such tactics aren’t working as hoped.

The Vatican's new document on gender identity, "Male and Female He Created Them," is a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm not only transgender people, but lesbian, gay, bisexual people, too. The document associates sexual and gender minorities with libertine sexuality, a gross misrepresentation of the lives of LGBT people which perpetuates and encourages hatred, bigotry, and violence against them. 

In using Natalia Imperatori's tweet to head this posting, I don't mean to imply she's talking about the intersection of  SBC and Catholic strategies for dealing with the two religious groups' respective sexual abuse crisis — or that she endorses my own attempt to set these two discussions side by side. She's a theologian and tweeter whom I highly respect, and I wouldn't want to suggest that she shares in any of the many faults this posting and my analysis might have.

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