In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the Bard suggests that the memories of greatness or good someone has done fade from view far sooner than do the effects of evil done by the same person: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
For the good men do is buried with them while the evil that was done lives on in perpetuity.
Fast forward to the present and the sexual abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. From every outlet in the media universe, the staggering, horrific stories and first-person accounts of sexual abuse in Baptist churches and institutions have roiled the foundation of the SBC. Thousands of church members have been shocked as stories piled on, pell-mell, in confusing, seemingly endless revelations.
In churches, large and small, members were unaware of the carefully kept secrets. And when they did see, hear or say something, they most likely leaned on the refrain, “He/She is such a nice person. They were attentive to my shy grandchild, son or daughter. I really can’t believe those rumors.” In many situations, the abused person was attacked or shunned.
Let’s be clear: Countless abusers continued unchallenged because they accomplished much in the churches or agencies they served. For example, a missionary who was called “Uncle” because of his support for the mission was discovered actually behaving as a predator. So what has been remembered, the good or the evil?
What was not understood then, and is often unrecognized now, is that the serial abuser first took advantage and groomed the church or agency before he groomed an individual. The intent was focused. I daresay the revelations by a church or agency that they were “groomed” came much later in the timeline of initial employment to one’s leaving for another church, once discovered. In some cases, the abuser escaped to new employment, but with his old intentions to accompany him, thereby inflicting harm on unsuspecting people.
The day of reckoning will come for the abusers. The manipulation eventually will be seen in the light of charges against them. However, the intense pain of the victims and their families will be forever with them.
Mark Antony’s funeral oration should be an alert to all of us. The triumvirate appeared to have succeeded in their evil deeds. However, their motives soon became clear, and Rome suffered. Such quest for power led to their downfall. Their evil deeds have been long remembered, just as Shakespeare predicted.
In the SBC, we must never forget the reprehensible treachery of past decades as individuals and organizations are gradually being held accountable for their behavior and for their decisions. Yes, there will always be a trailing history of the good done by the abusers and their enablers. Unfortunately, the evil so evident in pain, suffering and irreparable loss continues to have a ripple effect that lingers through generations of the revered SBC.
Carl L. Kell is professor emeritus in the department of communication at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. He has written and edited books on the dramatic changes in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is working on the next book, an analysis of the late 21st century dissolution of the SBC, to be called Requiem – In Remembrance of the Southern Baptist Convention.