By Christa Brown
The Southern Baptist Convention is convening its annual ballyhoo in New Orleans this week, but it doesn’t look as though they will make any progress on protecting kids against clergy sex abuse.
Since 2006, clergy abuse survivors, and others, have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.
The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.
In 2008, TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists’ rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.
Now here we are in 2012, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines.
A faith group that so devalues its children must change. So we know where this is going. Change is inevitable.
Sooner or later, Southern Baptists will learn the lesson that pious preaching won’t protect kids against clergy predators. What we don’t know is how long the lesson will take.
Maybe it will take 10, 20 or 50 years. But we know how this ends. Southern Baptists will eventually come up to speed with what other faith groups are doing to assure that predators cannot easily hide among their clergy ranks.
It is inevitable. A future is coming when children in Baptist churches will be a great deal safer than they are now. A future is coming when those who report clergy abuse will be met with ministry and outreach rather than minimization and denial. A future is coming when people in the pews will be able to find out about credibly accused clergy so that predators cannot so easily church-hop.
When that future arrives, we will all look back with a vague sense of wonder at why it took Southern Baptists so long.
But there is always someone who fights a rear-guard action to preserve the status quo. And it doesn’t matter how irrational or dysfunctional that status quo may be.
When it comes to dealing with clergy sex abuse, it looks as though the rear-guard status quo will be Southern Baptists.
While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness. Worst of all, they claim religious principle as the reason. Confronted with people trying to report predatory clergy, Baptist leaders retreat behind the Pharisee-like legalism of their autonomous polity as an excuse for why they are powerless.
It might be comical if it weren’t so dangerous.
But someday, even this most recalcitrant of faith groups will see the light and take action. It is inevitable.
Meanwhile, the rear guard is convening in New Orleans this week. How many more conventions will it take before Southern Baptists provide their kids with the same sorts of safeguards as kids in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal churches.