Monday, February 11, 2019

The SBC scandal

Conservative Catholic pundit Matt Walsh made a poorly worded comparison:

A new report finds that over 300 Southern Baptist church leaders have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1998. To put that in perspective, the Catholic sex scandal in Pennsylvania implicated 300 Catholic clergy -- over a period of 70 years.

I'll revisit that momentarily. He made a number of follow-up comments;

Sex abuse is not a problem unique to Catholic churches. Other churches need to look at themselves. I tried to make this point months ago and a lot of people got mad at me. Well, here you go.

This is nonsense. Stop making excuses. You don't end up with 700+ victims if the situation is being handled well. And how could you possibly know that the "vast majority of offenders are caught"? That again is nonsense. By definition you cannot know the number who aren't caught

When you have efforts to silence victims -- which is the case here, and is always the case with these things -- you can be sure that "700 victims" is easily twice that number or more. Only the ones who weren't successfully silenced are counted.

When you read the report on the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Church, remember that this is the tip of the iceberg. It only counts the victims who spoke up. There are always more.

Catholics were the same way for a long time. It is sad to see other Christians making the same mistake.

I think some people are absolutely in denial about the sex abuse problems in their churches and denominations.

Not a competition. There are clear parallels between the SBC situation and PA (hundreds of abusers, cover ups, victims silenced, etc). Everyone was rightly outraged about PA. We should be outraged about this. The problem is bigger than one church. That's the perspective.

I tried to make a point about the severity of the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist church today. A lot of people have reacted with outrage (against me, not the abuse), apparently unwilling to face it. Please don't make the same exact mistake that Catholics made.

For a long time, a lot of good Catholics were resistant to the idea that there was a real crisis in the church. They thought the media was fabricating or exaggerating. They were more loyal to the institution than the truth. I see some SBC Christians making the same mistake today.

i. I think his explanatory comments are reasonable or indisputable. In addition, he's a harsh critic of his own denomination on sex abuse, so I don't think he's trying to divert attention away from his own denomination. 

ii) Naturally Catholics are going to comment on the SBC scandal. That's only fair. I don't take umbrage at that.

iii) But let's go back to the initial comparison. A comparison needn't be exact to be relevant. That said:

iv) From what I've read, there are some direct parallels. 

v) The basic issue is whether there's a pattern, and the source of the problem. From what I've read, the scandal in the SBC is not a case of isolated incidents, but more systemic. 

vi) The point critics like me have made is that in the case of the Roman Church, the specific problem is homosexuality. That includes the homosexual abuse of minors as well as homosexual activity between consenting adults (priests, bishops). And that's endemic in the contemporary Catholic church. We've also argued that there's a plausible link between mandatory priestly celibacy and a homosexual culture in the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy. 

To point to heterosexual misconduct in the SBC is a bait-n-switch. That's not a straightforward comparison. That's a different kind of misconduct, although it may involve similar mechanisms, viz. witness intimidation, hush money, confidentiality/nondisclosure agreements, coverups, reassigning abusive clergy. 

That isn't to minimize the gravity of heterosexual clerical misconduct, but it's equivocal and evasive to say evangelical denominations have the same problem. No, they have a different problem. 

It would be interesting to know if there's an underreported problem of homosexuality in the SBC. 

vii) If evangelical denominations have a ban on homosexual clergy, then (assuming the ban is enforced) that minimizes clerical misconduct of a homosexual nature. And from a biblical standpoint, homosexual conduct is misconduct. So that largely eliminates one type of sexual misconduct. 

Suppose you had a denomination that, as a matter of policy, ordains homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Then you're going to have both kinds of sexual misconduct. If you can minimize one line of sexual misconduct through a screening process, that's better than having a pattern of homosexual and heterosexual clerical misconduct alike. 

And in fact many Catholic conservative pundits take the same position. They agree that the central problem in the Catholic situation is rampant homosexuality in the priesthood and hierarchy. There's disagreement on whether that's linked to mandatory priestly celibacy. 

viii) As I've mentioned before, we also need to distinguish between a necessary risk and a gratuitous risk. A policy of ordaining homosexuals is a gratuitous risk. There's no justification for having homosexual clergy in the first place.  

Having straight clergy carries the risk of heterosexual misconduct, but that's unavoidable. You can't eliminate straight clergy. Clergy are supposed to be straight. So that's a necessary risk. 

ix) I'm not sure if there's a policy solution. The problem with policy solutions is that policies must be enforced by the people in charge. If, however, the people in charge are the abusers, then the policy will be flouted. 

At a policy level, the best you can probably do is to have lay oversight. And that includes women. But lay oversight is not a failsafe, since that's susceptible to cronyism. 

x) Predictably, progressives imagine the solution is to ordain women. But women are just as willing and able to abuse their authority as men. 

xi) Evangelicals don't make the same lofty claims for our denominations that Catholics make for theirs. It's quite possible for a denomination to become terminally corrupt. Indeed, that happens with some frequency. Sometimes you have to abandon the burning hulk and start over again. 

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