SBC’s numbers fetish
“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”
Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.
Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)
The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.
Hauerwas strikes again
Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.
Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.
Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.
In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.
Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.
The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.
Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.
Juicy Ecumenism, Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)
This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."
Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.
Gun nuts, pro and con
Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:
We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.
We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.
Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.
Burn them down.
But Mark Tooley has some cautions:
Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.
Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):
Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.
For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.
Life under soft totalitarianism*
If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.
G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)
I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:
- "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
- Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).
* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.
Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.
It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.