Calls for SBC-Wide Action — and Consequences for Inaction

I designed SBC Abuse Solutions as a research/resource site for those who believe that SBC local churches and official entities need to change — and that we can implement genuine and long-lasting systemic changes. Systemic abuse will be the make-or-break issue for whether the SBC does something radical and sustainable–or nothing substantial or redemptive. Your choice–as individual churches, and institutional association. I hope Southern Baptists will persevere in carrying out what needs to be done. For the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, and the gospel.

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SOURCE NOTES: The following essential call to action and consequences was adapted from several of my articles and Twitter threads, plus other previously unpublished material:

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I designed SBC Abuse Solutions as a research/resource site for those who believe that SBC local churches and official entities need to change — and that we can implement genuine and long-lasting systemic changes. But I’m reminded of the old joke:

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one, but the lightbulb really, really, really has to want to change!

It’s the same with the SBC. Does it, as a wider system, really really really want to change on issues of abuse, or not?

Up until the beginnings of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, the answer modeled by the convention as a whole was clearly, “No, not interested.” Even then, despite the beginnings of institutional action in some of the SBC entities, there was resistance. Some labeled calls for addressing past and present issues of sexual abuse, harassment, and cover-up as capitulating to culture. Some evoked local church autonomy as theological reason enough for not being controlled by SBC entities on such things as establishing a database on predatory clergy, and even past Annual Meeting resolutions on abuse-related topics were strictly advisory.

As a futurist, I watch the social horizon for patterns in behaviors across different cultural domains, and especially look for trends that are driving constructive change or major challenges that could lead to derailment of institutions’ trajectories, or even implosion. This warning is what I posted on my futuristguy blog in June of 2018–seven months before the Abuse of Faith investigative report series.

    • Abuse of power.
    • Abuse survivor recovery and advocacy.
    • Institutional toxicity.
    • Remediation (repair work) and restitution.
    • Qualified, unqualified, or disqualified leaders.

From what I’ve been seeing, these are issues I believe the SBC needs to face in 2018. Since late April, I have been tracking the situations involving Paige Patterson, Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries, and a range of responses within the wider SBC to the issues raised there and to others. Once the situation regarding Paige Patterson settled down some, my attentions turned to tracking practical issues where SBC insiders and outsiders were calling on the convention to address. Various commenters were challenging the SBC toward specific changes, if it truly intended to get their house back in order, repair the damages, and regain lost trust.

Understandably, while local SBC churches are autonomous, their reputation is affected by SBC associations. There has been substantive damage done to the SBC’s corporate reputation and trustworthiness as a body, because of a series of credible accusations of abuse of power and other misconduct and malignancies in ministry. And that damage boomerangs right back onto local churches. So, I’ve been wondering: What will it take to “clean house”? And, what could happen in attempting to go forward if you do not clear up the past and present issues first?

The more that comes to light as a result of this “unraveling of revelations,” the deeper and more long-term the cleaning up process will be, it seems to me. I think this is especially true of situations involving abuse, harassment, and violence that have occurred in SBC churches and entities. If there is silence or other forms of shutting down the voices of survivors, I am increasingly convinced the SBC will face investigative reporting in the public spotlight, and potentially even lawsuits. Your theological view may be that believers should not be engaged in taking other believers to court, but sometimes no other options are left to victims when so many leaders have not lived up to their biblical ethics and responsibilities. So, lawsuits may prove inevitable as a last resort for victims of individuals associated with SBC systems. (I have been noting this for several years, in relation to all denominations and associations. See my series of posts on Trends in Survivor Communities for my reasoning behind that conclusion.)

Then came the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express Abuse of Faith series of six initial investigative reporting articles, starting in February 2019, with various spin-off articles about what was happening within the SBC. The spotlight focus had wide-ranging impact, and the SBC sex abuse investigation voted No. 1 religion story of 2019 by the Religion News Association (December 17, 2019; contact person: RNA COO Tiffany McCallen). On the ballot for top religious newsmaker of the year by this a journalists’ association which has an international membership was “Rachael Denhollander, who provides a leading voice for survivors of sexual abuse and calls for reforms in the Southern Baptist Convention and other church groups where revelations of abuse emerge.”

It would seem impossible to deny that the Southern Baptist Convention has some kinds of problems in dealing with abuse. But the SBC churches and entities deciding to deal with these issues has been a ver-r-ry slo-o-ow train comin’, with little decisive action until 2019. And it is still uncertain whether the SBC train will ever get to the station. It may, but it may not, or perhaps some of the passenger cars will either try to switch the tracks or unhitch from the chain.

And so, 2020 looks to be a watershed year for Southern Baptists in dealing with abuse. They constitute the second largest Christian denomination in the U.S., after Roman Catholics. Both have earned deservedly bad reputations because of cases of child sexual abuse and abuse of power to shield predators and enablers.

If the SBC does not want to be tagged forever as “The Pedophile Protestant Denomination,” they must act more decisively and consistently to make significant progress on systemic abuse as a larger community. Calls for autonomy without carrying out corporate accountability will change nothing. If they fail in tasks of addressing systemic abuse, the SBC’s negative reputation on this account practically guarantees their soon irrelevance for evangelism, missions, and discipleship.

Why would I say that? Two key cultural demographics amplify whether there is sufficient action or not on issues of abuse. These groups are barometers of whether SBC ministry will face stormy weather that could sink its ship, or the context of calmer cultural seas and smoother sailing.

First, we live in a world where research shows that 1 in 3 women is victimized by sexual abuse/violence—same in America, and about 1 in 4 men. With that percentage of the global population reeling from the effects of such trauma, how can we not try to ensure that we get how to minister to abuse survivors, and ensure that our organizations are safe places for people to congregate? (For sources on those research statistics, see this Twitter thread on SBC and Abuse Survivors from October 18, 2019.)

Second, American generations younger than about 35 have been reared in a culture immersed in messages about anti-bullying and anti-abuse. Those who are now at least middle to older teenagers have experienced the formative years of a public #MeToo social movement, which has spread across all religions and philosophies, all social and cultural domains. The value structures of these younger generations include low tolerance for abuse of individuals or for social injustices. Do you think they’ll put up with a “pro-predator religion”?

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I do not have much additional to say about this topic other than one crucial warning to stress:

To become trustworthy to abuse survivor communities, the Southern Baptist Convention must prove that its institutional entities are addressing abuse issues, and local churches must prove that they are as well.

If the official entities cannot do this, and if any local churches will not, you can expect your current bad reputation to continue.

And failure to undergo paradigm and corporate culture shifts will bring their own consequences over time—and it may be a relatively short time—with the national and global realities on sexual abuse and violence being what they are and with the changeover of generations to those who will not tolerate either actively bullying or apathy and passivity on injustice.

The checklist for correcting the current overall situation. But the systemic tasks involved are extensive. In this blog post, I summarize this work in four main categories of actions for any institution, and offer a number of specifics for the Southern Baptist Convention: What Will It Take for the SBC to “Clean House”? Four Suggestions from a Futurist. (June 7, 2018). A bit of research, and you’ll be able to expand the lists of specifics for additional individuals and issues that have been identified since I posted this in 2018.

I would urge SBC pastors, theologians, ministers, and members to get autonomy aright; it is not without accountability, and false autonomy can easily lead to authoritarianism. I share some key points about this in my blog post on The SBC and Polity — and Authority, Civic Responsibility, Systems Connectivity, and Toxicity (February 14, 2019).

Others in roles of teaching and influence within the Southern Baptist Convention have recently been posting their concerns and clarifications about the intertwined issues of autonomy, authority, authoritarianism, association, and accountability. I’d strongly recommend you find a range of perspectives and follow their argumentation, logic, and implications.

Final note: Systemic abuse will be the make-or-break issue for whether the SBC does something radical and sustainable–or nothing substantial or redemptive. Your choice–as individual churches, and institutional association.

Please persevere in carrying out what needs to be done. For the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, and the gospel.

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