Here’s My Question

I know the Southern Baptist Church doesn’t have the same level of hierarchy as other denominations, but when the Convention decided that women couldn’t be ministers, that was the end of it. Baptist churches can have women ministers, but then they don’t get to be Southern Baptist.

So, to say that you can’t have some edict from on high that all churches follow because that’s just not the way the Church works seems to me to be slightly disingenuous.

Let me tell you, this will happen. Maybe not a database, but the SBC is going to have to figure out some way to deal with this more effectively than just saying “La, la, la, we can’t hear you.” The first reason is because there are a ton of victims out there, who are hurting and who needed their God’s love to come through the Church and instead got told, in so many words, to just keep quiet. That kind of evil cannot stand. We saw that with the Catholic Church. This stuff comes out, eventually, and the people too cowardly to do anything about it get to go down in history as just that, cowards.

But the second reason is the reason that I imagine things will finally start to happen. Right now, because the Church has its head up its ass, there is no recourse for the innocent minister. If you’re accused of something, those rumors follow you around, because people don’t know for sure. If congregations can trust that, when an accusation is made, that the proper investigations are made and the truth discovered, then people who are falsely accused have protection and people who are properly accused meet justice.

There may be a third thing that begins to come into play as well. In most states, there are certain professionals–teachers, ministers, and the like–who are legally required to report abuse if they suspect it (as Ulrich points out in her original story). If the church can’t figure out a way to clean up its own messes, the law will have to step in to do it, which means that anybody who knows a pastor is sexually abusive and stays quiet will have legal as well as spiritual problems.

My favorite part about Ulrich’s post over at Pith is when the bigwigs are all “Our congregations are too stupid to use computers.” You’d think that’d be a deal breaker for most people–that once they learned their Church hierarchy thought they were idiots, they’d either find new churches or rework the hierarchy. But people are strange.

Edited to add: Actually, this post appears to have no question.  I did have a question, but I can’t remember what it was.

12 thoughts on “Here’s My Question

  1. I’m too late to comment on the Holiday Inn post–which I loved because it reminded me of being a kid–and all the posts about your dad. Who seems to be doing better and getting some love from the parisihoners. All of which makes me glad.

    So I guess I’ll start into commenting by being the token SBC member around here. (Although given the state of things–and the fact that I still consider myself a Mennonite even though I go to an SBC church–I am the crappiest possible token.)

    The SBC in general tends to be all about “the people are stupid and our job as ministers is to Lead Them”. It’s a stance which I hate. The problem comes in to play when you have a bunch of men who are truculent about being in charge. They all want to be in charge so they’ve created this loose confederation of fiefdoms where EVERYONE can be in charge of his own pond. Make no mistake, there is authority in the SBC. Too much, from where I sit. Very few SBC congregations seem to be led by anyone who is of the “servant-leader” mindset.

    This means that certain aspects of governance play differently in the SBC. If the Catholic church is like a monarchy, the SBC is like old Scotland with the Clans vying for loudest voice.

    The problem, at the heart of it, is not about victims getting help but about who pays for that help and who pays for the consequences. There is untold wealth in the SBC–a visit to Saddleback or my own home church of FBC Nashville shows it. Unfortunately the whole Fiefdom Confederacy means that there is also untold poverty. Some SBC churches are dirt poor and can’t afford hymnals–let alone pay settlements to victims.

    And of course, the big guys at the bigger churches don’t want to give over any money for something that they perceive to be not their problem.

    So I don’t see it as an issue of the church having its head up her ass. It’s an issue of the Church having too many cooks in the kitchen, none of whom want to share the soup evenly.

  2. Do Southern Baptist ministers have to go to seminary?

    I mean, I think everything you’re saying here is spot on (and I hope other Protestant denominations are paying attention because there’s no way this isn’t a problem with all sects), but I’m still amazed that they seem to think that they can just both issue edicts from on high and claim that they can’t issue edicts from on high.

    That seems to me to be the kind of stuff that a lawyer could make great hay out of.

    And I’m just wondering if there’s ever some point where the whole Convention recognizes individual ministers as being official ministers, because it seems to me that that might be another way in which the whole Convention could be held responsible for what’s going on.

    I have to tell you, though, what worries me about what you’re saying is that it seems to me to be utterly predictable–knowing humans as I do–that the SBC will find some way of keeping known predators out of big churches and not inform poorer churches and so those poorer churches will end up being the ones who are prey to these folks.

  3. Then there’s that OTHER token Southern Baptist….

    I don’t think there’s any written rule that says “To be a Southern Baptist Minister, one must go to Seminary.”
    The better paying gigs tend to go to the ones with Seminary Degrees. Not always, but, a lot of the time.

  4. Hmm. I just wondered. I’m also watching this closely because I’ve heard some stuff these past few weeks about goings on in my own denomination of birth and I know the Methodists will be looking to y’all to see how you handle this.

    And so I’m really hoping it gets handled with honesty and love. But that’s really hard for everybody to do.

  5. as a methodist & youth pastor, read the article on the sbc abuse and was taken back, but mostly because of the very descriptive nature of the article. i get a google news feed on “youth ministry” “youth minister” “church” etc. on a daily basis and just about every day there is some report of abuse. it’s disturbing.

    as far as the youth & children are concerned, we have been sloooowly implementing procedures suggested through legal resources put together by our church, generally referred to as “safe sanctuaries.” what might protect the greater/older congregation? well, not much i suppose. all our clergy are run through the ordination process, not fun, and takes a number of years, a divinity degree is required. so, most of the folks you get in the pulpits are educated and scrutinized enough that a ‘opportunistic’ predator just isn’t found in the bunch. that said, people do change and it can happen, i just haven’t read about it. church staff, or a youth pastor like myself, doesn’t have to be clergy to be recognized as part of the local church non-ordained ministers. so that is where umc’s might find their troublesome folks. myself, i was given a thorough background check before coming to my current church. so liability wise, if i were at any point taking advantage of people (which is insanely gross to me) then the local church is at least backed by some practice to put away negligence.

    as a denomination, we still have a hierarchy of sorts. our churches are “connected” as part of the united methodist denomination. our churches pay “apportionments” to the conference level that gets spread out for all pastoral care, smaller churches, conference administrations, and more… so if something were to go down at a smaller congregation, they would be held liable for sure, but someone can, and probably has, gone after the conference level and the general church level.

    as for the women minister thing.. some of my fav ministers in this area are ladies. wish i could say we all don’t have an issue with that, but 20 some years later, there are still some grumblings, but there isn’t anything they (the grumblers) can do about.

  6. Actually, Gavin, that’s one thing that’s been weighing heavily on my mind, is hearing one of my dad’s friends (they’re both Methodist ministers) who’s younger than me talking about how members of the Board of Ordained Ministers asked one of his friends how she ever expected to effectively serve a church, since she’s so young and pretty and no one will take her seriously. That’s a problem still looking for someone to say enough is enough.

    Also, I’m not sure that being ordained and going through an extensive training is necessarily a block. Look at the Catholics. It’s not easy to become a priest.

    I think that, for some folks, who have those proclivities but don’t want to get outside help, they may think that the rigor of pastoral training will help them suppress their desires. Of course, it’s not designed to fix all problems.

  7. To be honest, I think that it is handled with honesty and love in most cases. I’ve been in more than one church where this type of thing has happened and it’s seldom swept under the rug in the way it appears it was in the Catholic church.

    The fact that there is no centralised hierarchy does prevent that to a degree. Without a bishopric or diocese as a governing body it’s not possible to just “move a minister” to a smaller church. What IS possible is for a minister who was kicked out of one church for this to find a new home at another church in another city.

    What concerns me the most is that many of the folks who appear to be advocates for the abused are actually working in tandem with attorneys in an effort to mount a class action case. The fight against the Catholic church amounted to a huge payday for a lot of lawyers, and they’ve turned their eyes to the next set of deep pockets–or so they think.

    I have great sympathy for those who have been abused at the hands of a clergyman or other authority figure. I do not have any sympathy for Tortseekers who use those people’s pain to earn a contingency fee.

  8. Pingback: The Whole SBC Molester Thing « Just Another Pretty Farce

  9. that certain scenario infront of the board is sad, and chances are, if it were recent i probably know the players involved. the bom is still very much an old boys club, though, that is changing… slowly.. so ignorant remarks like that don’t come out. some have said, questions like that are strategically asked just to get the reaction and see the reaction. that may be the case, if it were, that is adolescent.

    as for the catholic crisis. there is a whole different ethos to being a catholic priest versus protestant minister.

  10. Pingback: Music City Bloggers » Blog Archive » Remembering the perpetrators

  11. Aunt Bee, there was no “edict”. The convention doesn’t have the authority to issue an edict. A very small minority of SBC churches do have women pastors. It is less than a tenth of one percent, but the churches are still members of the convention. It is really hard to get somebody from a different tradition to understand the autonomy of local congregations and the lack of a governing body, but whatever. But even in the most doctrinally conservative congregations, they still fellowship with their fellow Methodists, even the ones that have female pastors. Its one of those beliefs that is not seen to be that important, not like the Deity of Jesus or something. For something like that it is kind of like “we believe this, if you don’t then fine. ”

    No, SBC pastors do not have to go to seminary. The larger churches would never hire a pastor that didn’t go though. But in the sticks, it happens a lot I assume. Please try to understand that no congregation is governed by anything other than the members of that congregation. Thats it. The Deacons are elected and the pastor is hired. If the members want them gone, they vote on it and get rid of them.

  12. Oh, excuse me. There was a resolution “encouraging” women to give up on being pastors or ordained officials in any role. And y’all don’t ordain women.

    And you do reserve the right to forbid people from sitting at the annual convention and being recognized as Southern Baptists. Your constitution forbids churches that “affirm, approve, or endorse” homosexual behavior from being recognized. You also reserve the right to forbid people from being seated if their church is unfriendly to the goals of the Convention.

    The Convention has made it a specific edict–or goal–to have no women pastors. One might imagine a time when the Convention decides to not recognize Baptist churches with women pastors.

    All that is beside the point, though. It’s clear that the organization of the Convention is to have it both ways. The Convention was incorporated specifically so that it could conduct business on behalf of Southern Baptists and so to claim (quoting from the constitution)–“authority to receive, hold, possess, retain, and dispose of property, either real or personal, to sue and be sued, and to make all bylaws, rules, and regulations necessary to the transaction of their business, not inconsistent with the laws of this State or of the United States – said corporation being created for the purpose of eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary not withstanding.” and “It is the purpose of the Convention to provide a general organization for Baptists”. And yet it also tries to claim “While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.”

    How something can both provide legal organization for churches and somehow claim to not have legal authority over them is a problem.

    It’s not a problem I have an opinion about one way or another. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong.

    I’m saying this is a legal issue the Southern Baptist Convention is going to have to deal with, because, win or lose (and y’all may very well win), the lawsuits are just a matter of time. And the SBC would be far better off to be proactive–either by trying to address folks’ concerns or by hiring bright lawyers and figuring out how to pay for them.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    The “we are a legal entity, but can’t be held accountable legally for stuff” argument is problematic.

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