Many have been shocked to learn that the Southern Baptist Convention kept a secret list of hundreds of clergy sex abusers and did not use it to protect assault victims. Instead, they used it to protect the denomination. The coverup goes to the highest echelons of Southern Baptist leadership, including the architects of the conservative takeover of the 1970s.
Am I surprised? Of course not. My Doctor of Ministry degree is in pastor care. I led a large ministry that employed hundreds of pastors. While we never had a pastor arrested or convicted of sexual abuse, I do know that male pastors are pretty much like every other male on the planet. Their sexuality is a problem. Testosterone, without the constraints of applied moral agency and self-discipline, can ruin lives.
In one twenty-year period, the three largest US insurance companies that insure Protestant churches paid out 7,095 claims for sexual assault against clergy or volunteers, 99.5 percent of whom were male. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. No one should be surprised that a list exists of hundreds of perpetrators arrested and convicted of sexual crimes, not to mention the countless others who used their power to initiate affairs. After the revelations of the Catholic Church and its coverup of the truth about abuse among its clergy, should we be surprised that the Southern Baptist Church has the same problem? The Southern Baptists won’t be the last. Every evangelical denomination has an approaching day of reckoning.
No church dominated by male clergy is ever going to willingly address the sexual sin within their own ranks. It is the way of the patriarchy. The problem will be addressed only when the push for justice comes from the outside.
Because it affects my personal life on a daily basis, it is disturbing that the Southern Baptists and every other male-dominated denomination have spent decades drawing attention away from their own clergy failings by attacking the LGBTQ+ population.
The Southern Baptists are one of the biggest supporters of anti-transgender legislation. They are the largest denomination that supported the infamous HB2 law in North Carolina, forbidding transgender people from using the proper restrooms. They said we were in women’s restrooms for nefarious purposes, though there has never been a single arrest, let alone conviction, of a transgender person for being in a restroom for nefarious purposes. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the law was quickly rescinded.
Unfortunately, that is not the case with the plethora of laws passed this year taking away the civil rights of transgender children. All of these laws have been driven by white evangelicals, 84 percent of whom believe gender is immutably determined at birth, 66 percent of whom believe we already give too many rights to transgender people, but only 25 percent of whom know someone who is out as a transgender person.
These churches will continue to divert attention from their own failings by creating enemies that don’t exist. What we are seeing today in conservative Christianity is the last desperate grasp for power from white male religious leaders. They know that by 2045 whites will be in the minority in the United States. They’ve seen church affiliation plummet from 70 percent to 47 percent in just twenty years, and the #MeToo movement has uncovered the inability of any male-dominated community to police its own members.
When people are cornered, they either surrender or lash out. The lashing out has already commenced. Why else would you attack a defenseless group of transgender children and their loving, committed parents? It is a desperate attempt to divert attention away from the problem of predatory clergy. It is a classic version of the iconic phrase from The Wizard of Oz – “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
I have little doubt that toxic evangelical Christianity is headed in the same direction as white supremacy. But neither will go quietly into the night. They will go kicking and screaming the entire way, leaving bodies in their wake.
I imagine my evangelical friends will find this post harsh. Before I left that world, I might have found it harsh too. Most of the people inside male-dominated corridors of power are not evil. In fact, most want to bring about positive change and are appalled by revelations like those within the Southern Baptist Convention. But your entire worldview has been shaped by white men. And try as you might, you just don’t know what you don’t know.
I still carry my male privilege with me. It is baggage chained to my being. My frame of reference is still tied to all those years as a man. I know I am moving in the direction of understanding inequity, but I doubt I’ll live long enough to fully remove myself from the conclusions drawn from decades of entitlement and privilege.
I do not feel sorry for the Southern Baptist Convention. I do feel sorry for the tens of thousands of victims who are being retraumatized by these revelations. Their cries for help went unheeded for far too long and their PTSD will be great. The church must atone for its sins, and the particulars of that atonement should not be determined by their clergy. They should be determined by those who have been traumatized by the men who abused their power and stole the future of so many innocent people.