Should We Be Surprised?

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.


6 thoughts on “Should We Be Surprised?

  1. One addition or perhaps oversight. Wives of abusive pastors + chaplains of these denominations.

    Being married to an abusive ordained Chaplain for a very large denomination, I should know.
    Finally, I am divorced. Sadly, Praise God I’m out!

    Pastors who abuse their wives (+ sometimes children as well) sexually, physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally +/or mentally.

    These same men of God are leaders of local + national denominations, hospice + hospital chaplains, + pastors who run Christian schools + nonprofit organizations, + on Christian organization boards.

    They are hooked on online prostitution, pornography (even child pornography), do sex hookups, rape their wives when they are sleeping, drink, + gamble at the casino when everyone thinks they are at work midday.
    Sunday morning reading the scriptures before their congregations.

    Wives are trapped in a dual world full of hypocrisy, lies, abuse + secrets.

    A public life full of spirituality + a private life of horrors.


  2. You are so right, Paula. As a (finally retired) family doc turned trauma therapist, the number of individuals I’ve worked with doubly or trebly abused by church (first the sexual abuse by a person in a position of power, followed by rejection/denial/shaming (Its your fault, you asked for it, you’re lying, no one will ever believe you) by the church and then often by family and friends creates such trauma. I was honored to help folks on their healing journeys, and the scars remain. These death throe tantrums of the “old guard” are horrible. Peace and healing to us all.


  3. I love everyone’s comments!

    To Paula, Jimmy Carter left the SBC when they also proved hostile to including women amongst the leadership.

    (Jimmy Carter also signaled climate change when he installed solar panels on the White House lawns.)

    If you go back to Socrates’ death, then we should have prevented churches /belief institutions from assaulting children, which was happening 2 thousand years ago. In our time, the Boy Scouts of America think their new scout model, recruiting girls, will make them less culpable somehow for assaulting boys.

    Well, Miss Paula, we can fix this, going forward, I feel you will lead the conversation, as soon as you find the path you feel has more permanence.

    Also, I’d love your opinion on what airline travel should look like in the future. Lately, jet engine industry has unrolled a new 30% reduction in energy use, jet engine. Unfortunately, that is slow change. There is no doubt that air travel is faster. What do you think Paula? What should airline travel look like (in a hotter world).

    Maybe Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has some answers…

    Stay safe. Lot’s going on.


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