Op-Ed: Southern Baptists are having a come-to-Jesus moment

Angered by the religious leaders of his day, Jesus called them “blind leaders” who “snatch a gnat but swallow a camel.” After the searing public disclosures of sexual abuse at this week’s Southern Baptist Convention, that description fits the leadership of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Two dates stand out in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first dates back to 1845 when the denomination was founded. Rejecting the push by northern Baptists to end the scourge of slavery, Southerners split to form the Southern Baptist Convention. Hardly a promising beginning.

The second crucial date was 1979, when conservatives mobilized to wrest control of the sectarian machinery from those they deemed too liberal. I contend that the label “liberal Southern Baptist” has always been an oxymoron, but several powerful interest groups, led by two men, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, thought otherwise.

In an origin story often repeated in SBC circles, Pressler, a Texas judge, and Patterson, president of Criswell College, who became influential president of two Southern Baptist seminaries and president of the SBC, plotted their takeover at the Café du Monde in New Orleans in 1977. Realizing that the SBC president had sweeping appointing powers that could affect the denomination as a whole, they mobilized members to elect a series of conservative (some call them fundamentalist) presidents beginning in 1979.

The domino effects were enormous. Politically, the new leadership steered the denomination strongly to the right. According to Jimmy Carter, when a delegation of SBC officials visited him at the White House shortly after the takeover, Bailey Smith, an Oklahoma pastor, informed the Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher: “We pray, Mr. President, that you will give the secular one.” Humanism as your religion.” (When Carter told his wife, Rosalynn, about the meeting that night, he asked, “What is a secular humanist?” She didn’t know either.)

The effects of the Patterson-Pressler coup took hold over time. As a series of SBC presidents systematically appointed other conservatives to seminary boards and sectarian organizations, a vicious purge of “liberals” ensued.

Theologically, the new regime insisted on biblical infallibility, the doctrine that the Bible is entirely free of error and contradiction. The creation accounts of Genesis, for example, had to be taken literally. But her real passion was directed against women in leadership positions.

The purge was devastating. Careers have been ruined, nearly 2,000 congregations have left the denomination, and dozens if not hundreds of talented women have been denied access to the pulpit. More recently, Southern Baptist Convention leaders have turned their attention to the dreaded critical race theory.

For the ruling cabal, there seems to be no shortage of gnats.

The size of the camels they were willing to devour while conducting search-and-destroy missions against liberals came to light with this week’s 288-page report on the culture of sexual abuse at the Southern Baptist Convention.

The report, compiled by an outside group, Guidepost Solutions, found that the denomination’s executive committee kept a list of more than 700 pastors accused of being predators. Instead of disciplining ministers or preventing them from attacking others, the leadership, on the advice of lawyers, remained silent, going so far as to slander those who filed complaints. On Thursday evening, those responsible published a list of alleged perpetrators.

“Behind the curtain,” the report said, “lawyers advised to say nothing and do nothing, even if callers identified predators still in SBC booths.”

The report contains revelations about the Executive Committee itself.

One member, famed SBC pastor Johnny Hunt, a former congregation president, is said to have sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife. Investigators named her husband and four other people as “credible” supporters. Hunt, who denies the allegation, resigned a week before the report was released.

D. August Boto, General Counsel of the Executive Committee and interim president of the committee, reportedly called survivors’ attempts to get the SBC to act on their allegations as “a satanic plan to completely distract us from evangelism.”

Among many abuse stories that have been serially ignored, the report documents the claims of a woman who says she has been repeatedly bullied by the pastor of her church since she was 14. She became pregnant and was forced to make a public apology and forbidden to name the father, who later served in another Southern Baptist church.

It turns out the Roman Catholic Church has nothing against the Southern Baptists when it comes to covering up sexual misconduct.

Other reports are equally staggering, but lest anyone misunderstand, the real danger facing the Southern Baptist Convention is critical race theory and women ministers. mosquitoes and camels.

Both Pressler and Patterson were disgraced. Judge Pressler is involved in a civil case over allegations of raping a young man. Patterson was fired from his seminary presidency in 2018 by the SBC executive committee, which cited his mishandling of a student rape charge. That same year, he was denounced in an open letter signed by thousands of SBC members for making comments about women’s appearance in recorded sermons and for advising wives who had been physically abused by their husbands to remain silent .

Doctrinal purity, I suppose, has its place. But there is also the danger of wrongly setting priorities. In addressing the sex abuse crisis, the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to consider a question Jesus asked his followers: “Why do you look at the grain of sawdust in your brother’s eye and not at the board in it? your own eye?”

Randall Balmer, professor at Dartmouth College, is the author of Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-05-27/southern-baptist-convention-sex-abuse-crisis-guidepost-report Op-Ed: Southern Baptists are having a come-to-Jesus moment

Alley Einstein

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