The recommendations in the report essentially represent a progressive takeover of the SBC, utilizing the same pattern of of Title IX style administrative control used by progressives in higher education (and elsewhere). As in secular society, accusations of wrongdoing are being leveraged for the purposes of seizing control of an institution.
In newsletter #49 I discussed the importance of defending institutional integrity. The first plank of this was “trusthworthiness,” that is, operating with baseline morals and ethics. As I put it, “You would think this would be a simple baseline element of institutional leadership, but alas apparently not. The number of churches and other Christian institutions with a variety of moral, ethical, operational, and even criminal problems is absurdly high.”
Unfortunately, one of the areas with severe failings has been in responding to abuse. The Catholic abuse scandals get the most press, but there’s a ton of Protestant ones too. At the same time, I pointed out that in the Protestant world, outrage over abuse is curiously selective and often associated with political attempts by activists to insert themselves as the leaders of the institution being accused. I said with regards to this:
This is why, although even accusations by enemies that are true need to be strongly addressed, you should never give any sort of position of authority or oversight of your organization to people making accusations against it. You’ll note that they frequently agitate for this such as by demanding that some allied organization be retained for an investigation, calling for the board members to be replaced (naturally by people of which they approve), etc. But just because I point out that an organization has some conflict of interest, for example, that doesn’t mean I or my buddies should be assigned any role in running or overseeing its finances.
I want to examine the recent Southern Baptist Convention abuse report through this lens. I didn’t go into any detail on the investigation itself and the findings. Sadly, I have no doubt that there are many cases of abuse, and many cases in which incidents of abuse were poorly handled.
The SBC is a huge denomination with nearly 14 million members. Clearly, any group this large will have lot of bad things happen within it. Demographer Lyman Stone suggested that the report shows the SBC has lower levels of abuse than we would expect. Even if that’s true, it certainly doesn’t excuse the evildoers or those who failed to correctly act in positions of authority. Judgment begins with the household of God. The Protestant house has not been in order on abuse.
Rather than the allegations themselves, I want to look at the report’s recommendations for action. There are about 30 pages worth of them, including 17 executive committee recommendations (along with two alternatives) and 16 credentials commmittee recommendations. So even in the recommendations, I cannot do a detailed analysis here. But I will give a big picture look.
Creating a Title IX Style Adjudication System in the SBC
Before getting into the recommendations, it’s important to note that in baptist church polity, each congregation is completely autonomous. Unlike other denominations like the Episcopal Church or the Presbyterian Church, where the denomination provides a lot of oversight and control over congregations, baptist denominations do not have authority over their churches. Basically, the only membership requirements are very low baselines, such as giving assent to the broadly evangelical Baptist Faith and Message statement. The SBC is more of a cooperative association than a denomination per se.
The abuse report recommendations start to change that in two key ways:
- It proposes creating an “administrative entity” that will be similar to a Title IX style tribunal in investigating allegations of abuse.
- It proposes turning the credentialing committee (which basically determines whether or not a church is affiliated with the SBC) into a more expansive accrediting committee that can kick out any churches that don’t comply with the Title IX style entity, or who are otherwise not perceived as following the party line from the report recommendations on abuse.
Given that this report is about some of the some heinous felonies on the books —sexual assault and sexual abuse —it’s remarkable how few references to the criminal or civil legal system there are in the recommendations. Apart from references to mandated reporting —cases where churches are legally obligated to report suspected abuse to the police —I only saw one reference to criminal justice in the recommendations, a note that the Title IX style entity might hire people from law enforcement backgrounds.