A response to SBC abuse investigation
The evangelical world is reeling today from yesterday’s release of the third-party investigation into the handling of abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. For background:
Robert Downen in the Houston Chronicle (will soon be behind a paywall)
Sarah Pulliam Bailey in the Washington Post
For those not on Twitter, here’s what I had to say:
I'm not an SBC insider by any stretch, but one of the first things I did when I started to write JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE was consult a lawyer because I knew sexual abuse and cover-ups needed to be part of the story. How did I know? Because I'd been listening to women.
They were speaking to each other, sometimes they shared on blogs, amplified by allies. On occasion they testified in court or gave an interview to a reporter, usually regional not national. But these stories were available for anyone who cared to listen. Turns out most didn't.
I hated writing the chapter on abuse. Originally it was twice as long. (My editor called it "bloated & undisciplined.") But if you look closely it's not just a chapter. The whole book makes clear how abuse & coverup on this scale happens.
When "the gospel" gets distorted into grasping for power, when men claim for themselves absolute authority and a host of other perogatives, when controling and then blaming women is the default mode, this is what you end up with.
"Those lamenting evangelicals' apparent betrayal of 'family values' fail to recognize that evangelical family values have always entailed assumptions about sex & power...Within this framework, men assign themselves the role of protector, but the protection of women & girls is contingent on their presumed purity & proper submission to masculine authority. This puts female victims in impossible situations. Caught up in authoritarian settings where a premium is placed on obeying men, women & children find themselves in situations ripe for abuse of power. Yet victims are often held culpable for acts perpetrated against them...While men (and women) invested in defending patriarchal authority frequently come to the defense of perpetrators, victims are often pressured to forgive abusers and avoid involving law enforcement. Immersed in these teachings about sex and power, evangelicals are often unable or unwilling to name abuse, to believe women, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to protect & empower survivors" (J&JW 277-78).
All of this was crystal clear from readily-available evidence, even to an outsider. Since writing the book, it's become even clearer. I've seen women & men who speak out against abuse in evangelical spaces slandered, mocked, & denounced.
I've watched evangelical leaders come out swinging against CRT & feminism & "winsomeness" & fellow Christians who won't play their game, while staying silent on abuse or giving only the blandest expression of "lament" while doubling down on maintaining their own power.
But this is nothing--absolutely nothing--compared to what survivors have endured, for years, decades even. At the hands of their own leaders. Their own communities. It is only because of their unrelenting quest for justice, at enormous personal cost, that we have this report.
Will this bring change? Watch closely. If all we hear from those with power are bland expressions of "shock" & grief, w/out publicly confessing their own complicity, their willful silence, without remorse for ignoring or slandering survivors & their allies or failing to call out friends doing so, what we'll see is more of the same. When corruption is this entrenched, institutionally, culturally, and theologically, change isn't going to happen because of a sudden "awareness."
They've known all along.