“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.” “Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis”
There has been a change in the public perception of religious leaders and a decline in religious affiliation in religious life in the US
I believe that the year 2020 will begin a decade of difficulties for the SBC as well as other conservative evangelical churches.The last 35 years have seen the worldwide Roman Catholic Church rocked with sex abuse scandals. Here is a CNN Timeline on the matter.
Having been a member of various evangelical churches during those decades, I became aware of the typical evangelical response to the RCC disgrace which went something like this. “If only priests could marry, this wouldn’t be happening.” This was an arrogant retort which would end with the evangelical church being rocked by their own sex abuse scandals. The fallacy? A normal priest who wanted to violate his vows would do so with a consenting adult, not with a 5 year old boy. The evangelicals would learn that hard lesson. The SBC was rocked with their own scandal in 2019 which was exposed in a carefully researched post in the Houston Chronicle.
Suddenly the attention of serious sex abuse in churches was shared between the Catholics and evangelicals/Protestants. Over the last few decades, the public perception of priests, pastors and faith leaders in general has plummeted. In my opinion, this has more to do with abuse than politics but I bet some will disagree. Christianity Today posted The 7 People Christians Trust More Than Their Pastors: Gallup’s latest poll finds Americans now believe clergy (at a record low) are nearly as honest and ethical as journalists (at a record high) written by Griffin Jackson.
Fewer than half of American Christians (42%) believe clergy have “high” or “very high” standards of honesty and ethics, according to breakouts provided to CT. Self-identified Christians were about as likely to rate clergy’s ethical standards as just average (43%), and about 1 in 10 (12%) considered them “low” or “very low.”
Among Americans as a whole, trust in the clergy fell to 37 percent, making it the eighth-most-trusted profession in the country—ranking below multiple medical professions, teachers, and police and just above journalists and building contractors.
…Even with declining confidence in clergy, pastors are by no means Americans’ least trusted professionals. That designation goes to members of Congress, who are given “low” or “very low” ratings by 58 percent of Americans. The majority (55%) of Christians, too, give negative ratings to congresspeople.
…In addition to members of Congress, telemarketers, and car salespeople are largely distrusted. Advertisers, stockbrokers, lawyers, and business executives are also more often perceived as having “low” or “very low” honesty and ethical standards than “high” or “very high” standard
To make matters worse, there has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of those who’re no longer affiliated with any religion. Religion News reported Nones’ now as big as evangelicals, Catholics in the US
But while most religious groups in the GSS survey either saw dips in affiliation or remained roughly consistent — such as black Protestants and those listed as “other faiths” — one group did see an increase: Mainline Protestants, who have been declining at a steady clip for decades, saw their numbers tick up slightly, from 10.2 percent to 10.8 percent.
Even so, Burge noted that the change is not statistically significant, and more years would have to pass to register if it signifies a resurgence among mainliners. In the meantime, he pointed to another trend: The rise of the religiously unaffiliated tracks closely with the decline of mainline Protestantism beginning in the early 1990s.
I predict that such changes may lead to a negative impact in court cases involving the leadership or hierarchy in evangelical churches.The Houston Chronicle report is key to understanding that public perception is changing and the SBC may be in for a ride on the legal side.
The public has become more educated on the long term impact of sex abuse, especially within the church. They are less likely to give churches a pass for failure to report abuse or for covering up sex abuse. Here are two examples of such lawsuits impacting the SBC.
Attorneys have filed a motion to add religious organizations to a multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit in connection with a sexual abuse case involving Immanuel Baptist Church in Colonial Heights.
The motion would add the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and the Petersburg Baptist Association to the civil suit already pending against the church and three individuals.
…The motion alleges that Ted Clark threatened one of the plaintiffs to recant his allegation against his son, which enabled Jeffrey Clark to continue working at the church.
Attorneys accuse the Georgia-based Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of failing to take action against “known perpetrators and failed to warn or protect its members from them.”
The lawyer for the plaintiffs said:
Biniazan says there is a two-fold reason behind this lawsuit, one is that Clark’s victims deserve compensation.
“Second, we want to do what we can to make sure that this doesn’t happen again and the only way that I know how to do that, and I’ve told my clients this, as a lawyer is told hold people responsible when they are responsible,” he said. “And the goal and the hope is that by holding entities or organizations responsible, that they will change the way that they do their practices and hopefully prevent this from happening again.”
Read this next quote carefully. The addition of the SBC and others to this lawsuit occurred after the Houston Chronicle report was released.
The additions to the lawsuit come after a Houston Chronicle report detailing 35 Southern Baptist pastors, youth ministers and volunteers who were convicted of sex crimes but were still allowed to work at churches.
The Christian Post reported that Arkansas Baptist State Convention failed to report abuse allegations against pastor, lawsuit claims
The civil lawsuit filed Dec. 16 accuses Arkansas Baptist State Convention Executive Director Sonny Tucker of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities after he was contacted by the ex-wife of Millcreek Baptist Church pastor Teddy Leon Hill about concerns that Hill might’ve been abusing minors.
Lawyers representing an unnamed plaintiff referred to as “John Doe” claim Hill met Doe when Doe came to the church at 13 years old seeking refuge from a troubled home. The lawsuit accuses Hill of sexually molesting and abusing Doe starting in 2014.
In 2016, Hill became Doe’s legal guardian, the lawsuit adds. Doe then moved into Millcreek’s parsonage, where Hill was living.
“Such abuse was perpetrated by Hill in his role as guardian, mentor, counselor and Pastor to Doe and occurred on the church property of Millcreek,” the lawsuit alleges. “The abuse perpetrated included multiple acts of sexual battery with Doe and involved deviate sexual activity.”
Listed as defendants in the suit are Hill, Millcreek Baptist Church, the Diamond Lakes Baptist Association, Tucker and the ABSC. The attorneys claim that Tucker had an obligation under the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Act to report the allegations against Hill to the Child Abuse Hotline.
…The state association stressed that it’s taking the allegations “very seriously.” ABSC is represented by the law firm of Friday, Eldredge & Clark.
Here is where it gets interesting. The ABSC claims that the plaintiff just doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between the church and the ABSC. They are going to rely on the argument that *We are all autonomous and you stupid people should know that.” (I would suggest that the ABSC realize that even those in the SBC don’t get it.)
“So far, our lawyers have seen no indication of impropriety on the part of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention or Dr. Tucker,” the ABSC statement reads. “Rather, it appears the plaintiff does not understand the relationship between the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the local church and pastor.”
…The ABSC contends that the plaintiff “mistakenly believes that the Arkansas Baptist State Convention somehow controls the local church and should have been monitoring this local church pastor’s actions.”
…The Southern Baptist Convention is not a top-down denomination but rather an association of autonomous churches that govern themselves.
The plaintiff’s attorneys are having none of this. What do you want to bet that they read the Hourston Chronicle report as well?
Also, the article reports that Arkansas and Virginia are going to work together on this hot mess.
“These organizations are working together in harmony,” attorney Kevin Biniazan told the newspaper. “The success of one benefits the other. And vice versa.”
Now, read the last line. The Christian Post appears to claim that the SBC voted to expel churches accused of mishandling sex abuse.
At SBC’s annual meeting last June, SBC delegates approved a resolution to expel churches accused of mishandling claims of sexual abuse or racism. They also amended SBC bylaws to give SBC’s Credentials Committee the power to investigate complaints against churches in instances of sexual abuse or racism.
In Friday’s TWW post, lawyer Boz Tchividjian appeared to disagree that the SBC churches function autonomously.
Boz called out the supposed autonomy of the SBC polity.
You will recognize what he said about this since many on TWW have said the same thing. He said a system that claims to have little or no authority over local churches would somehow find that authority if a church hired a woman or a gay person as pastor.
The problem with the SBC and autonomy
I have questioned the SBC’s claim of the autonomy of local churches. I’ve had some really smart people explain this over and over again to me and I’ve never fully comprehend the argument. So, when I see a smart man like Boz Tchividjian asking the very same questions, then I realize that this concept is not easily explained or understood. This should send a chill over the leaders in the convention. In fact, it probably is already happening.
Not much has been accomplished by the SBC, ERLC or the Credentials Committee in dealing with sewx abuse in the churches except for their Caring Well materials. That’s really nice but it appears that they are in no position to do much beyond a *read this * suggestion. I have a feeling that things have quieted down because too much action could be used against the SBC in coming lawsuits.
Fewer people in the US and other countries are willing to give clergy a pass on issues like rampant sex abuse. The Houston Chronicle investigation was a game changer. I am not an attorney but I do get the increasing anger when it comes to churches and abuse. I predict tough sailing ahead.