I got to thinking about this in light of a news article about the apparent suicide this past week of Walter Thomas “Tom” White, the executive director of Voice of the Martyrs, (VOM) founded by the late Richard Wurmbrand in 1967 to help Christians facing persecution around the world. VOM has been very influential in shaping the conservative worldview on these matters. (Last year I reported on the role of VOM Sudan country director Brad Phillips (son of conservative movement leader Howard, brother of theocratic home schooling entrepreneur Doug), and the distortions he brought before a congressional subcommittee.) White had been executive director of VOM for more than 20 years -- and court records obtained by the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper, "show that White had very recently been accused of molesting a young girl and authorities had launched an investigation."
To say that White was a prominent and influential figure is an understatement -- which makes the circumstances of his death all the more significant. (VOM reported revenue of $48 million in 2010.) The evangelical magazine Christianity Today recognized in an editorial that the Tom White episode underscores the historic inadequacy of evangelical churches in protecting children from predators. The Christian Post however, in reporting that White "passes away" completely ignored how and why he died.
While it has been less than a week since White's death, it seems more than fair to point out that there has not yet been any effort by self-proclaimed profamily groups to reconcile his ministry with the horrors of the circumstances of his death.
But of course, the White tragedy underscores the way that the Religious Right seeks to sweep the depth and breadth of human sexuality under the rug, and to render themselves distinctly and dangerously incompetent on matters of human sexuality -- from the privacy of pastoral counseling to the bully pulpit of public policy debate.
This stands in remarkable contrast to the historic efforts of mainline Christian and other religious institutions to recognize and act on the many issues of human sexuality that clergy and religious institutions necessarily have to address on a daily basis.
For example, two years ago I reported on an initiative of the Westport, CT based Religious Institute -- to articulate a progressive vision of where religious institutions need to go to and what they need to do to address the needs of whole persons throughout their whole lives, and in particular to protect children from predators.
Here is part of what I wrote:
The Religious Institute has just issued a 46-page report on the state of sexuality in religious communities and a manifesto that seeks to transform the status quo.
Goals include improved pastoral care of marital relationships, domestic abuse and infertility, and training for prospective clergy in sexuality-related matters.
The institute calls for religious leaders to provide lifelong age-appropriate education for youth and adults and to become more effective advocates for comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health in society.
Clergy are often first responders in matters of domestic violence and potential (and actual) suicides by young people struggling with sexual identity. The Religious Institute points out that these first responders have usually received little to no training for the job.
A singular strength of the document is that it offers an uncompromised progressive vision that does not conform to recent fashions in seeking "common ground" with conservative evangelicals and Catholics.
Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., agreed that there is a knowledge and training gap in terms of what parishioners need from their pastors, but he also saw the Religious Institute's manifesto as "evidence of the continued subversion of biblical authority and confessional integrity that characterizes the revolt against orthodoxy in so many churches."
Nevertheless, he acknowledged: "Our pews are filled with people worried about their sexuality, wondering how to understand these things, struggling with same-sex attractions, tempted to stray from their marriages, enticed by Internet pornography and wondering how to bring their sexuality under submission to Christ."
And while he thinks evangelicals "will rightly reject just about everything" in the Religious Institute's report, he did conclude that "they should not avoid its urgency in calling pastors and Christian leaders to teach and preach about sex and sexuality."
Indeed, he seems to be worried about the competition. "The Religious Institute wants liberal preachers to talk more about sex. My guess is that they will. But what about evangelical pastors?"
That continues to be a good question.
[UPDATE] The Tulsa World reports:
White was accused of molesting a 10-year-old girl, and police had started an investigation when he disappeared, according to court records.
A note in his vehicle indicates that he was suicidal or fleeing police, records show.
An autopsy is pending with the state Medical Examiner's Office in Tulsa.
Police Chief Tom Holland said Thursday that there was no evidence of foul play.
Holland, who is a board member for Voice of the Martyrs, had said previously that police were not investigating White.
Crossposted from Talk to Action