The child sex abuse crisis in evangelical Christianity, although less reported, is at least as bad as it is in the Catholic Church. Taken together, this suggests that there is a crisis of a different kind looming for the leaders of the Religious Right, whose concern for the victims of abuse has been too muted, and too often belated when it is evident at all. There is also too often an obvious and alarming tendency to sympathize and side with the abuser over the victims. The proud defenders of what they call "family values" become bizarre self-parodies, at best, under such circumstances.
The political side of the Religious Right has not, to my knowledge, had the same kinds of problems as the leading conservative religious bodies. But what is significant here is that some of the leaders are the same people, and their issues are therefore at the very least, a barrel full of hypocrisy. Times have changed, and victims and their advocates increasingly have the power to hold them accountable.
I have written about this before and will do so again, but today I am reminded of the seriousness of the matter by a Religion News Service story about a prominent evangelical child abuse investigator addressing "a room of journalists" on the subject. Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports:
The Christian mission field “is a magnet” for sex abusers, Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse said Thursday (Sept. 26) to a room of journalists.
While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, ”I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference. But it’s harder to track.
“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,” said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.
Mission agencies, “where abuse is most prevalent,” often don’t report abuse because they fear being tossed from countries, he said. Abusers will get sent home and might join another agency. Of known data from abuse cases, 25 percent are repeat cases.
scandal of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy and cover-ups by the hierarchy
is not only well-known but is so horrific that the moral and the official standing of these leaders and those who run interference for them needs to be directly questioned
, as Frank Cocozzelli does so well.
Much less well-known is the struggle within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Victims advocate Christa Brown, writing at the blog of the Associated Baptist Press asked: "When will Southern Baptist Convention address clergy sex abuse?". Brown, who also blogs at Stop Baptist Predators, discusses how the SBC has yet to develop policies to protect children in its care.
While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness.
Since 2006, clergy abuse survivors, and others, have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.
The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.
In 2008, TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists' rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.
Now here we are in 2012, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines.
Robert Parnham of the Baptist Center for Ethics sees the matter clearly
Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front. Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems.
My colleague at Political Research Associates, T.F. Charlton, has written about the ongoing sex abuse scandal in a prominent evangelical church network, Sovereign Grace Ministries (most recently, here and here). She discusses how what she calls "the cult of the 'greater cause'” is a factor in evangelical leaders have been rallying around the beleaguered "C.J. Mahaney, former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries (though still a leader in the group) and a defendant in the ongoing lawsuit alleging abuses and clergy coverups in the group" and even "dismissing any possibility that he’s been involved in any conspiracy to cover up abuse or silence victims."
By way of contrast, let's also consider that the liberal mainline Protestant denominations -- the ones that respect the moral capacity of women to determine their reproductive life, and many of which not only welcome LGTBQ people, who are then treated with dignity and equality, but may serve in leadership roles -- do not turn a blind eye to the problems, but also seek to prevent and address child sex abuse by clergy and others.
These include, among others, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ (PDF), The Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association. What's more, the progressive Religious Institute has resources for religious organizations considering developing policies and programs in this area, and consults with those who are looking to improve their policies and performance.
What I have outlined here is far from a comprehensive treatment of the subject, but it is probably a fair sketch of the difference between the conservative churches that provide much of the base and leadership of the Christian Right -- and many other traditional churches that do their best to deal with such matters in a far more open, responsible, and responsive fashion. But most importantly for purposes of this post, it also outlines a looming crisis for the religious/political movement we call the Religious Right. It might be a crisis from which it cannot recover.