Last year, attendees at the annual Southern Baptist convention voted to commission an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse within the denomination. (For background into the allegations, see What Lies Beneath, February 2019.) Now a report has been issued, and it documents massive moral rot in SBC leadership. No surprise. The SBC denies what’s in the report, of course.
Theologian Russell Moore was one of the people who pushed for an investigation. When the allegations came out he was serving as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He resigned and left the SBC entirely in June 2021. I take it this was not entirely voluntary. Moore is religiously and culturally conservative, but he expressed the view that Donald Trump is nothing but a huckster and also was known to have sympathy for immigrants and for sexual abuse victims. This put him at odds with SBC culture. Ministers of individual SBC churches complained about him and began withholding money for missions. So Moore got pushed out and took a job as editor at Christianity Today.
The conclusions of the report are so massive as to almost defy summation. It corroborates and details charges of deception, stonewalling, and intimidation of victims and those calling for reform. It includes written conversations among top Executive Committee staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama. It documents callous cover-ups by some SBC leaders and credible allegations of sexually predatory behavior by some leaders themselves, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt (who was one of the only figures in SBC life who seemed to be respected across all of the typical divides).
And then there is the documented mistreatment by the Executive Committee of a sexual abuse survivor, whose own story of her abuse was altered to make it seem that her abuse was a consensual “affair”—resulting, as the report corroborates, in years of living hell for her.
In other words, the boys closed ranked to protect the boys being boys.
One of the most damning revelations is that the leadership for many years had maintained a secret database of accusations. This was not done for the purpose of addressing the sexual abuse but to stay ahead of possible bad publicity and legal liability. Sex abuse victims who made too much noise were “ignored, minimized and ‘even vilified’ by top clergy in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination,” it says here.
The SBC has a loose organizational structure that gives local churches considerable autonomy. One of the leadership’s excuses for not acting on accusations of sexual predation in the churches was that the SBC central administration didn’t have the authority to report local clergy to police. The leadership acknowledged that these things happened, but it was up to local congregations to deal with it. However, this same loosely governing body had in the past moved decisively to end the affiliation of churches that became accepting of homosexuality. The SBC governing bylaws ban gay or female pastors from serving in SBC churches but say nothing about sexual predators working in churches.
And, of course, officials in the leadership are among the accused perps in the report.
I warn you, this will be shocking — I got some interesting stuff from Erick Erickson, of all people. Apparently he’s a friend of Russell Moore. “Many of those implicated in the abuse turn out to be the very men who rallied to force Russell Moore out after he began publicly talking with survivors of the abuse,” EE writes. Then he says,
The men in charge were worried about governance issues and litigation more than the sin and victims. In fact, many victims were attacked and maligned.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a loose confederation of churches. Governance is at the individual church level. The Convention itself chooses to affiliate with churches that share a common missional purpose and Baptist approach, but the Convention does not hire, fire, or even oversee individual church pastors.
However, over the last few years, many of those implicated in the report have led the charge to sever ties with churches who put women in positions of church leadership or let women speak or preach from pulpits. Many of their allies have vocally attacked prominent women in the Southern Baptist Convention for not knowing their place. Concurrently, these same men were stymying efforts to sever ties with churches that employed documented abusers.
Typical. From there EE goes on to say that keeping women out of pulpits is biblically justified, and that’s true as I remember it, but as I’m not a Christian any more that’s hardly important to me. This is a pure reflection of their true values, not the Bible. The priority is protecting and maintaining the patriarchy, and if they have to break a few Commandments to do that, so be it. Greater good, etc.
These same men have probably marched through their lives thinking of themselves as keepers of the flame of morality and protectors of women and children. They’ve probably declared this out loud on many occasions. I don’t doubt that on some level they believe this to be true. But their real motivations, what really guides their actions and their opinons, have nothing to do with morality or Jesus or anything but the urge buried deep in their psyches to maintain their own privilege, their own Holy White Male status.
We must acknoweledge that institutional complicity in sexual predation is not exclusively a Southern Baptist problem, or a Christian problem, or even an organized religion problem. It’s cultural; it’s social-psychological. It happens everywhere.
Even so, it is notable that the two Christian denominations that are most adamantly opposed to abortion rights, Catholic and Southern Baptists, are the same ones most known for harboring sex predators on a grand scale. This is not a coincidence.
There’s a piece at Five Thirty Eight that says “People who believe in traditional gender roles — and perceive that those roles are increasingly being blurred to men’s disadvantage — are much likelier to oppose abortion than people who don’t hold those beliefs.” Which comes under the heading of “Stuff That’s Blazingly Obvious” to me, but I guess somebody felt a need to gather data on it. But note the zero sum thinking — blurring of the old order, expanding the parameters for women, must be coming at the expense of men. All that howling about “replacement theory” comes from that same place, whether about race or gender. The social order must be maintained at all costs. Equality terrifies them. Being just themselves terrifies them.They armor themselves in gender and race privilege and lose touch with whatever human beings may be huddled within the armor.
Do read The reinvention of a ‘real man’ by Jose A. Del Real in the Washington Post. It’s about a man in Wyoming who has made it his mission to coax other men out of the armor to be who they are.
Across the United States, men accounted for 79 percent of suicide deaths in 2020, according to a Washington Post analysis of new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also shows Wyoming has the highest rate of suicide deaths per capita in the country. A majority of suicide deaths involve firearms, of which there are plenty in Wyoming, and alcohol or drugs are often a factor. Among sociologists, the Mountain West is nicknamed “The Suicide Belt.”
More and more, theories about thegender gap in suicides are focused on the potential pitfalls of masculinity itself.
The data also contains a sociological mystery even the experts are unsure how to explainfully: Ofthe 45,979 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2020, about 70 percent were White men, who are just 30 percent of the country’s overall population. That makes White men the highest-risk group for suicide in the country, especially in middle age, even as they are overrepresented in positions of powerand stature in the United States. The rate that has steadily climbed over the past 20 years.
Some clinical researchers and suicidologists are now asking whether there is something particular about White American masculinity worth interrogating further.The implications are significant: Onaverage, there are more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide each year in the United States.
A lot of these suicides involve guns and alcohol, of course, but I assume everyone has equal access to guns and alcohol in Wyoming.
Bill Hawley, the subject of the article, thinks these men suffer from a big gap between their expectations and their reality. They are also conditioned to be stoic and tough, to be out of touch with their own emotions, to be walled up and defensive. Many have a hard time maintaining marriages or relationships with their adult children. And they are much less llikely to seek help than women, because to admit one needs help is to admit to weakness. So the alternative is booze and a gun. Call it the masculine mystique.
This is what the Southern Baptists are protecting. This is what the “great replacement” crap is about. Some wingnuts are even tying the “great replacement” to forcing White women to carry pregnancies to term. See, for example, At CPAC, “The Great Replacement” Theory Meets Anti-Abortion Nonsense. This lunacy isn’t doing the Holy White Men a damn bit of good, either, but they aren’t able to see that.
See also Josh Hawley’s “Virtuous Men” Should Grow Up from November 2021, which points out that the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the U.S. is homicide. It also points to a Psychology Today article about “precarious manhood,” or about the way traditional male gender roles are fragile and easily lost.
Traditional masculinity, as a form of social status, is “hard-won and easily lost.” A real man cannot simply be: He must repeatedly prove his masculinity.
In the U.S., Knowles and DiMuccio note, masculinity is associated by many with behaviors like “avoiding the appearance of femininity and homosexuality, seeking status and achievement, evincing independence and confidence, taking risks, and being aggressive.”
Nobody needs this crap, especially not the men who cling to it.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Southern Baptists, although that will be interesting to watch.