April 24, 2007

Know Them By Their Deeds: Southern Baptist Abuse Cases Getting Attention

According to The Christian Post, sex scandals involving Southern Baptist clergy are receiving increased attention, with some fearing that we are looking at a similar pattern as the widely known epidemic facing Catholicism. I find this fitting because my experience has been that Southern Baptists are among the first to condemn other denominations as not being "real Christians."

According to the article:
A six-month investigation was unfolded Friday night on ABC's 20/20 which found "preacher predators" all over the country and shielding themselves in churches.
Describing the case of Shawn Davies, a Missouri youth minister who plead guilty molesting 12-16 year-old boys, the article quotes Christa Brown, coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, as saying, "What's so terrible about this crime is that the weapon is the kids' faith." Indeed.

Not surprisingly, the coverage and the controversy deals with the appropriate role of the Southern Baptist Convention in policing sexual abuse at the level of local churches. It seems to me that a more compelling story would focus on the bridge between faith and abuse. Of course, I am not claiming that faith inevitably leads to abuse. However, there is reason to explore the possibility of some connection.

That the majority of sexual abuse cases involving children are perpetrated by persons known to the children should come as no surprise (despite unhelpful media depictions of deranged strangers). Trust is an important factor which allows abuse to unfold over time. Family members, teachers, coaches, and clergy all occupy positions of trust, conferred authority, and some degree of power.

What may distinguish clergy from these other groups is the sort of halo they have been given. Unlike family members, teachers, coaches, etc., indoctrination in faith puts clergy on a supernatural pedestal. Not only are they to be respected, trusted, obeyed, but they are often viewed as being inherently virtuous, mysterious, and as having a direct connection with supernatural entities. Thus, they have the same sort of power as members of other trusted groups plus some unique aspects that are all their own. Do these unique aspects help them get away with abuse for longer periods of time, change the nature of the abuse, or even increase its likelihood? I don't know, but it seems like this might be a topic worthy of investigation.

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