Southern Baptists and #ChurchToo: A Homeowner Analogy

Many years ago, Jim bought a new home. It was in a good location, it looked nice, and it was a very popular house. Jim entertained many guests there.

But as the years passed, Jim started to notice a problem. His basement had some cracks, and–when it rained–water was leaking into the house. The walls of the basement started bowing. He clearly had a foundation problem. He also noticed some termites in and around the house. He had heard the horror stories about termite damage, but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time.

So Jim, realizing that this was an imminent threat to the house, hired the right people. He had a structural engineer assess the problem; he hired the best contractors to install rebar to reinforce his foundation; he hired a landscape firm to install French drains to provide easement. He even installed a sump pump.

In short order, Jim had the best foundation of any house in his neighborhood.

Unfortunately, Jim failed to address his termite problem.

So, as the years progressed, his foundation remained strong, and the house looked very good from the outside. But, unbeknownst to Jim, the termites were multiplying, eating the wood in his house, and weakening the structure of his home.

This year, things got bad in a hurry for Jim, as an entire portion of his roof completely collapsed.

Calling in the contractors, they determined that the extent of the termite infestation, and the damage, have rendered his house on the verge of condemnation. Without immediate, extensive renovation, his house will collapse by the end of the year. The money required for the renovation would be at LEAST half the value of the house itself. It would be a painful cost, but–sadly–he is facing this problem because he failed to address it when doing so would have been inconvenient but otherwise harmless.

Now, his options range from very painful to disastrous. If he punts on the renovations, he will lose everything. But the cost of renovation will be very exacting.

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In a nutshell, I’ve just described the Southern Baptist Convention.

About 45 years ago, the SBC was drowning in liberalism. They weren’t as liberal as the Episcopalian Church USA, or the Presbyterian Church USA, or the United Church of Christ. But they were heading in that direction.

A couple of bright, young stars in the SBC–Paul Pressler and his protege Paige Patterson–teamed up with old-school conservative stalwarts like Adrian Rodgers and W.A. Criswell and mounted a frontal assault on the liberalism problem. In the ensuing years, the SBC flushed out the liberalism and re-established themselves as an evangelical denomination with unwavering Biblical conservatism defined by Classical Fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, under the surface, the SBC had an abuse-coverup culture. A critical mass of churches, associations, and people within the SBC entities had some horrible and embarrassing family jewels–sexual abuse, intimidation, domestic violence–that they swept under the rug. Victims were often dismissed, maligned, told to “get over it”, were discouraged from reporting their abuses to authorities, or were told that authorities were contacted when in fact that never happened.

As now-disgraced serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar learned, those victims grow up. The victims of the old-school SBC “keep it all in the family” paradigm have become adults. And they have a voice. The Internet and social media have in fact become force multipliers that have amplified that voice.

Today, a large section of roof has fallen off the SBC house as their 2018 annual meeting approaches. The abuse scandals have shaken them to the core, and there is no hiding from them.

Paige Patterson has been fired, his title and compensation–including his retirement home at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS)–taken away.

And his problems may not be over, as he remains a defendant in a sexual abuse lawsuit against his mentor, Paul Pressler.

In other words, by year’s end, the two most prominent architects of the conservative movement in the SBC–each enshrined in stained glass at SWBTS–may see their legacies forever tarnished by severe abuse and misconduct.

Here’s the real problem, though: if this were merely about Pressler and Patterson, it would be a tempest in a teapot, as they are only two people.

Sadly, the abuses and coverups are much, much worse, and more far-reaching than Pressler and Patterson. The abusers and their enablers have infested churches, local Baptist associations, state conventions, denomination entities, and the highest echelons of SBC leadership. Just this year, Frank Page, the President of the SBC Executive Committee, was forced to resign due to a sex scandal.

Paige Patterson is slated to preach the keynote sermon at this year’s annual meeting. Unless the convention holds a vote to stop that–or unless Patterson demurs–it will happen. And if Patterson preaches, it will be a catastrophic defining moment for the SBC.

What is needed: serious, unadulterated repentance. Many victims have been steamrolled over the years. The SBC needs to apologize to them and seek to make amends to the extent that this is feasible.

But the change needs to go further than that, (a) we need to rid the termites from the house, (b) repair the structure, and (c) make fundamental changes to discourage termites from entering the house.

(a) and (b) will be difficult and painful. Many current leaders–some of them very popular, and with letters after their names–must be held to account.

But (c) will take a lot of soul-searching, as that is going to require a major cultural change. The existing ministerial-industrial complex rewards charisma over character, and this makes it easy for predators and those of otherwise unscrupulous motives, to join the ranks of ministers.

Make no mistake: when a youth minister is taking a girl in the youth group home and deliberately goes to a remote place, pulls his pants down, and solicits a Clinton, that is more than just a young horndog with self-regulation issues; in fact, that reflects a person who will use people under his care to service his twisted desires.

Make no mistake: when someone is abused, reports that abuse to the church, and the church–in turn–lets the minister resign and go elsewhere, and they refuse to report the conduct to authorities, it reveals a dark truth about the church: they are materialistic, just like the world, and more interested in their personal prestige than in doing the right thing for someone abused by one of their own.

The SBC must face that sordid, ugly truth, repent of serving Mistress Mammon, and start training ministers who love God and refuse to pay homage to Mammon.

If they don’t, they will be irrelevant within the next five years.