Sex Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches

A scandal will erupt in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Sexual abuse is currently being reported by the Houston Chronicle (in Abuse of Faith 3-part series) (dated Feb. 10, 2019). No one likes airing one’s own dirty laundry.  There is plenty of dirty laundry to be aired.

It’s no longer just the Roman Catholic Church taking the brunt of the criticisms.  Southern Baptist congregations are also guilty of sexual abuse of children and youth. Some of the names involve prominent SBC leaders, pastors, and involve some lay-leaders, volunteers, and deacons.

There is no stopping at just youth pastors and deacons and volunteer laypersons. This report reveals seminary presidents and SBC leaders, and pastors of large congregations who are guilty.

Houston Chronicle SBC.jpg

This article reveals hideous sins within the SBC churches that will undoubtedly heap shame and guilt upon Southern Baptists. Baptists and evangelicals pride themselves on holiness and piety. We think of ourselves as living out the Christian lifestyle.  Underneath the veneer of Church-ianity, there is still sin that is common to all human beings. I hope all baptists can realize our own hypocrisy and confess our sins.

In May of last year, Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth after he said he wanted to meet alone with a female student who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” according to a statement from seminary trustees.

But his handling of sexual abuse dates back decades. Several women have said that Patterson ignored their claims that his ex-protégé, Darrell Gilyard, assaulted them at Texas churches in the 1980s; some of those allegations were detailed in a 1991 Dallas Morning News article.

The Gilyard case bothered Debbie Vasquez. She feared other victims had been ignored or left to handle their trauma alone.

When Vasquez became pregnant, she said, leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was their pastor’s. Church leadership shunned her, asked her to get an abortion and, when she said no, threatened her and her child, she said. She moved abroad soon after.

Pastors can be abused by the congregations. Yes. But church members can also be abused by pastors, deacons, elders and lay-leader/volunteers.  Every person in church leadership need to be held accountable.  Background police checks probably don’t catch every sex offender.  These checks only catch registered sex offenders but those who have never been caught will slip through the cracks undetected.

Harvey Rosenstock, a psychiatrist in Houston worked for decades with victims and perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse. He describes how clergy use their power to abuse children and youth:

“If someone is identified as a man of God, then there are no holds barred,” he said. “Your defense system is completely paralyzed. This man is speaking with the voice of God. … So a person who is not only an authority figure, but God’s servant, is telling you this is between us, this is a special relationship, this has been sanctioned by the Lord. That allows a young victim to have almost zero defenses. Totally vulnerable.”

As clergy, we have influence that causes a power imbalance, especially with the vulnerable.  Young children, youth and young people are susceptible to being taken advantage of by people in authority.  Women can also hold a power imbalance too so we must not take our positions for granted.  I hope our churches becomes more self-aware and corrects this imbalance through a system of checks and balances.

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