Sex Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches

No one likes airing one’s own dirty laundry.  There is plenty of dirty laundry to be aired.  A scandal ising erupt in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Sexual abuse is currently being reported by the Houston Chronicle, a 3-part series titled Abuse of Faith (February 2019) (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

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.

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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.

On my clergy vestments: black, white or none?

After I get my hands on a black academic gown, I’d like to wear it on a preaching Sunday just to be a rebel.  A secret: I think black is kind of cool.  Recently, I just purchased a Roman-style “doggy” clerical collar but I’m not wearing it because it’s so difficult to attach.  It looks very Anglican but many Lutherans are starting to wear the doggy collar these days.  Some mainline clergy claim that the collar helps us get entry into places where we ordinarily would not be able to get in.  It automaticaly sets us apart from the laity who wear normal street clothing.  When I enter hospitals and carehomes, it does enable easier entry because we are automatically recognized. But sometimes, I just walk in with a regular shirt. Maybe that’s how I should go on Sunday mornings too?  Maybe I’ll be a rebel.

Personally, I don’t care for fancy stoles or embroidered albs.  For me, the plainer, the better.   Personally, if I had a choice, I’d prefer to wear the black academic gown that Luther and Calvin wore during the time of the Reformation.  For me, the black academic gown distinctly communicates a return to the roots of the Reformation.  I’m a person whose is rooted in the Reformation tradition rather the liturgical tradition so naturally I prefer the black.   The black gown is still the norm for most mainline Presbyterians; and it was also the norm for Lutheran pastors.  I wonder if Lutherans will ever go back to the traditional black of academia?

Historically, on October 9, 1524, Martin Luther introduced the use of the black academic gown for preaching in order to replace the monk’s robe.  It was meant to get away from the Romish image.   Calvin did the same in Geneva too, hence, the name “Geneva gown”.   I don’t think many Presbyterians and Lutheran in the free or brethren denominations are into the gown and vestment thing.  Presbyterian Church (USA) pastors are into the black Geneva gowns, and some, I hear, have started to switch over to the white albs.   The white alb became  increasingly popular in mainline protestant circles after Vatican II.  Protestant churches were reverting to the liturgical roots of the early church so it was a fashion trend of the second half of the 20th century.  Many of our Lutheran pastors started copying the Catholic and Anglican/Episcopalian brethren in wearing the long white robe/alb.  Today, most Lutheran pastors are donning the white albs, but this was not the case 150 years ago.

What does your pastor wear on Sundays?

What does your pastor wear on Sundays?  I envy the likes of Pastor Mark Driscoll who looks like he just slapped on a T-shirt and a pair of old ripped up jeans for Sunday morning church service (or gathering).   I wonder if he even plans out his wardrobe for Sundays?  I wish I could wear something more casual but in my Lutheran tradition, I can’t because people expect the pastor to wear something more formal.   I wear a simple clergy shirt with a tab collar (on the right).  On praise & worship service Sundays, I might just wear a clergy shirt.