This post on sex assault in the church is written
by Darren Slade, Ph.D.
Darren Slade is director of research at FaithX, general editor of our sponsored acedemic journal, Socio-Historical Exploration of Religion and Ministry, and a regular contributor to the FaithXperimental blog. Darren holds a PhD in theology from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Today’s post is a critical analysis of sexual assault in the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic denominations.
If there was ever a sign that something drastic needs to change within the Christian religion, it is the countless thousands upon thousands of sex assault cases that have been brought to light in the last few decades. How many more victims have there been? How many more churches are harboring sexual predators? How many more will suffer in the future?
If there was ever a sign that Christianity needs another reformation (or perhaps an outright revolution), it is the countless sex assault victims who have demanded change but have been ignored by their religious leaders.
In June of 2008, at a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Indianapolis, a committee representing a number of sex assault victims pleaded with SBC leaders to put in place measures that would prevent SBC churches from hiring and concealing sexual predators. These sex assault victims accused numerous SBC churches of deliberately hiding sex assault allegations and litigation from the public.
Unfortunately, every one of their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Part of the committee’s call was for the SBC to establish a central office for victims to report abuse, establish a ministry to deal with sex assault, disfellowship any church that refused to adequately protect their flock, ban sexual perpetrators from serving in positions of power, provide counseling and legal help to victims, complete background checks on all staff members, properly vet volunteers in positions of power, and ensure greater transparency regarding sex assault allegations in SBC congregations. (1)
Sadly, no resolution was passed. Not a single one of these requests were accepted, and nothing was done to prevent future sex assaults.
What’s worse is that the SBC had adopted resolutions to disfellowship several churches for taking a more tolerant stance toward homosexuality. The SBC even disfellowshipped churches that had female pastors!
But no resolution has ever been adopted to prevent SBC churches from hiring sexual predators or convicted sex offenders. They have not disfellowshipped any church that has concealed or harbored sexual predators who have victimized members of their own flock. (2)
Now, in 2019, an explosive investigation into church sex assaults by the San-Antonio Express and the Houston Chronicle reveal that since 1998, over 700 SBC church members have been sexually victimized by almost 400 SBC pastors, youth leaders, and teachers. Almost three dozen of those pastors and educators retained their positions of power in SBC churches while nothing was reported to law enforcement or their congregations. (3)
Of course, this is not the only explosive report in recent months. A Pennsylvania grand jury in August of 2018 found there were more than 300 predatory Catholic priests in their state, who had victimized over 1,000 children as far back as 1947. The Pennsylvania report reveals a startling attempt by the Catholic Church to conceal and cover up these sex assaults in an attempt to hide the victims and protect the predators. (4) Soon afterwards, the Attorney General of Illinois released a report exposing 690 priests in their state, who have had credible sex assault allegations leveled against them. Sadly, the Catholic Church claimed there were only 185. (5)
Since these two reports have come forward, numerous other states have begun investigating sexual abuse cover-ups, including the following: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. (6)
So, what does this mean for the state of the Christian church? In short, it means that unless something drastic changes in the way we “do” church, Christianity will continue to become more and more toxic. And the church will continue to lose all credibility in the eyes of the public.
There are those of us, however, who believe that something more is needed than a simple predator registry or better hiring practices. For many of us, there needs to be a total overhaul of conventional paradigms in how believers approach their faith.
We need to look at more than just how our ministries are run. We need to look at the kinds of theologies we promote that inadvertently foster predatory behavior. We need to look at the kinds of dogmas we insist are true, yet fail to make Christ-like believers. We need to look at the kinds of leadership qualities that lend themselves to deception. We need to look at the kinds of organizational strategies that lend themselves to cover-ups. We need to look at the kind of priorities we have in the church today that place façade above transparency, self-righteousness above humility, and power above service.
Ultimately, what these sex assaults mean for Christianity is that dramatic and total paradigm shifts need to occur immediately. Why? Because if conventional paradigms, conventional theologies, and conventional ministries were truly God-ordained, then they’d do a better job of preventing sex assaults and making better disciples. Without a total overhaul of Christianity, the church will continue killing itself … thousands of sex assault victims at a time.
- Information on Baptist sex offenders and the disheartening response by Baptist leaders, visit http://stopbaptistpredators.org/index.htm.
- Read the full report here: http://media-downloads.pacourts.us/InterimRedactedReportandResponses.pdf?cb=22148.
FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is done under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
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