Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Bottom line: Southern Baptist Convention's legal structure will affect fight against sexual abuse

Bottom line: Southern Baptist Convention's legal structure will affect fight against sexual abuse

If you have followed GetReligion over the years, you may have noticed several themes running though our discussions of news coverage of scandals linked to sexual abuse by clergy and other leaders of religious institutions.

Let’s run through this again.

* This is not a liberal Catholic problem. This is not a conservative Catholic problem. And there is way more to this issue than reports about high numbers of gay priests — celibate and noncelibate — in the priesthood. Once again let me repeat, again, what I’ve said is the No. 1 issue among Catholics:

The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders — left and right, gay and straight — have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

* This is not a “fundamentalist” problem in various church traditions. There are abusers in all kinds of religious flocks, both on the doctrinal left and the right.

* This is not a “Christian” thing, as anyone knows who has followed news about abuse in various types of Jewish institutions. Also, look of some of the scandals affecting the secular gurus in yoga.

* This is not a “religion” thing, as seen in any quick scan of scandals in the Boy Scouts, public schools, team sports and other nonprofits. This is a national scandal people — journalists, too — tend to overlook.

However, religion-beat pros do need to study the patterns of abuse in different types of institutions. It would be impossible, for example, to ignore the high percentages of abuse among Catholic priests with teen-aged males. It would be impossible to ignore the Protestant patterns of abuse in some forms of youth ministry or improper relationships linked to male pastors counseling female members of their flocks.

This brings me to the post earlier today by our own Bobby Ross Jr., about the massive investigation of abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention, published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. If you haven’t read Bobby’s post, click over and do that right now. I want to focus on one quote — mentioned by Bobby — from a Q&A with August "Augie" Boto, SBC general counsel, featured in that investigation. Here it is again.

Q: Since the SBC does not keep stats, we went out and tried to quantify this problem. We found roughly 200 SBC ministers and volunteers and youth pastors who had been criminally convicted. We're going to be posting those records online in a searchable database in order for people to use it as a resource ...

Boto: Good.

Q: What's that?

Boto: Good.

The key words are these, “Since the SBC does not keep stats.”

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Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Is it possible to love Jesus and journalism?

Count me among those who do.

As such, I can’t help but endorse Daniel Darling’s column for Religion News Service this week on “Why Christians should support a free press.”

Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, writes:

Restoring faith in our media institutions is a shared responsibility. Christians should not only see the value of a free press but should support robust reporting, even journalism that reveals the misdeeds and sins in our own communities. Transparency doesn’t hurt the advance of the gospel. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ lay bare the gritty reality of every human heart.

In other words, a newspaper article cannot reveal anything about us that God doesn’t already know.

Meanwhile, the media could learn from some of the criticism of consumers. Too often, in our day, it seems that an undercurrent of bias exists against Christian ideals, even in subtle ways in which stories are reported or given the weight of breaking news or national importance. Too often journalists, especially on social media, seem to cheerlead rather than report.

Amen and amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: For the second week in a row, the death of American missionary John Allen Chau occupies this space. I’ll echo my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin, who said earlier this week that she “figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.”

Some of the notable mainstream press coverage since Duin’s post includes NPR religion and belief correspondent Tom Gjelten’s piece titled “Killing Of American Missionary Ignites Debate Over How To Evangelize” and RNS’ in-depth report (by national correspondents Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins) on the same subject.

But some of the must-read material on Chau’s death has come not in the form of news stories but rather first-person opinion pieces. Look for some insightful analysis of that in a think-piece post coming this weekend from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly.

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Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

So, did you hear about that major victory for religious-liberty activists the other day?

In this case, the reference to "religious liberty" in that first statement is not framed in scare quotes for a simple reason. This particular case did not have anything to do with debates about the Sexual Revolution clashing with ancient religious doctrines and traditions.

This important case involved a win for Muslims in Somerset County, N.J., who have been fighting their suburban powers in defense of their right to build themselves a mosque.

This is where things get interesting. The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge had the U.S. Department of Justice on its side, but also received help from a broad coalition of religious-liberty activists. This was a rare sighting of the old left-right coalition that used to stand together back in the heady days in the 1990s, when Democrats and Republicans all embraced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (click here for GetReligion links on that).

Kudos to The Atlantic for spotting this important angle of a major story:

An uncommonly wide range of religious groups came to the Society’s support -- from groups that lean left, like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Sikh Coalition, to more conservative groups, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Such unequal treatment of the mosque in this case represents a potential threat to the free exercise rights of each of the amici represented here,” the 18 supportive groups wrote, “and is an affront to our nation’s commitment to religious liberty for all.”

Alas, it was hard to find evidence in other mainstream news coverage showing that journalists knew that key religious conservatives, as well as liberals, were celebrating this victory for supporters of this New Jersey mosque and, thus, a victory for religious liberty. 

Consider The New York Times coverage, for example: "Settlements With New Jersey Suburb Clear Way for Proposed Mosque." Here is the overture, with many interesting details about the flexibility demonstrated by these Muslim believers:

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About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

Suffice it to say, I received more than a few emails yesterday asking for my reaction to yesterday's Washington Post story by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey that ran under this long, detailed, dramatic headline: "Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy."

One email late last night, which I will decline to share, offered a 500-word plus dissection of the whole piece focusing on this question that many others were asking: Was it accurate to say that the Rev. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, "indicated" that he was prepared to ask Moore -- the denomination's high-profile point man in Washington, D.C. -- to resign on Monday?

As you would imagine, this quickly morphed into discussions of whether Moore -- a consistent #AntiTrump #AntiHillary voice during the madness of 2016 -- was going to be fired.

Out of all of his blunt quotes about Trump, and there are many, here is one from an op-ed in The New York Times that I think expresses what Moore was consistently saying:

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.

As you would imagine (and I say this as someone who was openly #AntiTrump #AntiHillary), more than a few people in Southern Baptist circles argued -- in public and behind the scenes -- that Moore's opposition to Trump was the same thing as offering support to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

This brings us to the overture of Bailey's much circulated story, a story that was updated with quite a bit of new material on Monday evening.

Concern is mounting among evangelicals that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, could lose his job following months of backlash over his critiques of President Trump and religious leaders who publicly supported the Republican candidate. Any such move could be explosive for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has been divided over politics, theology and, perhaps most starkly, race.

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Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

A constant commandment for journalists is to “assess thy sources.”

The running debate on “what is an evangelical,” so pertinent for newswriters during this presidential campaign, involves “who speaks for evangelicals” and consequently “who speaks for the Southern Baptist Convention”? The sprawling SBC is by far this category’s  largest U.S. denomination, with 15.5 million members, 46,000 congregations, and $11 billion in annual receipts.

As noted by Jonathan Merritt in Religion News Service, the issue has been pursued with a vengeance by Will Hall, the new editor of the state Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana. Hall targets as unrepresentative the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and its president since 2013, the Rev. Russell D. Moore, 44, who’s the Southern Baptists’ prime spokesman on moral and social issues in the public sphere.

An editorial by Hall charged that Moore’s dislike for presidential candidate Donald Trump in particular “goes beyond the pale, translating into disrespect and even contempt for any Christian who might weigh these considerations differently” while Moore otherwise “has shown apparent disdain for traditional Southern Baptists.”

Moore is certainly outspoken about Trump. In a New York Times op-ed last Sept. 17, he said evangelicals and other social conservatives who back the billionaire “must repudiate everything they believe.”  He joined the 22 essayists in the “Against Trump” package in the Feb. 15National Review. Moore said with Trump, “sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power” that religious conservatives should view as “decadent and deviant.”

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Al Jazeera offers its own take (literally) on SBC sex summit

A week or so ago I mentioned, in a meeting that included both traditional and progressive evangelicals, that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention was going to hold a three-day “sex summit” in Nashville and lots of people laughed. They obviously had not looked at some of the rather interesting sessions on the docket, which included newsworthy real-life topics (at least to me) such as pastors who are wrestling with their own porn addictions, advice for those counseling people caught up in a variety of kinds of sexual sins, a major session on sex trafficking and another built on new sociological data on how religious beliefs influence people’s views on sex. Oh, right, and there was a panel discussion — as opposed to a keynote address — on “The Gospel and Homosexuality.”

This conference drew quite a bit of coverage and, at times, lit up the Twitter-verse. There really is no way to do justice to all of the coverage — some of it quite good. However, I did find a wrap-up piece from Al Jazeera America that kind of summed up the negative side of things, the attitude among some mainstream reporters that they knew what the conference was really about, even if that wasn’t what the conference was really about.

I want to take a rather different approach on this one. We are going to walk through this news feature passage by passage, sometimes paragraph by paragraph, looking for news and information that is actually drawn from this content-rich event. Yes, this news report has a Nashville dateline so the implication is that the Al Jazeera America scribe was actually present at the event.

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Moore of the same, but still a worthy effort

I had a sense of deja vu this week as I clicked on a 2,000-word Wall Street Journal profile of Russell Moore:

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A top-notch profile of Baptist ethicist, with a few caveats

I really liked Tennessean Godbeat pro Bob Smietana’s profile last year of Richard Land, then the embattled president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. But what did I think of this week’s sequel?

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