Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Before we take a look at what appears to have been the key development at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, let’s pause and discuss a few matters linked to how America’s largest non-Catholic flock does business.

One of the first things reporters learn (.pdf here), when they show up at national SBC gathering, is that the people attending are not “delegates” — they are “messengers” from local churches. Again, this is a sign of the degree to which Baptist identity is built on church authority residing in autonomous local congregations. The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention that exists when it is in session. It can vote to create a publishing house, or mission boards or an “executive committee” to do specific tasks in between conventions.

But SBC folks get testy when reporters assume that Southern Baptists are supposed to be organized like Presbyterians, Methodists or, heaven forbid, Episcopalians. What makes SBC meetings so wild is that all kinds of people in that big room can grab a floor microphone. With that in mind, let’s look at a crucial part of a New York Times story, focusing on efforts to handle sexual-abuse issues:

Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.

The pastors voted to create a centralized committee that would evaluate allegations against churches accused of mishandling abuse. They also approved an amendment to their constitution that would allow such churches to be expelled from the convention if the allegations were substantiated.

“Protecting God’s children is the mission of the church,” the denomination’s president, J.D. Greear, said on Tuesday morning as he addressed the gathering. “We have to deal with this definitively and decisively.”

Wait a minute. SBC “pastors” voted to take these steps? Since when are all of the SBC “messengers” pastors?

The Times should correct that error immediately. It appears that the same mistake showed up in a 2018 Times story and I missed it at that time. As in:

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Silence on sex abuse? Nope, 'The Vatican' didn't tell that to its bishops

Silence on sex abuse? Nope, 'The Vatican' didn't tell that to its bishops

It's doubly nice to see a concise, incisive media critique like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League wrote yesterday. Nice to have someone do some of our work on a frantic Friday afternoon. Also nice to remind us at GetReligion that we're not the only ones who notice these things.

Donohue took mainstream media to task for saying the Vatican has told its new bishops they don’t have to report instances of sexual abuse. The flap revolves around remarks of a French monsignor, and whether he was spelling out church policy.

The highly cited Guardian, for instance, reported on this new "Vatican document":

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.
A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasised that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document states.

Things are no different on this shore of the Atlantic.  

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Brittany Maynard: Much of suicide coverage was gamed and manipulative

Brittany Maynard: Much of suicide coverage was gamed and manipulative

Yes, Brittany Maynard killed herself on Saturday. But you'd never know it from much of the coverage. Some media say she simply died, or chose when to die. Some say she "ended her life." Few say she committed suicide.

This blog item is not about the pros and cons of killing yourself when you see no hope. By all accounts, Maynard went through a process of reasoning almost as anguishing as the strokes and headaches that signaled the advance of her brain cancer.

No, this isn't about that at all. It's about what mainstream media do, versus what they're supposed to do. They are supposed to inform us, help us understand. They are not -- despite what you hear and read almost daily -- supposed to tint the content to manipulate you toward their opinion.

So you have the  New York Times saying Maynard "ended her life" and wanted to "choose when to die."

Much of her rationale was cloaked in the "choice" and "rights" language of the pro-gay and pro-abortion movements -- and the Times follows suit:

Ms. Maynard defended her right to decide.

I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity,” she wrote on the CNN website. “My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice?”

The  Times also gives the lion's share to Maynard's thoughts and feelings, as well as her campaign with Compassion & Choices -- which the newspaper calls, not a pro-suicide organization, but an "end-of-life rights advocacy group." It adds a single paragraph acknowledging that "death with dignity" laws are opposed by "many political and religious organizations."

The language is more direct in the Washington Post story, which is twice as long as well. It says she "took lethal drugs prescribed by her physician on Saturday and died."  It later says she decided on "doctor-assisted death."

The Post also reports criticism by National Right to Life, which called Compassion & Choices "ghoulish" for using Maynard's death to pitch for donations. NRTL also asserts that "once the principal (sic) is established, the ‘right’ to be ‘assisted’ expands to a whole panoply of reasons none of which are about terminal illnesses."

NBC News repeats the litany of Maynard "ending her life on her own schedule." It includes tweets on both sides, but they're weighted toward the pro-Maynard. It also reports a doctor's accusation that she was being "exploited" by Compassion & Choices. And it links to a seminarian with the Diocese of Raleigh -- himself a patient with incurable brain cancer -- who says life is still worth living, though his comments are cut short.

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The Marine, the Muslims and the school: a tale of spinning news

The Marine, the Muslims and the school: a tale of spinning news

Some news stories are like Rorschach inkblot tests, with various people seeing them through different lenses. Unfortunately, some of those people are editors and reporters -- especially on hot-button issues like Islam, education and patriotism.

A major example this week is a row in La Plata, Md., where Marine veteran Kevin Wood angry over a history lesson about Islam. Wood asked for an alternative assignment for his daughter; the school said no, they argued, he got insulting, then he was banned from the campus.

This all got tangled, of course, in other issues: academic freedom, separation of church (or mosque) and state, equal treatment for all religions, etc. The right-tilt might have been predictably filled by Fox News. But in fact, the network didn't hyperventilate:

Kevin Wood told MyFoxDC.com that he went to La Plata High School in La Plata, a town about 30 miles southeast of Washington, and challenged a history assignment requiring students to list the benefits of Islam. He said the meeting with the vice principal got heated; the school said he made a threat and banned the Iraq veteran from school property.
"[Wood] was threatening to cause a disruption or possible disruption at the school," a district spokesperson said.
Wood did not deny getting worked up over the issue, but said he was standing up for the Constitution and is against any religion being taught at the public school.

One Fox coup: citing a copy of the homework assignment asking, "How did Muslim conquerors treat those they conquered?" The "correct" answer, the station says, is, "With tolerance, kindness and respect." You can see how a Marine who'd fought in Iraq would get upset over that.

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Mormon reformin': Putting the antics in semantics

Welcome to the Latter-day Saints Trivia Game! Here is today’s question: Sorry, time’s up. But it’s a trick question anyway. The Mormon Church has never ordained women.

Dumb question, you say? Then you may know Mormon history better than some reporters and editors. More than one injected a “reform” angle into the story of a Mormon woman who was just excommunicated.

It’s Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, a group whose motives are evident from its name. The church said no ordination, she pushed the issue, and the church pushed her out this week.

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The controversial mind and Lebanese soul of Helen Thomas

As I have mentioned before here at GetReligion, at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks I was a member of a largely Lebanese and Syrian Orthodox parish in West Palm Beach, Fla. Our priest, as an Arab Christian, volunteered to be a grief counselor at the still-smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. A few members of the parish had their grandchildren punched around on school playgrounds because they were Arabs, even with their gold baptism crosses hanging around their necks.

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