The ERLC president, Russell Moore, responded to the recent Southern Baptist sex abuse report and in doing so, seemed to defend the Romanist church regarding their teaching on priest celibacy.
The leftist-progressive Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention was pre-positioned and poised perfectly to capitalize on the news as the denominational sex abuse scandal first broke in the Houston Chronicle. Their virtue-signaler-in-chief, Russell Moore, would soon be out and about on the street corner, praising God that he is not like those ‘unwoke’ souls who make light of such reporting and waving his bony finger of accusation toward a largely innocent group of people. There is nothing quite like victimhood to work up the excitement of Russell Moore, and any opportunity to scold his own denomination will not go unused.
Robert Downen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco reported their examination of sex abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention in yesterday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle. Since then, it has virtually gone viral.
Oddly enough, the report doesn’t really uncover anything heretofore unknown about sex abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. What the reporters “uncover” is that over the course of 20 years, there have been 700 victims of sexual abuse.
A few facts should be taken into consideration regarding these numbers.
First, the number of 700 victims presumably includes a spectrum from child molestation to adult counselees who had inappropriate relationships with counselors. The article is unclear exactly what constitutes sexual abuse and may include sinful relationships between consenting adults (which for pastors would be a disqualifying sin).
Second, the statistics of sexual abuse used in the article lumps together abuse by clergy (ordained or vocational ministers) from volunteers or virtually anyone within the confines of a Southern Baptist church. This is a distinction that ought rightly to be made.
Third, the article seems to conflate what Southern Baptist churches consider “sexual misconduct” with what the courts would consider sexual crime. The reporters fail to grasp that a great many Southern Baptist pastors would be fired for far less than what is legally prosecutable. Most secularists reading the article wouldn’t grasp that and would view all the deposed SBC ministers as child molesters and not “random” adulterers or whoremongers. In fact, it seems that from the 700 victims figure it equates to about 220 offenders – according to their reporting – who committed an offense that is actionable either criminally or civilly.
Most troubling among the report is that about 35 SBC pastors were able to find jobs even after their sexual misconduct became known because churches failed to notify others. The reporters indicate that “some registered sex offenders have returned to the pulpit,” but “some” is a vague number. Is it one or two? Either way, the Houston Chronicle plans to report more on that this Tuesday, and so it’s doubtful the bad press will end any time soon.
Least newsworthy in the Chronicle report is the accounting of the misdeeds or cover-ups by SBC leaders. Pulpit & Pen has written about this for years. From Paige Patterson to Jerry Vines to Frank Page, many of the SBC’s leaders have either been personally guilty of sexual misconduct or have helped to cover it up. Most recently, Frank Page resigned as President of the SBC Executive Board due to sexual misconduct but – predictably – the exact situation was undisclosed to Southern Baptists so we don’t know if it was anything from pornography usage to outright molestation. This leaves people to assume the worst (as though bad isn’t bad enough).
Put into perspective, the SBC has approximately 45 thousand churches and more than triple that of ordained clergy. The list of SBC volunteers is virtually incalculable and no doubt extends into the millions.
In the course of twenty years, 45 thousand churches, more than 150 thousand ordained clergy, and millions of volunteers have woefully produced 700 victims of one form or another of sexual abuse.
Maranatha. Awful. Seriously.
[Insert some virtual signaling tripe about how bad sexual abuse is here; everybody knows this, but come off sounding very empathetic and especially heart-broken].
However, to put into perspective, this means that incidents of sexual misconduct impugn approximately 1 in 64 churches, 1 in 214 ordained clergy, and the ratio of abuse victims to volunteers simply can’t be tabulated. This is over 20 years, and not 1 year. Finally, this is by the church’s standard of sexual misconduct and not the magistrate’s standard of sexual crime.
Regardless, one incident of abuse is too much and a single incident of cover-up is tragic (do I really have to say that?).
A Comparsion to Roman Catholics
A 2004 Vatican-sponsored investigatory report said there were more than 4 thousand sexually deviant priests (not volunteers) who molested more than 10 thousand (mostly) boys in the last 50 years in the U.S.
A five-year Australian study found “tens of thousands” of abused children by upwards of 7 percent of priests.
In August of 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury named more than 300 priests who had abused more than one thousand kids in that state alone.
In 2009, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi acknowledged that upwards of 5% of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases.
A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse by Catholic Dr. Thomas Plante of the Catholic Santa Clara University says that “approximately 4% of priests during the past half-century have had a sexual experience with a minor.”
There are only 37 thousand Catholic priests in the United States, a much smaller number than there are pastors in the SBC, and they have left tens of thousands of more victims than SBC pastors and volunteers combined and to the power of ten or greater!
There’s really no comparison in the instances of abuse between Papists and Protestants in this regard. The best sources – both secular and Papist – indicate that the percentage of abusers among Roman Catholic clergy is somewhere between 4 and 7 percent. Compare this to instances of abuse among Southern Baptist clergy and laypeople (according to the Houston Chronicle reporting) and you’re at a tiny figure in comparison.
There’s Something Coordinated Afoot
On the heels of the ERLC, Beth Moore, and Karen Swallow Prior-driven #ChurchToo movement – a #MeToo knock-off with an evangelical spin newspapers began to run these reports on sex abuse in various denominations that masquerade as investigative reporting. In reality, the articles have had a tendency to just “look up” already available statistics from already public sources. The headlines each time are nonetheless sensational and serve their purpose.
One such article originated in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram (why is all this coming out of Texas?) and dealt with instances of abuse among Independent Baptists. I found it uncompelling.
In that case, the Star Telegram had “discovered” 412 allegations of abuse in a total of 187 Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Churches going back to time immemorial. These included 168 churches leaders, 45 of which remained in their positions after allegations were made (the Star Telegram did not specify if they were found guilty, but stopped short at “allegations”).
Calculating numbers of IFB churches is a bit problematic, but 2.5% of the United States population lists “Independent Baptist” on census forms and it’s likely double or triple that figure when taken into account that many IFB people just identify as “Baptist” rather than “Independent Baptist.” Some have suggested figures as high as 40 thousand IFB churches, which is nearly equal that of the SBC. I suspect the number is even higher.
When compared to Roman Catholicism, the statistics of abuse pale in comparison, just as with the SBC.
Russell Moore’s Op-Ed
Moore wasted no time in getting out in front of the scandal to shame Southern Baptists, who he insists have not done enough, and to put himself on a pedestal as the woke champion of all things empathetic. He wrote an op-ed for the Dallas News, putting sackcloth and ashes into news type.
James White had later taken Russell Moore to task on Twitter – although not by name – for calling the observation that Roman Catholics have a uniquely bad sex abuse problem on a uniquely high level “wrongheaded.”
White is not alone in the assertion that Paul’s advice “it’s better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9) applies to priestly celibacy and is at least a partial cause of priests treating choir boys like prostitutes and treating nunneries like brothels.
Others have suggested that the church should not concern itself with questions of “justice,” and that preaching the Gospel itself will resolve matters of injustice. Others have implied that the horrific scandals we have seen in the Roman Catholic church are due to the theology of Catholicism, the nature of a celibate priesthood and so forth. All of these are not only wrongheaded responses, but are deadly dangerous both to the lives of present and future survivors of these horrors and to the witness of the church itself.
Is it really wrongheaded to view forced celibacy as the reason for the screaming-high rate of sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests?
We know that Russell Moore has a soft spot for Roman Catholicism, but defending it against suspicions that celibacy is responsible for the sex abuse rate is beyond the pale. Of course it’s partially responsible. Even a great many Romanists think so.
Here, Moore claims that the argument (or anyone else who might make it) regarding priestly celibacy is “deadly dangerous both to the lives of present and future survivors of these horrors and to the wintess of the church itself.”
Did Russell Moore just say that questioning the role of priestly celibacy in sex abuse cases was a threat to the witness of the church?
That is an unbelievably asinine argument to make, if you can call it an argument at all. Moore doesn’t really defend the statement or explain how it’s deadly dangerous, he just makes the truth-claim and drives by to his next talking point.
In the meantime, lest anyone think I’m soft on sexual predators, I’ll restate my position that the best deterrence is a quick trial, a tall tree, and a short piece of rope. To elaborate on that point would be to signal virtue of my own.
[Contributed by JD Hall]
[Editor’s Note: An earlier edition of this article claimed Russell Moore’s comment came after James White’s initial tweet. It was before, and we apologize for the inaccuracy.]
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