In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.
They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.
About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.
And a good question:
“That just appalled me,” Leathers said. “They had to have known they put a convicted sex offender behind the pulpit. … If a church calls a woman to pastor their church, there are a lot of Southern Baptist organizations that, sadly, would disassociate with them immediately. Why wouldn’t they do the same for convicted sex offenders?”
This obviously isn’t just a Southern Baptist problem. The issues of the Catholic Church are well-documented; closer to home for this blog, we know that Mennonites have dealt badly with sex abuse issues as well.
I guess the question for me is not why churches are prone to this behavior: Churches are human institutions, and where humans are you’ll find the ugliest behavior imaginable. (Despite my relative secularism, I guess I definitely believe that humankind is fallen.) But I do ponder a related question: Even given the human nature of these institutions, why doesn’t their dedication to higher power and higher ideals inoculate them, even a bit, from these scandals. Churches are supposed to be places of refuge. For too many people, they aren’t.
We won’t answer that question today. But let us resolve to stand with the survivors of sexual abuse where we can. God help us.