Holy Rollers might want to hold on to their crosses. The same folks who put the clamps on the Roman Catholic Church over its negligence of child abuse perpetrated by priests have refocused their cross hairs on the Southern Baptist Church and its failure to rid itself of abusive ministers. Today the Associated Press reported that Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is launching a campaign against the Southern Baptist Church, the nation's biggest Protestant denomination, after receiving about 40 reports of rape or sexual child abuse perpetrated by ministers and pastors. Leading the cause is Christa Brown from Austin, Texas, who claims to have been sexually abused as a child by a Southern Baptist minister and maintains the Web site Stop Baptist Predators.
Though the Southern Baptist Church has admitted that some cases of abuse have occurred, it offered a sort of über-defense that it can't conduct investigations about abuse complaints because of the decentralized nature of the church. Unlike in the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist churches operate independently, hiring their own ministers and conducting investigations. This fact, which is also true of most Protestant churches, may make pursuing institutional justice difficult. But if SNAP has even a shred of the evidence that it had against the Catholics, it promises to be one more wild ride into the American id.
What's striking is that in almost any other context, SNAP's allegations would have the taint of paranoia run amok: All those nice men in those nice communities preying on children and more nice people knowing about it and doing nothing. Can you imagine a similar campaign about schoolteachers? Or doctors? Or social workers? It would look like insanity. Of course, no profession is immune to criminals who use their social standing to cover their abuse. But these professions all have things called background checks, independent professional boards, government oversight and perhaps less of a sense of innate moral righteousness. The Southern Baptist Church, like many of our religious organizations, has none of these things.
But since hundreds of cases revealing that the Catholic clergy was a haven for egomaniacal pedophiles, we've all become inured to a weird reality about the duplicitous niceness of our God-fearing nation. On the one hand, it's well known that sex sells, violence is ubiquitous and porn funds most Internet portals. At the same time, we're told that America is filled with God-fearing, upstanding "communities of faith." But the facts are simple: Most churches have little independent oversight. In the end, when confronted by scandal they often seem more worried about institutional survival, appearances and reputation than the morality they preach.