Sexual abuse crisis in the SBC also an evangelical problem?

Widespread sexual abuse and the ability of abusive pastors and church leaders to move on to other congregations without censure or reproof in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) may also be a problem in other parts of the evangelical world, writes Dale Coulter in a blog at First Things magazine (February 17). The sex abuse crisis in the SBC, first reported in the Houston Chronicle (February 9), involves 380 church leaders and volunteers who have faced allegations of sexual abuse in the last 20 years. That report notes that local church autonomy in Baptist polity has permitted sexual abusers to circulate freely among churches. It also notes how Baptist ministers are easily ordained, since the practice of local ordination means that one can simply secure the endorsement of any congregation in good standing with the convention to be ordained, however small or remote it may be. Coulter adds that “the problem extends beyond the Southern Baptist Convention. As one denominational leader pointed out to me, ministers brought up on charges and dismissed from one denomination have simply gone to another for credentials. It’s not just laity who take advantage of evangelicalism’s big tent to move around.”

Such open networks allow for “ministerial movement from one part of evangelicalism to another [and] allow sexual abusers to escape judgment and start over. We don’t need a database of sexual abusers for the Southern Baptist Convention, we need it for evangelicalism as a whole. We need greater cooperation and transparency among evangelical churches and institutions on matters of church discipline so we can close these open networks.” The Chronicle report also added that denominations have begun to function like corporations, where they seek to protect the brand rather than the victims. In a similar way, Coulter argues that “[e]vangelicals have too often succumbed to victim shaming while simultaneously protecting their leaders[,]” as seen in the way conservative leader Paige Patterson’s abusive actions were denied and unquestioned because of his status, which took priority for his followers over church doctrine. Coulter concludes by focusing on the “bad theology” of the SBC and evangelical circles when it comes to extending “forgiveness over and over—even when patterns of sinful behavior have been established. The problem isn’t that they offer the mercy of Christ to persons caught in sinful patterns, but the idea that extending such forgiveness means the person should be allowed to remain in a position of authority.”

(First Things,; Houston Chronicle,