Though Greear has made several proposals for seriously addressing the matter, denominational leaders are split. Some claim that Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and that the denomination has no place interfering in the matter. Others believe that sexual abuse demands a serious response, including restitution for victims. The latter have the better argument.
The Roman Catholic Church’s failure to adequately respond to its sexual-abuse scandal has had devastating effects. Donations have dropped, members’ faith in clergy has fallen, and the total number of Catholics in America has plummeted by more than 3 million since 2007 alone—more than any other religious group. Parents will avoid any space, no matter how sacred, if they question the safety of their children, and few people will donate their hard-earned money to an institution they don’t respect and trust. Southern Baptists must learn from Catholics’ mistakes and deal aggressively with this scandal in its early stages.
Read: Southern Baptists embrace gender-inclusive language in the Bible
According to the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, midlife marks a period of time when one must choose between “stagnation” and “generativity.” You can stay the course, retreating to a life of nostalgia, regret, and fear. The other option is to accept the new normal, stop trying to reclaim past glories, and transform to meet the needs of the moment. For Southern Baptists, a posture of generativity would require leaders to refocus on the emerging moral issues of our age.
Few issues are more relevant now than racial division. The Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded over the issue of slavery and was mostly supportive of segregation and Jim Crow laws, is still 85 percent white. It issued an apology for its racist past in 1995, but the group struggled to pass resolutions condemning white supremacy and the Confederate flag. As Greear wrote, “In theory, very few people in the American church are opposed to the idea of racial and cultural diversity. But experience would suggest that on this issue good intentions do not equal forward progress.”
When the denomination’s executive committee, which oversees the day-to-day business of the denomination, set about selecting a new leader this year, many minority leaders pressed for a person of color as a tangible marker of progress. The suggestions were disregarded, and instead the committee selected Ronnie Floyd, a white Baby Boomer from Arkansas. When a prominent black Baptist pastor criticized Trump for racist remarks in which the president called Caribbean and African nations “shithole countries,” he was largely ignored. Several prominent Southern Baptist pastors continue to serve on Trump’s religious advisory council. This kind of tone deafness by white Southern Baptist leaders sends a message to people of color that the denomination does not take their concerns seriously.