Opinion

Southern Baptists have more repenting to do

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks with the press on Oct. 5, 2015. Photo by Emil Handke, courtesy of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(RNS) — A Southern Baptist leader just acknowledged the arrival of the #MeToo movement in his quarters. And Albert Mohler Jr. is not just any leader. He’s president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and one of the most influential evangelical gatekeepers in our country.

His acknowledgment displayed some flashes of insight. For example, he acknowledged the existence of real but “unorganized” conspiracies of silence surrounding sexual misconduct. He admitted he was wrong to diagnose clergy sexual abuse as a primarily Catholic problem related to the requirement of celibacy for priests. He also strongly affirmed the need to “assure safety and support to any woman or child or vulnerable one threatened by abuse” and call in civil authorities to investigate crimes.

Mohler’s acknowledgments came on the heels of the very sudden retirement (with full pension, emeritus status and a house) of Paige Patterson, one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Southern Baptist Convention and the now former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The controversy centers on Patterson’s counsel to a battered wife to remain in her home and marriage in hopes that her suffering would bring her abusive husband to repentance.

Additional concerns have surfaced as well, including inappropriate comments about a teenage girl. Although some of the troubling statements were more than a decade old, they are said to accurately represent a continuing trend of dismissing the suffering of women and preserving an “old boys network,” as a 2007 graduate reported.

“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler wrote. “The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance.”

Unfortunately, the bulk of Mohler’s agony and call for mercy focused not on the pain suffered by women and girls at the hands of church leadership, but on the “humiliation” of his tribe, the SBC, which is led exclusively by men.

Along the way, Mohler lands some jabs at “the liberals who left (the SBC and) have kept marching to the Left” and Catholics with their “unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy” and their “cesspool of child sex abuse.” These jabs will no doubt play well to his base. But unfortunately, they run counter to an impression of deep repentance or a focus on the splinter in his own tribe’s eye.

Equally disappointing, Mohler used his acknowledgment to defend the rightness of his tribe’s male-first theology, making it uncomfortably clear that at this moment, at least, his clearest and most intense concern is for Christ’s mercy to protect his theological system and the male-led denomination that upholds it.

That’s not the same as experiencing deep empathy and understanding for the cries and experiences of those who have been abused.

Centuries of male domination and patriarchy, organized and unorganized, don’t yield without a struggle. The struggle takes extra time and self-examination for straight white men like Mohler and his peers, who tend to be not only deeply privileged but also largely unconscious of (or in denial about) that privilege. I speak here from personal testimony, as someone who shares the race, gender and sexual orientation of nearly all SBC leaders, and keeps discovering new ways that privilege has its hooks in me. In the language of Philippians 2:6-8, we privileged men have a lot to learn about humbling ourselves and not treating privilege as “something to be exploited.”

As the saying goes, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Or humiliation.

If SBC leaders are open to brotherly advice from someone they consider a “liberal,” I’d recommend they focus less on defending themselves, jabbing others and lamenting their humiliation. Then focus more on humbly hearing and deeply feeling the experience of the women who make up at least half of their denomination and who for centuries have been required to remain submissive and silent while undergoing systemic humiliation.

Having experienced that kind of empathy, perhaps America’s largest Protestant denomination can then turn its attention to dismantling the  structural conditions — including theological ones — that have protected abusers, silenced victims and enabled many layers of denial for far too long.

(Brian D. McLaren is a best-selling author, speaker, activist and leader in the emerging-church network. A former pastor, he has written 15 books, including “The Great Spiritual Migration.” He is an Auburn Senior Fellow, living in Florida. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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Brian D. McLaren

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  • Well, let’s see. It took them only 150 years to repent for slavery and segregation.

    So we’re right on schedule,

  • I appreciate this author’s honesty and candor, especially his admission that “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Would that more people in his privileged position as a straight white man be so empathetic. But as he further acknowledges, “centuries of male domination and patriarchy, organized and unorganized, don’t yield without a struggle.” Indeed they don’t, which means we can look forward to many more struggles in the future as the hold on power is broken by those who have never wielded it in the past. When it comes to religious communities that could take a very long time.

  • “So we’re right on schedule.”

    These things have to be very carefully considered, in the light of Biblical Truth. Or enough of us old guys have to go to that Great Revival Tent in the Sky. Whichever comes first.

  • Perhaps the last public figure to repent and prove it genuine was John Profumo.

    My rule of thumb is if one has a lawyer and/or PR flack helping with an apology, it’s less likely to be genuine than Wiley Coyote catching Road Runner.

  • Brian McLaren is right on target with his critique of Rev. Mohler’s complementarian theology: as he states, Mohler has made it “uncomfortably clear that at this moment, at least, his clearest and most intense concern is for Christ’s mercy to protect his theological system and the male-led denomination that upholds it.”

    And: Centuries of male domination and patriarchy, organized and unorganized, don’t yield without a struggle. The struggle takes extra time and self-examination for straight white men like Mohler and his peers, who tend to be not only deeply privileged but also largely unconscious of (or in denial about) that privilege.

    A translation of what Mohler said in his confessional statement about how Southern Baptists and conservative evangelicals in general used to think so complacently that the abuse situation was “just” a Catholic problem, rooted in priestly celibacy:

    1. What this means is that “they,” the Catholics, have lots of gay priests due to the celibacy requirement, while “we,” the conservative evangelicals, allow ordained men to marry, and so we don’t have such a problem.

    2. This analysis depends on blaming gay priests for the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, something Catholic leaders themselves tried initially to deflect attention from their malfeasance in covering up abuse.

    3. The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has reported all along that HALF of its members are women. BOTH males AND females have been abused by priests. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with the propensity to sexually abuse minors. If it did, then it would be a problem rooted primarily in heterosexuality, since the majority of minors who are sexually abused in families and institutions around the world have always been female, with heterosexual males abusing them within the family circle or by close connection to them.

    4. What Albert Mohler explicitly refuses to admit in his statement about how the wrath of God is now coming to the Southern Baptist Convention: in BOTH the Catholic church AND among conservative evangelicals, the root of the problem is the theology of complementarianism, which ALWAYS subordinates women to men.

    5. The theology of complementarianism is inherently abusive. In its very foundations, it provides men with an astonishing sense of entitlement that inevitably translates to abuse.

    6. Mohler states flatly that this theology is “biblical.” The bible also states repeatedly that one man may have many wives, and those wives can include slaves and concubines. Not everything that happens to be in the bible is necessarily the biblical pattern that should be mandated for all generations.

    7. If we view the entire bible through the optic of Jesus’ teaching and behavior, what stands out is his radical egalitarianism when it comes to the question of gender, and his willingness to contravene the religious norms and social expectations of his culture in treating women as equals.

    8. Also in the bible, though Albert Mohler conspicuously ignores this: “In Christ there is neither male nor female.” That is the essence of the gospel message about matters of gender — not the complementarianism that sees men and women as distinctly different due to their different sex organs, and woman as created to serve men.

  • Why should brother Brian D. McLaren care that “Albert Mohler Jr. … [with his recent] jabs … run[s] counter to an impression of deep repentance or a focus on the splinter in his own tribe’s eye”? Why is McLaren pushing brother Mohler on to repent or else? Or else God’s gonna punish the guy? But seeing as McLaren is of the belief that “God venting God’s wrath on [a] human being – whether that wrath is deemed just or not – … [is] an act of injustice” – what’s the point of Mohler’s repentance in the first place?

    And strange & unfair, isn’t it? – that whereas McLaren dares to say, “It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts”; there’s no such possibility granted to Mohler. Clearly, McLaren wrote this article NOT AT ALL to “help [the band, Mohler & the SBC] become followers of Jesus and remain within their [Christian] contexts”.

    Source: (1) Brian D. McLaren, “Q & R: Penal Substitutionary Atonement”, brianmclarennet blog. (2) Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Zondervan, 2006.

  • “The wrath of God”? Brian D. McLaren doesn’t believe in that. Yet here you are upvoting the guy, “Brian McLaren is right on target”!

  • “….the liberals who left (the SBC and) have kept marching to the Left” — Dr. Albert Mohler.

    Okay, I get it now. THAT line, is why the liberal (more accurately “liberal extremist“, but let’s just settle for “liberal”) Brian McLaren is all upset at Dr. Mohler.

    Sure, it’s A-okay to call attention to Paige Patterson’s wrong-doing as a wake-up call to the SBC Church, but it’s NOT okay to call attention to Brian McLaren’s wrong-doing as a wake-up call to the SBC Church. Hmm.

    Memo to all McLarenites: This gig on Patterson is over. Go home. Get psychological help if you need to. Patterson lost his seminary post, which is appropriate. But you’re NOT going to get your pound of flesh. Go home.

  • It’s especially important to remember 2 things about SBC:

    1. It was formed shortly before the Civil war to preserve slavery.
    2. It took SBC until *1995*!!! to apologize for its past actions.

    I wonder when the Mohler, SBC, et al, will start actually THINKING about their positions on LGBTs and transgender people and condemning the hate statements from its own members, and others.

  • Aaah, yes, the Brit Profumo. I suspect you and I are among the very few folks who remember hm.

    I love your Rule of Thumb.

  • What makes a church Baptist? Respect for soul freedom, or strict conformity to doctrine (similar to that of the Vatican)? Resistance to justice for Afro-Americans? Resistance to justice for women? Male pride and preening? Humility?

  • For starters the SBC should be known as the Southern Baptist Cult, especially after the coup led by Patterson. He and his ilk changed the SBC (slightly) and made it an organization that follows the heretical teachings of Calvin & Cromwell rather than the teachings of The Christ. They practice heresy, blasphemy, and sacrilegious behavior. They and other fundies/evangelicals worship their heretical gross misinterpretation of the KJV of the Bible making it their idol. As a result they have elevated the KJV and themselves above God, an act of heresy, blasphemy and sacrilege. Their seminaries, colleges, and K-12 schools are nothing more than “Christian” versions of madrassas, or Bible thumping schools.

    Christian, absolutely NOT!

  • They write these things so they can exclude. This is what they have determined for themselves is the true Christian faith. If you don’t believe exactly this, then they think that they can decide you aren’t the right kind of Christian, so in their book you ain’t a Christian.

    As if all the previous creeds, confessions and statements of faith weren’t enough, gotta have another.

  • As far as I’m concerned the SBC still has yet to repent for its role in the promotion of slavery & segregation. In addition the same holds true for its role in the KKK.

  • Have you ever looked into the way the KJV was produced? King James wanted a Bible that supported his heresy of the “Divine Right of Kings”. There are also many inaccuracies in the KJV such as the cosmology with Earth at the center of the universe and the crossing of the Red Sea. It was the Sea of Reeds and was easily crossed on foot. On the other hand the Egyptian chariots bogged down in the mud. These factors are merely a starting point.

  • In the free market of ideas and membership Southern Baptists are having a hard time. According to Christianity Today, “the denomination is down to its ‘lowest baptisms since 1946; lowest membership since 1990; lowest worship attendance since 1996,” according to historical analysis from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.” Does the SPC stick to its theology and lose members every year, or does it evolve into something more mainstream? https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/june/southern-baptist-convention-churches-baptisms-sbc-acp.html

  • So I guess you hate the KJV. (By the way, your claim of “inaccuracies” is itself not accurate — except maybe for the name “Sea of Reeds” — but most folks seriously ain’t abandoning the Bible over an extra “e” in the Red Sea.)

    Anyway, if you really hate KJV, just pick NASB, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, etc. Just pick a halfway standard Study Bible that you can start reading, trusting, and living.

  • “Look. See. We fired Patterson. Move along now folks. There’s nothing to see here. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    Patterson was one among hundreds. The SBC has lots more work to do.

  • perhaps America’s largest Protestant denomination can then turn its attention to dismantling the structural conditions — including theological ones — that have protected abusers, silenced victims and enabled many layers of denial for far too long.

    Thy breath holdeth not.

  • Not to mention its role in secession and encouraging Civil War.

    Then there is its destructive homophobia and encouragement of pseudo-science like ‘creationism.’

  • I don’t recall seeing anything scandalous about McLaren’s conduct in regards to abusive relationships.

  • For starters the SBC should be known as the Southern Baptist Cult, especially after the coup led by Patterson.

    That fits. But I kinda prefer what I read on another comment board: The Southern Boyz Club.

  • I’ve been upset at Mohler for the past few years now, and it has nothing to do with “liberal” or “conservative”.

    Back in 2016, Mohler did something at the T4G conference/pastorfest that utterly nauseated me. Not only did he support the participation of C.J. Mahaney, and not only did he personally introduce him on stage. Mohler did so with a vile, disgusting, heartless joke at the expense of those who had suffered terribly under Mahaney’s leadership. And this was while sexual abuse victims and their supporters were right on their doorstep, protesting Mahaney’s involvement and his colleagues’ encouragement.

    To this day, Mohler hasn’t addressed his evil words. He hasn’t repented. As far as I know, he still backs Mahaney as a pastor, despite all the evidence against him. To me, that’s reason enough to suspect Mohler’s concern for women, or for anyone who isn’t a pastor or “leader”.

  • It all began in the end of the beginning. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
    Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
    For their own curse of sin, there are these webs of domination on woman with the special enmity of the serpent.

    But from the beginning, it was not like this. While Adam is asleep, God took a rib from his side to make a woman. So woman was not made from the crown of the head so she lord over man, nor from the sole of his foot so he step on her. She was taken from his side so she can be his helper. And it was good even though Adam never figure out her because she was formed when he was dreaming.

    After the fall the world became darkened with the new ruler of the world, the animals kill, the jungle rule, the curse, the ground, the sorrow, the evil days, the thorns, the sweat, back to dust. So the devil want to tear up the photos and deface all images of the previous devotion – the man and woman.

    So Jesus, Son of God became the Son of Man to be the sacrifice to reverse all curses and save us from sin. So He came to find His own bride on the cross. He, the eternal LORD, received all these dust, sweat, thorns, evil day, sorrow, curses, strikes, pains, suffering, the curse so we are blessed, loved, lifted, up, marvel,….
    He, my only true hero had “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” flower the church with the washing and cleansing of His beloved on His side in the eternal. Amen.

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