Discussions of clergy sex abuse in SBC churches and entities are, sadly, common these days. Several current examples, deplorable each one, are found in articles here within the past days. This used not to be the case. When clergy misconduct occurred it would be whispered not published. Pastors, denominational workers, and leaders would find out through back channels and the Baptist grapevine. Very seldom would Baptist Press or any of the state Baptist newspapers would touch these stories.
Things have changed. Communication is easier. Victims have means to make public their cases. They also have advocates, some of whom have very prominent platforms to call abusers to account and to bulldog cases. Social media may put a decades-old incident on the front page before all.
When abuse cases that involve SBC churches or entities are discussed here and elsewhere, one can count on the matter of autonomy being raised by critics:
Stop making autonomy an excuse for doing nothing about clergy sex abuse…
The SBC needs to deal with the issue and not hide behind autonomy…
Autonomy is a bogus excuse, a smoke screen…
Almost always, this isn’t a subject that commenters bring up in order to discuss or examine it in the context of what can be done. It’s a throwaway line. There’s no clean way to parry such an indignant accusation, often dripping with contempt, the SBC is “hiding behind” autonomy or using it as an excuse to “do nothing.”
When this type of comment is made, what’s the answer?
My answer is that autonomy is not an excuse for anything but rather a reality. SBC local churches, associations, state conventions, and SBC entities can and should act individually to address the matters. Sometimes each of these fails. The responsibility for the failure rests with the church or entity. If there are additional measures that may be taken in a corporate or cooperative way, I’m open to considering them.
Let’s hear the proposals.