An ongoing expose of clergy sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention dominated news coverage by EthicsDaily.com in 2007. Other top stories included Baptists and the environment, plans for a Baptist confab in 2008, the role of faith in politics and a homemaking degree at an SBC seminary.
EthicsDaily.com carried 53 news stories and four opinion articles about sexual abuse by Southern Baptist clergy, continuing monitoring of the issue begun in 2006. The year began with an alleged cover up of a long time staff member at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., accused of molesting his own son. It ended with stories in recent days about an African-American preacher once mentored by former SBC presidents Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines accused of sending obscene text messages to a child, a church which witnessed the conviction of a second former minister for molestation and a Baptist children’s home executive who once sought leniency for a pastor who confessed to sexually abusing teenage girls. In the meantime, the story spilled over into mainstream media through exposure by ABC’s “20/20” and the Associated Press. The Southern Baptist Convention called for a feasibility study on establishing a database of clergy sex offenders. The motion was referred to the SBC Executive Committee, which must report progress back to the convention next June.
Former Vice President Al Gore became the third Baptist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to draw attention to the danger of global warming. His documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won two Oscars. In March Gore called on Congress to transcend party lines and pull together as Americans to save the environment. A Jan. 9 editorial in EthicsDaily.com called on Baptists to step up to global warming as a moral issue in 2007. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, meanwhile, joined critics of Gore’s film. One called the environment a second-tier moral issue. Jerry Falwell called debate over global warming a “tool of Satan” designed to divide Christians. In June the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution challenging scientific consensus about the cause of global warming. James Dobson and other evangelical leaders tried to get a National Association of Evangelicals fired for his advocacy of creation care.
Former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton joined leaders of 40 Baptist organizations Jan. 9 to announce a major meeting in early 2008 to offer an alternative Baptist voice to often-negative messages of the Religious Right. The New Baptist Covenant Celebration, scheduled Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta, is themed around the Bible text Luke 4:18-19. The Baptist Center for Ethics produced a free online Bible study to support the theme. Major speakers include Democrats Carter and Clinton, along with Republican congressmen Charles Grassley and Lindsay Graham. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee withdrew from the event after Carter said the Bush administration had the worst international policy in history, prompting discussion over whether the event will be viewed as partisan.
Former Arkansas governor and ordained Southern Baptist minister entered the race for the Republican nomination for president Jan. 28. Evangelical leaders were slow to embrace one of their own. Baptist Press ignored Huckabee’s candidacy for two months, while featuring Fred Thompson’s late entry into the race in a headline. Though highly anticipated–Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called the former senator a Southern-fried Reagan and said the race was his to lose–Thompson’s campaign fell flat with most religious conservatives. He did pick up an endorsement from “conservative resurgence” co-founder Paul Pressler this month. EthicsDaily.com carried a story in September documenting Thompson’s sparse church background. On the campaign trail, Thompson admitted he doesn’t regularly attend church. Mitt Romney’s religion hurt him, because many evangelicals consider the Mormon church a cult. The SBC’s Land attempted to deflect the question, labeling Mormonism a “fourth Abrahamic faith.” Rudy Giuliani tried to overcome his poor image with evangelicals in a speech at Houston Baptist University. John McCain claimed to be a Baptist but took it back. Huckabee’s campaign picked up steam, with endorsements from several SBC leaders, raising questions about his own beliefs, including his support for a 1998 statement that wives should submit to their husbands.
EthicsDaily.com was first to report on a new homemaking degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The BCE’s Robert Parham debated seminary president Paige Patterson about the role of women on Fox News. Defending the sister seminary’s degree, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler said most fathers “don’t have the equipment” to stay at home and raise kids.
BCE Executive Director Robert Parham expressed Baptist support for public education at a two-day conference with the National Education Association in February. NEA head Reg Weaver termed the Memphis gathering the “beginning of something big.” Last month Parham warned teachers in Arkansas that Southern Baptist Convention leaders want to harm public schools. SBC supporters for an “exodus” from public schools continued to make strides. The Baptist State Convention in North Carolina promoted a conference about starting Christian schools. A seminary president said churches should do more to help parents with education choices. Another seminary head claimed public schools are hostile to people of faith. “The Albert Mohler Radio Program” warned in November that a controversial California law could lead to homosexual indoctrination elsewhere.
Baptists from around the world marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in July with a solemn reconciliation ceremony at a former slave castle in Ghana. The meeting included installation of Jamaican Neville Callam as new general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. A descendant of slaves, he is the first non-white to hold the post. British Baptists lamented slavery at an annual gathering in May but didn’t apologize for it until November. That came after the head of the European Baptist Federation called on the Baptist Union of Great Britain to follow the lead of Dutch Baptists and apologize to descendants of slaves.
A white American Baptist pastor brought national attention to a civil-rights case in a small Louisiana town made famous as the Jena Six. Alan Bean of Arlington, Texas, runs Friends of Justice, an organization he started for criminal justice reform. Bean said a September rally in Jena could signal the start of a new civil rights movement.
Evangelical leaders called on lawmakers to uphold biblical principles in immigration reform. A panel of activists told reporters in a September conference call that religion is an important but often overlooked factor in immigration debate. Faith leaders in June denounced America’s immigration policy as anti-family. EthicsDaily.com carried a series of columns on immigration by Daniel Carro, Latino ministries Kingdom Advance ambassador for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and professor of divinity at John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va. Another column urged Southern Baptists to support immigration reform. Another called for fairer immigration laws. An October lecture reminded that all Christians are “guest workers” whose real home is the kingdom of God. Miguel De La Torre wrote a two-part column in August titled “The Alien is Jesus Among Us.” In June the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Buckner International launched a pioneer partnership to help immigrants deal with citizenship issues.
Moderate Baptist leaders contacted by EthicsDaily.com in January opposed President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. Bush defended the surge in his State of the Union address. Christian groups marked the four-year anniversary of the war with protests. A Southern Baptist Convention leader, on the other hand, said premature withdrawal of troops would be immoral. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Iraq doesn’t meet criteria for a just war.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Previous years in review:
2006 Tumultuous Year for Baptists, Banner Year for BCE
2005 Year in Review
BWA, Election Top EthicsDaily.com Stories in 2004
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.