For six years, a convicted child molester was pastor and minister a First Baptist Church in Romeoville, Ill. Deacons knew. Other ministers knew. A denominational official knew. Yet, nothing was done until a minister anonymously contacted the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and SNAP got the media involved. Meanwhile, kids were marching into Vacation Bible School at a church with a registered sex offender in the pulpit.
You might have thought that, when this sordid story came to light, Southern Baptist leaders would publicly voice their outrage and rebuke the church. You might have imagined that Southern Baptist leaders would try to figure out where their system went wrong and how a registered sex offender could stay in a Baptist pulpit for so long with so many people knowing.
But none of that happened.
There should have been a huge, collective “OUCH” from Southern Baptist leaders, but instead they shrugged and recited their mantra of “Baptist churches are autonomous.” We have “no authority to intervene,” they said.
In letters to the editor and blog comments, people outside the faith group expressed outrage. But many who self-identified as Baptist simply yawned and said “nothing can be done.” The contrast was dramatic.
All religions have beliefs that to the outside eye seem odd. But for Southern Baptists to elevate church autonomy above kids’ safety makes autonomy into a faith-tradition that is not only odd, but dangerous.
In essence, Southern Baptist leaders are contending that the Bible dictates church autonomy and therefore, that the Bible gives denominational leaders the right to say “not my problem” when clergy child molesters stand in Baptist pulpits.
But where exactly in the Bible does it say that autonomy trumps kids’ safety? Where does it say that Southern Baptist leaders get a biblical pass to turn a blind-eye to clergy child molesters?
What kind of god would carve that in stone? And where exactly are the precise Biblical parameters of this oh-so-sacred autonomy doctrine?
If that Romeoville church had put an openly gay pastor in the pulpit, would other church and denominational leaders have turned a blind-eye for six years? No way.
So, if autonomy doesn’t prevent Southern Baptist leaders from taking action against churches that hire gay pastors–or churches that hire women pastors–why does autonomy prevent them from doing anything about churches that put convicted child molesters in the pulpit?
It looks like their version of autonomy is really just a manifestation of their own agenda. When it serves their ends, they side-step autonomy, but when it doesn’t, they use it as an excuse to do nothing. This degrades their own doctrine when Southern Baptist leaders pervert it to protect themselves instead of protecting kids.
Such a self-serving version of autonomy isn’t biblical or Christian. It’s just an inbred, overbred hairless creature that they call a “dog,” but any true dog-lover can see that it’s really a mutant of their own making.
A retired appellate attorney, she is the author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang.