Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, has long considered a budget to be a moral document. It reveals what we believe is important as a Country. We may apply this conviction to our own personal budgets and, yes, the budgets of Christian denominations.
Recently Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a piece that showed up at Get Religion, whose byline is, “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion,” a quote from William Schneider. The piece caught my attention for its title, The Southern Baptists Scarlet “A.” Ross Jr. evaluates the way a story of clergy misconduct is communicated in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Reading both pieces left me thinking we miss what receiving money communicates. I recall the debate in Oklahoma during the battle against parimutuel betting as a gateway to gambling in casinos. A classic ad campaign worthy of Mad Men fame lured voters into believing somehow horses were not allowed to run in Oklahoma. The measure passed and, as expected, paved the way for regulated gambling.
Would churches accept money, gifts, from winnings at any of these venues? Idealists touted how they would turn away money given from winnings at the racetrack, the casino, or from the lottery. I always wondered how well we scrutinized the other sources of our tithes and offerings at local churches.
Do we receive money from business owners whose financial practices prompt low wages in favor of high profits? What about the tithes and offerings from an abusive husband or neglectful parents? The policing of these matters would seem to require the sort of invasions of privacy that would reduce attendance with its attendant financial consequences.
What does this have to do with the articles in question? Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bobby Ross Jr. noted a ruling in a clergy sexual abuse case in Florida. The Florida Baptist Convention lost its court battle defending itself against any culpability for knowing the past of the convicted clergyman. The ruling considered the support provided a church plant where the suspect in question served constituted an endorsement. Despite protests the FBC did not endorse the candidate nor know of his past, the courts appeared to consider the lack of background checks and the support for the church plant to be irresponsible therefore contributing to the eventuality of the incident. In short, due diligence was neglected.
At least since the SBC in San Antonio, and surely before, Christa Brown has been advocating for an offender registry for Southern Baptist Churches. Rather than passing predators on to other churches in other states, she believes a registry would short-circuit the predatory practices of these ministers. There are too many illustrations of repeat offenses. One is too many.
Rather than appeal to voluntary association as a means to avoid developing such a registry, Brown contends the SBC should look at the consequent effects of passing on those who commit such crimes. Even those instances that go un-reported to authorities and not litigated should be included. Victims deserve better.
The SBC resists such calls even as instances like the one covered in the Post-Dispatch story continue. What would prompt the SBC to act?
When feeling the threat to traditional families, the SBC added an article on the Family to its confessional document. Considering the question of Biblical Authority, the SBC revised its confessional document to ensure both a commitment to inerrancy and male leadership as key to its survival as a conservative Christian witness in the world.
There are lesser illustrations in Associations and State Conventions. What is clear is that politics and doctrine rise to the level of action. Working to establish a registry that would help ferret out cads posing as ministers appears to be hands off.
If we fear fallout for adding a magisterial feature in defense of victims and churches, and so hold onto the rubric of voluntary association, how about we consider from whom we receive funds. Should a church choose to side with a persistent abuser, even under the vocabulary of forgiveness, politely return their Cooperative Program gifts or other offerings. Forgiving the unforgiveable is necessary. But, forgiveness does not equate to un-impeachable.
We should expect doctrinal disagreement and political divisions. What we should not tolerate is the passing on or over instances of clergy sexual abuse.
I am not sure who gets what. Does Bobby Ross Jr. get the nuances of Southern Baptist polity? Does the St. Louis Post-Dispatch get the ramifications of the Florida court ruling? These are not my concern. Does the SBC get that to choose doctrine and politics over the welfare of people is going backward, not forward?
During this Season of Advent we re-visit the longing for justice. The expectations long promised the day when institutional structures and human practices would call attention to those dis-empowered and stand in solidarity with them. The people of God would be led by One who would demonstrate how to both follow God in faithfulness and at the same time establish a pattern defending those without defenders.
Maybe we need to get that.
From whom we receive money is as important as to whom we give our money.