Here is the full text of Russell Moore’s op-ed in the N. Y. Times. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He is the author of “The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home.”
Jesus is weeping. This abuse has rocked almost every industry, political party and religious institution we have.
I can hear Jesus saying “Woe to you!”
I somehow thought there would be more from Dr. Moore. I thought his statement would be stronger than this. I thought we might hear some answers. I was thinking there would be more accountability leveled.
He seemed to get close to it a couple of times.
I thought he might march into some of those churches and turn over the pews, throw the offering in the air and have the deacons arrested. Maybe he should have burned down their bookstores where they hawk books for the predators and shut down their latte bars.
I know that sounds pretty strong but I know someone who did it.
Jesus is weeping.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I heard much about “the age of accountability.” Our tradition baptizes only those who confess their own faith in Christ, and the phrase describes the time when a person is mature enough to understand the difference between good and evil — and from that point onward could be, at the point of death, expected to stand before God in judgment, accountable for one’s own decisions, without the excuse of ignorance of what was right.
This week The Houston Chronicle ran a series of articles exposing, in painfully specific documentation, hundreds of sexual abusers who have worked within Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years.
This series of articles demonstrates clearly that our tradition is well past its own age of accountability. The vital question is what we as a religious community, faced with these sins, do next.
Though many have cried out about the problem in church life, too often our tradition has thought this was a problem outside our walls. Some saw abuse, for example, within the Catholic church, and attributed it to a priestly celibacy or to a powerful church hierarchy different from American evangelicalism. Others saw the shocking abuse in the entertainment industry and considered it confirmation of what happens in communities with a lack of religiosity.
We see the same impulse at work throughout American culture when it comes to sexual abuse and assault allegations against politicians. Often these acts are viewed through a partisan lens: either as confirmation of the end result of one’s politics, or a distraction to be waved away, depending on whether the politician was on one’s ideological “side” or not.
Either way, among some, the idea was often that while sexual abuse is awful, it happens everywhere, no more, and probably less, in the church than anywhere else. That mentality was always vicious and deceptive, but faced with the Chronicle’s accounting, it is utterly impossible to maintain.
When churches do cover up abuse, they often justify it by acting as if they are preventing the world from seeing “scandal.” If the public saw such a dark reality, they say, they might not want to hear the gospel, the reasoning goes.
Nonsense. Jesus does not need the church to protect his reputation. And Jesus was, and is, enraged by those who would seek to blame him for empowering atrocities. Those who would use religion to prey on those looking to hear a word from Jesus are more than just criminals who use their cunning to traumatize people, as if that weren’t awful enough. They commit spiritual rape of the most incestuous and violent kind.
The stakes for the church are high, and they are about far more than organizational survival. The church is to be the place that previews for the world a picture of what the kingdom of God is like — a place where sinners are reconciled to God and to one another, where the weakest among us are loved and respected. Jesus announced a reign in which children and the vulnerable are not just cared for but are the “first” in the kingdom of God. Predators are awful and should be held accountable wherever they are found. But nothing is worse than those who would abuse the vulnerable under the name of Jesus Christ.