“Black Collar Crimes”

Bruce Gerencser regularly publishes accounts of clergy crime, dubbing them “Black Collar Crimes.” He has published today a long and thoughtful piece that discusses the problem, and it would be well worth your time to go take a look.

The Stunning Number of Black Collar Crime Reports

It should be clear to everyone by now that Evangelicalism has a huge problem with sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Hopefully, the Black Collar Crime series has forever shut the mouths of those who self-righteously claim that Evangelicals don’t have the same sort of sexual abuse problem as the Catholics do. I hope, anyway — but way too many Christian zealots are oblivious to their flies being unzipped.

Aeons ago, I published a Web site called Piety, Inc., and it aggregated accounts of clergy crime, everything from embezzlement to raping children. The site grew rapidly, and I got lots of e-mail and tips from church members, and books to review, and that sort of thing. It got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping at night — couldn’t sleep — and dreaded opening my e-mail inbox in the morning because it comprised, every day, cataracts of sewage. It was affecting me in a very bad way, and so I closed the site.

A few of the things I learned.

  • Though the churches market the line that they are the repository of all that is good and wholesome, that’s a plain vanilla marketing lie; churches are not a scintilla more decent than the generality of society. In one particular, they are much worse.

  • When a church learns that Pastor Bubba is raping his way through the children’s choir, it all but invariably rallies to the pastor and punishes his victims. In even those cases where Pastor Bubba admits his guilt in open court, the congregation usually floods the judge with letters pleading for clemency because he is a Godly man and this was just a little slip-up. The family of the victim is usually made to understand that they’re no longer welcome in the church, and no effort is made to help them recover from their injuries.

    This is not a one-off reaction, the unfortunate behavior of a single church; it’s the truth about who is the majority in most churches.

    Yes, sexual abuse of children happens in other parts of society. The difference is that those other sectors of society — elementary school teachers, for instance — don’t cover it up, don’t rally to the protection of the perpetrators, and don’t punish the victims.

  • If you want to take a pastor down, go after his financial (mis-)management and ignore his sexual misconducts. Congregations respond much more rapidly and mercilessly to stealing their money than to raping their children.

On one important point, I depart from Bruce, the Wartburg ladies, Jeri Massi, and all the others who have done so much to drag this problem out to the light of day. I don’t believe that exposing the problem is going to lead to reforms that will end the problem, la-la-la. I believe, rather, that the problem inheres in the ontology of Christianity, that the problem is part and parcel of what Christianity is — a social machine that degrades people and then exploits them.

Famously, Christianity is hostile to sex. “Marry,” St. Paul said, “or burn,” adding that he, himself, one of the very finest people to ever live (et cetera, et cetera) thought it best to have nothing to do with sex. Now, add to the hostility to sex the degrading teaching that y’all are no damn good, were born no damn good, can never be any damn good.

Is it really a surprise to anybody that there are a lot of screwed-up people, with confused attitudes toward sex, sitting in church? How could it possibly be otherwise?

Hard on the heels of a Star Telegram series a few weeks ago, which found hundreds of abuse stories in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches, the Houston Chronicle is set to begin publishing tomorrow a series which takes up sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches.

I’ve been promising you that a story was about to break on the Southern Baptist Convention. I bet some of you thought it would never happen. A number of us were sworn to secrecy until the proper research could be completed and vetted. On Sunday it begins, thanks to Robert Downen and the Houston Chronicle.

This will not be a story based on innuendo. Months and months of research went into this: phone interviews, face to face interviews, boxes of dusty old papers combed through, victims spoke, advocates spoke, documentation acquired and lawyers vetted. One reporter’s dogged determination to get at the truth led the way and more resources were committed as the evidence proved to be overwhelming. Robert Downen did what he set out to do.

The Southern Baptist Convention is about to become the newest face of sex abuse: committed and covered up.

Make a point of finding the series tomorrow, and make a point of sharing it with anybody in your circle who needs to read it.

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