Thursday, November 10, 2011

Al Mohler Wakes Up... Finally!

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a good article about lessons Southern Baptists can learn from the firing of Penn State's Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier and the arrest of former assistant coach and perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, as well as the indictments of the former AD, Tim Curley, and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz. Heads have most certainly rolled at Penn State this week. The grand jury's findings can be read in full here.

Mohler concludes, "The detonation of the Penn State scandal must shake the entire nation into a new moral awareness. Any failure to report and to stop the sexual abuse of children must be made inconceivable."

Are you just now realizing this, Dr. Mohler? Or did the worldwide reporting of such a large scandal at a big-name university involving a legendary coach force you to no longer be able to remain silent?

Mohler continues: Sometimes Christians are reluctant to report suspected sexual abuse because they do not feel that they know enough about the situation. They are afraid of making a false accusation. This is the wrong instinct. We do not have the ability to conduct the kind of investigation that is needed, nor is this assigned to the church. This is the function of government as instituted by God (Romans 13). Waiting for further information allows a predator to continue and puts children at risk. This is itself an immoral act that needs to be seen for what it is.

There's a lot of truth in that paragraph, but actually, Dr. Mohler, it's an illegal act not to report. Let's stop sugar-coating premeditated crimes by calling them "moral failures" or "sins" or merely "mistakes." (See Sammy Nuckolls.) Many times, as with the Penn State story, they're a lot more concerned with protecting "the brand" or some good old boy's job or career than they are with making a false accusation or the protection of children.

A Christian hearing a report of sexual abuse within a church, Christian organization, or Christian school, needs to act in exactly the same manner called for if the abuse is reported in any other context. The church and Christian organizations must not become safe places for abusers.

News flash! That ship has sailed. The church and "Christian" organizations already are safe havens for abusers! It's the blatant lack of accountability, trust in "men of God" just because they say they're "called by God" and can quote scripture and toss out spiritual sound bites, and the unwillingness by church leadership to report abuse or suspicion thereof to the authorities and their congregations that have resulted in churches being safe havens for these perverts for years. (Another one from Bellevue's past has recently come to light, and a lot of people apparently knew about him. One former staffer was quoted as saying they knew this guy was a "pedophile" for years but no one was willing to contact authorities.) Will Mohler publicly (or privately) criticize church leaders who are guilty of covering for confessed child molesters? Or will he continue to speak at their churches and invite them to speak at SBTS chapel services? Mohler spoke at Bellevue as recently as June of this year.

Greg Belser, who covered for John Langworthy, spoke to SBTS students and faculty at their October 25th chapel service.

Any report of sexual abuse must lead immediately to action. That action cannot fall short of contacting law enforcement authorities. A clear lesson of the Penn State scandal is this: Internal reporting is simply not enough.

Again, it's taken the Penn State scandal to clarify this for you?

After law enforcement authorities have been notified, the church must conduct its own work of pastoral ministry, care, and church discipline. This is the church’s responsibility and charge. But these essential Christian ministries and responsibilities are not substitutes for the proper function of law enforcement authorities and the legal system. As Christians, we respect those authorities because we are commanded to do so.

Yes! Amen! GLO ree! Thank you! It's about time! But why is a man of Mohler's impressive credentials just now seeming to grasp this concept when most of the sheeple in the pews and, for that matter, "the world," haven't had to pause for one second to consider what to do in a situation like this?

The other day Mohler decided to crack open the policy handbook for the institution he's headed for almost 19 years and discovered that the seminary's policy on reporting of any sexual abuse, even that of a child, could have conceivably led to another Penn State situation. Oops! Dodged a bullet there, didn't we?

I discovered yesterday that the policy handbook of the institution I am proud to lead calls for any employee receiving a report of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, to contact his or her supervisor with that report. That changes today. The new policy statement will direct employees receiving such a report to contact law enforcement authorities without delay. Then, after acting in the interests of the child, they should contact their supervisor.

While I applaud Mohler for finally educating himself on his school's policies and changing the policy immediately... better late than never as they say, with all the publicity in recent years about the numerous cases of sexual abuse, often involving children, within Southern Baptist churches, I can only wonder why it took a story on the scale of the Penn State scandal to awaken Mohler.

Christa Brown, SNAP representatives, and others have been trying to get the attention of Southern Baptists for years only to be at best ignored and many times demonized, maybe not by Mohler himself (he seems to have remained silent) but by many of his peers. Frank Page described some who speak out against clergy sex abuse "opportunistic persons who are seeking to raise opportunities for personal gain." Did Dr. Mohler ever renounce Frank Page's statement? Paige Patterson called them evil-doers. Did Dr. Mohler call him out? All I heard was crickets.

FBC Jax Watchdog has written a good series of articles on the Penn State story:

At Least in College Football, Failing to Report a Molester Is a Crime - But How Does Joe Paterno Still Have a Job?

The Ugly Truth About Joe Paterno and the Sandusky Rape of 10 Year Old - And What We Can Learn From It

Paterno Out: A Legendary Football Coach is Held Accountable for Turning Blind Eye Toward a Pervert

Let's see what happens now.

1. Will Al Mohler have the courage to reintroduce the motion Wade Burleson proposed at the 2007 SBC?

2. Will he lead the rally to support Burleson or another messenger who proposes a similar motion in 2012?

3. Will Mohler now implement mandatory training for all seminary students in how to handle any knowledge or even suspicion of sexual abuse? (This shouldn't be "uncharted waters," but apparently it still is for many, including seasoned pastors.)

4. Will he publicly rebuke Southern Baptist "ministers" who are caught committing these crimes? Not to publicly humiliate them but to warn people about these wolves. Or will he continue merrily on with his CBMW agenda warning against the evils of women teaching men, not submitting to their husbands, and young people not getting married as soon as possible and popping out as many babies as nature allows?

5. Will he now begin to publicly rebuke Southern Baptist pastors who knowingly cover for confessed child molesters? Or will he continue to bring them in to speak in chapel services and fill the pulpits of their churches? The "elite" among the SBC seem to think they're "appointed by God." Someone needs to explain to them that while they may be called by God to preach, they are hired by people to perform a job. Otherwise they wouldn't be so concerned about their salaries (and keeping them a secret).

This 2006 BP article illustrates this point precisely. Translation: We are appointed by God, we are being "persecuted" because we are "God's men," and you are to overlook any wrongdoing by us "men of God" because we are... "appointed by God." You can't touch us. Just shut up, grab a broom, and help us sweep it all under the rug.

As David Clohessy, national director of SNAP said, "It's easy to say stuff; harder to do stuff." So will Mohler now "do stuff" or will a change to the handbook, which apparently even the president himself hadn't read until this week, be Mohler's only response? Come on, Al. Do the right thing! Don't just say stuff, DO STUFF!

November 18th update:

We're making progress... >> My Letter to the Southern Seminary Community: Our Duty to Report

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Be Joyful! (But only when I say you can.)

JOY. That was today's sermon topic. Well, actually the sermon was entitled "Are You a Friend of God?" I've always thought that whole "friend of God" thing borders on sacrilege or at the least seems somewhat simplistic and man-centered. (The song I Am a Friend of God has been described "like a song that a kindergartner would sing. It makes God seem like our pal Jake that we hang out with at McDonald's.")

Still, bear in mind that great emphasis was placed on the expression of "joy" in today's sermon.

Steve told the story (for about the hundredth time) about how he learned to "lift holy hands" while in college. He's not telling you that you have to lift your hands when you worship, but it is in the Bible, so draw your own conclusions about his feelings on the subject.

He then explained why Christians should be joyful and not go around with clouds over their heads.

Then he burst into song. This has become an almost weekly tradition.

Finally, nearing the end of his sermon... somewhere near the conclusion of point 6 of 7... there was a disturbance. During a pause a woman off camera began shouting. I don't believe it's racist to acknowledge that the woman was very likely black, a detail which is irrelevant other than to offer a possible explanation for the style with which she traditionally worships.

Watch what happened.

Steve is always trying to reach out to and attract all races of people to Bellevue. Then the cameras zero in on every black person they can find, but there still aren't that many. There's a reason for this. Those who attend predominantly black churches typically have a different worship style from those who attend predominantly white churches. That's not criticism of any style. It's just a fact. That's probably the main reason why Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours of the week. On a positive note, we are seeing many of the walls come down as evidenced by churches like First Baptist Atlanta and others. In spite of trying to convince people otherwise, Bellevue isn't quite there yet.

Last Sunday he ranted (again) about people who move because people with a different skin color than theirs move into the neighborhood, and he was all "how dare you!" about it, yet when he moved here, he didn't move his family to an inner city or "minority" neighborhood. Does he really think people moved out of, say, Frayser because people with a different skin color moved in? Or could it be because they got tired of hearing gunshots every night? Steve's neighborhood isn't gated (I'm surprised), but his house is on a quiet cul-de-sac in a very nice upscale neighborhood outside the Memphis city limits. (The significance of that, among other things, is he doesn't have to pay Memphis city taxes which account for about half the tax bill for people who live inside the city limits or in annexed areas.) If you think about it, moving Bellevue from inner-city Memphis to Cordova 20+ years ago was motivated in great part by "white flight."

And yet he wants to criticize city council for considering certain ordinances. If you're not paying Memphis city taxes, should you really have a say in how the city of Memphis does things? He criticized people for not wanting their kids to go to public school with "those people" (his words) while he sent his to private, lily-white ECS. When he got only a smattering of applause, he remarked that wasn't a very big hand. Maybe that's because most of the audience grasped the hypocrisy in what they'd just heard.

Things backfired this morning in the 11:00 service. After half an hour of being encouraged to be joyful(!), to praise God by "lifting holy hands," and a rousing rendition (solo by Steve) of What a Day That Will Be, a lady in the audience apparently could hold it in no longer and shouted, "GLO ree! GLO ree!! GLO ree!!! THANK YA, LORD! THANK YA!! THANK YA!!!" {then something muffled}

Steve stopped (you could practically hear the whir of the hamster wheel) and said, "Amen. If you will... just a second. Let me say this. I appreciate your... I appreciate your joy... but I'm speaking right now, and the Holy Spirit's speaking through me and He never interrupts Himself. So let me finish my sermon and then you can have joy, okay? Thank you.

"Number 7............. amen? Everybody okay? {muffled audience response} All right... we're all... everybody's all right. Everything's cool. Nobody's... that's fine."

"The Holy Spirit's speaking through me and He never interrupts Himself"? Thinks rather highly of himself, doesn't he? God spoke through a donkey, too. What's the point? Maybe the Holy Spirit was speaking through the lady!

What does he expect? That's how the people in many predominantly black churches worship! They're enthusiastic, they constantly respond to the preacher during the sermon, and they aren't by any stretch of the imagination, quiet. Steve rebukes people if they don't clap or say "amen" at the right time. Then he devotes an entire sermon to being joyful, lifting "holy" hands, and expressing that joy, encouraging "amens" and applause at just the right moments, but when one woman doesn't follow the script... bam! Sit down and shut up! After being publicly called out, do you think that woman will ever darken the door of Bellevue Baptist Church again? Not only will she not ever come back, she's going to tell ALL her friends what happened, too. Nice job lo♥ing Memphis, Steve.

If that woman today hadn't gotten wound up before then (it was near the end) she probably wasn't going to get any louder. Like one would try to tune out a crying child, he could have just ignored her and kept going and there probably wouldn't have been another outburst, but she didn't shout "Glory!" on cue, and we can't have that. Remember "Amen Kelly" and the dream? (Whatever happened to him anyway?) He had to be dealt with because he was interrupting Steve's train of thought.

Hey, I'm not unsympathetic here. I recall a lady (who shall remain nameless) whose "amens" used to interrupt my train of thought on a regular basis. Anyone who's heard her will likely know who it is. She was always so loud, so constant, and so predictable... two "amens" with the same emphasis on the syllables... "a MEN! A... men!" after almost every sentence that came out of the preacher's mouth. And yet... I don't recall Steve ever requesting she tone it down a few notches. Considering who she's married to, he wouldn't dare!

You could see "lifted hands" at the bottom of the screen during part of his sermon this morning. Why didn't he chastise them? Well, those did look like white hands. Maybe big tithers or children of big tithers? Hmmm.

Oh, and this seems to be the new Sunday 11:00 a.m. look now.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Lifeway Makes Statement Regarding Sammy Nuckolls

Lifeway has issued a statement regarding Sammy Nuckolls. It took almost a week after all traces of their former relationship with him was scrubbed from the internet for them to issue this statement, but better late than never. I applaud Lifeway for finally addressing this issue.

On FBC Jax Watchdog's blog Jim pointed out the elephant in the room when he wrote, "Lifeway would have done an immense amount of good if they had added to the statement about no evidence of illicit activity by Nuckolls at FUGE camp: "However, we will contact every church or group that attended camp when Nuckolls was camp pastor and encourage campers and leaders who suspect they may have been victims, to come forward." Still, I'm glad Lifeway made a statement.