Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations and an Audit of the Procedures and Actions of the Credentials Committee

With everything going on in the world, why would I choose to write about an investigation into the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)? Well, because it matters to me, that’s why.

My background is in law enforcement, politics, and mental health. I’ve spent my life writing reports on observed behavior, criminal acts, and other incidents. I’ve also spent a large part of my life reviewing reports written by subordinates. In that time I’ve learned this, there are two types of reports: those that state the facts, and those that try to evoke a particular response from the reader.

My education is in administration of criminal justice (law enforcement, courts, and corrections) and political science. I’ve spent my entire adult life working for various government agencies which were ultimately responsible to an elected official. Sometimes I’ve worked with that official daily, other times they would never have any idea who I was. I’ve sat in U.S. Senator’s offices for private meetings, discussed issues with state level senators and representatives, and helped direct the activities of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. I am keenly sensitive to the impact public perception has on an organization and how to bear that in mind so that to act in ways that benefit the organization.

I’ve read thousands of pages of reports in my life. I’ve found that whether the report was a single paragraph, or hundreds of pages, it has to be read thoroughly before coming to any useful conclusion regarding it’s contents.

Bias

I spent several years working patrol. Before that, fresh out of high school I was a direct care worker at an inpatient psychiatric facility. To this day, I recall a doctor giving me the what-for as an 18-year-old after I inserted an opinion into a chart entry. Even though it was unpleasant, she was right. What she taught me has stayed with me. That served me well when I moved into law enforcement. The goal of every report I wrote was to state the facts and nothing but the facts. If a simple statement of the facts didn’t lead the reader, whether juror or prosecutor, to think a crime had been committed, then maybe I was in error and the accused needed to be freed.

Bias, as I showed at a young age when I said a patient “was angry” can show up in reports for two reasons in my experience. First, it can show as a unintentional bias. For example when a young, lazy kid writes, “the patient was angry” instead of taking the time to describe the actual observable behavior that will allow the reader to come to the conclusion the patient was angry. Second, it shows up when the writer uses words that are intended to evoke a certain response from the reader, usually through emotional appeals.

The Report

The first thing I wanted to do with this report was what I would do with any other. Is there bias in the report? If so, does it appear to be intentional or could it be unintentional? If it is intentional, what is it the writer wants you to conclude and why? If it isn’t (which is mostly okay), how could it influence your final conclusion and how, or even should, you counteract that bias.

I said it also shows up in words intended to evoke a response. Consider the two following sentences, the first of which is from the report. Look at the missing words and consider that they are there to make you feel a certain way about the facts being presented.

  • Finally, at the 2021 Nashville Convention, calls for reform reached a crescendo – the Messengers overwhelmingly voted to approve a Task Force to supervise an independent investigation into the EC’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.
  • At the 2021 Nashville Convention, the Messengers voted to approve a Task Force to supervise an independent investigation into the EC’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.

What additional facts did you get from those words that are not in the second sentence? “Overwhelmingly” is a characterization of a vote outcome rather than stating, “by a 5:1 margin” or some such. The others seem obvious so I won’t worry about them here.

I use the phrase “does it appear” above when talking about bias because I cannot conclude if bias is intentional or not most of the time. One can conclude it is intentional when any other conclusion beggars belief. That said, there is bias in this report. For instance, their initial contact letters with witnesses explained that interviewees would be allowed to “express their opinions as to how the SBC can create a safer community going forward” (p. 24). Before they began their interviews, they were predisposed to thinking the SBC was unsafe. That doesn’t mean it was, it just points out that they went in expecting to find things wrong.

Expectations are like that: They make us see the falsies that aren’t there. Decades of research have proven that expectation is a powerful force. It acts on our perceptions much as gravity acts on light, bending them in ways that are measurable by others, but, at least to us, imperceptible. 

Psychology Today

So they were biased. What else stood out about the report? Guidepost put a decent amount of effort into laying out the methodology they used in conducting this investigation. My opinion? Their methods were sound. By sound I mean I think they seem to have been thorough in trying to contact people they needed to interview, covering all the relevant areas of concern, and their comprehensive document review.

A couple of the abuse stories they took pages to lay out were simply not believable. By that I don’t mean I believe nothing happened, just I believe it sounded more like adultery than sexual assault or someone molesting another person. Two issues with that: 1) the thing about using words and phrases that don’t appear in the Bible but are intended to bring to mind rape and molestation are dishonest, and 2) if you portray a willing party to adultery as a victim, and tell them they are a victim, the chance of them asking forgiveness is nil. It is an unloving lie to do such a thing.

My Opinion

There are two types of reports organizations generate, factual and persuasive. This was definitely a persuasive report. For me it was mostly a fail in that area as they did not focus as much on solid cases where convicted sex offenders were in the pulpit. They seemed more interested in persuading the reader that certain specific cases were sexual abuse. Either way, the outcome for me was still the same though maybe not for the reason they wanted.

Here’s the thing, as I said, I’ve worked for, with, and around elected officials and others who work for them and I can recognize politics when I see it. As I read the report what stuck out to me was the lack of concern for victims AND for anyone falsely accused. The sole focus was on, when you get down to it, “How do we keep our power and position in light of these allegations?” That is what struck me. Zero concern for getting at the truth which as Christians they know “will set you free.”

In the end, anything with allegations of criminal activity should be immediately referred to law enforcement. Anything short of criminal allegations but still sinful should be investigated thoroughly so the truth can be found and acted on according to Biblical principles. That is not what happened here and that is very disappointing.

The events and behaviors on display at the recent SBC Convention in Anaheim, CA don’t give me any hope that the national leadership is anything but political.

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By Derek

Father of three. Married to my best friend. Follower of Jesus Christ. Love the outdoors.

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