This story came in No. 6 for TIME magazine's list of under-reported stories in 2008. Just behind several stories of international atrocities or major goof's! The Southern Baptist Convention may not be as thrilled to see it as I am--chances are it will find a way not to notice that they made the list because of the data-base rejection instead of the Convention's pledge to somehow rid itself of child predators.
To me, it feels like an odd gift, considering how long I've been writing about the problem of collusion, while working mostly behind the scenes, knowing that there is no real hope unless people in any system are willing to do the honest, heart work that is a pre-requisite to the reduction of denial and defensiveness.
My contention has always been that, without an independent review board (a whole other issue that will repeatedly be rejected faster than the data-base), even the data-base would be virtually worthless. Most Baptists still don't want to believe, as Presbyterians have recently recognized, that collusion will be profound whenver the decisions are left to those who are leaders inside the system! That opinion just comes from nearly a lifetime of experience, living inside the system, and having experienced the power of the belief system that is impossible to penetrate.
In fact, when Christa Brown told me a couple of years ago of her plans to push this idea, I suggested that it would be a waste of time because there was no hope of getting this accomplished. I told her she would just be setting herself up for devastating disappointment. When the SBC decided to set up a committee to study the possibility, I feared that the renewed hope of Brown and many other survivors was just going to be dashed against the rocks of despair, as they fell further into hopelessness, under the power of the denomination.
In a way, I was correct in that prediction--pursuing it was a "failure" so far as getting the SBC to choose safety over protection of the patriarchal power that is preserved by doing nothing. Yet Christa's incredible hope kept her going so that she was successful in bringing about an outcome that illuminates the problem. Even if the system seems impossible to penetrate, the outside world, at least, recognizes the problem.
Ironically, because the press has helped to bring this story forward, churches are going to be less likely to have the opportunity to even be informed. Some survivors will be able to go to the police, where they may find support and credibility. Yet many more are less likely to waste their time and energy in hoping to be heard by a system that is impotent in offering real protection. They will figure out the sad truth that the only hope for spiritual recovery may be to go elsewhere or to leave organized religion entirely and seek other sources for spiritual renewal. The only other hope will be the small number who can somehow find a way through the legal loopholes, individually or collectively, to speak through the courts or the press. So, ironically, the only hope of being heard will result in alienating most people within the system that has sworn to offer protection!
Yet, with the speaking, some may see a grain of hope for change in a system so resistant and impotent? Time will tell--both TIME magazine and the time it takes for the historic unfolding of a story that is far from finished!
So here we are, at the end of 2008, with the Good Lord once again showing a sense of humor through this Time Magazine recognition of the arrogant and naive refusal of a group that still believes that someday churches can be trusted to govern themselves in matters for which they have absolutely no expertise, a matter that doesn't just put their financial books at risk, but the far more important treasures--the hearts and souls of vulnerable people. Along with the reputation of the Convention.
Of course, if those souls can be silenced and easily coaxed into just going away quietly, then who really cares?