Southern Religion

False correlation

It means very little that U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth. And being noised about by various news services did not alter the study’s meaning.

Researcher Joseph Strayhorn’s speculation “that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself” was a logical fallacy.

Specifically, the assumption that correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate implies that one was caused by the other is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

The researchers demonstrated in the article published in the peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Health that the the correlation is predictive. But the cause or causes of the teen birth rates in each state remains undiscovered.


September 17, 2009 Posted by | Health, Religion | Comments Off on False correlation

President Anti-Christ?

Frank Schaeffer’s comments to Rachael Maddow regarding a New Jersey poll which found that 35% of that state’s conservatives say they believe believe Obama is the anti-christ. Watch the video here.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Religion | 1 Comment

Reverse Bush’s rule permitting faith-based discrimination

In a joint letter [.pdf] to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today, a broad coalition of organizations said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993, was designed to protect religious liberty, not countenance discrimination.

The 58 signatories have asked Holder to beging the process of withdrawing the “constitutionally questionable” June 2007 memo which held that RFRA could exempt certain religious organizations from federal anti-discrimination provisions

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said:

The Bush administration twisted federal law to buttress its misguided policies and allow religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded ‘faith-based’ programs. It’s time for the Obama administration to correct this error.

J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee For Religions Liberty said:

Having helped to spearhead the RFRA effort, I know of no one in 1993 who thought the new law would ever be applied this way.

In a joint statement, Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said:

We remain deeply troubled by President Obama’s faith-based initiative. The president made it clear during his campaign that the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing. It is disappointing that he has not yet acted on his very clear commitments to ensure that grant money will not be used to proselytize or to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs.

[Hat tip to Dr. Bruce Prescott.]

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Obama, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Reverse Bush’s rule permitting faith-based discrimination

Fundamentalist vs. even-more-fundamentalist [addendum]

John Pierce of Baptists Today grieves the wrestling among fundamentalists for spoils set off by announced retirement of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)’s besieged International Mission Board Chairman Jerry Rankin.

When Rankin leaves next year there will be vacancies at the top at both the IMB and the scandal-plagued, resignation-rocked, domestically focused North American Mission Board (NAMB). Of that Pierce writes:

The top leadership vacancies at the two SBC mission boards will have the boys who run the denominational show now wrestling to (1) perhaps combine the two boards and (2) get a person(s) into the top post(s) who reflect their side’s political bent. That’s a battle between the Fundamentalists and the even-more Fundamentalists. . . . the ever-narrowing, suspicious, fear-based nature of Fundamentalism has played out as it always does: turning inward to find enemies.

Pierce does not touch upon the inflated and some say fabricated IMB statistics, focusing instead on the effect of “doctrinal restrictions on SBC missionaries.” Private prayer languages were a key issue. They were barred. This for missionaries some of whom had just a few years earlier had to sign the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 or be fired.

The conflicts driving those restrictions are also evident in divinity school inquisitions, sometimes acrimonious public debate among Batholics and Cathists and the online equivalent of rock-throwing which is part of discussion among Southern Baptist luminaries.

All of which is, Wade Burleson predicted after June SBC Convention, getting worse. Michael Spencer developed a list of factors driving the SBC as younger inerrantists make themselves felt. Further repression was implied by SBC President Johnny D. Hunt’s recent quiet indication that already retreating Baptist state newspaper editors pull their journalistic horns in even more.

Part of the prescribed cure for SBC maladies is the Great Commission Resurgence, approved at this year’s annual meeting of the SBC, whose complex paper trail Timmy Briester has mapped.

The resurgence governing group meets behind closed doors, however. Some of the questions directed at SBC President Hunt about where it is actually going, however, were answered with questions and mockery recently.

Closed doors and anger about unwelcome reports? The resulting message may be heard from distant seats in uncushioned pews as, “Trust us. We’ve been fighting continuously among ourselves as the SBC imploded. We’ve led you into a morass each time we promised renewal. We know what we’re doing.”


Wade Burleson captures the flavor of the SBC political struggle in his Sept. 16 post when he writes:

I found myself in 2008, at times, questioning whether or not the Christ I follow is actually represented by the Convention with which we choose to affiliate. I recently spoke with J.C. Watts, former United States Congressman from Oklahoma and a life-long Southern Baptist, about our mutual affiliation and affection for the SBC. He said that politics in Washington D.C. is rough and tumble, but he has never seen anything as vicious as Southern Baptist politics. Though I have no experience with D.C. politics, I can echo similar sentiments regarding the SBC and the utter lack of civility among some.

Read the entire post here.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, SBC | , | Comments Off on Fundamentalist vs. even-more-fundamentalist [addendum]

An altar call on behalf of undocumented aliens

Libby Grammer Garrett, a Baptist and a master-of-divinity student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, makes a hide-blistering appeal to conscience and faith on behalf illegal immigrants.

Facing directly into the hurricane anti-immigrant misinformation directed at the issue, she writes, for the Associated Baptist Press::

When real people who are made in the image of God become involved, we realize that the issue of undocumented immigration is testing the capacity of Christians to resist temptations that undermine a Kingdom ethic — xenophobia, racism, greed. If Christians claim to look to the Bible as our guide on moral decision-making, then we must do so on the issue of undocumented immigration as well.

Having earlier quite accurately said that most Americans are badly informed about immigrants by “inflammatory and misleading news sources,” she reminds us that:

Jesus himself was an alien in Egypt when his parents fled to save his life. He was kind to strangers and taught a Kingdom ethic in which inclusion of outsiders was central. Paul noted our status as resident aliens in the world and what might be called our ‘naturalized citizenship’ in the Kingdom of Heaven.

She calls upon Baptists, and through them all of us, to give “public witness” to the real needs of undocumented immigrants.

We recommend the entire blog to you. Read it here.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Politics, SBC | , , | Comments Off on An altar call on behalf of undocumented aliens

Why predatory clergy flourish

Clerical sexual abuse of adults is commonplace in considerable part because churches create social and working environments in which predatory adults flourish as clergy. Churches are as a result inadvertently attractive to appropriately skilled predators, who are known to invest as much effort in grooming their social environments as in grooming their victims.

Consider those four of the five “common themes” identified in a study of sexual predation of adults by clergy [.pdf] are also well-known characteristics of church communities.

Those four of the five named by Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland and Christen Argueta are:

  • Church as sanctuary: Church is typically regarded as a place where both the congregation and its leaders can be trusted. This is a highly valued and carefully cultivated characteristic of religious groups. Trust created by this sense and expectation of safe sanctuary makes church members especially vulnerable to self-serving manipulation by predatory clergy.
  • Culture of niceness: Church members are often tolerant, understanding and forgiving of fellow church members. Members tend to overlook or ignore behavior by other members “that we know to be socially inappropriate, rather than naming the behavior and risking embarrassing, angering, or hurting them.” As a result, victims refrain from reacting critically to the inappropriate grooming behavior as predatory clergy desensitize them for what is by the legal standards of many states, statutory rape.
  • Lack of accountability: Not only do religious leaders “often have unparalleled lack of accountability for where they spend their time and with whom,” they may rarely be held to close account for their use of church resources and facilities. Targeted congregants are often also not be held to account for much of their behavior. The combination helps permit predatory clergy to groom (seduce) their targets undetected.
  • Multiple clerical roles: Clergy are often involved in parishioners’ lives not only as religious leaders but also as professional counselors. The dual role gives predators extraordinary power. They are invested with power by a church community virtue of having been ordained as ministers. They add to this the power of counselor or therapist. The result is enormous, dangerous influence they thus have over the perceptions and lives of their victims.

The fifth common theme is personal and community failure to reject abnormal or inappropriate behavior. Although that is not in our view a widely-recognized characteristic of church communities, it is the most frequently identified precondition for sexual abuse of adults by clergy and does underline the predator’s exploitation of his clerical role.

Garland and Arguenta write:

Most (n=23) of the offended said that they had felt uncertain of what was happening in their relationships with their religious leaders. Spouses and friends and other congregational leaders also were uncertain about the meaning of what they observed, and so they did nothing. Their trust of the leader was stronger than their
trust of their own perceptions of the situation. In fact, it altered how they interpreted what they were experiencing.

All five help make it relatively unlikely that a clerical predator will be punished for any given offense. Small likelihood of punishment may be as important to predators as the ease with which the church environment is turned to their purposes. Once a rogue cleric has developed skill in a religious profession and established himself in a church and/or denomination, his expectation of punishment is so low that sociologists Anson D. Shupe, David G. Bromley and others describe it as “elite deviance.” Garland and Arguenta define elite deviance as:

…illegal and/or unethical acts committed by persons in the highest corporate and political strata of society who run little risk of exposure or serious punishment, even though their deviance poses danger to the well-being of many others.

Examples of elite clerical deviance (which eventually resulted in some punishment) in the wild are seen here, here, here and here.

More generally, Shupe writes in his book In the Name of All That’s Holy: A theory of clerical malfeasance:

Almost everything written on the subject of clergy malfeasance … fundamentally identifies the power inequity issue as being at the heart of the problem. It encompasses a fairly regular sequence: perpetration, victim denial and fear, recidivism of perpetration, organization coverup, later disbelief among some believers, anger and disillusionment of others, and the entire chain of victimization and anguish.

Neither churches nor denominations are helpless to deal with predatory exploitation of the environments of trust they labor to create.

Sound, denomination-wide policies are most effective in helping churches separate the clerical wolves from the real shepherds [.pdf].

For example, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will circulate minister career information for hiring by churches only with a complete criminal background check attached.

At almost the opposite extreme, the Southern Baptist Conventions (SBC) maintains a MinisterSearch database while disavowing responsibility for the contents of that database. The SBC, via LifeWay, does offer a discount background-check program. And free advice. The background-check program was in its first year used by one percent (450) of SBC member churches.

In 2008 the SBC rejected a workable, effective approach — creation and maintenance of a “central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors.” That action won for the SBC sixth place on Time Magazine’s list of the Top Ten Underreported News Stories.

The pervasive nature of clerical abuse of adults established by the Baylor School of Social Work study offers the SBC an opportunity to redeem itself by establishing a database of all identified clerical predators, as well as following the lead of the Disciples of Christ by requiring all clergy to attach an approved criminal background check to their profiles in the public but strangely disavowed minister search database.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, SBC | , , , | 3 Comments