Back to Ruminations

The Snidepost Report

June 5, 2022

The SBC agency name, “Executive Committee,” was suspect from the start a century ago. It sounded high handed, even though it was meant “to soften fears of a monolithic Convention structure,” the alternative being “Executive Board” (cf. Albert McLellan’s excellent book on EC history [Broadman, 1985]). It can remind one of “Politburo” or “Illuminati”—an exalted group vested with overarching, suspect powers, clandestinely deployed from “executive suites” by means of “executive privilege,” through “executive orders” and “executive actions,” with day-to-day machinations overseen by the Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Committee, along with his Consiglieri and Capos ready to crush the weak who dare to oppose them.

Truth is, the agency would be named more aptly as the Coordinating Committee, or perhaps the Gofer Committee. It’s designated as the SBC ad interim, tasked with carrying out the chores assigned to it in the annual two-day meetings in places like Nashville and Anaheim. For one thing, they make sure the money given to the International Mission Board shoots out toward Richmond as soon as it arrives in Nashville. For another, it sounds the alarm when the various agencies are stepping on each other’s program assignments—traffic cops, if you will. In preparation for the annual meeting, they search out the convention cities, rent the halls, assemble the nominating committee to do its work, help publicize the work of the agencies, speak for the denomination to the press, and such. They’re more like shipping clerks than the Joint Chiefs of Staff—hence the proverbial conversation with an outsider calling in: “Is this the SBC headquarters?” “No, there’s no such thing. Just a bunch of churches telling us what to do.”

But what a juicy target for those inflamed with indignation, anger, and humiliation, particularly in light of the Houston Chronicle’s “Woodward and Bernstein” revelations of unspeakable evil in low and high places throughout the Convention’s churches and Convention offices. Never mind that only 220 of the “faithful” had been convicted of sex-abuse crimes over a twenty year period, an incidence of .00000786. But when you charge ahead anecdotally rather than circumspectly, when you are enabled by the platform to monopolize the mic and optics with purple rhetoric and imagery, you can rustle up a hanging. And so you seize that deplorable Executive Committee, which presumed to sort its own self out.

And so we were pressed into hiring (for goodness knows how much in terms of Cooperative Program Mission dollars) a high falutin’ outside firm to set us straight. Well, hmm. All truth is God’s truth, so let’s see what they have to say. Alas, having just printed out and read through the bulk of the Guidepost Solutions (not Guideposts magazine) report, my impression is that we got a low falutin’ product from a company that prides itself on “Uncovering facts. Assessing risk. Protecting facilities. Monitoring progress”—folks who assure us, “We keep you moving forward.” They may be the cat’s pajamas or bee’s knees on their other projects, including physical security for Diageo (“global leader in beverage alcohol”) and legal protection from misconduct charges for MLB’s Alex Rodriguez. Their list of specialties includes “Cannibas Security” (regarding facility compliance and surveillance), “Executive Protection,” and “Institutional Integrity.” And through their Bode “imprint,” they’ve worked with Rudy Giuliani in improving police work in developing countries. Big dudes.

Which makes their assessment of the SBC sex-abuse issue surprisingly weak, in my estimation, and not conducive for “institutional integrity.” Indeed, I think Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 6 has application to situation: 

1. If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2. Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3. Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4. Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5. I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6. But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

Yes, I know we use outside accounting firms to go over our books. Yes, the seminaries seek the approval of accreditors. Yes, we welcome the fire marshal to tell us whether our buildings are kosher. But we should be very reluctant to lay ourselves at the feet of secular counselors when matters of morals and practice are in play. That being said, it strikes me that the Guidepost report is

1. Cartoonish: It’s said that the quickest cure for trust in journalism is to read a story about something you know a fair amount about. The same goes for trust in this report, as you see characters portrayed two dimensionally, on the order of villains and heroes, whether the saintly J. D. Greear or the nefarious Augie Boto. And poor Eliza (Jennifer Lyell) on the run from Simon Legree (Mike Stone), whose plantation is served by callous flunkies (Jim Guenther and James Jordan), and whose dogs (LifeWay) hound her onto the ice floes of a frozen Ohio. As you work your way through the report, you quickly pick up on whom they will construe as the really-really good guys (the Dudley Do Rights) and the really-really bad guys (the Snidely Whiplashes). Makes for a convenient and even stirring narrative, but, for the money, we had a right to expect more than a Marvel/DC treatment.

2. Rife with Rhetorical Fox Paws: Courses in logic divide along formal (the manipulation of symbols) and informal (re missteps in ordinary discourse) lines. The latter studies can range to as many a hundred “fouls” you could call, of which several stand out in this allegedly dispassionate and objective study. In calling all those bringing accusations “survivors” they stoop to question begging, i.e., front-end loading the answer to what is still debatable. When they ignore items uncomfortable to their narrative (e.g., “What about Hannah Kate Williams, whose weeping image on the big screen played a role in the 2021 convention proceedings?; and “What do you make of Jonathan Whitehead’s charge of ERLC malfeasance in handling these matters?”), they’re guilty of special pleading; when you “wave the bloody shirt” (spotlight a horror, real or imagined, typical or rare), the central feature of agitprop (agitation and propaganda), you put emotion rather than reason at the head of the crowd.

3. Expositionally Challenged. Our third U.S. president is notorious for snipping out Bible passages that didn’t fit his take on things spiritual, so Jesus’smiracles, the blood atonement, etc. didn’t make the cut in the “Jefferson Bible.” As for this GS report, Genesis 39 ends up on the cutting room floor, since the cautionary tale of Potiphar’s wife is dismissed as one of several “spurious biblical analogies” by Russell Moore. It’s a contemptuous judgment unchallenged in the report, for that would be inconvenient (or outside Guidepost’s hermeneutical skill set). On their #BelieveWomen model, Zuleika (the wife’s traditional name) would be logged in automatically as a survivor, and Joseph would be reputational toast.

And then there’s 1 Corinthians 13, with this passage regarding the marks of love:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Wonderful words, and well applicable to victims of sexual abuse, who must push through shame and public skepticism to secure justice and recover respect. But the verse cuts both ways, a point that’s eluded in the Guidepost report. For in this #MeToo environment, it can also be the accused men who should be “protected” and “trusted” at the start. They need safeguards against slanderers and the crowd in a hurry to run with stirring lies. (Consider, for example, the men slaughtered in the press by Crystal Mangum (Duke lacrosse), Emma Sulkowicz (the Columbia “mattress girl”), and “Jackie” (star of the bogus Rolling Stone hit piece on Phi Kappa Psi at UVA).

Perhaps over ninety per cent of rape claims are veridical. Or maybe we have a mixed bag of slam-dunk, accurately-horrifying accounts; plus there’s-more-to-the-story, mitigating narratives; plus downright, how-dare-you, extenuating circumstances; plus mere fabrications. But even at worst case, the 1 Corinthians prescription gives all parties to the dispute an even break at the outset, and not a license to pant for another damning conviction, delighting in the addition of another wrong for the record.

Preaching through this passage, I’ve noted that it would be wonderful if the church rose to the level of the secular courts, whose standard is “innocent till proven guilty.” Instead, we’re no strangers to take up the gossip bats to kneecap people without a fair hearing, particularly if we’re predisposed to cripple them. And, again, it cuts both ways, to the detriment of both men and women, as the case may be.

4. Horrified at Chocolate. According to the FDA, detection of eighty-five insect parts and two rodent hairs in a hundred-gram sample of chocolate (a little over two standard Hershey bars) is legit for sales. Yes, their Food Defect Levels Handbook makes for fascinating/disgusting reading, starting with the glossary of terms, where we learn the FDA is searching for Copepods (“Small free-swimming marine crustaceans, many of which are fish parasites. In some species the females enter the tissues of the host fish and may form pus pockets”) and Infestation “(The presence of any live or dead life cycle stages of insects in a host product, [e.g., weevils in pecans, fly eggs and maggots in tomato products . . . excreta . . . chewed product residues, urine . . . or the establishment of an active breeding population . . .”]) And as the agency gets into particulars products, we find that four percent dry rot in canned beets is okay, as is twenty-nine per cent mold in cherry jam, and 24 mg of grit in 100 grams of peanut butter.

Now an SBC messenger could create quite a stir if he came to the mic and expressed alarm at the rodent hair he found in a chocolate bar at the concession stand, perhaps holding it up with tweezers for a camera zoom. But it needs some context, doesn’t it?

Yes, the SBC suffers from rot, mold, grit, mildew, and decomposition from side to side (not top to bottom, for we’re not hierarchical). Some things are rancid, some fail the test of aesthetic winsomeness (another FDA standard, based on what is “offensive to the senses”). So too does every denomination. Indeed, every human organization—including the Houston Chronicle and Guidepost Solutions. Including me and you. The question is whether the situation is so dire that we invest millions in retooling the Hershey’s plant to make sure no more than one rodent hair per 100 grams of chocolate leaves the factory. 

Guidepost spins out numbers and anecdotes to argue their case that we must retool to insure that that pesky extra rodent hair is a thing of the past, but I’d suggest they stumble by not asking the elephant-in-the-room question, “Out of 28 million members [2000-2020] and 47,000 churches, why so few manifest cases?” Quite probably they’d answer, “Because the victims, oppressed by shame, patriarchal high-handedness, etc., are reluctant to come forward. It’s a holocaust of abuse, with emotional fevers teeming just below the surface.” Well, then prove it. And if you don’t, you flirt with slander.

The report speaks of our “downplaying” numbers when certifiable statistics are troublesome. I submit that they’re more inclined to “up-play” numbers (certifiable and otherwise) to make their case.

Isn’t it more reasonable to believe that the percentages are so low since, despite the sin-sick pool from which the church draws, the work of grace, regeneration, and sanctification within the body is striking? 

5. Histrionical. Back in my grad school days, I sat in on a paper a Mennonite classmate read at a gathering of the American Philosophical Association. He was a pacifist, much opposed to violence. His beef was with those who wielded the word ‘violence’ irresponsibly in order to bully people into giving them their way. As I recall, the context was concern over racial discrimination, back when “color blind” was a desideratum rather than a slur. The usefulness of overheated rhetoric was proving effective, so folks were calling unjust hiring and promotion preferences acts of “violence.” While Bill (the student and friend) was against these practices, he argued that ‘violence’ was too important a word to be cheapened by misapplication.

Former ERLC-head and former Baptist Russell Moore is a master of damning hyperbole, and Guidepost is happy to pour it out upon us. We read that his critics and opponents wanted him “to live in psychological terror” and that “he, his wife, children, and team . . . endured ‘psychological and institutional terrorism’ for his stance on sexual abuse and racial discrimination issues.” Christa Brown speaks of “soul murder” and Jennifer Lyell claims those not on board with her appeals were trying to “destroy” her. And the whole thing is set up by glowing descriptions of the survivors (e.g., Lyell was “a valued employee of Lifeway who had received every top recognition and award given to Lifeway employees”) but not a word of praise for the honorable and effective ministries of “bad guys” like Mike Stone and Augie Boto. We also learn that Lyell “became a subject of a firestorm of vicious social media attacks”—as if her critics were not subjects of their own vilification.

Look, terrorism occurs when Palestinians blow up grannies on a Tel Aviv bus. Satan does soul murder (with the cooperation of the victim). Firing someone does not destroy him. But when you make feelings the gold standard of reality, there is no limit to what can be said without fear of rebuke. So we must stand mute before mournful reports of being frozen with fear and “retraumatized.” 

Incidentally, this applies to all affronts to one’s happiness. Just ask the pastor who steps on toes through biblical preaching and policy. Some few will take issue with what he said; many more will rail against him for wounding someone’s psyche—a much better card to play in congregational power games.

6. Chauvinistic: I think the report demeans women. We’re led to believe that they’re chronically the victims of power relationships when they accommodate the sexual overtures of men, whom they understandably idolize or from whom they fear social disadvantage, e.g., career impairment, should they resist or go public. Though the report doesn’t say so, men are also pressed to compromise for safety or advancement, and so are victimized by power relationships. Many knuckle under to the toxic nonsense imposed by HR and DIE officers, who are backed, in fear and stupidity, by trying-to-be-woke CEOs. They keep their jobs by going along with the humiliating demands of school superintendents, branch managers, network executives, etc. Or maybe they took an anti-integrity bullet for the greater cause, for the overarching goodness of their oppressor’s brand. Not a pretty sight. But a few guys stand up and say “No way!” And they say it on the spot and not years later in a memoir. And so we cheer the Jordan Petersons (University of Toronto), Bret Weinsteins (Evergreen State), and Jason Whitlocks (ESPN), who could have had job security if they’d played along. 

I think we slight women when we give them a pass to accommodate evil to protect their status and the status of the evil doers. In this connection, I’m reminded of Texas Congressman Dick Armey’s response to a reporter’s question during the Clinton/Lewinsky/Jones/Broaddrick hurricane. Asked what he would do if he were in the president’s shoes, Armey answered, “If I were, I would be looking up from a pool of blood and hearing my wife say, ‘How do I reload this thing?’”   

Those are the wimmin who deserve special honor. (And I’m not talking about women who get the vapors and reflexively run to mama—or the press, administrators, or the law—over slights, real or perceived; fainting flowers, if you will).

Ah, but am I not “shaming the victims”? Well, I suppose I should listen to those who are mavens of shaming. Indeed, the Guidestone report is a masterwork in shaming, even to the point of prurience when it serves their purposes. And those they favor have proven themselves adept at the art of shaming, whether through the tearful ambush of Mike Stone in the SBC 21 hallway, the clandestine taping of critics, or the just-in-time release of long-held documents meant to sway the vote. So yes, tell us how artful shaming works. In the meantime, I’ll stick with my attempt at fair-mindedness and suggest that the preponderance of engineered shaming on this matter comes from those who would chill critical thinking and hustle Southern Baptists into ill-conceived behavior. 

7. Litella-esque: Remember the Golda Radner character, Emily Litella, who often appeared in the news segment on Saturday Night Live. She was always going off half-cocked, having missed the point of this or that editorial. Here’s one of her rants:

What’s all this FUSS I hear . . . about saving Soviet jewelry? Now . . . what makes Soviet jewelry so special? Will it be worth more in a few years? Why . . . prices what they are today . . . ALL jewelry will be worth more! Now, if I recall correctly, Mrs. Kruschev didn’t wear very much jewelry . . . and her husband, the Premier, didn’t even wear a watch! Not the Mickey Mouse watch, anyway. Why, they wouldn’t even let him into Disneyland! And now he’s DEAD!! Well, I’m infuriated! Save Soviet jewelry?! Where are we going to put it? I say keep it over THERE, with all their ballet dancers! Let them keep their own jewelry AND their own ballet dancers! As a matter of fact, why don’t they get the ballet dancers to save the jewelry?! Americans have more important things to save! And electricity! And what about our fuel? Now, THAT’S important! Not jewelry! 

Anchorman, Chevy Chase steps in explain that the plight of Soviet jewry, not jewelry, is the issue. And so she meekly concludes with “Never mind.”

I kept waiting for Guidepost to say “Never mind” to their endless, top-down program of congregational (indeed, parishioner) scrutiny and their fixation on the bad behavior of individuals rather than upon the congregations’ (and not some pastor’s or administrator’s) take on that behavior once discovered. The point is whether or not a church affirmed or winked at known sexual abuse within their ranks. The question is whether the credentials committee should seat messengers from a church that’s gone off the rails congregationally through knowing indifference to sexual abuse. 

When I worked for the SBC EC in the early 1990s, I watched our attorney Jim Guenther defend Cooperative Program Mission funds from attorneys looking for deep pockets over two tragedies in Missouri. One concerned injuries to a student who fell off a hayride wagon at a state Baptist college; the other stemmed from the death of a child left asleep in the back of a church van on a sunny day. He was right and stewardly to argue that the SBC has no control over such hayrides and van mishaps. Furthermore, the college wasn’t endorsing hayride disasters or the church sanctioning fatal negligence toward children. Yes, he was protecting the SBC from financial liability. (As several attorneys have observed, “What in the world do you think attorneys do?”) But it wasn’t for selfish motives. And it wasn’t on bogus grounds.

But Guidestone, in effect, rolls its eyes and presses ahead: “Don’t interrupt me when I’m addressing this jewelry debacle.” 

8. Oddly Imbalanced. I’m not sure why the report spends so much time on Sills/Lyell and Hunt/”Doe”. Paedophilia induces the greatest gag reflex. Even felons rage against it. Hence their special term for these malefactors, who are labeled “short eyes” in prison, where, given the chance, they’ll be killed by inmates. Maybe the reason is that “the squeaky wheel gets the attention,” for Guidestone says they only dealt with witnesses who came to them. Whatever the cause, their report doesn’t much track with what we’ve read about the Catholic scandals, where details about the grooming and seducing of children are manifold. Maybe those witnesses don’t want to come forward. Maybe there aren’t that many. But it just seems weird—mainly a rehash of what we’ve heard already, save the Johnny Hunt material. 

“A Public Relations Disaster”

Back when I did “convention relations” work at the SBC EC, Nervous Nellies in the SBC were bemoaning one “public relations disaster” after another, whether for our “Fundie biblioatry,” our insult to Freemasonry, our “homophobia,” or our HMB study that estimated, county by county, that most of America was going to hell. It’s been that way from the Early Church, when the Lord’s Supper was construed as cannibalism and going home with one’s wife (aka, “sister in Christ”) was counted as incest. Time and time again, sensitive souls have gone the Schleiermacher route, tossing aside important principles in an effort to ingratiate us to the world’s “cultured despisers.” But the answer is always to tell or acknowledge the truth responsibly, clarifying what needs clarifying, taking corrective actions within reason and the bounds of Scripture, staying with the good stuff—and then expecting to live in a perpetual hailstorm of recrimination and insult, however righteous we may be (and sometimes in direct proportion to how righteous we may be).

Yes, Of Course/No I’m Not Saying

Yes, of course, it’s good to know that gross things have happened. Paul called out a couple of libertines in 1 Corinthians 5. And it’s good to see that offenders have lost their church jobs and/or civic freedom. And it’s good to see the Convention encouraging churches to be ever and increasingly vigilant in training, vetting, and supervising staff and volunteers.

And no, I’m not saying that the Executive Committee and staff are uniformly wonderful. I think they’ve made a some knucklehead decisions along the way in this context, and I wasn’t much encouraged by what I saw in a publicly-accessible Zoom call the other day. 

What I am saying is what I’ve said above. And I’m doing so because I believe we’ve been ill-served by Guidepost (which shouldn’t have been contracted in the first place), and we may be letting their unfortunate counsel drive unfortunate recommendations from the Ed Litton-appointed task force. Guidepost may be giving that task force what they the client wants, but not what the Convention needs and deserves.

PS: For more on denominational polity in this context, you might check out “My Two Cents Worth on the SBC Sex-Abuse ‘Crisis,’” wherein I work with a United Way analogy.