Van Ens: Is sexual abuse in the Christian church a disease or symptom? |

Van Ens: Is sexual abuse in the Christian church a disease or symptom?

Picture Christianity as a large tree. What Jesus taught and practiced functions like roots. Two thick branches extend from the tree’s trunk, standing for the two largest U.S. faiths: The Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Once Catholics and Southern Baptists mutually despised each other as examples of corrupt Christianity. Now these massive branches are intertwined, making anti-abortion the litmus test for deciding who practices authentic Christianity.

The world community sees these massive limbs of faith are broken. It’s as if a surge of pine beetles defoliated branches, which represent Catholics and Southern Baptists.

A Pew Research Center Survey released on June 11 reports that widespread blight infects the Roman Catholic witness. Once regular worship attendees, one-fourth of Catholics now skip Mass regularly because of sexual abuse cover-ups. Church donations have shrunk because congregants are fed up with prelates protecting the “clergy union” rather than victims of abuse. Only 36 percent of Catholics are confident bishops will police their own and reduce this blight.

Spanning from 1950 to 2002, the Roman Catholic Church has routinely covered up 10,000 accusations of sexual child abuse in the U.S., reports Time magazine.

The Southern Baptist Convention is also infected with massive blight, causing 192,000 members to defect from its 14.8 million membership in 2018. Many Southern Baptists look the other way when parishioners reveal how Bible-believing clergy have violated them. “We need to repent of a culture that has made abuse, cover-ups, and evading responsibility far too easy,” confessed SBC president J.D. Greer.

This blight infests the Southern Baptists’ roots that require practicing chastity outside of marriage. Religion News Service reporter Adelle M. Banks, writing for The Christian Century, tallies the sexual abuse secular newspapers found when they dug into core SBC activities.

The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published an ‘Abuse of Faith’ investigative series beginning in February 2019 that reports on 220 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in the last two decades.

“Overall, they found about 380 Southern Baptist who faced allegations from more than 700 people in that time period, with dozens currently imprisoned across the country”

At separate June national meetings in Baltimore, Maryland, and Birmingham, Alabama, Roman Catholic bishops and SBC leaders took positive steps to correct the epidemic of sexual abuse. But they treated this perversion as a symptom that new ethical guidelines hope to eradicate.

What if this rash of sexual abuse is a disease caused by entrenched male domination that controls Roman Catholic and the Southern Baptist traditions?

Priests must be male. They alone can officiate at the Mass. The Bible, written in a patriarchal culture in which men ruled and women obeyed them, shapes Catholicism’s historic identity.

Similarly, the Southern Baptist Convention enforces what the Apostle Paul taught, that women are prohibited from “teaching or having authority over men” and that this eternal difference is in creation’s DNA (I Timothy 2:11-15).

The Southern Baptist statement of belief, titled Faith and Message, and the Catholic Church’s Catechism prohibit without exception women from being pastors or priests because “the Bible says it’s so.”

“Prohibiting women from the highest ranks of formal leadership fosters a fundamentally toxic masculinity,” believes Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer professor of Christian morals at Harvard University. Taking Scripture at face value today, even though it teaches ancient cultural superiority of men over women in some biblical texts, causes diseased faith.

Does God approve of dominant priests’ and pastors’ spiritual superiority that opens doors to sexual abuse?

Cut out the moral rot from Catholicism and the Southern Baptist Convention. Give women equal opportunity to preach and teach and lead. Such changes will contain the contagion of sexual abuse within Christ’s Church.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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