In a May 7, 2020 post at the ERLC website, Russell Moore showcases a letter he sent to Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell. In this letter Moore pleads for more federal dollars so that religious organizations like the SBC can weather the coronavirus crisis better. He wants charities, charitable nonprofits, and religious K-12 programs to receive funding. His letter goes on to mention a number of causes that are likely to tug at people’s heartstrings: the foster care system, prison reform, and food assistance.
I encourage everyone to write to Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell to tell them NO to any requests for funding for the Southern Baptist Convention. The lack of transparency and deep corruption in the denomination make it toxic to everything held dear by both Democrats and Republicans. All churches, initiatives, missions, and sub-organizations under the SBC have come under the control of a specific circle of cronies whose history of mismanagement and malfeasance is clear.
To understand why funding the SBC with taxpayer money is wrong, I’d like to go back to the 1980s and reminisce about a popular song in the late 1980s called “Sun City.” Remember this?
The tragic bedlam that we see in today’s South Africa might make it hard to remember the context of the 1985 song called “Sun City.” Before there was cancel culture–something I detest–this movement to boycott the white South African entertainment center called Sun City spoke to a different kind of protest culture. Artists ranging from Bono to Pat Benatar all said they would not play concerts at Sun City, because to perform there would imply complicity with apartheid. Things did not fare as well in South Africa after apartheid as we all might have hoped. Still, the artist collective against Sun City reflected the power of public exposure. Without mounting pressure fueled to a certain degree by public figures, apartheid may not have fallen within the decade after “Sun City” was released.
What do we learn from “Sun City”? One lesson stands out from the song. Exposure, sunlight, public access, transparency, and scrutiny are absolutely essential to stopping social evils. South Africa’s government in the 1980s tried to create black “homelands” and invested in a publicity campaign to make it seem as though they had a viable and compassionate plan for greater black self-determination. One line of the “Sun City” song broke apart that illusion: “Relocation to phony homelands, separation of families I can’t understand.”
If the artists hadn’t torn apart the propaganda of apartheid so brutally, then there may have never been the global consensus that apartheid had to end. Not only was transparency necessary; so too was brutal honesty.
The Southern Baptist Convention and especially the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have hidden massive corruption, cronyism, discrimination, and mismanagement for America’s fifteen million Baptists by controlling what people know about its leaders’ doings. Over the last two years it has become clear that three practices run rampant in the SBC, all designed to silence whistleblowers and protect the people in power from questions: retaliation, gentleman’s agreements, and non-disclosure agreements.
This 2019 resolution was blocked by the SBC resolutions committee, chaired by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor named Curtis Woods. Woods was appointed by SBC president J.D. Greear, whom I have written about on this blog before. It gives the theological arguments for an eradication of these silencing tactics. I submitted the resolution in April 2019, and was fired by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary by November 29, 2019. My termination came after seven meetings with Randy Stinson, provost at Southwestern and ERLC fellow, and Michael Wilkinson, the dean of the college at Southwestern and son-in-law of Jimmy Draper, a powerful player in SBC politics going back several decades. In the meetings I was told not to discuss same-sex abuse, not to criticize corruption on the part of SBC leaders, and to submit to total censorship and editorial control by the seminary leadership.
When I went public about what had happened, the seminary released a statement accusing me of making up everything about the meetings. By my own luck I had audio recordings so I proved that I had told the truth and they had lied.
My experience is illustrative of a much bigger problem in the SBC that must be taken extremely seriously. First, note the inbred crony system where people in leadership have myriad conflicts of interest and nepotistic connections that nobody is supposed to mention. A whistleblower within the organization would have to risk being crushed by this massive array of power players who all have both social ties and common professional interests, none of which the SBC is willing to moderate with even basic checks and balances.
This old boys network has the power to silence and has used that power ruthlessly. Once you have the power to conceal and silence, all things are possible. You have absolute power. I have discussed how the SBC has grossly mismanaged the sex abuse issue, for instance, in past posts. Refusing to give whistleblowers any protection, their response to the sex abuse crisis was (1) to all but deny that same-sex abuse even exists in the denomination, and (2) to offer a reporting mechanism that channels reports of abuse to the tightly controlled committees appointed by the old boys network. They created a standing committee that would have the discretion and private power to look into abuse reports. We still don’t know how many NDAs were used in these cases, where it is quite likely that people on the standing committee went to certain lengths to shield their friends from investigations by covering up charges. Without that resolution invalidating NDAs and denouncing retaliation, we just don’t know.
Here’s what we do know: they used the power of retaliation to crush me when I talked about the issue. So there’s probably a whole lot more under the surface they are hiding and do not want people looking into. They have, up until now, deflected scrutiny by focusing everyone’s rage on Paige Patterson, who was fired two years ago. Albert Mohler, who had to apologize years after having covered for a terrible sex abuse pattern involving Sovereign Grace Ministries, has gallingly not resigned from his 27-year-old position as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Even the strongest muckrackers at take-no-prisoners papers like the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have largely regurgitated the talking points put out by Albert Mohler and Russell Moore. They can do this because they have gentleman’s agreements and a retaliatory structure that keeps everyone within the SBC from talking to the press. In my case at Southwestern, I recorded the meetings where both Stinson and Wilkinson upbraided me for not allowing the administration to control whom I spoke to, and what I said, in any public venue at all. It is disappointing but not surprising that the mainstream press remains utterly clueless about the gross mismanagement in the SBC.
Both liberals and conservatives have strong reason to condemn what goes on in the SBC. The secrecy and repression produces ills that should worry both sides of the political spectrum. Under cover of darkness, financial dealings with ideologically driven funders, most of whom lean left-wing or libertarian, have created incentives for the SBC to purge professors with strong orthodox or conservative positions. Once in a while the leaders will engage in a feint to throw off criticism that the SBC is persecuting those Baptists who won’t “get with the program” and change with the liberal times. In the latest stunt, Albert Mohler reversed his Never-Trump position and said he would vote for Trump. On cue, people showed up on social media defending Mohler against criticism by conservatives with the facile retort: “how can Mohler be liberal? He is voting for Trump.” These are fatuous power games steeped in the Machiavellian arts of deception.
Liberals actually have even more reason to disdain what goes on in the SBC, however. The sex abuse issue remains as something that the SBC’s powers that be have mismanaged and exploited, while still seeking most of all to cover it up and maintain easy means of silencing whistleblowers. The racial dynamics of the SBC should also make liberals’ hair stand on its ends.
There remains widespread racial discrimination in personnel decisions. Let’s look at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Located in Texas, which has large Hispanic and black populations, the incoming president Adam Greenway fired or demoted all the full professors who were Latino or black. I brought this issue up in several venues, including an American Greatness essay in November 2019. The purge by Greenway was not only about skin color. I also founded a drama club that was focusing on African American history, taught a lot of multicultural literature, and took students on missions to El Salvador. Like many of the minorities whom Greenway drove out of the seminary, I had strong qualifications, including fluency in many languages and a history of publications in my field. The SBC simply does not have a huge supply of people of color with the resumes to replace the upper ranks of a professoriate. But Greenway ousted us all and hired a plethora of white men from his old institution to replace us.
The promotions at Southwestern were also racially problematic, as white professors with lesser qualifications were made deans in the absence of any application or search process. Sarah Spring and Charles Carpenter, for instance, were suddenly announced as being promoted to dean positions with no job application process, months before I was fired. Both had more recent doctorates than I had, and fewer publications. They were both at a less senior rank (associate professor). They were white and got promoted; I was the only Latino in the college, and a full professor, and got fired in the most demeaning manner imaginable. Because of the tight control the SBC leaders hold on information, Adam Greenway could embark on this racially repugnant purge and yet still fly to the First Baptist Church of Naples in the middle of a racial controversy there to deliver a guest sermon, as if he was the voice of reason in the midst of intergroup conflict.
The SBC’s racial contradictions played out in missions as well, as Tom Littleton and I pointed out in the episode of SBC Insider called “Funny Money in Baptist Missions?” The SBC pulled all of its missions out of Latin America in the 2000s, causing hundreds of experienced Baptists, fluent in Spanish, to weather difficult job displacements. Then in the 2010s, the SBC took on the cause of refugee resettlement in the United States, as a humanitarian effort for the populations they abandoned in their home countries. SBC leaders chased after big funding for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico after having closed their missions in Puerto Rico. All these decisions involve wasteful and ineffective disruptions in experience and development; people who can speak Spanish and have established experience with populations (including many Latinos) find themselves shut out of jobs while inexperienced and poorly equipped missions personnel get sent into mission fields. We cannot trace how all the money flows in these cases because of the total lack of transparency, and because whistleblowers suffer terrible retaliation.
No federal money should go to the Southern Baptist Convention under these conditions. Russell Moore and Albert Mohler have generous access to journalists and political figures because of their well-funded and prestigious positions. But the picture they paint for the public hides gross mistreatment of people and many betrayals of the gospel mission the SBC is tasked to serve. Worst of all, it is an inexcusable misuse of taxpayer money, which should go to people who could use the help in productive ways and who need the money. Any money that goes to the top echelons of the SBC will get lost in a black hole circled by the Old Boys Network.
I remember “I ain’t gonna play Sun City.” I wish I could hear, “I ain’t gonna fund SBC.”