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Recently a major U.S. city daily newspaper has run a series of articles about sexual abuse by clergy and other church professionals especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. Victims and victims’ rights groups have demanded that the SBC do more to prevent sexual abuse within its ranks and to punish (by banishing) the predators. It’s clear to me that there exists some confusion about Baptist polity (church government); I suspect many people are thinking this catastrophe is similar to that within the Roman Catholic Church—in terms of tolerance and lack of desired and demanded response.
All I intend to do here is educate my readers (and others who may happen to read this because of the topic) about Baptist polity. There is no commensurability between Baptist polity and Catholic polity. This helps explain, I think, why the leaders of the SBC are not responding as victims and victims rights advocates demand.
Issue - Intention - Victims - Pain - Confusion
I realize this is a volatile issue and I have no intention of adding to victims’ pain. All I intend to do here is clear up the apparent confusion about what SBC (and other Baptist) leaders can and cannot do in such cases. Again, it seems that some who are speaking out about the problem of sexual abuse among SBC pastors and other church professionals are confused about the Baptist form of church government.
Like most Baptist denominations in the U.S., and like Baptists in general, worldwide and historically, the SBC is a loose and voluntary affiliation of independent, autonomous Baptist congregations over which there is no authority. There is no official hierarchy among Baptists (with a very few exceptions especially in some non-Western Baptist groups that have adopted a hierarchical structure). Traditionally, historically, a Baptist “denomination” like the SBC has no other power over a member congregation than to stop accepting...
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