Responding to the Pandemic of Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Who got outed today?

It is likely that in both Hollywood and Washington, DC (as well as many other places) there are celebrities, politicians, and news figures hoping and praying (if they do that) that their past misdeeds will not be the next to surface.

  • Anita Hill broke the ice with her vivid testimony against Clarence Thomas, which he called a “high-tech lynching.”
  • When Bill Clinton’s sexcapades were revealed it was still shocking.
  • When soon-to-be President Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, evangelicals lined up to support him anyway.
  • Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was brought low recently by a string of actresses coming out from behind the curtains to accuse him of all kinds of disgusting acts.
  • Louis CK soon came under fire for similar reasons.
  • Judge Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy is being derailed by a series of shocking revelations by young women of his sexual misconduct through the years.
  • Just as the media was settling into a righteous feeding frenzy against the Judge, liberal icons such as Al Franken and others also found themselves accused.
  • I read an article today that over 60 public figures have been accused of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault in recent days.

How should we respond to this? The tendency has been for us to defend people we like or whose beliefs are close to our own and to leap to condemnation when accusations are made against someone we dislike or someone from the “other side.” People who said that character mattered during the Clinton impeachment changed their tune during the 2016 election cycle.

  • Should we accept every accusation without contestation?
  • Should we assume the accused is always guilty?
  • Should we join in the online assaults?
  • Should we always show grace and look the other way?

There is no question that it is a thorny problem. There are two competing moral principles at stake. We want to both protect the victims of abuse and those who might be falsely accused. We grant people the presumption of innocence and put the burden of proof on the accuser but we do not want to be insensitive or cruel to those who make accusations. It is never going to be easy balancing these principles.

Here are some thoughts about the problem.

1. Innocent until proven guilty is a legal concept, not a moral or universal truth. 

Anyone who faces charges in America has the presumption of innocence. That does not mean that he or she is innocent – a person either committed the crime or didn’t. It simply means that the law puts the burden of proof on the prosecution. It is a legal thing.

But even in the legal world, the presumption of innocence does not protect someone from all consequences. A person can be jailed while awaiting trial. Other limitations can apply.

When a person is accused of sexual impropriety, there should certainly be a presumption of innocence and the accused should have a fair chance to answer the charges. But this does not mean that no consequences can attach to a person’s life just because the accusations have not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Look at Judge Moore. Have the accusations been absolutely proved? Perhaps not. But must the voters of Alabama wait until every piece of evidence is in before they make a judgment? Absolutely not. That is only necessary if Moore is facing legal action. A voter can look at the evidence and make a reasonable assumption – there is nothing unfair about that.

2. People lie! Saying, “No one would make up an accusation of sexual abuse” is counter-factual. 

I have heard people repeat this silliness often. “No woman would make that up.” Except that they do. I don’t know what the percentages are. Most accusations have proven to be true. Most women who make accusations are telling the truth. And beyond any doubt, many women have been badgered and bludgeoned into silence by doubt, intimidation, and recrimination. That is wicked. It is evil.

But the assertion that all accusations are true is a falsehood. It just ain’t so.

It has happened in ugly divorce cases and custody battles – false allegations have been made to help the case. What more hateful and hurtful thing can you do than to accuse someone of sexual abuse?

It happens. I have personal knowledge of it happening (no, not to me but to good friends).

3. Stop rushing to judgment. 

We are a people of arrogant judgment. A jury hears all the evidence and renders a verdict, but we know better – based on the sketchy media reports we’ve heard. We decide people’s character based on a tweet or a comment. We rush to judgment on almost everything. It needs to stop. We need to be people who carefully think through our decisions and our reactions and make thoughtful and careful responses.

When an accusation is made, we need to let justice take its course and reserve judgment until we have enough evidence to render it fairly. Again, we don’t need some kind of legal standard here, but we need to be fair.

NOTE: to be clear, churches ought never be investigating these things. I am talking about how we react to public figures. If an accusation is made in your church – report it to the authorities. If your church doesn’t have a written policy for this, get it done next week. Your insurance company will likely have a template.

4. Hypocrisy is SO hypocritical!

Definition of hypocrisy: a defender of Judge Roy Moore calling on Al Franken to resign from the Senate.

Hypocrisy abounds in America!

I don’t need to say much here. If you condemn “them” when they are accused but defend “us” when conservatives come under fire, you are a hypocrite. This sexual misconduct thing seems to be bipartisan, multicultural, and widespread. Hollywood. Politics. And the church!

5. It is time for the stuff to stop.

  • “It’s not that big a deal.”
  • “He was only kidding.”

For a long time, people have been making excuses and justifying the mistreatment of women. It has to stop. No man’s celebrity or political career is worth excusing mistreatment of women. It has to stop.

No Christian should ever, in any way, for any reason, excuse, justify, or in any other way give cover to the sin of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment against a woman. We cannot sell our souls for elections or any other political pot of stew.

6. We cannot forget grace.

It is odd that Christians talking about grace and forgiveness can be controversial, but in this context, it can. Some have argued on this blog that these concepts do not apply when sexual abuse is at issue, but those who have been forgiven through the blood of Christ can never fail to live that out.

It is a tricky thing to balance holding people responsible and applying grace and forgiveness, a balance we will always struggle with and fail to maintain perfectly. But Christians cannot leave grace out of the equation. We cannot ignore commands to forgive and we must remember that God’s work is to restore and to rebuild.

7. Why are people so reluctant to repent? 

We all admit that we are sinners but we will almost never admit our sin. It’s kinda weird. The sad fact is that the best statements of contrition I have heard during this recent debacle have come from those I have the least in common with politically or theologically. We seem to have bought into the political concept of deny-deny-deny. But that never brings cleansing or healing. Repentance does.

I wish people in power would learn that.

To sum it all up – there is no easy way to sum this up! We Christians must give ear to the hurting, the victims of sexual assault. We must also be fair to the accused, realizing that false accusations do occur and ruin lives when they do. We must be firm in our resolve but also gracious.

If it sounds like walking a tightrope, that’s pretty much it.

 

 

 

 

It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Green: The Modern Struggle of Seminary Education

Southwestern Seminary’s recent financial struggles have been in the news and have been a bit of a Rohrshach test for Baptists. To supporters and defenders of Dr. Patterson and the seminary, they are a blip on the radar screen, a hiccup, a bump in the road toward a greater future. To those with less warm and fuzzy feelings toward Dr. Patterson’s leadership (mostly, his anti-Calvinist rhetoric and perhaps his old-school ways) they are seen as further evidence that his leadership is causing the school to swirl the bowl.

I am absolutely unqualified to figure out what is happening there, but I do think there is a bigger story. Seminary education in the 21st Century is going to be a greater challenge than it has ever been before. A few of our schools are going great guns but the challenges are going to be real. There are several modern trends that are affecting our schools.

A little background. Our seminaries receive funding from the CP based on FTE – full-time equivalence. It is a formula someone smarter than I am can explain, but it is not based on enrollment, but on the number of hours students take. One student taking 5 classes counts more than 4 students taking one class. At SWBTS, as I understand it, enrollment is up but FTE is down. Also, I believe that it is correct to say that only seminary enrollment counts toward FTE. Most of our schools now have a college attached, but those students do not count for FTE or receive CP support.

So, the key to increased funding is to increase FTE. You can have a great increase in students, but if they are taking fewer classes and FTE goes down, funding will also go down.

1. The Online Trend – LU Online achieved massive success giving people seminary degrees by extension. Most of our seminaries have gotten into the online trend, but are behind the curve. This has clearly cut into the pool of resident students for our seminaries and reduced FTE funding. I am guessing that there are pastors in your association who never “went” to seminary. They did seminary online while either working secular jobs or while doing their ministries.

2. The Denominational Loyalty Trend – “Back in my day” it was almost essential that a man who wanted to be considered as a pastor at an SBC church had to have a degree at one of our seminaries. If you had a degree from a non-SBC seminary most churches wouldn’t even look at your resume. That is no longer true. A degree from just about any seminary is accepted. This trend will undoubtedly cut into enrollment at our schools. If there is a seminary near you that does not require relocation, why leave home when it is not required? (I am not arguing for that proposition, just saying some will say that.)

3. The Theological Education Devaluation Trend – Who needs a degree? In many corners of the church, theological education is viewed as suspect, as more of a hindrance than a help. When a church gets a seminary-educated pastor and things don’t go well, their tendency can be to blame the seminary for the problem. My evidence here is anecdotal, but I believe that more churches today are willing to hire pastors without a seminary education.

4. The M.RE Trend – The degrees are given different names by different schools, but most schools now offer a shorter, less demanding degree than the M.Div. Why stay and slog through 90 hours of Greek, Hebrew, Systematic Theology and all those hard classes when you can get a seminary degree with much less struggle?  Fewer hours per student reduces FTE.

5. The Rising Student Costs – it costs more now to go to an SBC school than it used to and because of that, students are often forced to work more and take longer to complete school. If a student is taking fewer hours because he has a full-time job, guess what that means? FTE goes down.

6. The Seminary Identity Struggle – would that it was enough to simply provide a biblically-based seminary education that would provide the tools for ministry, but seminaries also need to have an identity. I am informed that there are many seminaries, not just Southern Baptist, that are having struggles such as Southwestern is having. But those that have a specific identity that can attract not only general theological students but a specific niche are gaining ground. Southern has an obvious identity – like it or not. Southeastern has also managed to forge an identity of its own. Midwestern’s “For the Church” and the leadership of Dr. Allen (remember there were people who actually opposed his appointment?) has turned that school’s fortunes around and we are expecting them to do very well in the future. An “anti” identity isn’t likely to be enough.

7. Rising Costs of Education – It isn’t cheap to provide a seminary education these days. I guess it never was, but it has gotten worse. Obamacare has become a familiar scapegoat because it plays well with the conservative Southern Baptist audience. “It isn’t our fault, blame the Democrats.” But the reality is that healthcare is massively expensive, especially if it is provided for the staff’s family (which I understand SWBTS does).

There are challenges facing all seminaries these days. Some schools are doing a better job of facing them than others. I am guessing that the playing field is not completely level. These challenges are real but there is still a path to success. We must hold on to our values and convictions but also be forward-thinking in our strategies.

This list is far from exhaustive. But it’s exhausted me and I have got to go get ready to deep fry a turkey.