Southern Baptist Church shows reform is needed in religious institutions


Olivia Braito, Graphics Manager

Graphics by Olivia Braito.

Zach Murphy, Contributing Writer

In early 2002, The Boston Globe’s investigative reporting team “Spotlight” uncovered decades of sex abuse in the Boston Archdiocese of the Catholic Church. The team’s findings sparked widespread debates and resulted in calls for reforms in both the church itself, as well as the American legal system. Seventeen years later, America is still dealing with sex abuse in religious institutions, most recently in the Southern Baptist Church which, like the Boston Archdiocese, covered up sex abuse for decades.


The biggest question surrounding the cases of sex abuse in religious institutions is how to stop it. It is true that we can scrutinize religious organizations, but that will not end the problem, as it is unrealistic to assume the state can catch every potential abuser before they commit a crime. This would also lead to multiple legal battles from different groups across the political spectrum, making what would already be a difficult task nearly impossible. What instead needs to happen is a reform in the institutions themselves – one that will take the efforts of the leaders and people.


Trust is key for the survival of a  religious institution. In most cases, a religious leader helps his or her followers with issues that go beyond doctrine. Such issues are often serious, leaving the person seeking help in a vulnerable position. In the right hands, religious leadership can help a person through their issue, bringing closure and reuniting the person with happiness. However, when in the wrong hands, religious leadership has the potential to cause further harm and suffering.


When speaking of reforming religious institutions, I am referring to people reevaluating how they trust religious leaders. This is not to say that every leader should be treated with suspicion, however, people need to consider the freedom a religious leader has, as they are not accountable to the same oversight or confidentiality laws as a licensed counselor or doctor. In other words, while religious leaders are helpful and often times beneficial for people, their position in society can be abused much easier than that of a doctor.


Yet reform can also take a different path – a course where the religious leaders themselves are the reformers. Scandals such as those in the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Church were able to last decades because of the complicity of other leaders. If religious leaders hold others accountable, even at the local level, then it will be more difficult for abusers to gain access to vulnerable people. With the cooperation of other religious leaders, reform can be less drastic and more beneficial to the community, building more trust between the people instead of having them question it.


One must consider that this issue is deeper than how I am presenting it. I am not an expert on this problem, nor am I claiming to be, but I do believe that through this general model of reform, abuse will fall. Of course, there are other suggestions from groups and institutions who have done large amounts of research on this issue, so I encourage you to visit their websites and read their writings to reach a more informed conclusion.

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