What Lies Beneath

The Houston Chronicle is running a multi-part expose on sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s a massive scandal.

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a kind of umbrella organization for the diverse churches that consider themselves to be part of the Southern Baptist tradition. The Southern Baptists, you might recall, are a vestige of the antebellum South, the part of the national Baptist convention that broke away in 1845 in support of slavery. Evangelicals in the northern states were leaders of the abolition movement. Today the Southern Baptists are the second largest denomination in the U.S., after the Roman Catholics, who have their own problems.

The Southern Baptists have a very loose administrative structure that gives local congregations a huge amount of autonomy. This is the excuse they are using for ignoring reports of abuse.

At the core of Southern Baptist doctrine is local church autonomy, the idea that each church is independent and self-governing. It’s one of the main reasons that Boto [August “Augie” Boto, interim president of the SBC’s Executive Committee] said most of the proposals a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the executive committee because the committee doesn’t have the authority to force churches to report sexual abuse to a central registry.

Because of that, Boto said, the committee “realized that lifting up a model that could not be enforced was an exercise in futility,” and so instead drafted a report that “accepted the existence of the problem rather than attempting to define its magnitude.”…

… Even so, the SBC has ended its affiliation with at least four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.

Yeah, funny how that works.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, had some words for his fellow Southern Baptists.

The first is to see with clear eyes what is before us. Some have ridiculed this concern as being some irrational sweep into a secular #MeToo moment, implying that the problem is “political correctness” over an issue that is no real problem within church life. Others have suggested that the church should not concern itself with questions of “justice” and that preaching the gospel itself will resolve matters of injustice. Others have implied that the horrific scandals we have seen in the Roman Catholic church are due to the theology of Catholicism, the nature of a celibate priesthood and so forth. All of these are not only wrongheaded responses, but are deadly dangerous both to the lives of present and future survivors of these horrors and to the witness of the church itself.

All rape and sexual exploitation is evil and unjust. Sexual abuse is not only sin but also a crime. All of it should be prosecuted in the civil arena, and all of it will be brought before the tribunal of the Judgment Seat of Christ. But nothing is worse than the use of the name of Jesus to prey on the vulnerable, or to use the name of Jesus to cover up such crimes. The issue of predators in the church is not a secondary issue, on which churches should brush up merely because of the cultural moment. This is a primary issue, one that Jesus himself warned us about from the very beginning. The church is a flock, he told us, vulnerable to prey.

People often grumble about the evils of organized religion, but unorganized religion is just as bad. Some of the worst religion horror stories I know of were perpetrated by people unaffiliated with any organized religion.

But what we see from the Southern Baptists is the pure reflection of their values. Keeping women out of leadership positions is an important value. Opposing homosexuality is an important value. Protecting women and children from sexual predators is not an important value.

And notice I’ve gotten this far into this post without mentioning evangelical support for Donald Trump.

We are living in a time in of small-r revelations. Long-festering sexual abuse going on in many organizations, and not just Christian ones, are among those revelations. This sort of thing seems to go on everywhere that men are given exclusive, unquestioned authority. And when the predation begins to come to light, the organization first denies it, then covers it up rather than address it. But it seems the patriarchy is finally weak enough that the revelations are breaking through.

I see the messiness going on in Virginia in a similar light. The truth is that, probably, there are very few white southern politicians of either party who didn’t participate in some sort of racist expression in their wayward youth; there just isn’t always a photographic record of it. And I’m not making excuses for Ralph Northam, who ought to resign. White culture has winked at racist expression for way too long. And for too long, white liberal politicians have paid lip service to ending racial injustice without lifting a finger to dismantle the white power structure that perpetrates it. Karma will not be denied, however.

What’s next, I wonder?

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The Trump Inauguration: Grifters Gonna Grift

Last week federal prosecutors in New York requested a whole lot of documents related to the Trump inauguration, donation and spending. The two major issues apparently under investigation were, (1) where the bleep did all that money go; and (2) did any of those donations come from foreign sources, which would have been in violation of law?

There has been much clucking about how the bleep the Trumps spent twice as much money as previous presidents on half as much inauguration. For all the money spent — $107 million — here were only three official balls instead of the usual ten or so, and the entertainment was barely worthy of a senior class reunion. Paul Waldman:

It may be some time before we know the full story of what happened in the inaugural, but this appears to be the outline. The inaugural was run by some people of questionable character, who raised an unprecedented amount of money. The spending of that money was certainly wasteful and perhaps even fraudulent; a friend of Melania Trump set up an event-planning company just before the inauguration and was paid $26 million, Trump’s campaign manager billed $2 million for getting a crowd to show up, and another event planner spent $10,000 on makeup for 20 staff members attending a party.

Like much of what Trump is involved in, the whole thing was ad hoc, haphazard, and without much in the way of care or oversight, offering numerous ways for the unscrupulous to fill their pockets. But it has also been shrouded in mystery, since inaugurals aren’t subject to the same disclosure requirements as most government functions.

Along with the makeup, it was Reported last month that “There was another $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of contract staff members, in addition to their fully covered hotel rooms, room service orders, plane tickets and taxi rides, including some to drop off laundry.”

I did some checking; yes, a top-of-the-line professional makeup artist might charge $500 per person for an extra special event, although there are very good ones who work for a lot less. But I have a hard time believing Trump was that generous to contract staff members, unless they were purely political hires. This is the guy who built and ran his golf clubs with illegal labor.  Like this

The brightly painted homes that line the road in Santa Teresa de Cajon, many paid for by wages earned 4,000 miles away, are the fruits of a long-running pipeline of illegal workers to the president’s course, one that carried far more than a few unauthorized employees who slipped through the cracks.

Soon after Trump broke ground at Bedminster in 2002 with a golden shovel, this village emerged as a wellspring of low-paid labor for the private club, which charges tens of thousands of dollars to join. Over the years, dozens of workers from Costa Rica went north to fill jobs as groundskeepers, housekeepers and dishwashers at Bedminster, former employees said. The club hired others from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala who spoke to The Post. Many ended up in the blue-collar borough of Bound Brook, New Jersey, piling into vans before dawn to head to the course each morning.

Not that they would have risked getting caught hiring illegal help for the inauguration, but I still can’t see them being that generous to the hired help doing flunky jobs. I’m saying there was a whole lot o’ padding in those expense records.

Now that federal investigators finally are looking into Trump’s inauguration expenses, my first question is, How much of this money ended up in the pockets of the Trumps? Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, wrote that Trump paid no attention to his own transition team until he found out the team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff.

The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?

Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.

Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition.

Christie and Bannon were able to calm Trump down. But the point is that Trump considered any money donated to the campaign to be his money. He was going to shut down the transition so he could pocket the donated money. How much of the money donated to the inauguration ended up being his money? We know that grotesque amounts of money were spent at the Washington Trump International Hotel, which jacked up its rates for the occasion. It has been widely reported that the hotel billed the inaugural committee $1.5 million. But $1.5 million is a drop in the bucket; people who have experience with inaugurations have said that even with the known cost overruns, it seems about $40 million simply evaporated.

Many articles about the inaguration fiasco point fingers at Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a close friend (back then) of Melania Trump who received $26 million to do event production. Her work on the inauguration was done through a company set up just for the inauguration, which looked suspicious. But a new article at Vanity Fair by Emily Jane Fox makes Wolkoff out to be an experienced and competent professional event planner who was thrown under the bus by the Trumps when criticism started to roll in about the money and the spending. According to Wolkoff, she was raising alarms about the way money was being spent and warned the Trumps that things were going on that would not look good to auditors. She says she complained about the prices at Trump’s hotel being jacked up and that Paul Gates and Tom Barrack, who were doing parallel event planning, were burning through money in unaccountable ways. At one point, she claimed, Gates wanted a vendor to be paid directly by a donor, not through the inauguration committee, so they could keep the transaction off the books.

Long-time Trump friend Tom Barrack, a private equity real estate guy, was chair of the inaugural committee. Barrack used the traditional chairperson’s dinner to talk up invitees described as “foreign ministers” for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. These ministers have not been named. Barrack is believed to have used the occasion to promote a business deal with them.

Let us not forget that in his recent un-blackmail post,  Jeff Bezos mentioned connections among the National Enquirer, the Saudi government, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and Trump. Hmmm.

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