‘Male is God’

‘No accident’ that serial abuse emerges in denominations that do not ordain women, argues Nicholas Kristof

The front page of the Houston Chronicle featuring a story on accusations of abuse in Southern Baptist churches at a gas station in Houston, Texas. The United States' largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is facing a sexual abuse crisis after a bombshell report revealed hundreds of predators and more than 700 victims since 1998. (LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

A bombshell investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News has uncovered 380 credible cases of sexual misconduct by Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers. In many of the cases, the clergyman’s victims were ostracized by their churches, told they needed to forgive the abuse, and urged to get abortions — all while the church moved rapidly to cover up accusations and reintegrate serial sexual abusers into new parishes. And according to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, the scandal has two major components in common with the Catholic church’s massive problem with sexual abuse — an all-male clergy, and a resulting culture that demands women be subservient, especially when in church. “I suspect it’s no accident that these crimes emerged in denominations that do not ordain women and that relegate them to second-class status,” he writes.

“Underneath it all is this patriarchy that goes back millennia,” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, told Kristof. “They both have very masculine understandings of God, and have a structure where men are considered the closest representatives of God.”

In response to The Chronicle’s investigation, the Southern Baptist church has pledged to provide its priests with better training, but said little about holding them accountable for their actions. That theme too has resounded in the Catholic church, where priests have long been absolved for sexually abusing parishioners and nuns who are subject to their power. And as a majority of religious women belong to denominations that see women as incapable of assuming spiritual leadership, perhaps it should come as no surprise that male priests, put in a position of unchecked dominance, continue to abuse their elevated status. The structural inequality of the Church, Kristof argues, endorses a “masculine conception of God that empowers rapists.”

Or as famous feminist theologian Mary Daly put it: “If God is male, then the male is God.”

Watch crusading columnist Nicholas Kristof, with Canadian doctor Fozia Alvi, share shattering eyewitness accounts of the Rohingya refugee crisis, at the 2018 Women in the World New York Summit:

Read Kristof’s full column at The New York Times.

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