The dictionary defines systemic as:
“of, relating to, or common to a system”
“systemic” in Frederick C. Mish, ed., Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
The discussion on the fundamentalist blogosphere lately has been very heated over stories of scandal and sexual abuse in or connected with ministries widely viewed as fundamentalist. (I phrase it that way because some may dispute the fundie credentials of some of these ministries.)
I really don’t want to get into a “fact-finding-fault-finding” scream-a-thon here. But Bob Bixby brings the word ‘systemic’ to the discussion and others have said similar things. By systemic, Bob says he means
I think it is right to say that she was wrongly treated because of a systemic abuse of victims in fundamentalist circles. I insist on the word “systemic” because I do not think that IFB people consciously scheme about how to make people suffer.
I do agree that abuse is systemic in the culture of IFB. It is systemic because of the general IFB understanding of church, discipline, sin, authority, and the Bible.
So… systemic… “of, relating to, or common to a system”
(Now, before we go on, let’s note that Bob is broadening the topic from sexual abuse to ‘abuse of victims’ and that this issue is ‘systemic’ because of the IFB “understanding of church, discipline, sin, authority, and the Bible.” Bob is painting with a very broad brush and using the current scandal to attack his favorite whipping boy, independent Baptist Fundamentalism.)
But is ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘child abuse’ systemic to Christian fundamentalism?
A friend of mine sent me a few links tonight about another very very tragic and disgusting story about another independent Baptist and another scandal. I’m not going to include any links, its just a completely disgusting story. In this case, it appears there is a serious sin issue, this time on the part of a pastor. That’s all the details I’ll give.
But the story gave me pause. Not another one! And then again, this question came to mind: is ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘child abuse’ systemic to Christian fundamentalism?
Because if it is, every right thinking fundamentalist needs to GET OUT, fast.
How to test this out? I decided to do a few searches on Google. The first was for ‘evangelical underage inappropriate’; ‘fundamentalist underage inappropriate’; and ‘school teacher underage inappropriate’.
- EUA = About 415,000 results (0.09 seconds)
- FUA = About 319,000 results (0.26 seconds)
- STUA = About 1,830,000 results (0.15 seconds)
Please note that the terms ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘evangelical’ are loosely used in the press, so for instance my search on ‘fundamentalist …’ picked up hits on Mormon Fundamentalism right at the top of the page.
Also, while these search terms are perhaps a little generic, if you look at the searches, you will be able to see that they pick up stories and articles of the sort we are talking about. So I think the terms are ‘good enough’. I didn’t want to get too specific for fear of picking up sites that are themselves inappropriate. It is possible that some of them are still included in the lists these searches give, so use with caution.
I certainly don’t have time to sift through 2.5 million Google hits, but I did look at one article that led me to another. The first article is entitled Sexual abuse within fundamentalist and other evangelical churches. The site is sort of religious, but not Christian. It starts off citing the Catholic scandals that came to light since 2000, mostly in North America and Europe. They make this significant statement in the second paragraph:
Sexual abuse is found throughout society. Approximately 1% of girls are so abused by their fathers before puberty, and about 1% by their step-fathers. Abuse of boys is at a lower level. There is really no reliable data which demonstrates whether religion plays a role in this phenomenon. We have never located any trustworthy evidence that sexual abuse of pre-pubertal children is higher or lower in fundamentalist/other evangelical churchees (sic) when compared to the Roman Catholic Church, other faith groups, or in society as a whole.
They go on to cite someone’s report of a Focus on the Family program and note that the vast majority of sexual scandal in evangelical churches involves inappropriate relationships of staff with adult parishioners.
Now… a caveat: I am not sure how reliable the statements on this site are. They are reasonably stated, but I have no way of verifying them.
This site also links to several lists of cases in various denominations that appear on another cite. Here are the lists:
- 147 Baptist pastors
- 251 fundamentalist/evangelical pastors
- 140 Anglican/Episcopalian Ministers
- 38 Lutheran Ministers
- 46 Methodist Ministers
- 19 Presbyterian Ministers
- 197 misc. Church Ministers
I think all the cases cited here are accurate, but I haven’t attempted to go through all the stories and read up on the supporting documents. I have no idea if these lists are exhaustive or if they are limited by only a certain time period.
I cite them to note that the ‘religious’ site linking to them under the heading ‘Sexual abuse within fundamentalist and other evangelical churches’ is pointing to precious few, if any, actual fundamentalist churches. Go ahead and sift through the list (if you can stomach it). I think you will see that my observation is correct.
What is the point of all this?
I think that we can say that child sexual abuse is not systemic to fundamentalism or evangelicalism or even to Catholicism.
Please note especially the number of hits I got with my searches, comparing evangelicals, fundamentalists, and school teachers. We could say, simply based on the number of hits, that such behaviour is much more systemic of the educational system, could we not?
But really, I don’t even want to say something like that. I will say that child sexual abuse seems to be systemic to the human condition. I don’t know if it is more prevalent in Europe and North America than elsewhere, who can tell? I suspect that it is on the rise because of the widespread over-sexed culture we live in. Men (and women) are immersed in sexuality, have established deep habit patterns in their souls and are twisted and perverted in their thinking.
It is no surprise that such sins show up at church.
And we make no excuses for covering such sins, or allowing perpetrators to ‘get away with it’. As pastors, we must be vigilant in so many ways: vigilant over ourselves, vigilant over our church leaders, over all volunteers, over every program of the church involving children.
But can we make a plea to drop the ‘systemic’ claptrap? It is completely unhelpful to the problem in general and does nothing to provide aid for any current specific case. It is just a cheap shot at fundamentalism by several who are exploiting a tragedy currently in the news for the purpose of furthering their own animus towards fundamentalism.
UPDATE: In the comments I mention a Canadian columnist, a Catholic, defending his church against the charges of abuse. He makes some significant points that relate to the ‘systemic’ charge. Before you leap to condemn fundamentalism on this point, you should consider what he says:
The vast majority of sexual abuse occurs in the family, generally by step-brothers and boyfriends of mothers.
The next highest amount comes from teachers. These two institutions and people account for more than 75% of all charges, compared to less than 2% for the church.
Next are sports coaches, with some horribly infamous cases in hockey.
Other sports are equally bad, with one swimming coach in the United States being moved from team to team even after he was revealed as a pedophile.
Secular youth groups such as Scouts also experience abuse, as do synagogues, mosques and Protestant churches, foster homes, youth clubs and pretty much anywhere else.
In fact, a Catholic Church today is arguably the safest place for a young person to be. But the church is held to a higher standard and that is entirely appropriate.