Why Southern Baptists’ Social Justice Spat Is Actually About the Sufficiency of Scripture

"The Founders documentary trailer uncovers a larger disagreement over how to approach secular theories around race and gender." - Christianity Today

2961 reads

There are 74 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

Phone surveys are data, Larry.  It's not the same kind of data that you get from court records, but it is data, and it's the same kind of data, really, that companies use to see their own weaknesses.  It suggests that there are a LOT of victims out there who don't report, and if we're trying to understand and mitigate the problem, it's data we ignore at our peril.  Cross examination is certainly useful in a court situation, but we can infer a bit about how far these data are from the police data by a look at the police data.

Specifically, the portion of reports made to police that are found to be false--the officer is willing to bet something between a tuna salad sandwich and his job that it is false, more or less--is 2 -10%.  Unless we determine some big reason for anonymous reports to university/FBI researchers to be false where police reports will not be, we've got to assume that most of the data collected by researchers reflects some degree of sexual assault.  

If you take a look at the twitter feeds of a number of prosecutors and victims of Larry Nassar, you're also going to learn why people don't report.  Beyond the obvious "I don't want to tick off somebody who already pointed a gun at me", there is the general climate of people reflexively doubting and attacking the victim.  The survivors not surprisingly say to us "I would make up a story about that and sign up for that.....why?"

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Phone surveys are data, Larry.  It's not the same kind of data that you get from court records, but it is data, and it's the same kind of data, really, that companies use to see their own weaknesses. 

It's also the same kind of data that said >90% chance Hillary Clinton will be president.  Even what the 538 guy gathered said something like >73%.  Wonder why we are skeptical of such data?  Sometimes it turns out not to be true.  Probability and statistics are great.  I also have a degree in mathematics and understand their limitations.  I'm not a psychologist, but I suspect that there are plenty who can explain why phone survey answers will not always be accurate, even if the sample is gathered correctly.  I'm not saying we should throw phone survey data completely out, but it also can't be treated the same as hard data, for reasons that should be obvious.  However, such data is often treated as equivalent to hard data by those trying to make a point.

That's why there needs to be a system, adversarial in nature (which accusers don't like, for various reasons, legitimate or otherwise) to get to the truth.  Simply having one set of investigators can never be completely impartial, even if they talk to both sides.  And as I said before, I personally can't subscribe to a process that could end up with 10% falsely convicted, simply because it's likely that 90% of the verdicts are correct.

Both sides can lie -- accusers as well as accused.  That's why neither should control the process, and why the accused (and accuser for that matter) should NEVER submit to a one-sided process, no matter the supposed virtuousness of the ones carrying it out.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

If the surveys are within 5%, as were most of the polls, then we would assume that between 64% and 74% of sexual assaults are not reported.  Double the confidence range, you're between 59% and 79% not reported.

Still sounds horrendous to me, Dave.  What you're doing is to confuse a poll being off by a few percentage points, and the poll being of no value whatsoever.  As a math PhD, you should know better than that.

That noted, if you want to stick with what is known from the police, check out the Star-Tribune's series on sexual assault, which reviewed a random sample of cases reported to police in Minnesota, and found that only 20% of cases got even a good basic investigation including things like interviewing both the accuser and accused.  The series also suggests Minnesota does a better job than average, as our conviction/incarceration is about 2.5x higher than the national average.  In other news, ProPublica found a huge rate of police declaring sexual assault cases "cleared" when what they're really doing is abusing the concept of exceptional clearance, using it as a cover for not doing best practices.  

Now consider that in light of women who know other women whose cases were ignored.  Are they more, or less, likely to report the crime?  The polls are simply telling us what we'd guess from the statistic that 80% or more of reports are not getting even a good basic investigation.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Still sounds horrendous to me, Dave.  What you're doing is to confuse a poll being off by a few percentage points, and the poll being of no value whatsoever.

Thanks for giving me the extra degree, but I have only a B.S. in Math and an M.S. in Computer Science.  I did very well in probability and statistics, though.

And you'll notice I said that phone polls shouldn't be thrown out, but shouldn't be considered the same as hard data, not least because people lie on polls, but also when there is some motivation to make a point.  Statistical distributions work mathematically if the data is good.  Otherwise...

Quote:

The polls are simply telling us what we'd guess from the statistic that 80% or more of reports are not getting even a good basic investigation.  

On this thread I've already admitted that there have been bad practices.  I'm in no way excusing those.  My only point is that history shouldn't lead us to further bad practices against the accused in order to somehow "make up for" what has been done badly before.  In addition, colleges or whoever should NOT just submit to a process that is tilted against them, but should insist on a process that's fair to both sides taking seriously both the accuser and the accused.  Using only an organization like GRACE does not accomplish that, even if it can be useful.  At best, it's just one piece of the solution.  At worst, when politically motivated, it can get in the way of actual truth.

Dave Barnhart

Joel Shaffer's picture

Anti-Justice Founders

The Founders folks are against justice??

I didn't proof-read it.  I meant to say "Anti-Social Justice Founders"  Those within Founders, along with the many conservative Christians that are either influenced by them or partner with them, have denounced the term "Social-Justice" and encouraged Christians to not use "Social Justice" because the term Social Justice has been co-opted by CT/CRT within our society and it will inevitably lead to confusion.

Jay's picture

The point isn't that they spoke with both sides. It is rather that there was no cross examination of witnesses. In a court of law, there is an adversarial process by which claims are made and then questioned. It is basic legal procedure. 

You continue to conflate legal adjudication with counseling and support.  I'm not sure why, as these are different processes with different goals - the legal system is to get justice, the counseling/spiritual care system is to help an (alleged) victim rebuild their life in Christ.

Remember the recent events with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford. Remember how virtually everyone believed her until the adversarial process started and it turns out there were all kinds of problems. Kavanaugh had no chance to question the accuser. He had no real way to defend himself. 

Judge Kavanaugh wasn't a trial or spiritual care situation.  It was basically a chance for Democrats to jump on the 'orange man bad' bandwagon and turn a serious matter into a show trial / farce, as National Review rightly pointed out.  Congress is supposed to be determining whether or not he is a suitable candidate for SCOTUS on the basis of his record.  There were ways to get at the attack on Dr. Ford, but what actually happened was a travesty designed to incite fury and further outrage.  Are you saying that GRACE is doing the same thing that the Democrats on Capital Hill did?  If so, it's going to take a long time for me to believe that.  Furthermore, what happened with Kavanaugh is nothing like GRACE's investigative process.   

GRACE might be a good way to help organizations develop plans and policies for dealing with sexual abuse. It isn't a great way to get at the truth of a accusation.

It is, however, better than doing nothing, not having a plan/policy, or abdicating responsibility for these kinds of situations.

So the problem is that people treat GRACE like a judicial entity who discovers crimes and declares guilt. But they are no such thing.     

No, I don't think anyone is saying that GRACE is a judicial entity.

Are you saying that there is no way to determine guilt unless there is a formal criminal investigation?  That seems...not right.  For example, how does your understanding of Deuteronomy 22:25-27 come into play?

“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

You also said:

They should not act as both attorneys, judge, and jury. 

GRACE made many recommendations as to how BJU could improve their reach and responsiveness to victims of assualt.  BJU implemented several and rejected others.  How is that acting as a 'jury'?

BTW, my guess is that many of those will get thrown out. There is a statute of limitations for a reason and it probably won't be overruled for long. Statutes of limitations are to protect the cases and people from the deterioation of evidence over time. 

But the point is that many of them were never reported in the first place.  Even if 80% of them are all thrown out, isn't it a good thing that the remaining 20% are processed and adjudicated so that the guilty can receive justice and victims can receive closure?  What about all of the women who were molested by Nassar but who never received the chance to press charges until Rachael Denhollander stepped forward?  Are they just supposed to sit quietly until the people who received their complaints and the legal system finally decided that they ought to do something about it?  Nassar would probably have gotten off if the police hadn't found those external drives with the child pornography on them.

By virtue of reality, you only know the people who report. You don't know the total number of assaults to begin with.

I fail to see how your position encourages those who have not reported to actually step forward and do so. But maybe I'm just unclear or not understanding what you have said.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Larry's picture

Moderator

You continue to conflate legal adjudication with counseling and support. 

Not at all. 

Are you saying that GRACE is doing the same thing that the Democrats on Capital Hill did? 

No, it had nothing to do with GRACE. It had to do with the necessity and importance of an adversarial process to get at the truth.

No, I don't think anyone is saying that GRACE is a judicial entity.

There are some who claimed that Berg, BJIII, and others should be in jail based on the GRACE report.

Are you saying that there is no way to determine guilt unless there is a formal criminal investigation?  That seems...not right.  For example, how does your understanding of Deuteronomy 22:25-27 come into play?

No, I am not saying that, though that is true legally. I am not sure how Deut 22:25-27 comes into play here. The point there is a very specific set of circumstances with assumptions. It's case law.

But the point is that many of them were never reported in the first place. 

That was never in dispute. 

What about all of the women who were molested by Nassar but who never received the chance to press charges until Rachael Denhollander stepped forward?

I don't know of anyone who was prevented from pressing charges until Rachel stepped forward. Do you have a news story or something we can read about that? Some may not have done it, but it wasn't because they didn't have the chance is it?

I fail to see how your position encourages those who have not reported to actually step forward and do so.

If "I hear you. I take you seriously. Let me help you" doesn't encourage them to report, then I am not sure what else to do. In the end, everyone but minors has to make their own report and weight the benefits and consequences of doing so. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

What is there to try again? Phone surveys are not actual data of the  unreported assaults. They are extrapolated data based on questions and answers from random phone calls. It is data of the type that a company might use to see their weaknesses. It does not provide actual hard data about assaults (or anything else). They provide no grounds for actual investigation. You can't try it in a court of law. You can't even act on it as an individual or an institution. You can't do a thing with it. As you  know, phone surveys are highly dependent on a number of things that render them not very trustworthy for legal investigations, much less declarations.

So what are they useful for? I don't really know. We all know there are a lot a crimes unreported. We don't know how many because they aren't reported. How does it help us to know a percentage based on extrapolation? I don't know.

Which gets back to my original point: We don't know how many people don't report because they don't report. And answering a survey question doesn't change that. They still haven't reported. There is nothing to investigate and no one to bring to justice.

As I said, there are a lot of reasons why people don't report. That's not the point. It is likely true that a very small percentage of reports are false. I think that's a problem. I think one person who loses their job or their family or their reputation over a false report is a major problem. Perhaps you think that is just the cost of doing business. I think it is unjust. Let's say it is 2% (your low end). That means 2 out of every 100 families is being torn apart, suspicions raised, jobs lost, finances devastated, children turned against parents, marriages damaged or destroyed, reputations gone forever. "Oops we were wrong" doesn't make up for that. I think that is a grave miscarriage of justice, just like someone who gets off is. 

We know that people have made up stories and "signed up for that" for various reasons including revenge. We know that people have false memories (which is why there is a statute of limitations). 

And none of that is actually the issue here. When someone tells us something, we should say, "I hear you. I take you seroiusly. Let me help you get help." And then take them to report or, if they are a minor, fulfill our reporting obligations. GRACE could help an organization do better at understanding and fulfilling their obligations and to that end an organization like GRACE can be helpful.

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, when you have a problem with your car, or with your heart, do you immediately go to the lawyers in the legal system?  Or do you consult a mechanic or a physician?

Same thing here.  The problem with sexual assault is much bigger than folks like Boz and Angie Poviliatis, and therefore the work of criminologists in the DOJ (the source of the unreported sexual assaults data) and academics ought to be quite welcome.  It's the academics (including criminologists, psychologists, etc..), more than the lawyers, who will tell us more about why people don't report, what we can do to fix it, and for that matter why people make false reports.  It's simply real data of a different type that shows how messy this situation is, and points to things we might try to fix it.

One thing that is really bothering me here is the emphasis on the legal system.  OK, given that the biggest mistake at BJU, ABWE, and elsewhere is precisely that the legal system wasn't used, I should be (and am) in part very grateful for this.  That said, again, the problem is bigger than the lawyers  and police can handle--and that's no slam on lawyers or police.  It's just reality. 

But that noted, if I've got someone at church who's been assaulted, especially if it's by a church member or volunteer, it's got to go way beyond that.  Some things disqualify a person from ministry, but are not criminal, like fornication.  Other things are warning signs that something is very wrong, and may reflect either a bad attitude on the part of the individual or (worse yet) a part of the culture in the church.  You want to find these things out, preferably before things get really bad.  That's a big part of what GRACE's accreditation is about.  If that's not in your budget at this point, his book is available for about $15 or so from Amazon.  Well worth the bones!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Heart? Car? Sex assault? 

Which of these is not like the other?

(The answer in the first two cases is I am going to the internet most likely.)

When you say you are bothered by the emphasis on the legal system, I think it reveals part of the problem. The legal system is the only place to get justice. We should welcome and use the expertise of those who know what to do. That's never been in question.

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, I'm going to disagree with your comments for a couple reasons, starting with the point that part of what I was saying is the apparent view that statistics on the rates of unreported sexual assault are not "data".  They are not directly from the police, but what else would you expect?  Are the police supposed to know about crimes not reported to them?  That is precisely why various surveys have been taken to estimate the rate of non-reporting.  Problems with methods?  Of course--if a person educated in surveys and such can look at such a report and not find some possible issue with methodology, you need to take his pulse to see if he's still on this side of Jordan.  No survey is perfect, but an awful lot of them are valuable within their limitations. 

In this case, we have strong reason to suspect that sexual assault is hugely underreported, and if we care about the issue, we need to start asking questions about why that is.  And to do that--this is what my comment was about--you need academics, criminologists, psychologists, and the like.  So you completely misread my comment, brother.

Regarding the notion that the only place one can get justice being the civil and criminal courts, is that what we read in 1 Cor. 6?  Really?  If we have that hypothetical youth pastor or church volunteer who takes advantage of a 17 year old (legal in MN), and the police don't find enough evidence/initiative to prosecute for sexual assault, is that 17 year old without recourse?

Or does God call the church to act on the evidence of sexual misconduct to remove errant workers and initiate help for the victims?  Counseling is, after all, part of the process of justice here.  Again, I applaud the emphasis you're putting on the legal system, but it's far from the only place victims find justice and healing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Regarding the notion that the only place one can get justice being the civil and criminal courts, is that what we read in 1 Cor. 6?  Really?  If we have that hypothetical youth pastor or church volunteer who takes advantage of a 17 year old (legal in MN), and the police don't find enough evidence/initiative to prosecute for sexual assault, is that 17 year old without recourse?

Or does God call the church to act on the evidence of sexual misconduct to remove errant workers and initiate help for the victims?  Counseling is, after all, part of the process of justice here.  Again, I applaud the emphasis you're putting on the legal system, but it's far from the only place victims find justice and healing.

Obviously churches have the responsibility to act on sin.  That's not really in dispute.  However, if the civil authorities with all their resources and evidence gathering powers cannot find enough evidence to prosecute, on what basis can the church act?  The scriptures require 2 or 3 witnesses, but if it's he-said, she-said, we don't have that.  If the civil authorities don't move forward, and the church has no evidence that the state doesn't (which they should have turned over anyway), the church is on pretty strong ground to not move forward with any action against the accused either.

Your particular case of a 17 year old being a willing participant and not being a statutory offense is something different altogether, since it's not something that can be prosecuted, but the same problems would still be there for the church.  How would the church move forward to act against the accused when there is no hard evidence?  If there is a confession or witnesses, then I would agree the church has responsibility to act even if the sin is not a crime, but real justice will only come when God judges.

Now, none of this means that there cannot be counseling from the church, and if the accuser is willing to work with the pastor and church, that's fantastic.  But if the accuser demands "justice" where the church is not in a position to dispense it, then what is the church to do?  What is the unconvicted but accused member to do?  These are not easy questions to answer (and that doesn't mean we shouldn't try), but any path forward will leave some questioning if justice has been done.

There certainly can be action taken by the church for sin, with the appropriate evidence/testimony, but for anything that is a crime, it's the civil government's job to meet out justice, and it's not the job of the church to act outside its own sphere if we somehow believe that the civil government got it wrong.  The most a church can do would be to act according to scriptures (with the biggest punishment being expulsion from the church), and then let God give the justice in his time.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

 That is precisely why various surveys have been taken to estimate the rate of non-reporting.

This is my point: They are estimates, extrapolations. That is different than reality. Is this extrapolation useful? I guess, but how? Of course we know it is underreported. Most crimes are. The significance of that varies as do the reasons. But you can't bring about justice based on statistics. As for why people don't report, again the reasons are varied. But you still can't pursue justice for people who won't pursue it themselves (assuming the victim is not a minor). 

Regarding the notion that the only place one can get justice being the civil and criminal courts, is that what we read in 1 Cor. 6?

Several things:

  1. I think most agree that 1 Cor 6 does not apply to criminal acts. A believer can choose not to report and seek prosecution of a fellow believer (or an unbeliever for that matter), but 1 Cor 6 does not require that. 
  2. 1 Cor 6 applies to believers. In many cases, these crimes give evidence that one is not a believer.
  3. 1 Cor 6 doesn't always seek justice in civil matters between believers. It even says we should be willing to be defrauded if necessary (v. 7). In other words, we accept injustice for the sake of the gospel and the church.

The church has no power to bring justice for crimes. A church could form a tribunal and try the case, but they can't bring about a punishment that is greater than "You can't come back here." Only the legal system can do that. 

  Really?  If we have that hypothetical youth pastor or church volunteer who takes advantage of a 17 year old (legal in MN), and the police don't find enough evidence/initiative to prosecute for sexual assault, is that 17 year old without recourse?

Yes, in a criminal matter, if the police do not find enough evidence/initiative to prosecute, the accuser is without recourse. It could depend on how far the case goes and whether it is dismissed with prejudice or whether it can be reopened at a later time. That does not preclude the church from then adjudicating the matter internally. The church may examine the evidence and agree with the prosecutor that there is no basis for action. They may find that there wasn't enough reason to prosecute legally but there is enough to take action in the church for any number of reasons. They may think the prosecutor totally messed up, but the most they can do is pronounce a verdict as a chruch and bring about excommunication. They can't imprison the perpetrator in the basement in lieu of a verdict and jail system from the justice system.

Church discipline is not justice. The penalty for a crime is not being excommunicated from a church. The government is to bring justice for crimes.

Or does God call the church to act on the evidence of sexual misconduct to remove errant workers and initiate help for the victims?

Yes, but none of that is in opposition ("or"). It can go alongside of or in opposition to a criminal court. Both can happen or one or the other can happen or nothing can happen.

Consider this possibility: A state declares conversion therapy to be illegal. A licensed counselor is accused of conversion therapy and is tried and convicted by the state. Should the church agree with the state and exercise church discipline? I would say No, even though an accuser might cry out that there was sexual injustice there. The church must adhere to biblical standards, not community standards.

The standard of evidence for church discipline is different than that of criminal prosecution. And there may be steps short of excommunication that are valid steps of church discipline. 

Counseling is, after all, part of the process of justice here.  Again, I applaud the emphasis you're putting on the legal system, but it's far from the only place victims find justice and healing.

I am not seeing how counseling is part of the process of justice. Justice brings a criminal to account for his crimes and seeks retribution and restitution. If you mean counseling for the perpetrator, then yes, that can be a part of the process of justice in getting a person to see their crimes, accept responsibility, and accept the penalty. But in many, if not most, cases of unprosecuted crimes, isn't counseling the process of getting a victim or accuser to live with injustice? Or to heal with justice? 

Bert Perry's picture

It is "sampling" data--the kind of data I work with for a living--but they are not "just extrapolations", and we really shouldn't be suggesting that they're "lesser" as a result.  

Regarding counseling being part of the process of justice, absolutely!  Contemplate the Torah, where thieves return property to the victims--plus some.  Consider the woman who is seduced (probably a fair amount of what we call date rape today might fall into this category); her father is paid the bride price whether or not she marries him.  So she gets a bit of financial security out of that deal, and counseling fits into that quite well.  The point of justice in the Torah, and arguably in the New Testament, is to make the person as whole as possible. 

Part of making people whole is as well the goal of removing perpetrators from their positions of authority, and when the perpetrator is serving the church, that's straightforward.  For example, the classic he said/she said / date rape scenario is where both parties admit sex, but not that it was rape.  We can move on that in the church--and boom, the pastor/youth leader is no longer in that position of authority.

Another way of making people whole is to give that little "nudge" to police to persuade them to do due diligence; see the Star-Tribune report showing most sexual assaults are not investigated properly.   Victims (and the press, apparently) can get copies of their investigation documents and review them vs. what they know.  Got any prospective jurors at your church (any registered voter) who might be able to read these?  Asking "why isn't this here?" can get that investigation moving.

Finally, a lot of survivors/victims want to encourage others to get the process moving; why not teach kids in youth group (or adults for that matter) some of the ins and outs making a report that will get investigated?  Odds are, if the data be trusted, that an awful lot of them will have the opportunity to either make a report, or help someone else in that situation, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Pages