Independent Baptist (IB) Kevin Harris recently came under public scrutiny in Australia for his dangerous views on rape and child abuse. The responses from IB leaders have varied from enthusiastically rallying around him to reticent disapproval. One of the key arguments that I’ve heard many times over the last two weeks is the notion that IBs are independent, and therefore not obligated to take any sort of stand against this evil.
But few, if any, outside the IB movement itself are buying that. And for good reason. It’s simply not credible.
- The 60 Minutes programme (Part 1, Part 2)
- The Files
- Extra Minutes (more of Kevin, women in the movement, how to help the abused), (access outside Australia: 1, 2, 3)
Consider the old duck test. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Without a doubt, the IBs look like a group, act like a group, and operate like a group. So, it’s time that the IBs faced the reality that whether or not they are technically or legally a group, outsiders see them as a group. And will keep seeing them as a group. And for good reason.
But even though the duck test has merit as far as it goes, it is abductive reasoning and therefore has limits. So I’m going to outline here several arguments as to why the IBs don’t just look like a group, but are a group.
What’s in a name?
Ok, the first argument is the most obvious. If I create something, and give it a name, I cannot then pretend it doesn’t exist. There are a number of churches around Australia that are baptist. And independent. But which are not Independent Baptist. It’s the difference between two adjectives and a proper noun. “Independent Baptist” is not functioning as two descriptive words (adjectives); it is functioning as the name (proper noun) of a very specific and self-defined group.
De facto vs. de jure
The second argument is simply that there is a group. The term de facto means by that a state of affairs does in fact exist. De jure means that the law says a state of affairs exists. The IB argument is that, de jure, there is no movement. There is no synod. No headquarters. No pope or archbishop. So there is no movement. In fact, every IB knows good and well that, de facto, there is a group. And it is typically very clear where the boundaries of that group begin and end (though there are certainly levels and layers to the group).
The fact is that there is a group. They get together. They “separate” from people. They even split. You can’t have a split in something that isn’t together in the first place. And it’s not just an informal group. There is a National Baptist Fellowship. They get together each year. It’s distinctly IB. It has been for decades.
Third, the IBs are a historically traceable group. Sit any old timer down and they will tell you the names of the men who brought the movement to Australia from the United States. They will give you the dates and details. Indeed in the United States, the movement can be traced back a century or more. There are books written on the history of the group. It is simply impossible to avoid the existence of the IBs as an identifiable, traceable, denominational religious grouping.
All the perks; none of the pain
So if there is a group (and there is), why would the people in that group deny it exists? Well, normally, they don’t. IBs work very well together when it comes to ostracising members (churches typically will not accept someone for membership who is “disciplined” from another IB church), supporting missionaries, engaging speakers, running Bible colleges, operating camps, obtaining marriage celebrant status, selling books, music, and magazines, etc. Indeed, when it comes to the perks of a denominational group, they work more closely than some denominations do.
But when it comes to the pain of being in a group, that is when everyone throws up their hands and says “independent!” “Not responsible!” “Don’t look at me.”
So when Kevin came under fire, the IB leaders rallied to support him. Not all of them, perhaps, but the bulk. Indeed, he is still scheduled to speak at the upcoming National Baptist Fellowship in Sydney. When he walks through that door, he’ll be a rock star. He will be honoured for his “courageous stand in the face of Satanic attack.” But when it comes to actually critiquing his views? When it comes to the mountain of damning evidence that is The Files, it is “Well, brother, it’s not my job to nitpick. He doesn’t go to my church. And, after all, we are independent you know.”
And it’s worse than that. If I were the IB brother and Kevin were the ex-IB, I wouldn’t need any evidence to speak of. A few careless allegations would seal the deal, and we’d all write him off as “bitter” and a tool in Satan’s hand to hinder the ministry of the gospel. It’d be easy.
So yeah, it’s like an adolescent boy who wants all the perks of marriage without any of the responsibilities. It’s childish. And wrong. And we teach him that real men don’t ask for the perks unless they’re willing to take the pain as well. Real men understand that every benefit comes with responsibilities and you can’t have the benefits but shirk the responsibilities. To do so would be immature.
Coming of age
So perhaps this is the IBs coming of age story. Maybe the IBs are just sulking because they’ve just realised for the first time that you can’t play it both ways. Either they’re a group and responsible to speak up as a group when dangerous men are exposed within. Or they’re not, and they need to stop operating like one.
Whatever the case, there is no possible excuse for their response to the recent 60 Minutes telling of my family’s story. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time for moral clarity. It’s time to speak up. It’s long past time.
Grace to you.