Saturday, February 06, 2010

Baptist branding issues

The conservative Christian Post reports that Baptist groups not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the US, are making sure to distance themselves from the Baptists in jail in Haiti for kidnapping Haitian children (Baptist Bodies Distance Themselves from Americans Charged in Haiti by Ethan Cole 02/05/10):

The global fellowship Baptist World Alliance issued a statement Thursday "to assure its member bodies, the media and the public" that neither the team of missionaries nor their churches are affiliated with BWA or with any of its member bodies.

Similarly, the American Baptist Churches USA on Wednesday stated that the ten American Baptists arrested by Haitian authorities over concern about child trafficking are not members of churches affiliated with the denomination.

“While the people involved are Baptists from the United States, they are not members of the denomination known as ABCUSA,” the denomination stated.

Most of the team members are from two Idaho churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The SBC itself has a double track going. They seem to be highlighting their cautious concern for the well-being of those arrested while at the same time promoting it as a case of innocent Christians being persecuted for their good-faith acts as "missionaries". Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, wrote on Wednesday of the arrested Americans in Pray for the detainees in Haiti Baptist Press 02/03/10:

The Haitian government and the international community immediately interpreted their actions in the worst light possible, alleging that they were trafficking in children. As the story has unfolded, it has become more and more apparent that these ten individuals were driven by the true selflessness of altruism. Moved with compassion, they acted.
Really? The more I hear about this story, the less credible "true selflessness" sounds as an explanation. At at some point, subjective intention can't really count as goodwill if it overrides a basic sense of responsibility. Anthea Butler in Missionary Imposition: Idaho Baptists Charged With Kidnapping 33 Haitian Children Religion Dispatches 02/05/10 takes this case as an example of how (presumed) good intentions in these situations can wind up at the service of arrogant and egotistical ones.

The Haitian lawyer representing the 10 arrested claims that the leader of the group, Laura Silsby, fooled the other nine into thinking she had the correct legal papers: Haitian lawyer: Nine Baptists were conned by Bethann Stewart Idaho Statesman 02/06/10. I don't know how effective that may be as a defense. But they certainly knew they were there at the border with a bunch of Haitian children on a cowboy operation on behalf of a mission group with apparently no formal legal existence.

Meridian church goes into lockdown mode after learning of charges NWCN 02/05/10. The local officials of the Idaho church sponsoring this cowboy mission program to kidnap Haitian children are probably realizing that they are facing not only scandalous international publicity but some potentially serious legal liability. If evidence were to emerge, for instance, that the "mission" group had conspired inside the US to commit an illegal act in taking the Haitian children out of Haiti, they could face federal charges here.

Marley Greiner has been following this story closely and commenting on it at her blog The Daily Bastardette and the Web page End Child Exportation and Trafficking in Haiti.

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