I recently came across a video clip featuring former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee that struck a strange chord.
During the interview, which was broadcasted on Newsmax in March, Huckabee weighed in on the budding conflict between former president Donald Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Though DeSantis would not announce his candidacy for president in the Republican primary for two more months, Trump had already dubbed him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and later “Meatball Ron.”
Nevertheless, despite Trump’s personal and often demeaning attacks on others even within his own political party, Huckabee has consistently emphasized deference to the twice indicted, twice impeached former president.
In fact, Huckabee indicated his belief that DeSantis and other Republicans who have publicly criticized Trump have violated the virtues of “loyalty” and “confidentiality.”
“Ron DeSantis wouldn’t have been governor of Florida without Donald Trump’s intervention. And I think Donald Trump—like a lot of us think—that somehow loyalty matters in politics. I think it does,” Huckabee said. “I think there are two virtues: loyalty and confidentiality. Be loyal to the people who helped you, and learn how to keep your mouth shut if you have information that could be hurtful to someone.”
To me, what Huckabee was advocating for sounded an awful lot like omertà.
A term coined to describe a practice of organized criminals, omertà is a code of silence, especially when questioned by authorities. Omertà emphasizes non-cooperation with the government, law enforcement, or any other outsiders, even against rival crime families, as part of an effort to allow criminal networks to deal with conflicts internally—usually through violence and other unjust means.
Those who violate omertà usually become targets for execution. But as a Sicilian proverb says, “He who is deaf, blind, and silent will live a hundred years in peace.”
It is little surprise that a similar code of silence in the face of gross moral failure is common among partisan politicians seeking to consolidate power for their party regardless of principles. However, what interested me is that the man advocating for such a code on live television was also an ordained Baptist minister who has pastored several churches.
A lifelong Southern Baptist, Mike Huckabee holds a bachelor’s degree in religion and briefly attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before dropping out to pursue a career in Christian broadcasting. After a foray into politics, including a stint as the governor of Arkansas, he has returned to a combination of political and Christian media, with his political talk show airing on Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Huckabee is also a member of the steering council for the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), a group of Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders who are aiming to address “liberal drift” within the Southern Baptist Convention.
But perhaps most significant has been the network’s response to the SBC’s sexual abuse crisis—and, to be sure, many within their ranks feel that “crisis” is too strong a word. This despite a 288-page report released in 2022 by Guidepost Solutions that detailed an investigation uncovering two decades of sexual abuse coverup at the highest levels of leadership in the denomination.
Included in the report were credible accusations of sexual abuse against a then-sitting SBC president in 2010, as well as abuse allegations at SBC colleges, churches, and other institutions. The report also documented a pattern of stonewalling and gaslighting toward abuse survivors and others who called for investigations.
For at least two decades, not only had SBC leadership been incompetent in its response to sexual abuse allegations—it had been willfully negligent.
In response to this report, which they themselves ordered, rank-and-file Southern Baptists overwhelming voted to implement abuse reforms, which include creating a database of SBC pastors and leaders who have been credibly accused of sexual assault in order to prevent abusers from moving from one SBC church or institution to another without accountability.
Despite widespread consensus within the denomination, the CBN has offered an alternative solution to the decades-long abuse crisis: Do nothing. Stop using the word “crisis.” And stop giving a platform to abuse survivor “activists” at denominational meetings who are besmirching the SBC’s good name.
Whether citing fears of legal liability or emphasizing the Baptist value of local church autonomy, the CBN has sought to scuttle attempts at systematic reform in the SBC, arguing that if local church leaders encounter allegations of sexual abuse in their midst, they ought to just deal with it internally and independently.
They also dispute the definition of “credibly accused,” which is determined by a preponderance of evidence after a third-party investigation. They do not believe that the credible testimony of abuse survivors, who may be testifying after criminal and civil statutes of limitations have expired, is sufficient to remove or keep a pastor from leadership. In fact, such action only invites legal trouble.
CBN leaders argue that the only way to maintain the health and stability of the SBC for the long haul is to avoid litigation above all else. If individual congregations mishandle abuse, they will suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. But the denomination, which is a voluntary association of autonomous churches, simply cannot afford to take collective responsibility.
In other words, for the family to stay in business, loyalty to institutional power and confidentiality with regard to past indiscretions where criminal charges cannot be brought is paramount. Christian omertà. In pursuit of these goals, if survivors of abuse must be ignored, silenced, or ostracized, well, that’s the cost of doing business.
This mindset is not unique to the SBC. It was present in Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. It was present at the Institute in Basic Life Principles. It was present at Willow Creek Community Church, and Hillsong Church, and countless other churches whose weekly attendance isn’t large enough to make headlines.
Countless people have been victimized, traumatized, and retraumatized by evangelical institutions in the name of “loyalty” and “confidentiality.”
Some survivors of abuse—and, frankly, survivors of toxic church staffs—have been forced into silence through nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements that threaten legal and financial exposure. Others, who have brought allegations against spiritual giants who were “too big to fail,” have been met with character assassinations and chronic harassment. Because, after all, the institution’s image must be maintained if its mission is to move forward.
And for those who have departed the evangelical sphere in response to these abuses, they are ridiculed as “deconstructionists” who “were never one of us.” Not only have they been disloyal to the point of leaving, but they, to paraphrase Huckabee’s own words, need to learn how to keep their mouths shut.
How could it be that a movement that ostensibly exists to cast a light on the darkness of evil through the gospel of Jesus Christ would create such a culture of abuse and belittlement toward anyone who defies the established order? Loyalty and confidentiality.
Loyalty, not to the demands of the Scriptures, but to the structures that provide security and influence for those at the top. Confidentiality, not with the testimonies and identities of survivors who were brave enough to come forward with their stories, but with leaders who were credibly accused of abuse but escaped a courtroom.
Loyalty is a Christian virtue. Just not when your loyalty to an institution makes you disloyal to Christ. Confidentiality is a Christian virtue. Just not when what you are keeping confidential is the iniquity and injustice occurring among your tribe.
When virtues only exist to serve vice, they are no virtues at all.