Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptist Churches, and the Gospel

­Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle published a three-part series on sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the first of which was titled, “Abuse of Faith: 20 Years, 700 Victims: Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Spreads as Leaders Resist Reforms.” This week’s W4YW focuses on many of the responses from leaders in the SBC.

On Sunday, Pastor J.D. wrote in response:

“I am broken over what was revealed today. The abuses described in the Houston Chronicle article are pure evil. I join with countless others who are currently ‘weeping with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent.

As Christians, we are called to expose everything sinful to the light. The survivors in this article have done that—at a personal cost few of us can fathom. We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I mourn that it was necessary for them to show this courage at all. We—leaders in the SBC—should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I hope we listen now, and I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.

It’s time for pervasive change. God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care). I will pursue every possible avenue to bring the vast spiritual, financial, and organizational resources of the Southern Baptist Convention to bear on stopping predators in our midst. There can be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.

The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse. Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing—to obey Christ—in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse.

As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to ‘do better’ and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem.”

Articles of the Week

We Didn’t Want to Know About Sexual Abuse Either, Beth Moore (and others). What must not be forgotten in these recent stories is that abuse is not a topic to be discussed. It is an experience lived by real people. We need to see their faces and hear their stories. Beth Moore and other Christian women started a thread on Twitter sharing photos from the age when they first suffered abuse. This should break our hearts.

Covering Up Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches Does Not Protect Jesus’ Reputation, Russell Moore. “The sexual abuse of the vulnerable is satanic at its very root, and, just as in the beginning of the cosmic story, the tools the devil and those who carry out such horrors use are twisted versions of the very words of God. How can these predators be back in churches, sometimes just moving down the street to another congregation, to prey again? Often, they do so by appealing to some perverted concept of God’s grace. ‘God can forgive anything,’ they say. ‘Look at King David.’ In so doing, these persons co-opt even the Gospel itself (or, at least, a cheap, unbiblical version of it) as cover for their crimes. As the Apostle Paul said of such madness, ‘God forbid.’ If your understanding of the Gospel means that rapists and sexual offenders still have access to those who can be harmed, you do not understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

700 Is Not the Total Number: How to Get Help, J.D. Greear and Brad Hambrick. “Anger and grief, while appropriate responses, are not sufficient to protect victims. What can easily be lost in the size of these numbers, which are grievously large, is the tragic fact that they cannot be the whole story. More must be said and done in the coming days. But today, we want to provide some initial guidance to victims who have not yet come forward on how they can receive care.”

Southern Baptists and the Day of Reckoning, Trevin Wax. “Read the report. Reread it. Don’t look away. Ask yourself, How can this evil flourish in churches that name the name of Jesus? Moving forward, we cannot excuse inaction due to of our Convention’s structure (‘What can we do? Every church is autonomous!’) or because of our denominational bureaucracy (‘It takes too long to get anything done’) or because we are not personally involved (‘I’ve never fielded an accusation’). What kind of Great Commission people are we if we move heaven and earth to send out missionaries to spread the gospel abroad, but cannot muster the will to stop predators from ‘slaughtering the faith’ of people at home?”

The Reality of Sexual Abuse Hits Home: What Happened? What Do We Do Now? Al Mohler. “In light of this report and the nature of sexual abuse, an independent, third-party investigation is the only credible avenue for any organizations that face the kind of sinful patterns unearthed in this article by the Houston Chronicle. No Christian body, church, or denomination can investigate itself on these terms because such an investigation requires a high level of thoroughness and trustworthiness. Only a third-party investigator can provide that kind of objective analysis.”