The Southern Baptist Church is an autonomous entity, this means that the local church makes its own decisions. There is no board or council that tells the church what to do. However, for the purposes of missions and the work of the gospel – churches of “like mind” come together as a group and form the Southern Baptist Convention. Each year, these churches come together to elect leaders to serve in various roles. Last year, the messengers voted to have an independent investigation conducted in response to those allegations that had been brought forth.
For decades, there have been reports of sexual abuse, that have been hushed. People came forward with credible allegations against people in the church and these allegations were down played and swept under the rug. This was primarily because, the Executive Committee feared that bringing light to it would do more harm than good – leading to a set back in the SBC.
Over the last 30 years; victims have come forward, wanting a database to be created in order to stop those found guilty of sexual abuse, from being able to do it again. As it was, a pastor or a member in a church, could abuse someone sexually and it would go unknown by future churches, who may call them to serve. There was no way of knowing who this person was – so, they would go to an area, where they were not known and do it all over again. There was nothing in place to stop this! Sexual abuse victims were denied the request for this database.
Those in the executive committee of the SBC, refused to take seriously these allegations. Last year, it all came to a boil and a task force was implemented to investigate the allegations. The finding of the investigation, brings forth a myriad of emotions. Not only did they refuse to make a database public, but they had their own private list. When an allegation was made, the EC (Executive Committee) kept note of it, but it was confidential. In doing this, the EC was protecting their own interest in the event of potential legal actions. They chose to protect themselves and not the victims. The report concluded that the EC had an internal list of 703 sexual abusers in the ministry. While a majority had left them ministry completely, nine of them still remain in the ministry and two remain in SBC – affiliated churches. The report goes on to show that the EC did not take any steps to ensure that the accused were no longer in positions of power in a SBC church. In addition to these findings, it was also learned that a prominent name in the SBC, was credibly accused of abuse as well. Johnny Hunt, the Senior Vice President of Evangelism and Leadership at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). In another instance an attorney in the SBC said, that these things can not come out or we risk tarnishing the reputation of the SBC and efforts of evangelism will be hindered.
We can look at this report in a few ways. First, we can see that there are almost 50,000 churches in the SBC, with nearly 14 million members. Then, we can look at it in the eyes of a Christian and understand that we can not hide our sin from God. If we are trying to hide our own sin, we are not worried about the image of Christ. We are worried about our own image. Ephesians 5, tells us to: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them”. That is not what happened in the SBC, they chose to try and hide it. Let me be clear, there is nothing that we can hide from God. Nothing!
Over the last several days, I have read through the findings of the Sexual Abuse Task Force Report, I have read through articles and reflected on everything as a whole. There is a myriad of emotions and thoughts that come to mind. Anger, being one of them. I am deeply troubled by the refusal to protect individuals in the local church. We hear it on the news all the time, that victims need to come forward. Yes, victims of sexual abuse need to come forward and bring light to the problem. However, if we do not address the abuse nothing will change. Listening to abuse allegations is not enough. We must investigate and then act! Here, the SBC refused to even address the abuse, they covered up the abuse and they refused to prevent it in the future. Leaders, in the church should be people you can trust and the SBC did not do their part in ensuring this.
A pastor, is the shepherd of his local church. In Psalms 23, we see THE LORD, as the “Good Shepherd”. In this passage there is a comparison of THE LORD to a shepherd caring for his sheep. A shepherd knows that in green pastures, the sheep can best rest; a shepherd knows that sheep are top heavy and can easily fall into rapid water, so he leads them to still water. This is what God does for his children. A pastor or a church leader, is tasked with providing spiritual leadership and guidance to his members. The very idea that a pastor, would abuse a person and then the SBC down play it – brings great pain and disappointment.
However, in the whirlpool of emotions, there is hope. Many people fought for the SBC to do the right thing. SBC leaders, victims and advocates did not waiver in their perseverance for the truth. These individuals and groups worked to ensure that these cover-ups and horrendous accusations were brought to light and dealt with. Knowing the right thing is easy, but at the end of the day – doing the right thing can be hard. The right thing can especially be hard, when there are consequences that we are uncertain of or of negative impact.
Today, I have confidence that the SBC has turned a corner and is on track to righting this wrong. I am encouraged by the number of pastors and SBC members, who are speaking out against the horrendous actions brought to light in the report. I believe today, that we will look back at this very moment and realize that this was a turning point for the SBC. Those who were behind this have either been removed or have resigned. New leaders are stepping up, ready to lead this charge and address this issue head on.
Many churches may be eager to leave the SBC or withdraw funding. However, that is what will hinder the SBC – the SBC, is trying to right this wrong. The SBC, is essential to the outreach of the Church. Each year, churches in SBC, give nearly $500 million to the Cooperative Program. They have 3,597 missionaries in the field. We have over 2,200 SBC missionaries, here in America. The SBC operates six seminaries that has trained nearly 26,000 people. In 2020; $8,072,459 was distributed for financial assistance. Then there is the: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, that supports overseas missionaries; The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, that supports North American Missions. Together, these offerings raised over $200 million dollars and 100% of all donations will go to missions. This is a time to stand with the SBC and pray for it, because the page is turning. There is a new day coming.
We also need to pray for the leaders and the messengers of the SBC. In just weeks, there will be the SBC 2022 Annual Meeting – where even more meaningful reform will be passed. We need to pray for the decisions that will be made on June 12-15.
On a more personal note, I want to say something to the victims. I am sorry for what you have had to endure. Sexual misconduct, is something no woman or man should ever have to endure. If the abuse has been at the hands of a church leader or member – I am sorry. If you are someone that came forward, and it was down played or not addressed – I am sorry. I understand nothing can change the past, but we can change the future. Today, a hotline has been established for survivors. The hotline can be reached at [email protected] or at 202-864-5578. This is not the solution, but it is the start of a new chapter for the Southern Baptist Convention.