Sex-Abuse Investigation of SBC Leaders
On Sunday morning, a few minutes before I left my office to go to the worship center to preach, a friend sent a text to me. I knew he would not text me in this hour unless it was important. Within it’s contents was a link to the front page story of the Houston Chronicle (https://www.houstonchronicle.com/) detailing their investigation of sex crimes committed by leaders within Southern Baptist Churches and the inevitable cover-up that tends to happen in these matters. Much of what was reported had been exposed already, particularly related to people who were top leaders in the SBC denomination such as Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. But the sheer volume of incidents collected in one article was staggering.
My first inclination was to comment in the service. But I needed some time to collect my thoughts and not give a knee-jerk reaction. I have found that my thoughts have changed little since then. I am so ashamed by the atrocities committed by these individuals and the lack of oversight provided by Southern Baptists in general. My heart grieves for the victims of this abuse. As Russell Moore stated, ‘nothing is worse than to use the name of Jesus to prey upon the vulnerable’. I agree whole-heartedly.
The disheartening evidence is that leadership knew about the problem. But the main obstacle was that each Baptist church is autonomous unto itself and nothing can be mandated from the top down. It is the responsibility of each church to take measures into their own hands. There is some validity to this claim. We are congregational in our polity- meaning that no other church can interfere with our beliefs and how we conduct our business. But while that being true, it does not mean that churches cannot be dismissed from our association with one another on the basis of criminal activity; nor that we should do our utmost to protect victims and create avenues where such abuses can be reported and investigated in a biblical manner. We should have been aware of this from reading the headlines from the recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps our arrogance kept us from doing so. The Southern Baptist Convention dropped the ball on this issue and lives have been ruined in the wake.
That being said, what can we do now? If change needs to happen within the local church, how do we approach the issue of sexual abuse? I hope to outline a few steps that we must take if we would ensure that such a scandal does not happen at Providence.
First and foremost, we must never think that any human being (aside from Christ) is free from the taint of sin. The main problem that was prevalent in the Houston Chronicle article was that friends and members of churches felt that their leader- whether it was a pastor, deacon, or Sunday School teacher- was incapable of committing such a reprehensible act. But the truth of scripture teaches the total depravity of man. We like to think we are all innocent until proven guilty, but the Bible teaches otherwise. When it comes to sin, we are all guilty. And while we have been made new by our salvation in Christ, the vestiges of sinful desires still remain. Therefore, any leader is certainly susceptible to temptation. They do not get a pass simply because we think, ‘There is no way “brother X” could have done that’. He very well could have. And the recent sexual abuse claims, seem to have arisen all because members thought their leaders were incapable of sinning.
Second, all claims of abuse should be taken seriously. I realize that the devil is after the Lord’s anointed and he could use false allegations to harm the under-shepherds. But that does not mean that an allegation should be dismissed under that umbrella. Each claim should be taken seriously and investigated. A leader should welcome such inquiry if they would choose to remain above reproach. Of course, it should be those who are spiritually mature that should look into the matter. But that does not mean that the police should not be involved. In the days ahead, I plan on challenging the elders to consider how such an investigation should take place.
Third, if such a claim is found to be credible, then the guilty party should be disciplined publicly (see Matthew 18:17). The lack of church discipline in local churches has been responsible for many of these cover-ups. Rather than draw attention, the leadership has allowed guilty parties to withdraw ‘quietly’. That cannot happen. Our fellow believers and our community should be informed if there is a predator in our midst. Such a crime (with doing our best to respect the privacy of the victim) should be exposed so that person would have no opportunity to commit such an act again. The church of all places should be a safe refuge for the vulnerable.
I realize that the accused could be innocent. And in the future, I hope to address those who have been wrongly charged. In later articles, I want to describe what measures we have in place to protect leaders from indiscretions. And, I also hope to address how we are to minister to those who commit such sins. But for now, the concern must be for the victims. We cannot remain idle and ignore the problem (Proverbs 16:30). We must ensure the safety of our church family and our community.