Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptists, and our Response

It’s all over the news.  Our denominational tribe is having a day of reckoning over the failure to respond properly to sexual abuse and abusers, and failure to provide a safe place for those whose lives have been wrecked by monsters to acknowledge their pain and confront accusers.  This past weekend, the Houston Chronicle published the first of three articles on the issue of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Abuse of Faith: 20 Years, 700 Victims, Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Spreads As Leaders Resist Reform chronicles the horror of abuse in churches, and the absolute failure of leaders in the SBC to respond appropriately.  This includes leaders at the local church level, but also many people who have served in key denominational positions and pastored influential churches.  It involves stories where these monsters were allowed to continue their wicked activities while church leaders shamed victims and rallied around gifted people.  It tells of excuses used in the denomination to reject reform and change which would have better protected victims and informed other churches when predators sought other pastoral and leadership positions.  And sadly, the article accuses some of the most influential leaders in SBC life who have stood for years on the doctrine of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, only to be exposed as men who ignored the teaching of the Bible in their own sexual ethic or on the qualifications set in said Bible for those who lead God’s church.  I encourage all of us to read this and the subsequent articles, and be moved to grief and tears over the stories.

But I also wanted to respond as a local church pastor about how this should affect us.  I want to speak with clarity, as best I can about our church culture and what I hope for Genesis.  As a local church pastor, I hope to join a growing tribe of leaders who call the Southern Baptist Convention to authentic repentance and toward a new day in this area.  But I also want to make sure Genesis is a safe place for victims, and also a place that builds in guards to defend our young people and the vulnerable from this evil.

Genesis 34 tells the story of the rape of Dinah, one of Jacob’s daughters.  The story is one of those bizarre, way out there Old Testament moments, and I will let you go read the whole story.  In the story, upon hearing of her rape, two of her brothers go all Old Testament on the person who did this horrible act and on the larger tribe who enabled sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape.  While I don’t recommend their actions, the motive of their heart in the text is right on.  They are standing in defense of the victim and calling for justice for the offender. Furthermore, these sons are angry with their father because their sister was a victim who had been deeply harmed, but dad was more concerned with how he looked and how it affected him than the deep pain of his daughter.  Sadly, this is exactly what is at issue in the key accusations made against our faith tribe in the article. This story caught me in the gut.  At the bottom of the pile of all this stuff going on in our culture are children and women whose lives have been wrecked by men who used power to force them to do things they didn’t want to do, and in some cases steeling their sexual innocence.  These people are victims of power based injustice, and the posture of those who have been rescued by the Gospel of grace should always be to feel the pain and seek to defend the needy, stand with the powerless, and call out evil and injustice.

In the end, each situation is messy, and full of issues.  Of course, there are times when the accusations are false, and a person’s life and career can be destroyed by this sort of false accusation.  And it often is very difficult to know who to believe.  But in all cases, it ought to be easy to say that if the accusation is true, then the person is completely wrong and sinful and should be held accountable.  So, what I am trying to do in this post is create a little clarity, at least for us at Genesis about the voice for justice that should flow from the Gospel in us.  So let me be clear.

  • The sexual molestation and sexual abuse of any minor is a wicked act and we must do all we can to protect our children from monsters who would do such things, and seek to pursue justice against these offenders.  And we must never step in a place of defending a person when accused unless we are aware of all facts.
  • Rape is wrong, it is always wrong, and those who force themselves on a woman should be brought to justice.
  • The sex slave trade is awful and we should stand clearly against it and call our legislators to take all actions necessary to see it end.
  • It is wrong for anyone to use a position of power to flaunt their own sexuality or coerce any sexual response from another person, or use power and future position as a way to force themselves on a person sexually.  We should never justify a person who has done this, and should hurt with victims whose lives have been impacted by these moments and events.
  • It is never OK, in our culture, for an adult to pursue a minor to develop a romantic or sexual relationship.  I know there is a little bit of a grey area here as to what ages this ought to apply, and I don’t have the answer, but when we hear of a soccer coach in his late twenties running off with a seventeen year old girls on his team, or of a pastor who has “consensual sex” with a teenager in his church (referenced in the article), well, we should not have any hesitation in our knowing that this is a travesty.
  • It is always wrong to use others solely for our own sexual gratification.  This includes the use of pornography (see the sex slave trade part, as most who are in porn are part of that industry), the pursuit of a prostitute, or even the idea of a one night stand.  Even when the relationship is consensual, those of us who know Christ should have clarity in knowing that God’s purpose for sex does not include the use of people.

I realize that every situation and accusation has its own nuances and issues.  But as Christians, we should never ever be in a position where we cannot say the things that I have said above, with clarity and the conviction of Scripture supporting us.  At any point where we waver, not only are we in danger of losing our prophetic voice in the culture and among our people, but we will end up denying the pain of people who have been treated in injustice and wickedness.  We are not maintaining the right of the afflicted and destitute, and our churches will not be a safe place for broken people to find Christ.

We are being watched closely right now because some in our faith tribe have failed miserably.  And the voice with which we speak now will speak volumes.  On these issues the world actually agrees with the Christian sexual ethic.  We can’t fumble by preaching one thing while protecting those who deny those very truths at the same time.  We are being watched.

  • The world is watching us, to see if we really believe what we believe, or only believe it when it won’t affect our positions of power.
  • Women are watching us and wondering if our churches are a safe place to be honest about being hurt, abused, and broken.
  • Victims of abuse and rape are watching us to see if we authentically believe the Gospel, and if the Jesus we speak of is able to protect them and give them a safe place to confess their pain and brokenness.
  • Our daughters are watching us to determine if we will defend and protect them from predators and wicked people.
  • Our spouses are watching to see if they are truly safe and loved.
  • Our neighbors are watching to see if the Gospel has reached deep enough in our souls to truly change us sexually and give the offer of hope.

So, with this in mind, I want to share a few things that we as a church must know and be prepared to do.

  • We will double down on something we have emphasized from day one here, and that is that we want a culture of accountability and safety for our minors.  The Elders will take this as a time to review our policies and practices to make sure we do not give space in our ministry that would allow predators to have access to vulnerable minors.  This includes a policy that no adult will ever be alone with a single minor in any situation.  And we will hold anyone who crosses these lines accountable for doing so.
  • We realize that we are not equipped for a proper investigation of a criminal act, and therefore, upon any accusation of this sort of behavior made against any leader of the church, our immediate response will be to contact the legal authorities and hand the investigation over to them.  We will participate freely, seeking truth and justice.  And we will suspend from leadership any accused person until the investigation is complete and has exonerated the accused.
  • While we do believe in the power of the Gospel, and transforming grace, we also know that there are sinful behaviors that disqualify people from certain areas and types of ministry.  The issue is not forgiveness but leadership. This means that we are committed to never knowingly allowing a person who has been accused or convicted of this sort of behavior to have access to our minors.  We currently run background checks on all of our children’s workers, and will continue to do so.  This also means that we do believe this sort of behavior would disqualify a person from pastoral leadership, unless there has been a very long period of grace based growth and the demonstration that the person is above reproach (we are talking years and years here).
  • It is our desire to create a place that will be safe for people who have been hurt and are victims, a place where they can find grace and healing in the love of Jesus.  We will do all we can to avoid shaming victims and to help them find healing and grace.

Final thought here on this.  A prophetic voice is only prophetic if we also remind the world that there is redemption.  So for anyone who is a complete sexual failure, join the club.  We must realize that the story of God is filled with redemption stories of Christ taking sexually broken people, forgiving their sin at the cross, and restoring them to experience the joy of God’s design for life and sexuality.  The consequences of our failures may go deep, but grace can run deeper.  But this happens when I am honest about my sin and depravity, repent, and trust in the cross of Christ for salvation.  Covering up sin, shaming victims, and protecting perpetrators does not produce a Gospel-centered culture.  But confessing sin, seeking grace, and forgiving others does.   This is what we proclaim, and the offer for all people, both victims and perpetrators.  And we cannot lose this message in the moment, so we need prophetic clarity!

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