I’ve been a Southern Baptist for my entire life. I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches, went to Southern Baptist schools, and pastor a Southern Baptist Church. By doctrine and conviction, I am a Southern Baptist. And I am broken and angry.
Sunday afternoon, May 22, the Sexual Abuse Task Force posted the Guidepost Solution’s Investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and its handling of sexual abuse allegations. It is a devastating read. The headlines of the report are being published on mainline news sites.
But as devastating as it is to read about dismissing victims, cover ups, dishonesty, immorality, and the like, I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating the abuse was for the victims detailed in the report. No one should be sexually abused. Ever. And it most certainly should never come from someone claiming to be a Christian or someone who is a pastor or church leader. When victims are shamed, dismissed, and dishonored to protect perpetrators, it only adds to the sin.
At last year’s SBC annual meeting, the messengers spoke loudly that they wanted an investigation into allegations that denominational leaders had mishandled allegations of sexual abuse. This report details those findings. The sober reality facing our denomination is that you cannot hide from God.
In Numbers 32, two and a half of Israel’s tribes asked to be able to settle on the not-Promised Land side of the Jordan. Moses told them that they could settle there, but that their men/warriors must travel with their brothers into the land to help them inhabit the Promised Land. Here is what he told them:
But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.Numbers 32:23
This text suggests a fascinating contrast. Israel was about to inhabit the Promised Land. They were finally at their place of refuge and redemption. God had rescued them from Egypt and judged them through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet even in his judgment, he sustained them with food and protection for 40 years. Then on the precipice of fulfillment, a few tribes wanted their land early. The warning, fulfill your obligation to your brothers or “be sure your sin will find you out.”
This is where we are as a denomination. God has accomplished many good and redemptive realities through SBC churches, missionaries, and seminaries. God’s redemptive work uses even fallen men and women.
Yet our sin has found us out.
Maybe like me, you have tried to hide some sin. And like me, God uncovered that sin.
Our denominational leaders who were more concerned about liability than truth cannot hide from God. It has been uncovered.
Those who have perpetrated abuse cannot hide from God. Some were uncovered in this report. Too many more will not face justice in this life. But none can hide their sin from God. It will be uncovered.
Southern Baptists should be angry after this report. Most of us are not guilty of abuse or cover up or dismissing victims. Rank and file Southern Baptists just want our denominational leaders to act with integrity and justice. We should be angry that our polity was used to excuse acting with compassion and justice. Every dollar given by Southern Baptist Churches has been funneled through an entity entrusted with the stewardship of money and mission for the sake of the gospel. But those entrusted with these offerings have damaged that trust. Opting for personal and institutional protection, they neglected the abused and the broken.
I’m not sure about what will happen next. The Guidepost report recommends specific actions that the messengers can take. We will see at the annual meeting on June 14 and 15.
What do we do going forward?
- We confess. Part of the reason so many of us are angry is that our cooperative giving through the entity of the Executive Committee connects us to this report. It is appropriate then that we confess the coverup and dishonesty that is present among denominational leadership.
- We pray. We pray for the victims. We pray for the abusers. We pray for denominational leaders. We pray for the messengers in Anaheim who will meet and act on the recommendations brought to the floor.
- We act. It is our obligation as a church to care for the abused and broken. Churches should be safe havens for the hurting, not for predators. Churches must take care through policies and procedures to protect those who attend and make it difficult for abusers to use our churches for their sins. I believe the messengers got it right last year asking for an investigation. It will be important that the messengers act again this year with a path forward holding our entities accountable for how they handle these issues.