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.

Photo by Joshua Brown on Unsplash

I had the privilege this week of attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ve been a Southern Baptist for my entire life and have been to denominational meetings since childhood. My education came from Southern Baptist schools, and my vocational ministry has been at Southern Baptist churches.

The 2021 annual meeting in Nashville, TN was memorable and important. Here are some of my reflections on the annual meeting.

Cooperation is vital to Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S. with 47,000 churches and 15 million members. The beauty of the denomination has been its commitment to cooperate together for the purpose of sending missionaries across the world and spreading the gospel to unbelievers. We can do more together than we can separately. In 1925, the denomination developed the Cooperative Program whereby churches can give through their Baptist State Conventions to the work of Southern Baptist entities in order to send missionaries (International Mission Board), plant churches (North American Mission Board), and support theological education and cultural engagement (6 Southern Baptist Seminaries and other denominational entities). The annual meeting this week reaffirmed the commitment of Southern Baptists to cooperate for the purpose of spreading the gospel.

SBC messengers demand transparency from its leaders. This year’s meeting was one of the largest of the denomination’s largest. In previous convention meetings, the SBC overwhelmingly affirmed measures to address sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches. For example, churches that hire sexual abusers or cover up sexual abuse can be removed from the denomination. In recent weeks, critiques arose concerning how allegations of misconduct among churches have been handled. Going into the meeting, a plan had been put forward by the SBC Executive Committee to hire a firm for an independent investigation. While this move was welcomed by many, it carried an apparent conflict of interest (the Executive Committee would be hiring a firm to investigate itself). But in the meeting this week, a motion was presented to have the newly elected SBC president select a task force who would oversee how the independent investigation is to be handled. Overcoming a number of procedural hurdles, convention messengers overwhelmingly affirmed this motion to place the responsibility for the investigation outside the Executive Committee. This action by the messengers was a clear statement that rank and file Southern Baptists decry sexual abuse and demand transparency in how leadership will handle any and all allegations.

Southern Baptists are better in a room than some are on social media. The media and social media lead up to this annual meeting was considerable. Search media sites like The Washington Post for national media coverage on the meeting. If you are on twitter, you can search #sbc21 for more social commentary on the convention. One of the inherent problems with social media in general is that it is far easier to make an accusation or to post something vitriolic from a distance than it is to say something to someone’s face. As I read through twitter leading up to the convention, there was accusation, argument, and mischaracterization by individuals on different sides of the issues. This was disheartening. But that vitriol largely stayed on social media. The messengers in the room behaved themselves cordially, and there were no major divisive outbursts even though there were areas of stark disagreement. The lesson going forward is that Southern Baptists need to have more face to face conversations and guard their social media interactions with a demeanor of gentleness and respect.

Because Southern Baptists have great diversity, we don’t agree on every theological issue. The Baptist Faith and Message represents what Southern Baptists believe on key theological issues. But inside the framework of the Baptist Faith and Message, there is room for diversity of theological opinion. SBC ’21 in Nashville reflected this diversity through resolutions, motions, amendments, and various reports by denominational leaders. One issue that received a great amount of attention is CRT or Critical Race Theory due in part to a resolution made in the Birmingham meeting in 2019. At the 2021 convention, the messengers overwhelmingly affirmed resolution 2 on “The Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation,” albeit after considerable discussion and amendment recommendations (see page 7 of the Tuesday daily bulletin ). The diversity of Southern Baptists precludes agreement on every issue. What I took away from the meeting, and what we need more of, is willingness to disagree agreeably when the issues are tertiary and not primary.

Southern Baptists remain theologically conservative. Another reason for the high attendance this year was election of the SBC president to follow J. D. Greear. The SBC President represents the denomination as a spokesperson, is responsible for appointing individuals to serve on committees that appoint entity trustees, and moderates the business sessions at the annual meeting. Four men were nominated, Albert Mohler, Mike Stone, Ed Litton, and Randy Adams. After the first vote did not see a candidate with more than 50% of the vote, Ed Litton was elected to serve as SBC president in a runoff with Mike Stone. Ed Litton is the pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama. Mike Stone was the preferred candidate of a recently formed Conservative Baptist Network. While each of these candidates differ on theological issues, they each hold to the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and the Baptist Faith and Message. Differences of application for handling racial, political, and interpersonal issues remain among Southern Baptists, but it is unfair and unhelpful to critique nuanced differences of theological application as liberal or moderate. After leaving the meeting, I’m convinced that our denomination remains theologically conservative. Some of you reading this may have preferred a different candidate or may think differently about some of the outcomes at the annual meeting. That’s ok. Reach out in the comments below. We’ll make time to talk.

The local church is the primary change agent for our denomination. Southern Baptist polity is congregational. Denominatioal leaders don’t dictate to the convention churches as in a hierarchical polity. Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of local congregations. This is a blessing and was evident in the events of the business sessions. While Southern Baptists, like many other denominations are experiencing a decline, hope for change does not rest in denominational entities or leadership. Hope for change rests in the power of God working through local churches. Each local congregation is the body of Christ for its community and to the world. Denominatioal change begins with our local churches.

Here are a few of my favorite moments at the meeting. (1) I was greatly encouraged by the times of special prayer, especially seeing 13k messengers on their knees in prayer. (2) On Monday afternoon 64 missionaries were commissioned to the nations. One missionary left his dream job at NASA to take the gospel to the nations. May his example motivate each of us. (3) During extra sessions on Monday night and Tuesday night, I gathered at First Baptist Nashville for the 9 Marks at Nine Events. Before beginning the event, attenders sang congregational hymns acapella. The boisterous sound of a thousand Baptists singing praise to God was inspirational and worshipful.