Southern Baptist thoughts and musings...
Recently an article from the Houston Chronicle entitled “Abuse of Faith” came into my inbox. It is the first in a three-part series regarding sexual abuse by leaders of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. The person that sent this along to me highlighted the portion that explained that while the Southern Baptist Convention excluded churches with females or gay pastors from membership , they had known that sex offenders were still serving and working in their churches.
The article is sad and highlights grievous ways that church leadership has not taken its job seriously. Being an average church-goer reading this article, as well as articles related to abuses in the Catholic Church over the past several years, I am sad beyond words.
Lives have been damaged, perhaps some irreparably. And you might think that its “drama” to state it so emphatically, but do some reading on the effects of early childhood trauma, or any trauma for that matter. It’s horribly depressing. We serve the God who heals, who offers, in fact, the only real healing, but that does not negate that recovering from trauma is a long, painful, exhausting process. And adding to the sadness is the knowledge that, in at least some cases, the trauma could have been prevented.
But there are two things that strike me primarily about this situation:
First,- As evangelicals, we are so, so concerned that the “doctrine of homosexuality” not infiltrate our churches, sneaking in affirming beliefs. But we downplay heterosexual sin such as divorce, remarriage, premarital sex, pornography use, and sexual abuse.
You can disagree with me, and I am sure that some will. But I am 53, and I’ve sat in a lot of church pews and padded chairs observing people’s heads turn around to stare at the gay couple, while not giving a thought to the men around them that, statistically speaking, are routinely viewing porn, or the couple that is obviously struggling in their marriage and just filed for divorce, or the teens who are very “affectionate” publicly—which perhaps should give us pause to wonder what is going on privately.
When will we look evenly and levelly at all the sexual sin amongst us and refuse Satan this foothold? I believe with all that is in me that our refusal to deal sternly with sexual sin amongst us has given Satan a foothold in the American church and waters down our witness, making our influence impotent. I know you may be thinking, “Tell us what you really think, Susan!”. That is what I really think.
We are commanded to be our brother’s keeper. We are told that as one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. We are warned over and over to run from sexual immorality. We are given the picture in Ephesians that Christ moves heaven and earth to see His bride purified.
We should be sure to have sound doctrine in the area of homosexuality. We should be able to winsomely and lovingly articulate what we believe in all areas of sexuality. And then we should hold the body to a high standard and walk faithfully alongside people who are struggling. We must not turn a blind eye to the heterosexual sin amongst us.
Second, on an individual church level, leadership has the responsibility to guard the flock. Certainly on the national level, the SBC has the responsibility to do whatever is necessary to guard the flock. Same with the Catholic Church. Same with the Christian camp where I work. Same with the Christian homeless shelter in my town.
This has been neglected, at least to some extent, and it needs to be taken seriously.
I have the fun privilege of being the “announcement person” at my church each week. I also have the opportunity of serving with the elder board. (At my church, our elder structure is unique, in that the wives of elders also sit on the board.) Each week, I look out as I am doing the announcements, and my heart is flooded with the responsibility of being a shepherd in this local flock. I help lead the high school teens weekly, and I see the trust in their eyes as I teach them.
Am I responsible to check that each person serving is “safe” to be serving? Do I need to personally background check adults, make sure we check references, and know those to whom our children are entrusted? Perhaps not personally, but being a leader there means that I darn well better care that someone is doing all these things. I am responsible before the Lord for the place He’s allowed me to serve.
I also help lead at the camp where I serve. Each summer, we employ teens and young adults, some that we know well, and others that we have just interviewed and met. While I do not personally submit the background checks or do the interviews, I believe I am personally responsible for those I endorse as counselors and leaders there. I need to be vigilant and observant for warning signs of potential abuse. I was trained by my first boss there to have a healthy suspicion of everyone on staff and to ask good questions when people stepped over the boundaries we set up to guard campers and staff. None of us are above sinful behavior, and we are to be watchful over the flock.
While serving in my thirties and forties with Bible Study Fellowship, I observed their extreme vigilance over the children in their care. A child or teen was literally never left alone with only one adult. Two persons was always the rule. And it requires work, extra staffing, and attention to detail to see that this happened across the board and was enforced. But it taught me a valuable lesson. And I carry that lesson to this day.
I volunteer at a local High School by providing a space for troubled students to have an adult to talk with. The teens that I meet with have “garden variety” issues that do not necessarily need the school social worker or counselor to deal with. The school district ensures that I am background checked, but I have to ensure that I am never alone with a student behind a closed door. Sometimes as I am walking into the classroom that I use, the student closes the door after us. I open the door and explain that it’s good protection for all of us to have the door open so anyone passing by can know what’s going on.
Surely the national leadership of the SBC can exert this kind of effort. In reading the article, I hear that the convention is a “loosely” connected network of churches and that local churches “retain autonomy” of their own bodies. But come on. Let’s man up and own up to our own responsibility. Even with a loose affiliation, they have withdrawn fellowship from some churches over issues such as homosexuality and women in leadership. Should this not be the case here?
And should not the members of these churches demand this from their leadership?
We can all grieve over the crimes and the abuses committed, but this grief should also move us to action. Although I am not Southern Baptist, I am a part of the larger Body of Christ. I desire leaders to lead, shepherd, safeguard, and expose unholiness and sin to the light.
So where does this leave us? What can we do in a practical sense?
First, we can grieve for the victims, their families, and the rippling effects in their churches and communities.
Secondly, we can pray for our leadership. And we can hold them accountable for leading. We can be aware of the policies and procedures in our churches and see that they are upheld.
Finally, we can remember that we are family- a body of Christ who suffers when one part suffers. Pray for each other, pray for purity, pray for healing, pray for Godly standards and pray for us all to accurately represent Christ to the world around us.