THE SBC REPORT ON SEXUAL ABUSE
On May 22 at 4 PM, the investigative firm Guidepost Solutions released its report to the public concerning sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Guidepost was hired by a Task Force that had been formed as a result of a motion at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, when messengers (including from our church) overwhelmingly voted to have a complete investigation of the SBC Executive Committee regarding its responses (or lack thereof) to sexual abuse. I began reading through it that night (the total report is almost 400 pages, and you can read it here).
The report is horrifying, infuriating, disgusting, and heartbreaking. It is full of abuse, pain, cover-up, and sin. My first thoughts went to Scriptures such as 1 Peter 4:17 and John 3:19-21. If I had to summarize it in one sentence: For years, a group of leaders in the SBC Executive Committee refused transparency, ministry, and protection of sexual abuse victims in SBC churches and entities out of a desire to protect the SBC against legal liability above all other things. Yet that summary doesn’t begin to capture the heart-rending truth that so many individuals made in the image of God have been victimized by pastors, ministers, teachers, volunteer leaders within our denomination’s churches and ministries, and that those leaders who could have and should have taken steps to minister the gospel and work to prevent these things from happening not only did nothing, but they actively opposed doing anything.
Many of these stories are included in this report; many others have no doubt not been reported. Sexual abuse was not recognized for the sin that it is, victims were not treated as Jesus would treat them, and gospel ministry was abdicated while suffering was multiplied. Beyond that, those who came forward for help or to ask for change were stonewalled, opposed, slandered, intimidated, and ignored. I have used the word “unconscionable” in several recent conversations to describe this. These actions are rooted in a rejection of the gospel these leaders were supposed to proclaim and the Savior these leaders profess to follow. All of these accounts are well-documented.
One of the primary lessons of this investigation and report is that much more must be done to educate and equip Christians and churches on how to prevent abuse and deal with reports when they arise. As a church, we have led in this area, not only with our recent Caring Well Conference dedicated to this topic, but with our Safe Church policies and procedures as well. Please know that we will continue to be vigilant when it comes to preventing abuse, and that we will do our best to minister the gospel and follow proper legal procedures if/when (we live in a sinful world) abuse is reported to us.
However, it is clear that some leaders and too many churches in our denomination have not done what Jesus calls us to do regarding sexual abuse. This report makes several specific recommendations for SBC action, at the Executive Committee level and for churches. My hope and prayer are that just as the SBC voted overwhelmingly for this investigation, it will do the same for all of these recommendations at the Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim, taking place in just a few weeks. I expect this to happen, and they would make a significant difference going forward. We will be sending seven messengers from our church to the convention to vote in favor of these recommendations. We will also be monitoring all actions concerning this report and how they could potentially impact our relationship with the SBC going forward (one of the reasons we recently voted as a church to maintain a standing Denominational Relations Committee).
Please join with me in prayer for all of this. First and foremost, we need to be praying for those who have been victimized. We need to pray for God’s saving and healing grace in their lives. We need to pray for their family members and churches that have walked with them. We need to pray that justice will be served against predators and those who enabled them. We need to pray for God’s kingdom to come and justice to reign over all the earth, to trust that Jesus will one day make all things right and sexual abuse will be no more.
We also need to pray for the SBC. God in his grace has exposed some horrifying darkness with his cleansing light. Let’s pray that our denomination would walk in the light. This report clarifies how a small group of people kept tens of thousands of churches and millions of people in the dark for years. Let’s pray the SBC takes the necessary steps of accountability and transparency that will ensure this can never happen again. This report also points out faithful leaders in the SBC who refused to conceal and cover up, leading to this report; let us pray that God raises up many more.
Jesus will continue to build his church (Matt 16:18). Jesus will continue to love and protect his little ones (Matt 18:16). Let us pray that as his church, FBCTLH will continue to minister the gospel as God has called us to do while working to ensure the protection of every person God has entrusted to us. Let us pray that as his church, we will be a leader in our denomination and community regarding these issues, faithfully following him no matter what.