Unless you have been on vacation in Antarctica, you have heard by now about an article in The Houston Chronicle about sexual abuse in some Baptist churches and some inappropriate responses by church leaders. The reporters were somewhat careful to maintain journalistic principles while filing the report. Consequently, they opened a wound and shined a light on something we’ve heard whispers about for years, even decades.
My immediate reaction was nausea. Trust was violated by people in leadership in some churches and institutions. The attempts to defend or justify the processes some leaders or churches chose to follow often was weak in the wake of such wickedness.
Our initial response ought to be that of sorrow and lament for those who have been victimized. As Noah Oldham, St. Louis Send City Coordinator and pastor of August Gate Church, writes, “No one should ever have to endure that kind of trauma, let alone within the church or at the hands of someone who claims to know, love and lead others to Jesus.”
I have the honor of serving on the SBC Executive Committee. At last week’s meeting, Executive Committee members were overwhelmed by the deep sense of brokenness and grief over this issue. Our sense of indignation sought a meaningful response in a practical way to the news at hand but found ourselves somewhat restricted. Non-hierarchical church consortiums like the Southern Baptist Convention have a biblical distinctive of local church autonomy. That means the governance begins and ends in the local church. And that principle also is applied to every other level of our ecclesiastical framework.
At the SBC level, the MBC level, and with our various associations, we do have the authority to exercise autonomy and responsibility to determine what churches are in “friendly cooperation” with us. We have done this before with churches that have sanctioned homosexual leaders. We disassociate from those churches.
You may have read how the SBC Executive Committee is proposing disassociation from churches that do not take appropriate actions to remove from leadership those who are convicted of sexual abuse. However, we must be careful to avoid an inquisition of churches. We cannot justify attempts to try people in the court of ecclesiastical public opinion. Sexual abuse is a crime. Law enforcement and the courts are the ones empowered to do the case studies and bring convictions, not a group of ecclesiastical compliance officers.
In the days ahead, you will hear an invigorated emphasis on beefing up procedures our churches use to protect children and women from predators. Our churches should be safe for all people. Because of the forward thinking of our Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, there is a Church Safe initiative our churches can employ. There are some other trainings such as Ministry Safe. Both of these are steps in the right direction.
Require background checks on all workers with minors, even if they are first cousins in a small town. Also, study your church’s governing documents to make sure they are in order, and include both a process for protecting children and provisions for dealing with convicted abusers.
Above all, call out to God for a renewed sense of fear. Sexual wickedness flourishes when the fear of God’s presence is lost. We are broken people who desperately need the Lord. We need fortified parameters of holiness set in our daily lives. Who is your accountability partner? Who watches where you go on the web? Who helps you achieve a deeper level of holy behavior?
Appeals Court Decision
Many of you have prayed as I have. We have asked the Lord for the completion of the litigation journey the MBC has experienced since 2002. On Tuesday, February 19, a major step toward completion was rendered by the Court of Appeals. It will take several months for all the aspects of the decision to become enforceable. As you read the story in this issue of The Pathway, continue to pray for wisdom. Pray that leaders on both sides make transitional decisions that honor the Lord.
Each October, we encourage churches to honor their pastor for his ministry with the church. By blessing him with an open hand, the Lord has a way of blessing his people. One of the ways a church can bless its pastor is by sending him (and possibly his wife) on a tour of Israel. I believe it is worth a semester of study at a seminary.
Jefferson County Director of Missions James Plymale and I are leading a nine-day introductory pilgrimage to Israel January 14-22, 2020. This experience will benefit the church by giving your pastor or staff member a deeper understanding of the biblical sites in Israel. Non-ministers are welcome but at different rates.
For more information, contact Dr. James Plymale, 314.540.2570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.