I imagine there were some gasps last night among those in the Executive Committee meeting room when J.D. Greear laid out his plan for responding to the current abuse scandal which we’ve known about for a while and has been made national news by the Houston Chronicle. We are not used to this kind of bold and forceful leadership in response to charges of sexual abuse in the SBC.
There was also anger directed at J.D. among some who thought he went too far when he named several churches – churches that were identified by the Chronicle as having hired or not responded appropriately to the actions of abusers or pedophiles. They were especially upset that one of our prominent SBC churches, Second Baptist of Houston, pastored by a former SBC President (Ed Young), was mentioned.
From this Baptist preacher, he gets respect, gratitude, and a metaphorical standing ovation.
I applaud J.D. for not continuing business as usual in the SBC and for taking this bold action. If people are offended at it, maybe it is because they are maintaining the status quo, the old-school method of denial, focusing on image over substance, and seeking to protect the reputation of the church or denomination over seeking the welfare of victims of abuse. That is the old way of thinking that has kept us from dealing with this problem for decades and it must be replaced with the kind of biblical thinking that JD employed – repentance and a resolve to live obediently. The old school thinking echoes that of the Roman Catholic response to pedophiles among the priesthood, which became a national scandal of epic proportions.
Last night, at the EC meeting, J.D. said this, which was widely tweeted:
The safety of victims is more important than the reputation of the SBC.
The kind of leadership he showed last night has been all too rare in the SBC. We have seen image management that led to defensiveness and coverups. We have seen denial and deflection, blaming the victims, and finger-pointing. But what we saw last night was something new, and this old guy says it is about time for this new approach.
J.D. thanked the Houston Chronicle for exposing deep sin in the SBC. Can you imagine a Baptist leader thanking the secular press for writing a story that exposed our convention as this did? He has promised to deal with the issue forthrightly, with transparency, honesty, and without regard to perceived status.
His actions demonstrate that he is doing precisely that.
He did not “expose” anyone. The Houston Chronicle already did that. He simply named the churches already publicly named. He did not recommend that we disfellowship churches. He simply read a list of the churches named in the Chronicle article and said we need to review this to make sure they have come into compliance. The day for denial, for tap-dancing around serious error that leaves innocents injured is long past. If churches have changed their ways they have nothing to worry about. If they remain incalcitrant, then we have no fellowship with them.
We will disfellowship churches for ordaining homosexuals, and I say Amen. Associations have broken fellowship with churches that hire women as senior pastors. We take strong stands on these issues. Are we then going to tolerate churches that do not act properly when abusers and pedophiles are identified within their midst? Are we going to turn a blind eye to churches that hire pastors and pastoral staff, or enlist volunteers who put their people at risk? Is this a minor offense to be ignored?
Honestly, why would Baptist leaders rake him over the coals for saying what the whole world knows? I would rather our leaders had applauded him than attempted to call him on the carpet. Let us hope that the J.D. Greear approach wins the day, not the old path of denial, of tap-dancing and hoping the problem will go away.
There will always be incidents of abuse in Southern Baptist churches. This will end when Jesus consummates the world in glory. Would that it was not so, but sin happens in a sinful world. This fact ought not to deter us from acting intentionally to deal with our sin instead of rationalizing it, covering it up, or seeking to explain it away. The time is now to change our ways and those who chewed J.D. out need a time out.
Here’s one man’s appreciation for J.D. Greear and the courage he showed in making bold proposals and even in naming names. We need that way, not the old way, as we face the future.