Update: Since the posting of this blog on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle report has now been released. You may access the article here.
Tomorrow, an investigative article will be released in the Houston Chronicle that will tell the story of hundreds of persons who have been sexually abused in SBC churches. Even before I know the content of the article, I have a few suggestions about how we as Baptist pastors and members should respond to it.
1. Listen. Hear the voices of the persons in this report and let the story have it’s effect. Digest it, listen to the stories, hear the cries of those who have been traumatized, see the pain in all its rawness, recognize evil for what it is and affirm that each of these stories is an affront on the gospel of Jesus Christ and a horrible evil done by people and in places where such sin should never ever occur. Avoid the temptation to minimize the problem, make excuses for churches’ actions or inactions, expound on your opinion of the #metoo #churchtoo movement, or point out all the churches who are not part of the problem. Now is the time to listen.
2. Mourn over this evil. I’m anticipating that the news that we will read tomorrow will be devastating. Reports of abuse and assault on people in our churches should lead us to mourn with those who mourn. An appropriate response for churches, whether or not such stories have touched your church, is lament. Let us cry out to God on behalf of the abused. Let us call on the Lord to bring justice, healing, peace, and hope to those who have suffered the trauma of abuse. Let us stand with those who have suffered and grieve with them.
3. Be repentant. If you or your church had any complicity in abuse or covering up abuse, you need to personally and specifically repent and make amends for the harm you’ve caused by your actions or inaction. But even if you and your church have not faced this issue specifically, there is a place for corporate repentance. We as Southern Baptist churches are part of a body that has protected the reputation of churches and pastors at the expense of the victims of abuse. And while we may argue that we are not personally responsible, we as the Church ARE responsible. Let us seek God not only in lament, but in repentance for the sin in our midst.
4. Do not be defensive. It may be tempting for those of us who are not personally complicit in any acts of abuse or covering up abuse to be defensive when we see stories that will seem to indict our entire denomination for what many will perceive as inaction. There will be plenty of time for discussion about how to move forward. May I recommend that now is not the time to offer explanations or excuses for all the things we can’t do because of our autonomous local church polity. Now is also not the time for “that’s other pastors/churches not me/my church.” We as a denomination and as members of that denomination need to be both cognizant of what we could’ve done that we didn’t and look hard and take action on what we can do going forward. If past suggestions are to be rejected, new ones need to be made. Rather than be defensive, listen to suggestions. If those suggestions cannot be followed or are not prudent, look for the concern behind the suggestion and seek ways to address that concern. Focus on the things we can do, not the reasons we can’t or won’t respond in the specific ways others are calling for. Lead with solutions or at least the commitment to find solutions to the problem and not with rejection of other’s solutions.
5. Be diligent. As this story once again brings abuse and our denomination to national attention, let us use this occasion to renew our commitment to lead in a way that honors God and ministers to persons in our care. Let us renew our diligence to make our churches safe places for children and adults to learn and grow. Let us make every effort to make the church a place where abuse does not occur. Let us be diligent in creating policies and systems that protect the members in our care. Let us also seek to be diligent to seek justice and effective godly responses when abuse does occur. Let us, further, seek to be places of healing and refuge for those who have suffered significant trauma, and know how the gospel speaks to the issues of trauma and sexual abuse. Let us not wait for trauma to be exposed in our churches before we take action.
Surely, this story will bring national attention and generate much discussion. In the days to come, let us above all seek to honor God in every discussion, every response, every action as people entrusted with the things of God. May God help us as we seek Him.