Well day one of the Caring Well Conference is done and I’m gearing up for a very FULL day today. Here is a recap with a few comments from day 1:
Phillip Bethancourt opens the conference noting that the speakers have been given the freedom to speak whatever they would like without censorship. He notes, “We’re not here to control a message, we’re here to equip the church. So far, that seems to be the case. However, the more pointed topics and speakers are up today (Friday).
Russell Moore is up first with his message, based on John 9:35ff, that our response to church sexual abuse is a “Gospel issue.” My first reaction to the title was that he would receive criticism from many who are weary of this now almost cliché designation of various social justice issues as gospel issues. As I listened, in my opinion, Moore made a strong case for just that. Using the biblical metaphors in the text of sheep, wolves, shepherds, and hired hands, Moore set the tone for us being ready to act to protect and minister to others.
Regarding the tendency of churches and pastors to worry about the reputation of the church when faced with allegations of abuse, “Jesus never protects His reputation by covering up sin. Jesus instead pours out His reputation by confronting sin and injustice.”
Susan Codone shared her story of being abused by her youth pastor and then pastor. She powerfully described the long term effects of abuse in her own life, describing one aspect of her trauma as being “spiritually impaired.” She also described the desperation of thinking no one would believe her, but she knew “Jesus would believe me.” Susan’s story was powerful and heartrending. I believe pastors and laypeople desperately need to understand the long term affects of trauma and hearing the stories of survivors is one important step in that.
Kay Warren was next to share her trauma story. She adds some important information about the ACE study and how trauma affects the brain, the body, and soul. I thought her remarks about the tendency to want to “tidy up our stories” was especially important. “There is no one-size-fits-all recovery process.” The testimonies that talk about what I used to be and what I now am sometimes minimize the effects of trauma and that recovery doesn’t always happen that way. She ended with the hope that even as trauma will continue to affect her in this life and that she will never be fully healed in this life, “every day is one day closer to the glorious and complete healing that will come in that day.”
Megan Lively shared her story publicly for the first time. Her bravery here is to be commended. Through tears, she recounted how in her report of sexual assault she was not ministered to and how she was “seen as someone threatening an institution rather than as a sister in Christ.” Megan’s courage through all that has happened in past months is to be commended and was on full display here. Was extremely grateful for her sharing her.
For the record, though she has done so elsewhere, she didn’t mention any names in her story about how she was received or what leader it was who failed her and treated her as a threat and I think it was appropriate for her to focus on her story without naming names. At the same time, I’m waiting for SBC leaders to speak about it and use names. The unnamed person in her story was Paige Patterson. I don’t expect his name to be spoken at this conference at all, but I also know that one of the credibility problems that remain on this issue is our Convention leaders’ (not Megan) unwillingness to name him.
J.D. Greear was up next and addressed six seven myths that keep us from engaging the sexual abuse issue. The talk basically confronted all the common pushbacks that have come internally and which I myself have heard in conversations and in the comment stream of this blog. The concern about sexual abuse is not a leftist agenda, nor a problem that only happens in other kinds of churches. Churches should try to handle allegations internally and to not involve the authorities is disobedience to Scripture (Rom 13). He spoke powerfully about the “benefit of the doubt” and noted that it should go to the accuser—also that grace toward abusers does not include giving them a second chance in ministry. He made important statements as well about abuse in marriage; “We don’t enable one thing God hates [abuse] in order to prevent another [divorce].” (Note that here again, the subtext seems to be Paige Patterson’s remarks but he is not named). He finished by dismantling the idea that we would know an abuser if we saw one and that updating policies is enough.
The most notable and important part of Greear’s remarks, in my opinion, was specific naming of advocates that were not invited to speak at the conference. He specifically names Christa Brown, Tiffany Thigpen, Mary Demuth, Anne Marie Miller, David Pittman, Jules Woodsen and Megan Lively as voices that should have been listened to in the past but were treated as “attacks from adversaries instead of warnings from friends.” Robert Downen provides the video clip and also background info for each of these names if they are unfamiliar to you. I wish advocates like Christa and Tiffany would have been included in this conference and in the advisory committee, but I’m appreciative of Greear naming them here as allies and not enemies. (I also would have liked to see Christa’s book in the Lifeway store).
Panel Discussion — The afternoon session ended with a panel discussion moderated by Phillip Bethancort. Bethancort asked several important questions that have been asked. Amy Whitefield’s remarks were quite helpful. Especially poignant was her statement that survivors should not be expected to bear the responsibility of driving accountability. She also noted that the “we can do more together” culture of SBC cooperation must extend to the hard things and tough issues like addressing the sexual abuse crisis.
One question that didn’t get asked was about the role of Complementarianism which Beth Moore later asks and answers in her address.
Oh, and also, JD Greear has a new nickname: Mesther
Jackie Hill Perry — In the Evening session, Jackie was first up to share her survivor story. She spoke of the “contradiction of familiarity” that is a source of many abuse cases. She spoke of how important it was to be able to call abuse/molestation by its name and that when she did that she was able to connect the dots of her story. Jackie spent much of her talk speaking of the promise of heaven. Though talk of heaven does not take away the present trauma of abuse and ignore the trouble of today, she embraces the premise that “Trauma will not have the final say, Jesus will.”
Gregory Love next gave a short talk about recognizing abusers. While this issue needs to be unpacked, he gave a great metaphor about the fences we use being dependent on what we are trying to keep out (cows vs. rabbits). The connecting point was that most of our practices (background checks / “stranger danger”) are meant to protect us from outsiders, while 94% of abuse comes from inside “preferential offenders.” We need to create “fences” that prevent the grooming process. Needed to hear more here, but the paradigm shift in thinking should cause those who heard the talk to dig deeper on this.
I admit I was hesitant about this talk because I expected him to speak on ways to protect the church from lawsuits. Instead, his focus was exclusively on protecting children. My team were already thinking this through as he spoke.
Beth Moore gave a powerful address calling pastors and churches to action. She urged us to replace idealism with “faith perfected by works.” Pastors and leaders confronted with this issue must resist defensiveness and risk deflection and be willing to address sexual abuse head on. She encouraged shepherds to “take courage and protect the sheep” noting also the culture where shepherds protect shepherds instead.
Her most pointed remarks (and which deserve a blog post of its own) came when discussing complementarianism and its role in abuse. While defending the doctrine, and stating that NO, complementarianism does not cause abuse, Beth noted that a culture has formed around complementarianism that has contributed to the problem of abuse. It would be worth listening to her directly rather than me trying to summarize. For my money, her metaphor that if complementarianism was a woman in would need protection from abuse and exploitation was spot on (and we don’t throw out the woman).
Gary Haugen wrapped up the evening talks. He spoke of sexual abuse being a specific category of the biblical category of injustice. His talk gave both a historical look at how evangelicals have approached the issue of justice and how contemporary evangelical witness has shifted away from this. His remark that “if the liberals are doing it, it must be bad” seems to sum up the general tone I’ve heard from those in the SBC who push back against addressing the sexual abuse issue. Haugen gave a pretty strong biblical case for addressing injustice. Quoting several texts related to injustice from the prophets as also understanding abuse narratives concerning the abuse of power (David and Bathsheba) and the lack of action on behalf of the abused (David and Tamar), Haugen remarked “If we don’t know these texts, the Bible cannot be the light to our feet and the light for our path that it is meant to be.”
Well, that’s my wrap up for day one. If you can, watch the simulcast on line. For a fuller recap of events, I recommend searching the #CaringWell hashtag on twitter or following @RobDownChron who is live-tweeting the event.
Other posts in this series: