Much of day 2 was taken up with breakout sessions, 4 in total out of 12 options. I won’t take time here to cover those because I could not attend them all and they are not easy to summarize. Note, however, that the sessions were recorded and I believe will be available online in the coming days along with the main sessions
Here is a summary of the morning and evening sessions for Friday:
Justin Holcomb – Justin opened the session with a talk entitled “Rid of my disgrace — The work of Christ and the effects of abuse.” Similar to his book of the same name, Justin highlighted the story of Tamar and her question, “How will I be rid of my disgrace?” The bulk of his message centered on three effects of the gospel on abuse, beyond its central message of atonement for sins—there is more good news. This good news is better than we could make up to give to survivors of abuse.
To the distorted self-image that abuse brings, the “active righteousness of Christ” is good news. Because Jesus lived perfectly, the great exchange means that we give Jesus our sin and he gives to us His perfect righteousness. For the abuse survivor, the gospel provides good news that in Christ we are pure, perfect, righteous, without spot, blemish or wrinkle – we are called what Jesus actually was. Better than any positive self-affirmations, we have an authoritative voice (God) to make these declarations over us.
In response to shame, the cross of Christ shows God bearing our shame in Christ. Three biblical images of shame—naked, dirty, outside the camp—are displayed in Christ’s death. Jesus takes on our filth so we can be made clean, he takes on our nakedness so we can be robed…he is crucified outside the camp so we can be included.
In response to despair, Holcomb noted three works of Christ for despair: In the resurrection, Jesus is “punching holes in the darkness” —he is the firstfruits and we too will be resurrected. In his ascension, Christ is making all things new. He is currently on His throne as our advocate, mediator, and intercessor. And, he will return to actualize the newness he is making right now – a real physical return.
Jennifer Michelle Greenberg shared her survival story of two decades abuse by her Father. “My dad was a sexual predator and I was, as he put it, ‘a piece of meat.’” She shared of contemplating suicide, crying out to God, and hearing him respond, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Suddenly, she knew that she had (and we have) a daddy, a spiritual father, he is good, he is faithful, and he loves us.
Jennifer explained the effects of abuse in her own life and told of why some bible verses are so unsettling, why church often feels like a cold superficial place, why trust is so difficult. She explained how her book, “Not Forsaken”, originated as letters to her husband to explain her experience and its effects. In regard to its recent publication, “I can now say to my abusers, ‘What you meant for evil, God meant for good.’”
Kimberlee Norris was up next and gave a pretty technical and specific talk on what constitutes an effective screening process for preventing sexual abuse. As I mentioned in my last post, I admit I had expected ministry safe to talk about protecting churches and instead I never heard a word about that. The focus was entirely on protecting children and having a screening process that actually helped to prevent abuse. There was a LOT of information that is too much to attempt to cover here. One of the take-aways was the need for good training along with good processes. “Without training, forms are just paper.”
Piggybacking on the Ministry Safe talk the night before, she noted that the screening process, must be rooted in the grooming process of the preferential offender – understanding offender characteristics and risk indicators that are KNOWable. I thought our church was kind of ahead of the game when it came to protecting children, but this talk was one that showed me some of the holes in our process that need addressing when we get home.
Panel Discussion – Travis Wussow moderated a discussion with Samantha Kilpatrick, Carol Hogue, Kimberlee Norris, and Palmer Williams on the church’s role in preventing abuse.
Again, too much to cover here, but a few take-aways that will stick with me.
Carol Hogue spoke of her son disclosing abuse to her and her husband, she noted “the most important thing we did was we believed him.” She later called for an end to the good ‘ol boy system which often creates an atmosphere that leads to misplaced trust.
Kimberlee Norris noted that we must address misconceptions about abuse and be proactive – we will never be “accidentally excellent.” Current protocols of most churches will not get it done. We must arm ourselves with information that actually protects children. We must understand grooming process and recognizing it when we see it.
Samantha Kilpatrick asked an important question about our protection policies: Is your policy what you actually do, or what you aspire to do? We spend hours preparing other things in ministry; preparing to protect others should be a priority. Later she extolled the value of listening to survivor stories to help you understand how abuse happens and how to prevent it.
Palmer Williams addressed complacency and noted that the idea that “It can’t happen here…to us,” as one of the largest problems in the abuse crisis.
Jamey Ivey opened the evening session sharing her experience of walking alongside friends who experienced the crisis of abuse in their family. As she shared her story, she shared 3 ways we can walk with families: Being with them, petitioning the father on their behalf, and weeping with them. She illustrated her point by sharing the example of Jesus as he spent time with Mary and Martha before raising Lazarus, giving them his presence, wept with them, without rushing and before speaking truth.
She reminded us that when abuse hits a family, it is a lonely place. She called us to commit to walk with them for years and years and years and for the long haul, no matter how long it takes.
Boz Tchividjian’s address was every bit as fiery as expected. I had hoped that he would speak prophetically and he did not disappoint. He noted that he was conflicted about a conference about sexual abuse being hosted by an arm of the SBC because there are still so many survivors who are suffering and still have not been heard.
He spoke of his preference for a lengthy season of listening (not hosting), lamenting, and learning – later in the address he would call for a commission that would give the SBC a mechanism for listening to the stories of survivors of abuse.
Boz called us to look through the lens of the survivors and his address served to give voice to many of the concerns of the survivor community concerning the appropriateness of hosting the conference, the ongoing inaction of the Convention in responding to abuse because of church autonomy, and the good ol’ boy system that speaks out about abuse in the abstract “until it’s some leader’s friend in an organization and then we’re not talking about it” (alluding to the current leadership support of Matt Chandler).
His overarching point was that it’s not the abused who are in most need of healing, it is the church. “Your system is broken,” he declared. “The system in the SBC is broken.”
Boz closed his remarks quoting Henri Nouwen’s metaphor of flashes of light illuminating the darkness. He identified Christa [Brown] and Christi [Bragg] as two of those flashes of light. About Christa, he stated that she “has been shut out, ignored, vilified and marginalized by this denomination. But she spends her days inspiring other survivors. She inspires me.” (For the record, she inspires this pastor blogger too.)
His closing remarks were hopeful. “I leave you with this: embrace the voices and lives of all survivors because they are the Good Samaritans in our midst who not only give me hope for humanity, they give me hope for the healing of a sick church. They give me hope that winter is finally ending in the church, and that spring will be here soon.”
Panel Discussion – Brad Hambrick moderated a conversation with Diane Langberg, Karla Siu, Leslie Vernick and Chris Moles, on becoming a church that cares well for the abused.
The moderator allowed each of the panelists to speak in their area of expertise. Much information was shared here but I’ll mention a few of the more salient points.
Diane Langberg spoke of the roles of those who would care for others. The first requirement for those entering this space is humility. Listen, learn, don’t come in with promises, correction and teaching, I’m not a project… weep with, walk with and that in itself is healing. She called on supporters to providing safe relationship over the long haul, giving them voice and power and noted that presence in in a survivor’s life is a healing force not only for them but for us.
She later noted that most care tends to be ego-centric – you can’t help victims that way. “It’s about me becoming little on their behalf… that’s the incarnation, that’s what he did for us and when a victim walks into your life he’s calling you to do what he did”
Karla Siu emphasized the importance of building relationships with social workers and others is before a crisis. – understand their role and yours so you can work together – sometimes prejudices we have against each other are a hindrance, so break down those barriers by getting to know others personally – trust that professionals are trained to do very specific things
Leslie Vernick – Noted the damage of dishonor in relationships. We’re all sinners, she noted, but a healthy sinner recognizes when they have crossed the line and dishonors the relationship and the proper response is to repair, repent, confess and change. “You can’t expect a marriage to stay intact when you are continually dishonoring and there’s no repair.”
Chris Moles encouraged pastors to get to know their local resources, law enforcement, shelters, etc. “They will love you if you are gentle, humble and have a teachable spirit.” He later admonished, “We need to abandon our love for power and follow the savior.” He said that the time of the bully pastor needs to end and that we must abandon this idea of “power over” others … “it’s completely anti-Christ.”
Diane gave a final plea to pastors. I urge you to think about the precious truths you teach and how they sound to victims of abuse. Learn to think about how your audience hears good truths in harmful ways. Speak in such a way that it is not harmful to those who have already been harmed.
Philip Bethancourt delivered the final address of the day. After 12 hours of intense discussion, many were tired and the audience was smaller as he confronted pastors and leaders in the SBC.
His main question was whether there would be a future for Southern Baptists at all if we don’t get it right on abuse. Bethancourt used the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 as an outline to make three main points in regard to SBC leadership.
1. We must confront our failure to confront abuse. Southern Baptists will not have a future if we don’t change our tendency to protect the system over survivors – if the system is more important than survivors, then the system is not worth saving. We must do all we can to prevent abuse – God does not need the SBC to fulfill his mission on this earth. It is the kindness of God that if we pursue him he sees fit to use us.
2. We must confront our failure to care well for the abused. He called us to acknowledge we have appeared to care for survivors more than we have actually cared for survivors. Time will tell if we will see lasting change in our denomination and there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical. He also called leaders to admit we have often been more concerned for our OWN interests than the interests of survivors. If we aren’t willing to do what it takes to care for survivors instead of caring for ourselves, then we deserve to die as a denomination (I’m paraphrasing).
At this point, he looked at the audience and made a direct allusion to Paige Patterson, stating, “It’s as if Judah intended to ‘break her down.’ But while Bethancourt called out past leaders, he did not lay all the blame on the old guard. In his next point he stated,
3. We must confront our failure to own our own sins. He noted we as SBC leaders have often been more likely to condemn the sins of others than confront the sins among ourselves. He called on pastors and leaders in address own complicity in the abuse crisis. He then named a specific case of his own personal inaction in the abuse crisis. “What do YOU need to own?” he asked. Southern Baptists won’t have a future unless We OWN our sins and change our strategy. We need conviction, confession, and repentance. “Are we willing now to do whatever it takes to do this right?”
He ended with a call to follow Jesus.
All in all, it was a very full day. I was thankful for the calls to action, for the beginnings of taking personal responsibility on the issue, and the practical instruction giving us points of action when we return home. Looking forward to our final session this morning.
(I apologize for any typos or editing errors I may have made in haste – I wanted to get this posted before the final session)
Other posts in this series: