Southern Baptists are rightfully grieved over this week’s many revelations. It seems like a hundred years ago when the Book of Reports revealed Southwestern Seminary’s response to Ben Cole, which reported that its former president had absconded with seminary property, including confidential documents, artwork, and donor lists. Then, someone leaked two letters Russell Moore wrote detailing the Executive Committee’s depravity in handling the SBC’s rampant sexual abuse and racism problems. And in the past few days, more correspondence (and now a series of damning audio clips) have emerged of Executive Committee members and employees trying to both marginalize abuse survivors and conspire to prevent justice being done.
Embarrassment. After embarrassment. After embarrassment.
Perhaps the worst part is that little of the information we’ve received this week was brand new. Abuse survivors and their advocates have reported the stonewalling the EC has perpetrated, and several survivors have publicly shared the letters received from the Credentials Committee (“Thanks for your submission, but we can’t investigate anything. We also don’t have enough evidence to act. But don’t worry—we’ll be praying for you!). Additionally, we all remember the then-chairman of the EC (and current SBC presidential candidate) gaslighting us into believing that survivors would be “ably represented” on the Credentials Committee.
Never mind that the former EC chairman has since distracted himself (and many in our convention) with a Keystone Kops investigation of the ERLC and the forming of a new political action committee…er, “Network.”
I keep coming back to Joshua 7: Israel had triumphed over Jericho but Achan violated God’s commands and took some of the treasures set apart for destruction. As a result, God allowed Israel’s army to be defeated by tiny Ai. Then, Joshua rent his garments, fell on his face, and cried out to God. But the Lord scolded Joshua, saying,
“Stand up! Why have you fallen facedown? Israel has sinned . . . This is why the Israelites canot stand against their enemies. They will turn their backs and run from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from among you what is set apart.” (Joshua 7:10-12, CSB)
Honestly? If I hear another call to wail and gnash our teeth in prayers for unity, or if another denominational executive cries that, “We need revival,” then I think I’ll pull out my hair. Our membership is shrinking because there is sin in the camp. Our baptisms are down because no one outside trusts us anymore, and that is because there is sin in the camp.
Fellow Southern Baptists, we love our local churches. We love our seminaries. Most importantly, we love to see people come to Christ. And if we love those things and want to be on mission together as Southern Baptists, then we have to deal with the sins that our leadership has tried so hard to conceal. This means a comprehensive, independent, third-party investigation by a team of experts into the Executive Committee’s failures—both intentional and unintentional—to correct the culture that tolerates abuse.
If we don’t? Just remember that God doesn’t need the Southern Baptist Convention.
Our reputation? We have none. It doesn’t exist. It was destroyed over a period of decades when abusers were permitted to slake their lusts on the innocent, and then were moved from church to church and between entities and denominational leadership in a perverse shell game designed to cover their tracks.
By all means, pray for the upcoming annual meeting. But unless you come prepared to do what must be done, whatever the cost, to eradicate the sin in our midst and to create a culture in which survivors feel more safe than their abusers, then understand that your prayers may go unheard.
“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil.
“Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:15-17, CSB)
Brent Epling has been a part of several Southern Baptist churches including First Baptist Church of Charlotte (NC), where he occasionally taught Sunday School and served as a deacon. He is currently a member of Resurrection Church in Charleston, West Virginia, where he lives with his wife, Dawn, and their three children.