The Forth Worth Star Telegram has published a four part series detailing a culture of sexual abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Network. The series was written by Sara Smith. She reported on the Paige Patterson situation earlier this year, and, from my research, has been a leading journalist in exposing abuse in religious institutions and denominations.
If you have time, go read the series. It is scary. The Star Telegram interviewed over 200 people who were subjected to all kinds of abuse including rape, intimidation, and underage sex. The perpetrators, in most cases, were never prosecuted, but were quickly shuffled to another church within the network. This is not the Catholic church, these are our distant cousins and the accusations are coming closer and closer to home. What should we do? I have five suggestions:
- Pay attention: The #metoo movement has impacted various personalities within our denomination, not our denomination as a whole. that doesn’t mean our denomination has no secrets, or that a culture similar to the Fundamentalist Baptist Network cannot develop within our churches, conventions, and associations. When I was a teenager, our church hired a pastor who had cheated on his wife at three different churches. When he was discovered having an affair, he would shuffle off to the next church, rinse, and repeat. We have to pay attention to this issue. Satan would like nothing more than to catch us off guard.
- Be on Guard: I was reading the report and was amazed at how many of the perpetrators and their enablers were allowed private audiences with underage female church members. We cannot take that risk. I know pastors who continue to meet alone with females. That is never wise, and in today’s culture it’s foolish. How many stories like this do we need to read before we stop putting ourselves in compromising positions. We make Satan’s work easy when we take foolish risks. If you’ve been meeting alone with a female who is not your wife or a family member, cut it out.
- Update our policies: I have a friend who led his church in updating all of their policies concerning sexual abuse allegations. He also updated various counseling policies for his own protection. He has set the example for me, and in 2019, I’m going to lead our church to update our policies. Updating our policies facilitates discussion amongst the rank and file in our pews. They also protect the accuser, giving them a safe process and outlet to share their accusations, and they protect the accused against false accusations. We need to update our policies because discussion brings accountability, gets things out in the open, and puts this issue on the radar. The overwhelming issue with The Fundamentalist Baptist Network, according to the Star-Telegram, is a lack of accountability and a culture of intimidation and silence.
- Listen: When we hear an accusation, we need to listen and take the accuser seriously. That doesn’t mean we jump to convicting the accused, but The Star Telegram gives details of a shaming culture. the accusers were shamed into silence, and in several cases, the Bible was used to shame these accusers.
- Stay away from the Pedestal: The Fundamentalist Baptists have a pedestal for their pastors. Their pastors, according to the Star-Telegram report, are seen as next to God. The wield unquestionable authority. We cannot put our leaders on a pedestal. I appreciate Dave Miller’s series on criticism. Earlier this year, our denomination experienced what happens when one of our leaders falls off his pedestal. We should always feel free to Biblically criticize our leaders.
- Communicate: The Star-Telegram reports a culture of sweeping accusations under the rug, and transferring accused ministers out of state to other churches, often in the same ministry positions, given alleged perpetrators access to underage girls and children. This can happen in our denomination as well. It probably has happened. For example: a youth minister is accused of improper conduct with one of the youth. The pastor is informed. The pastor speaks with the youth minister and determines the accusations are false, but he advises the youth minister to resign. The pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister. Or worse yet, the pastor calls the authorities, and they find the accusations credible, but the youth and her parents do not press charges and the pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister, and the cycle begins again. How can we stop this? There should be a denomination wide group, organization, database where churches report and receive reports about verified incidents of sexual misconduct. Yes, I said verified, not alleged or rumors. there has to be something we can do to better communicate with each other.
This report scared me because it had the word Baptist in it. If you think this kind of culture does not exist in our own denomination, you have your head in the sand. It exists in our denomination. It may not be as wide spread as in the Fundamentalist Baptist Network, but it is there. Sara Smith, and other journalists like her are doing an outstanding investigative job. They are uncovering a culture of sin, and holding our leaders accountable. This report and others like it should serve as a warning to us.