Before you interact with this post, please make sure you have read Dr. Yarnell’s post.
It’s right here: Malcolm Yarnell Thread on Autonomy and Discipline
Have you read it? Good. Now we can carry on.
I promised you a post that you could comment on, so here it is. Before you get to the comments, here are a few thoughts:
- Dr. Yarnell’s post shows that it is entirely possible for other local churches to come together in our networks and organizations to place some accountability in front of each other.
- That accountability does not interfere with the autonomy of the local church. The local church can still do whatever it wants, but the networks and organizations are also autonomous and free to end their association with a church that chooses to violate the established standards of the organizations.
- Each step of that accountability process should allow for repentance, restoration, and renewal of relationship as the group that has departed from expected standards demonstrates repentance in their actions.
In other words, we can choose to do something. He speaks of an association that chose to do something about wrong (looks right up to heretical to me) teaching about Jesus. In the same way, I can remember knowing of churches and associations that have parted ways over theology and practice.
And it goes both ways: churches have left associations, formed new associations, my word, we saw churches in two states form entirely new state conventions, over their belief that the doctrine and practices of the existing bodies were beyond the acceptable standards that the local church autonomously wanted to be part of.
So what does that tell us as we have a growing chorus of voices asking why we are not doing anything about sexual abuse, sexual predators, and their enablers in our churches? Here’s where we are:
- There was a time that we could honestly have believed that sexual abuse was entirely the result of single-point bad actors in isolated cases. However, that time ended with blogs and internet news. When you might never hear what happened in churches on the other side of the country, you could believe that the one you heard of was the only one. If you still believe that now, I think you might have your head in the sand. You are aware.
- It is possible that we have left “sexual predators” out of our stated standards because we did not believe it needed saying: common sense should tell us that a church that willingly enables sexual abuse is violating the basic norms of right and wrong in Scripture. Therefore, they are violating the fundamental point of agreement we have as Baptists. That would seem logical, except we have not acted on that unstated assumption. Since we will not act on sexual abuse on common sense, we need to express it explicitly: bylaws, agreements, whatever documents are involved need to state plainly that a church is “not in friendly cooperation” if they willfully shield/enable sexual abuse in their church.
- Now that we know, and truthfully we have known for too long, we need to set a course of action. Dr. Yarnell’s thread demonstrates that it is possible.
Now, two caveats:
First, some folks will not be satisfied if a church remains after mishandling sexual abuse in the past. Other folks will not be satisfied if your local association starts looking into stuff from “back then,” and I would agree that the first push of energy should be on situations that are right now: there is little value in removing fellowship from a church for the actions of folks long dead. Further, there is little value in removing a church from fellowship for the actions of prior leaders that current leaders did not do. However, learning from experience is valuable.
Alongside this will be the question of “what do we act on?” Well, folks, if we will start with confessed and convicted predators, that would be a step in the right direction.
It is true that a church could simply decide not to be Southern Baptist anymore and carry on just as they always have been. Some churches will do exactly that–even churches without an abuse action in their situation. Is that, however, cause to do nothing? Can we not take a step forward first?
Second, as a caveat, I am not a lawyer. Every time the autonomy/discipline/standards issue comes up, several terms jump in: liability and ascending liability are two of them. They relate to who is responsible, legally, for actions and how if an association asserts a standard, then they can get sued. You need a real lawyer to sort that out, but here is a question that we need to answer: at what point do we do what is morally and ethically right and then, if the American court system punishes us for what is right, we take the hit and go on?
At what point do we do what is right?
Same with the reputation hit, the ‘we already contracted with this preacher’ hit, the ‘he was a hero of the faith two decades ago’ hit, and so forth.
- We now know better. Pretty much all of us know better.
- Our own experts (Research Professor of Systematic Theology at one of our seminaries, folks) say we can do better.
- Then we need to do better.
Have a great day. I’ll stop by the comments later but as always, anybody with a password is free to moderate or close at their judgment.