To say that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is having some difficulties is like saying an oncoming hurricane will have showers and a breeze. It doesn’t fully capture the detail of what the damage will be, or the tragedy left in its wake. Vitriolic disputes over theology. Christian Nationalism and racial injustice. The continued coverup of sexual abuse crimes. And members leaving in droves. At the heart of it all, is a power grab for its core.
So, what on earth is going on with the SBC?
For me to answer that, I can only explain in this way…
What is most personal is most universal. What we think we are alone in, isn’t so. We aren’t alone. There are countless others going through the same struggles and same pain. For 30 years I kept a secret that almost killed me. From the time I was 12 until I was 15, I was sexually molested and raped by a youth minister at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, Georgia. His name is Franklin Andrew Wiley. We called him Frankie, and everyone loved him. But the truth about this person is horrific.
This is that most personal of stories and it isn’t at all unique. It is all too common. To coin a recently adopted phrase, This is the SBC. It is also how the GBMB (Georgia Baptist Mission Board) and SBC allows Wiley to maintain his ordination, move from church to church and have an untold number of victims, even though he has admitted in writing to the sexual abuse of at least 5 little boys, of which I was one.
Starting in 2006, in every year and church move since, I have worked hard to find each church where Wiley was working. I informed each pastor. And most did a similar thing, allowed him to resign. None reported to the police that they might have victims at their church. And one even got mad at me. Told me I was wrong for doing this. And until he was publicly shamed by national news reports, he lied about how “properly” he had handled the case.
Why do I do this? Because the SBC won’t. They don’t seem to care who gets hurt, how many victims there are or lives that are lost. This isn’t hyperbole, these are facts and not in dispute. And I am but 1 survivor tracking 1 perpetrator. According to The Houston Chronicle records, there are at least 263 sexual predators in SBC churches with thousands of victims.
On the survivor created sites Baptist Accountability and Stop Baptist Predators, they have documented even more. Keep in mind, these are only the ones that we know about.
And just today a letter was released that detailed the thoughts and beliefs of Augie Boto, a former Executive Vice President of the SBC Executive Committee. He calls us, the victims of sexual abuse, a “part of a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
This is the problem folks. The leadership of the SBC thinks WE are the problem, not the sexual predators and their enablers. Thinks that WE want to destroy the church and its mission. I was even asked that question one time by a reporter with The Miami Herald. He asked me, “are you trying to destroy and bankrupt the church?” What he didn’t know is that I have never asked for one dime.
And in reality, we are trying with every fiber of our being to help. To help the church be what it’s supposed to be, a haven for the vulnerable. Instead of what it’s become, a hunting ground for wolves in sheep’s clothing.
So why did I focus on the issue of sexual abuse, while bringing up all the others at the beginning? Because it’s what I know. It happened to me. And I’m neither a liar nor a Satanist. Also because of what I know to be true. To do all things right, you must first get one thing right. And there are steps the SBC can take to get this right.
Let me be perfectly clear about all that I’ve said and my intent. I am not trying to tell you, nor do I believe there is a devil under every rock. But there are most certainly evil actors within the church. And even worse are their enablers and protectors. You might not be able to change or “save” the predator. But you can do better to protect children, do the right thing by the victims, and you can absolutely remove the leaders failing you.
The question is…do you want to? Or do you want things to stay the same?
Dave Pittman is the Director of Together We Heal and part of the Safeguarding Initiative Team at GRACE. He teaches churches, schools, and families how to talk with their kids about sexual abuse, how to better identify predatory behavior, and how to properly respond to those who’ve been victimized.