I am the son of a Baptist pastor who faithfully preached God’s word until health problems robbed him of the ability to do so. He still studied his Bible and prayed through the night for his kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and a long list of other spiritual issues. To the best of my knowledge, he died having been faithful to one wife and been a godly leader at every church that called him to preach.
When I read the Houston Chronicle’s reports a few years back, I was sickened. I make no claim to being above sin – I know that I am a man of flesh and blood. Still, having been raised in the family I had, the grooming behavior and perversion of the pedophiles and abusers I read about was foreign to me – and disgusting. How could men go into the ministry, purportedly to serve the Living God of Heaven, and use their position to sexually abuse children, youth, women, and other men?
Worse, how could they get away with it for decades? How could our leaders hide their sins and cover for them, aiding and abetting their abuse? A man sinning is bad enough, but the denominational powers giving aid and comfort to the abuser? I had trouble believing it was so because it was so foreign to my world. I’ve talked with survivors and my heart goes out to them, but what they describe just doesn’t compute. How can these men do that, while preaching and leading and “serving God” and how could others help them? How could a seminary president decide to “break her down” when a report was made of an assault? Why have we consistently served the abuser instead of the abused?
Today, the reckoning begins. The Sexual Abuse Task Force’s lengthy report on their investigation (300 pages according to one report) is about to be released at 4:00 PM Eastern (www.sataskforce.net). The powers-that-be fought tooth and nail for years to prevent this investigation from being made. They wanted sin to stay hidden. The EC opposed it at every turn, until finally last year the convention told them enough is enough. Even then, many on the EC fought to prevent the task force from engaging in an effective investigation and resigned when they did not get their way.
Today, we finally hear the truth and from every hint, it is going to be ugly. We will not like what we hear. Will heroes of the SBC world be painted in a bad light? Likely. How will we react?
Here are my thoughts.
1. We cannot ask God to bless the SBC as long as the stain of sexual abuse rests on us. Sin is an ever-present reality, but when we’ve been hiding it and helping the abusers, we are on thin ice asking God to work in us and among us. SBC leaders have been abusers and harborers of abusers. I believe there are more men like my dad than like the abusers, but there are far too many who abused or helped in coverups. The light must shine in the darkness. It is time to stop hiding sin and covering for celebrity sinners.
2. If this report begins to weaken celebrity pastor veneration and hero-worship in the SBC, hallelujah. For too long, we have ignored the sins of men who did wrong because they were Conservative Resurgence heroes, because they had huge churches, and because they were celebrities. We were blinded by our adulation of celebrity pastors and denominational heroes. Celebrity culture is a sickness. It fosters arrogance and allows wickedness to hide in dark places where it can breed and fester. Again, there are good and godly men who are celebrity pastors and denominational leaders, but the culture must go. It feeds the flesh and we must move past it.
3. It is likely that someone you respect is going to be named in this report in a negative way. When that happens, you have a choice. Will you respond in anger, defending your hero and attacking the report, the task force, Guideposts? Will you throw out petty and ungodly epithets like “woke” instead of facing up to the dysfunctional and sinful clinate that has grown in the SBC? We are where we are because we’ve believed the abusers instead of the abused. When Ravi Zacharias was accused, the Christian world rallied around him. He was a pervert. Time after time, we have rallied around our heroes until the truth has come out. By then, we have permanently damaged women or children whom God loves. This must stop. Of course, every accused must be allowed a defense, but the vile habit of seeking to destroy accusers must also stop.
4. We have handled this wrong for decades. It is time we do it right. Humility. Repentance. Lament. Support for the abused instead of the abusers. We cannot undo the past, but we can respond right today. We must.
5. Finally, we must remember that our ultimate duty is not to our heroes, but to our Savior. If a hero is besmirched falls, it is tragic. Much worse to defend a fallen hero and bring shame on the name of Christ. The culture of coddling abusers has to end.
6. We should be thankful to those members of the EC who stood strong in the face of deceptive opposition, demanding that the investigation go forward, to Rolland Slade, Grant Gaines, Todd Benkert, to Bruce Frank and the Task Force, Rachael Denhollander, Jen Lyell, and other survivors who have raised their voices, to all who voted to seek the task force and to not allow last year’s EC leadership to derail the movement. Once I start naming names, I leave someone out who deserves to be named – there are many.
Mostly, thank God that we have an opportunity now to do the right thing after decades of failure.
This is not going to be fun. Reading the Houston Chronicle articles was gut-wrenching. This may be worse. Read the article with an open heart and mind.
May God use this evil for good.