It’s no secret that one of the major issues we’ll be facing today and tomorrow as we convene our annual meeting is sexual abuse and how we will respond to it as a Convention. President Greear indicated last night during the ERLC panel discussion on sexual abuse that we would have numerous opportunities during our annual meeting to hear from abuse survivors, consider actions we can take at the local church level, and vote on key items meant to address the issue head-on. Rachael Denhollander also challenged us to respond in action and not just words. There seems to be a resolve on the part of many messengers to act and do so in a significant way to address the issue of sexual abuse in our churches and ministering effectively to survivors of abuse.
At the same time, I’ve heard a number of push-backs from messengers who have concerns about acting. In hallway conversations, on social media, in committee meetings, and around the dinner table, I’ve heard a number of common concerns about what we may or might do over the next two days. This post is meant to address those concerns and encourage you as a messenger to act on this issue.
The following are the most common concerns I’ve heard and why I think they are BAD reasons not to act:
Christians should follow the Bible and not be pressured by the world. I don’t think I need to make a biblical case for standing up for the abused and protecting the vulnerable. I don’t think that is the sentiment behind the statement, and I get the point that the secular world and culture should not dictate what we do as Christians and as Baptists. What I want you to understand, though, is that the call for action is not coming from the world, but from survivors of abuse IN our churches. The call for action is coming from INSIDE not outside the church. I encourage you to read the report and hear the stories and pleas of our fellow believers who have experienced abuse.
Yes, our culture is focusing on this issue and yes there are media in attendance who are ready to report what we do or do not do. So what. Don’t let your resistance to being “pressured” by the world create an opposite pressure not to act and do what we need to do to be faithful stewards of our gospel ministry.
We’re distracting from the mission. I can’t make a detailed case in this short post, but let me just say, No we’re not. The gospel is meaningless if we have no hope to offer survivors of sexual abuse and our churches are not a safe place not only to be protected from abuse to reveal the truth about abuse when it happens. I get if you don’t want to call this a “gospel issue” – but it certainly is a biblical issue and an issue that affects our gospel witness to those who have experienced the trauma of abuse. How can we do Great Commission work and at the same time not take needed action to give hope and peace and refuge to those around and among us?
It’s not that big a problem. Yes, I see the math and realize that the number of cases of abuse in churches, may not fit your definition of crisis. A couple points here. First, sexual abuse and assault is WAY underreported. Consider that reports like what we’ve seen in the Houston Chronicle are just what was found by one investigative journalism team by people who have come forward. I know of at least 4 cases in my own limited anecdotal experience that weren’t included in those numbers, and I’m just one of the 16,000 pastors in the SBC. Second, how many cases do we need to see of serial abusers moving from ministry to ministry undetected and free to abuse others before we recognize there is a major hole in our system that needs to be fixed? Even if it is not a “crisis” by your standard, it’s still a big problem that MUST be fixed and now.
We’re moving too fast. I get that constitutional amendments are a big deal but, honestly, we’ve had almost a year to work on this and it takes two consecutive meetings for it to pass. I think we can handle making a decision here. Plus, this issue has been around for a long time, it’s come up multiple times in the past decade so I don’t think it’s really a case of moving too fast. This reasoning feels like my students who’ve known the research paper due date since the beginning of the term but wait until the last week to start working on it and then tell me I didn’t give them enough time. Our moment is now – fast or slow, this is our moment to act.
I don’t like the #metoo (#churchtoo) movement. So what? It’s never a good excuse to let a few bad actors allow us to remain blind and unconcerned about real trauma that has been experienced by our members and sometimes in our churches. If you don’t like the #metoo movement, I’m not going to convince you of its importance or change your mind about it. Fine. But realize that what the #metoo movement has gifted us with is an opportunity for those who have experienced abuse to have the courage to tell their stories and the willing ness for others to listen to those stories. Again, just read the ERLC report and hear the experiences told there. Don’t let your dislike for a secular movement outside our Convention keep you from hearing and responding to the real and painful experiences of those inside it.
I don’t like the leaders driving this. Again, so what? Can some of you please stop with the “hidden agenda” stuff?!? Consider for just a moment that those players you don’t like have a real concern and heart to address this issue and minister to others. Even if you can’t accept that, can you at least take the actions being requested of us at face value, separate what we’re being asked to do from personalities, and commit to doing what’s right no matter who is driving the issue? Again, it is the survivors of abuse in our midst that are driving this and the other players are merely giving a platform for these real stories to be heard and real problems to be addressed. Let’s put personality and Convention politics aside for at least this one annual meeting.
The issue is being blown out of proportion. Whether or not your church ever happens IN your church, you do have persons in the pews and many others in the community around your church who are survivors of abuse or who are even experiencing abuse now. One of four persons have experienced abuse of some kind. In don’t think that addressing an issue that affects so many is blowing anything out of proportion. Let’s do all we can to hold ourselves accountable, to protect the vulnerable, to minister to the hurting, to make our churches and our denomination a safe place to speak truth, to find healing, to minister the hope of the gospel.
I don’t know exactly what we will be asked to vote on in these next two days. But let’s not let any of these bad reasons keep us from doing what we need to do to not only speak, but act on this important issue.