I was at the convention in 1995 when we came face to face with the grievous sin we’d committed for 140 years, a sin that was at the root of the founding of our convention – racism. We stood as one to recognize this sin, to admit that slavery, segregation, racism, and white supremacy which had been such a part of the SBC since the days of its Founders were evil, a wickedness that shamed the name of Christ, hindered the Gospel, and had no place in the life of a community of believers. We did the only thing that we could do when such sin is realized. We repented. It is an argument for another day whether or not our actions since that time have demonstrated the sincerity of that repentance, but it seemed genuine on that day.
We repented corporately for the corporate sin of our convention. Some have argued the strange position that corporate sin does not exist, that sin is only individual and repentance should be individual. The Bible says differently. How often in the Old Testament does God pronounce judgment on a nation – corporately? Nehemiah prayed a beautiful prayer on behalf of the nation of Israel confessing their sins. Many of the prophets engaged in similar prayers, confessing the sins of the nation as a whole. Jesus called on the churches of Asia Minor to repent lest he remove his presence from the congregation, lest their candlestick be removed. There is corporate sin, corporate responsibility, requiring corporate repentance.
The Time is NOW
It is time for the Southern Baptist Convention to repent again for our sin, as we did in Atlanta in 1995. This time, we must grieve, mourn, and wail over the presence of sexual abuse in our churches, the lives that have been devastated by it, and especially the way we have responded so poorly, so sinfully, to those who have been abused.
But…but…you haven’t abused anyone. Neither have I. If you are an abuser in any way – verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually – you need to repent of that sin. That’s on you. Individually. We cannot repent for your sin. We need to repent for allowing this sin to fester, for letting it go unchecked, for turning blinds eyes to signs of abuse, for closing our ears to the cries of the abused, for hero-worship and our celebrity culture that put certain men above accountability, for putting the good of the institution, the convention, or a church, above the good of a child, or a teen, or a woman, or a man. Since we are all part of the SBC, we are all stained by this sin and we need to publicly and sincerely repent.
1. This sin is widespread among us.
The Houston Chronicle reported around 700 victims and according to the Guideposts report, a secret list was kept by EC staffers that recorded hundreds of offenders in the SBC. This is disgusting and heart-wrenching to think of the amount of pain that has been caused.
One of the prominent figures in the report argued personally to me that the numbers should be discounted, that they should be cause for rejoicing. After all, we have nearly 50,000 churches. Out of all of those churches over 20 years, there have only been a few hundred episodes reported. We are better than the Catholics, we should be happy! That kind of thinking is flawed!
- If there was only one such case, it should grieve us. If there were a dozen, our hearts should break.
- The cases identified by Guideposts, by the EC’s secret list, or by the Houston Chronicle are those who have been reported, arrested, or otherwise publicly outed. For every such case there are others that have never been reported. This problem is far bigger than we know right now. The “Abuse of Faith” stories and the Guideposts reports are likely the tip of the iceberg.
- Our greatest sin as a convention, the one for which we must repent, is our treatment of the victims, the survivors of abuse. We (as a convention) have protected the abusers and have prosecuted the abused. Look at the Jen Lyell story. The way she has been treated in the SBC is wicked, demonic. That is not hyperbole. It is satanic to heap condemnation and vitriol onto a victim of abuse as so many have done. Executive Committee staff instructed Baptist Press to aid and abet that evil. If the report is conclusive about anything, it is that there has been a systemic pattern of neglect and even mistreatment of survivors.
This is sin!
2. This sin brings shame on our Savior’s name.
Just about every news outlet is reporting these findings. If your temptation is to say, “See, we shouldn’t have done the investigation,” you are part of the problem. We shouldn’t have committed the sins. That’s where the fault lies. Exposing and dealing with the sin, as painful as it is, is the right thing to do.
It is painful, though. The problem is that it is not just the Southern Baptist name that is being dragged through the mud, but our Savior’s. “He who knew no sin” is getting vilified for ours. Our unrighteousness is being used to denigrate him in the lost world.
We cannot live in sexual immorality, protect pedophiles and abusers, mistreat survivors, and expect there to be no consequences. The worst of it all is that the consequences will not just be on us, but on our Savior.
3. This sin will hinder our work.
We are going to have to devote a lot of time of money to fix this problem. That is time we won’t be preaching Christ or dealing with other issues and money that won’t be funding missionaries. Again, that is a consequence of sin. If we wanna dance, we have to pay the band. If we dishonor Christ in the ways we have for decades, there are costs. This will cost us and it will not be cheap.
It is a price we must pay.
4. The only solution to sin is repentance.
When I sin, I must confess it and repent. When we violate God’s word as a convention, we must gather before God, confess our sin, and repent. There is no amount of PR, no new program or slogan, no strategy or effort that will reverse this problem. We must realize that evil has been committed in the SBC camp and we must repent.
- We must repent individually as needed.
- We need a formal time of corporate repentance, modeled on the 1995 Atlanta gathering, in which we express remorse and repentance as a convention for what has gone on.
- We must demonstrate works in line with repentance. It is not enough to stand and say, “We repent.” That repentance must be sincere and must be followed by serious action that shows the sincerity is real. The report lists recommended actions for the Executive Committee and the Credentials Committee. These must be taken seriously. Perhaps not each one will be adopted, but they must be thoughtfully and carefully reviewed and definite acts must be taken to ensure that in the future we do not behave as we have in the past.
I have a few ideas, though I will avoid being too specific about how to carry this out. Hopefully, the messengers willa again show that we mean business on this issue and the convention will act responsibly.
- While perhaps a brief expression of repentance, lament, and sorrow could take place in Anaheim, it might be good to plan something formal for the 2023 Annual Meeting, or some other appropriate time.
- Survivors of sexual abuse, especially those who have been mistreated by the EC or other entities of the SBC should be invited to be present. Many may choose not to come, because of past pain, but the invitation should be made. We might even want to offer help with expenses.
- By 2023, some of these Task Force recommendations could be in the process of implementation, pointing to our sincerity of action. If we are doing more than expressing regret, but showing a definite course of action, all the better.
- We must remember that it took decades to get where we are. We cannot expect an apology, even a serious, biblical expression of repentance, to heal everything. It will take time – years of doing the right thing instead of doing the wrong thing to demonstrate that we have truly changed.
These are discussion starters, ideas more than a formal proposal.
As I read the report, I was overwhelmed. This is a serious matter. Wickedness has abounded in the SBC and those we have trusted to lead us have sometimes led us astray. Now, we must repent. This cannot be taken lightly. This cannot be passed off as no big deal.
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. James 4:7-10.