A church, denomination, or Christian ministry must look outside of itself when confronted with a pattern of mishandling such responsibilities, or merely of being charged with such a pattern. We cannot vindicate ourselves.
I believe that any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation.
This was Al Mohler, our leading denominational spokesman and SBTS president, in his May 23rd commentary, The Wrath of God Poured Out – The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mohler covers a lot of ground in that piece about clergy abuse of women, including both practical and theological aspects of the issues but the quote above is interesting and the call for “any public accusation” to demand an “independent, third party investigation” is new ground in some ways.
On the individual church level, independent, third-party investigations have been employed sporadically but regularly in SBC. But what does Mohler mean when he writes that a denomination…must look outside of itself? I don’t want to parse every word of Mohler’s piece but I assume when he writes of a “pattern” he isn’t excluding individual acts that should require an independent, third party investigation. Is he calling for outside investigations in our “denomination”? I hope that he expands on it.
What we could have, and what might be beneficial and helpful could include:
- A third party audit of all SBC entities and their handling of abuse. Such would be initiated and funded by each entity. The same could be done for state conventions.
- Ad hoc third-party audits and investigations of entities that have exhibited problems in this area.
- A third party evaluation of how SBC churches could handle abuse and abusers. This would be essentially a survey and research of cases in SBC churches. Although Mohler didn’t call for a database to be established, the idea is similar. What can the Executive Committee (or LifeWay, or a consortium of the seminaries) do to better help churches on the issue and to stop the cases where offending clergy are able to move from church-to-church and remain in SBC ministry.
- Examination of ways to better manage clergy misconduct in our autonomous systems.
It’s always been impossible for me to visualize how we can do much problem solving directed at individual churches from the associational, state, or national level. Only churches ordain clergy. Only churches call (hire) and terminate their staff. The only supervision over any SBC church staff comes from the church from whom the individual receives a paycheck. (Exceptions to this, of course, are the small fraction of funded church planting or other positions.) No one can revoke an ordination but the church that ordained the minister. The national, state, or associational SBC bodies cannot prevent a church from ordaining, hiring, or retaining any minister no matter how egregious their sins. The SBC at its various levels can educate, cajole, and condemn but all of those are persuasive, not concretely punitive. I know of no way any offending minister can be excluded from serving in SBC churches.
In the area of clergy abuse in SBC churches no one has done it better, no one has written on it longer, and no one has written on it more than Baptist News Global writer Bob Allen. Read his article, #AlMohlerToo: Did a Southern Baptist power broker just get woke? (and forgive him for the oh-so-trendy use of “woke”).
Allen deals with many things in the article one of which is the fact that Mohler has a complicated and long running problem, as seen by many, with Sovereign Grace Ministries and C. J. Mahaney. Allen does a good job of laying it out. Perhaps Mohler will feel compelled to revisit the matter in the light of his call for the independent, third-party investigations. Perhaps not. Perhaps he already has, just not publicly. Mohler’s voice is important on the matters that plague the SBC right now and the SGM matter is important though tangential to SBC problems. It has caused many to be skeptical of Mohler’s approach to clergy abuse.
Christa Brown, the abuse victim and victim advocate (her story of her own abuse by an SBC minister and her long efforts to see him brought to accountability is particularly deplorable) who was the earliest to try and address SBC clergy abuse, says that Mohler “should call for an independent third-party investigation into how patterns of sex abuse get handled in the Southern Baptist Convention.” She has also called for an independent, denominationally funded “independent review board to evaluate and inform churches about incidents of clergy abuse.”
Although I’m not certain how it would be done, the idea of having an independent third-party investigation into how patterns of sex abuse get handled in the Southern Baptist Convention is a reasonable one.
The SBC Executive Committee responded to the idea back in 2007 and said that “Any such panel, to be effective, would need authority to investigate and act. Baptists would never authorize or recognize such a panel if it were composed of people outside their local church. Inside the local church, it is often the case that Baptists have formed deacon subcommittees, personnel committees, legal committees, and other such bodies to authorize prevention policies and deal with specific instances of criminal, abhorrent, or impermissible conduct. And with regard to criminal matters, the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials. The SBC strongly advises the immediate report of suspected child abuse, sexual or otherwise.” I don’t think the basic issues have changed since 2007 but there may be approaches to the problems that were not considered back then. We will see.
Notably, Allen reported that a “subgroup of the SBC Executive Committee discussed the idea in a not-for-direct-quotation or attribution meeting in September 2017.” It was unclear specifically what “the idea” was – a general discussion of the matters or a more concrete discussion of independent review boards, databases and the like.
Seems to this semi-retired hacker and plodder pastor that we will be looking at all these questions in the near future and it looks like Al Mohler is in the neighborhood of advancing the discussion. There is a vacuum of leadership in the SBC these days.
Let’s see what he does.