On May 22, a Guidepost report investigating the mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the Executive Committee of the SBC over the past two decades was released. It was grievous. It was painful. It requires serious and systemic change, Biblical repentance, and lamentation.
Systems and institutions are always susceptible to these kinds of problems. We would have hoped the SBC and its entities was above them. We are not. Neither is the release of the report the end of the matter. It will be discussed, digested, and challenged by some over the next few weeks. The messengers in Anaheim this summer will determine the next steps, and we will hear the recommendations prayerfully.
The report shined a bright light on a dark truth. The SBC Executive Committee, their attorneys and other high-profile leaders failed the churches, missionaries and most of all the victims of abuse who cried for justice. We learned there were mechanisms available, in the form of a list of sexual abusers in churches, that would have helped. But for fear of losing financial support, this list was kept hidden.
I am a third-generation Southern Baptist. My father was a faithful layman who led music, served as a deacon, and was a true statesman who loved this convention. It was my privilege to serve the SBC Executive Committee as a trustee for two terms. I wish he had been alive for me to tell him!
I was truly honored to work alongside other pastors, homemakers, bankers, small group leaders, teachers and college professors from Alaska to Florida, from every walk of life and across multiple ethnicities to serve our convention. But it turns out that the cry of the victims who had come to ask for help was kept from our ears and from our meeting agendas. I am profoundly disturbed and saddened by this knowledge. And I am truly glad my father did not have to see this day.
While I no longer occupy that role, I will pray that those who remain will be allowed to perform the job the messengers of the SBC elected them to do. And it is my desire as a pastor of a local church in the SBC to pursue justice for those victimized by those in leadership. I want to be counted as one who is supportive of the change needed to tear out the rot of a broken system and rebuild one that assures justice to the victims of sexual abuse…no matter the cost.
In the meantime, each church must determine their response and their direction going forward. Some have already decided to withhold funding from the SBC as their response. Others have doubled down and continue to faithfully press forward.
A Lexington, Kentucky pastor named Nick Sandefur wrote a column for Kentucky Today and shared seven reasons he is continuing to lead his church to support and affirm the work of Southern Baptists.
Here are his reasons, and I completely agree:
- Mission Funding Strategy – The cooperative program mission endeavor is still the most effective way of spreading the message of Jesus.
- Missionaries/Church Planters – Many current missionaries have left families and country to share the gospel. They left with the promise of SBC support.
- Network of Believers – Staff, partners in ministry, and friends have been developed because of our SBC connections.
- Disaster Relief – When disaster hits, Southern Baptists seek to bring relief to hurting people.
- Theological Education –SBC seminaries make the best theological education in the world affordable to future generations.
- Survivor Protection – A network committed, although very late in its commitment, to rooting out the evil of sexual abuse from our congregations is better than 50,000 independent churches with little support to address the issue.
- Self-Correcting Capacity and Desire – We have a jaded past. We have fostered sinful behavior and will make more mistakes but thankfully some are in our past. I pray for the day that sexual abuse is a former issue facing the SBC.
Brother Pastors and church leaders, hear my heart. You may choose in anger and disgust to pull away from anything connected to the Southern Baptist brand. I get it that some will. Maybe it feels brave and heroic when we do it. But throwing stones from the outside is a lot easier than doing the hard work of reform from within. I choose to lead our church to do that hard and prayerful labor.
And I pray you will continue on what will be the harder path and keep your hand to the plow. I believe the end of the journey will show it is worth it.
“Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
First Coast Churches cares about victims of sexual abuse. If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse by an SBC church leader, we encourage you to report it to the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force hot-line at 202-864-5578.