I read through the Guidepost Solutions Independent Report on the handling of sex abuse allegations by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. I spent Sunday evening on it.
There was almost nothing in there surprising. Shocking, tragic, and despicable, but not surprising. I’ve been nauseous and angry over the last four days.
Then the question occurred to me: Is Jesus fighting against Southern Baptist leadership?
Let me back up a bit. I’ve served in two Southern Baptist churches since 2006. I’ve participated in state conventions, and local associations. I’ve been friends with trustees from almost every major SBC entity. I’ve had direct conversations and phone calls with a number of SBC elites during my ministry – when I feel convicted to challenge a decision or direction, I try to reach out directly.
I have always felt like an outsider trying to understand. I love how we have a system to collaborate in missions, disaster relief, and church planting. At the same time, though, the system of power is problematic. While SBC entity leadership says that we are a bottom-up convention (meaning the churches are the ones with the power), the reality is we are a top-down organization. Our bylaws certainly define us as a bottom-up convention of churches. But many leaders in SBC entities hold onto power by withholding information from the convention or the trustee teams. They hold onto power and control the narrative by putting friends into places of power – the good ol’ boy system. They hold onto power through the insidious SBC Eleventh Commandment, which is an informal rule that no matter how bad things get, Southern Baptists never speak against Southern Baptists. Actually, it’s not always an informal rule. I’ve seen a number of entities incorporate the rule into their employee and trustee code of conducts as grounds for dismissal.
(Which let’s be fair, petty vitriol over philosophy of ministry or minute points of theology should be avoided. But the eleventh commandment has silenced many from speaking up about abuses of power.)
This brings us to the Guidepost Solutions’ Report of the Independent Investigation . In this report we see credible and extensive documentation of the Executive Committee leadership bullying sex abuse survivors, withholding information from the trustees, burying information, and protecting powerful friends (my interpretation). We also saw reports of two past SBC presidents engaging in sexual abuse themselves. (One was characterized in the report as sexual assault. The other described as a mutual affair between a pastor and a woman he once pastored. This is still considered sexual abuse, and is illegal in thirteen states.)
Over the last few days, I’ve seen SBC leaders post their responses to the report. Generally, they’ve talked about being horrified, having compassion for the survivors, and wanting to work to make the SBC a safer convention.
Seeing these sentiments made me angry.
And I couldn’t figure out why for a day.
Hopefully, I’ve laid out this post well enough that you know why it made me angry. The system that enabled the Executive Committee to gaslight sex abuse survivors, protect abusive pastors, and withhold information from the trustees, is the same system that I’ve observed in other SBC entities.
I have no knowledge of other entities mishandling sex abuse cases.
But the same system of withholding information, good ol’ boy system of promoting, and eleventh commandment enforcement is pervasive throughout the entities of the convention. Not in equal measure, but we’re all aware of how the system works, and what we need to do if we want to climb the ladder to success.
While the leaders of the other entities may not have committed the evils the Executive Committee have – our overall system has led to this end. Many of our SBC leaders endorsed and supported these Executive Committee leaders outlined in the report. Instead of saying How terrible, we will work to do better, our leadership should be saying, How terrible, we allowed it to get this bad!
The Executive Committee and Baptist Press have apologized and repented. There’s more to do, but that’s a start.
There has been almost no repentance from the other SBC Leadership, and no repentance on the part of those named in the Guidestone report other than Steve Gaines.
For years I’ve heard from SBC leadership how we’re under spiritual attack. But maybe the attack hasn’t been from Satan. Maybe it has been from God himself.
Satan is involved, for sure. He has promised power and influence. He has encouraged silence and misdirection for the good of the organization. But I suspect that much of the warfare has been coming from the Lord.
In the book of Revelation, the glorious, risen Lord appears to John. He has a sword coming out of his mouth. He looks ready to make war. And in the next scene, we don’t see him fighting against his enemies in the world. In a shocking twist we see him battle against his own Church! In chapters 2 and 3, five out of the seven churches receive harsh warnings:
- I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
- So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
- Unless they repent of her works, I will strike her children dead.
- Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you.
- As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent.
Has the decline in SBC membership and baptisms been because of our convention’s hidden sins?
Has the risen Lord been fighting against us? Rebuking and disciplining us until we repent?
I think so.
And I think God has contended against our convention by first empowering the survivor community. Then, I think God has contended against our convention by using news organizations to uncover our shame. After this, I think God awoke the churches to the hidden sins in the convention, and despite the best efforts to block us and ignore us, we prevailed to have an investigation done.
Never have I seen so many people, fight so hard so we would have the opportunity to repent.
But it wasn’t just the Executive Committee that was broken. We are broken.
Look, to the best of my knowledge myself and the church I serve has never gaslit abuse survivors. We’ve tried to support and resource survivors. We’ve posted the sermon “What Will Happen if the Church Ignores Sexual Abuse?” on our homepage for over four years. But even still, in response to our reading of Daniel 9 – The Orchard Church repented.
And we will continue to do so.
Because from my perspective, Satan deceived many of our leaders into sin with the promise of a stronger convention, and many took it. And the Lord, because of his love for his Church, has been disciplining us.
Many have done evil in the name of God.
Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7).
The terrifying part in all this, is that the Lord will continue to discipline and continue to rebuke until there is repentance.
And then – only then can we begin to bear fruit.
Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance (Matthew 3:8).
We cannot move forward as a convention until we repent as a convention.
I plead with our convention leaders, repent. Repent on behalf of the entities you lead.
And if you have personal culpability, repent now. God is going to reveal everything that is hidden. Yes, you may have to lose your position, but you will gain a right relationship with the One who created and upholds all things.
It’s only after we’ve done this that we can be empowered by Jesus to fix what is broken in our convention.