In the context of my responsibilities on the Leadership Council of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, yesterday I was part of a conference call with S.B.C. leaders to discuss what we can do about the problem of sexual abuse in churches. This week’s article in the Houston Chronicle has sparked a firestorm, as it revealed a longstanding problem within our denomination similar to that with which other groups have had to wrestle in recent years. Sexual sin crosses every line of demarcation, and no one is exempt from its dangers, and we have been called to account.
As your senior shepherd, let me offer you a few of my own thoughts about the ways in which you and I can be part of the solution – right here in our local congregation.
- Always think safety. Protect the vulnerable. Act wisely in every circumstance. If you work with children or students here at church, make sure that there are always at least two adults in every ministry setting. It would be better to cancel a class or activity than to violate a policy which serves everyone’s best interest.
- Listen when people raise concerns about inappropriate speech or behavior. Don’t be dismissive, or assume that we are above impropriety, or think that “that would never happen here.” It could. Don’t be deceived: the enemy of God and God’s people is relentless. He would love to bring us down, individually and collectively.
- In spite of the fact that this is a tough topic to tackle, don’t resort to inappropriate humor. For a victim of sexual abuse, this is never a laughing matter.
- Be a good sport when we ask you to complete a background check. And, if you unofficially “recruit” another leader to help you on a project, make sure that he or she has been screened by the policies and procedures of our church. Any pastor, or member of the front office team, can help you get that started.
- Welcome women at the table of critical decision-making in the church. We can be complementarian in our theology (believing that the Bible calls men and women to distinct ministry roles, in some instances) without being foolish in regard to the unique contributions made by women to our understanding of this very difficult subject of sexual abuse.
- Don’t confuse “grace” with the covering up of a sex crime. Grace is submitting to government authority, which is our calling in Christ (Romans 13:1-7). Criminal offenses should be reported immediately. Period. No excuses. No cover-ups. This gets back to protecting the vulnerable – which is love.
- Pray for your church family, and for our denomination. If you’re not doing that already, it’s a great time to start!
As I get further and further into my awareness and responsibilities at the national level, I look forward to leading the charge with you in such a way that First Baptist Paducah shines brightly as a flagship church when it comes to doing these things right – for the glory of God. This is our high calling, and we should settle for nothing less.
May this difficult and sorrowful day of very public reckoning be a season of genuine repentance, and may it lead ultimately to the greatest outpouring of Christ’s gospel which the world has ever witnessed.