Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee announced that it had received a subpoena from the Department of Justice concerning the denomination’s mishandling of sexual abuse cases, Christianity Today reports. While no individuals have received subpoenas, those are certain to come in due time.
This follows the nation’s largest prominent denomination receiving a 288-page report detailing its failure to protect victims of sexual abuse at the hands of pastors and church leaders. Sexual abuse survivors begged the SBC for years to create a database of pastors and leaders who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. However, denominational leaders appealed to the SBC’s unique polity, in which every church is autonomous, as a reason that no centralized database could be created.
The SATF report, compiled by Guidepost solutions, showed that the Executive Committee already had a list of clergy who had been accused of abuse. The Executive Committee subsequently released the list.
For years, men in powerful positions in denominational life swept sexual abuse under the rug, choosing to help men abusers from trouble in one church to other unsuspecting churches. They demonized survivors crying out for reform and stonewalled every possible avenue for reasonable change.
Even now, leaders and media members allied with many of the people named in the report are pointing to the SATF as the possible downfall of the SBC. They say that waiving privilege and airing our dirty laundry before the world opened us up to investigations and lawsuits. They claim the result will be fewer missionaries in the field, fewer churches being planted, and fewer people coming to Jesus.
Unfortunately, many leaders used pious-sounding tropes about “distractions from the mission” to keep the SBC from dealing with our sexual abuse problem. Jesus and his mission became a convenient excuse for turning a blind eye to sin in our own camp.
Now, the SBC finds itself in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice. Make no mistake; if leaders at the highest level of the Southern Baptist Convention had dealt with this issue head-on as cases came to light, there would be no investigation today. When the DOJ came calling, the SBC would be able to say that its hands were clean.
Thankfully, many leaders who looked the other way are no longer in SBC leadership. In many cases, they have been replaced with men and women who want to bring justice to survivors and ensure that future generations are protected from predators.
A letter issued by the Executive Committee and signed by leaders of Southern Baptist Convention entities said, “current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future.” The letter promised the SBC would cooperate with the investigation and pointed to ongoing efforts at reform.
SBC leaders have nothing to fear from a Department of Justice investigation; if they remain above board and tell the truth. Hiding the truth got this denomination into this mess. We have undergone a painful process of revealing the truth, repenting, and seeking to make amends. If this process continues, then the DOJ’s investigation will only corroborate what we already know–that SBC leaders sinned against survivors in the past and are seeking to redress those wrongs today.
As I have argued in these pages before, it is not a distraction to deal with sin in the camp. In fact, it is vital to the church’s mission. Covering up sin and lying is the real distraction from the mission. We cannot proclaim Christ who forgives us when we confess our sins with our mouths while we cover up sin with our hands. Rooting sin out and bringing it to the light allows us to confess our sins and relish the forgiveness that Jesus offers. In this way, our lives match our message, giving a reality to the truth we proclaim.
I love the Southern Baptist Convention. I came to Christ in an SBC church, was mentored by Christian friends in SBC churches, and received my education in SBC institutions. However, the SBC is only one instrument in God’s hands. If the Department of Justice uncovers even wider corruption and the SBC pays dearly, God’s kingdom will keep marching on. He will raise up others to carry out his mission.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©SBC/Public Domain
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”