The Southern Baptist Abuse Crisis: Two Steps God Is Calling All Christians to Take Today

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Monday, June 10, 2019
The Southern Baptist Abuse Crisis: Two Steps God Is Calling All Christians to Take Today

The Southern Baptist Abuse Crisis: Two Steps God Is Calling All Christians to Take Today


“We want our churches to be as safe as possible as soon as possible.” This is the goal of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), according to its president, J. D. Greear.

Ahead of the SBC’s annual meeting that begins tomorrow in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Greear and other Southern Baptist leaders are responding to an unprecedented sexual abuse crisis facing their denomination. They are seeking ways to hold churches more accountable for allowing such abuse and to keep people in their churches safe. 

One sexual abuse victim is too many 

This crisis was catalyzed by a report last February presenting information on 380 credibly accused Southern Baptist leaders, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and volunteer leaders. 

Reporters discovered that at least thirty-five church pastors, employees, and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were nonetheless able to find jobs at churches over the last two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement or warn other congregations. 

The stories are horrific. Victims as young as three were reportedly molested inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. Adults seeking pastoral guidance say they were seduced or sexually assaulted. 

As I wrote at the time, these tragedies occurred in a very small number of the 47,000 Baptist churches in the US. The vast majority of Southern Baptist leaders are committed to personal integrity. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are safe places for children and their families. 

But as SBC leaders would agree, one sexual abuse victim is too many. 

“Be holy in all your conduct.” 

As the SBC begins its meetings, I’d like to consider the crisis they are confronting as a larger issue for Christians in America. 

One of the lies of our culture is that religion, if we practice it at all, must be a personal hobby. What you do on Sunday must not affect your public life on Monday. The spiritual must be separated from the secular, religion from the “real world.” 

But this is nonsense from a biblical point of view. 

We are commanded: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). Paul was clear: “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). 

The parts of our lives that are committed to holiness are the only parts of our lives God can fully use and bless. Partial holiness means partial Christianity, which is less than God’s intention for us. 

What we aspire to be is what we become. The Lord warned: “You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble” (Isaiah 33:11). Conversely, “the person who walks righteously and speaks uprightly . . . will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks” (vv. 15–16). 

David’s singular impact on human history can be explained by this single verse: “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart” (Psalm 138:1, my emphasis). We are to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1) and “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, my emphasis). 

How can we live with such holistic holiness that our lives honor God and change our culture? 

First, we decide that we want to be holy. 

We choose to be godly in thoughts, words, and actions. We refuse the cultural lie that good enough is good enough, that so long as we don’t break laws or hurt people, we can do what we want and be who we want. 

Perhaps the most often-quoted paragraph C. S. Lewis ever wrote is relevant here: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

Second, we ask the Holy Spirit to make us holy. 

The cultural claim that we can do anything if we try hard enough and work long enough fails us here. Scripture is clear: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10–11). 

But the “sanctification of the Spirit” can do what we cannot (1 Peter 1:2). Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where he is calling you to holiness today. Name the specific failure, weakness, or opportunity he brings to mind. 

Now ask the Spirit to cleanse you, guide you, and empower you. He may lead you to forgive someone or to seek their forgiveness, to spend specific time in spiritual disciplines, and/or to seek the wisdom of a trusted counselor. Partner with him in becoming more like Jesus than ever before. 

“Obedience is the road to freedom” 

I believe God would use the sexual abuse crisis in the SBC to call all Southern Baptists to a deeper level of holistic holiness than ever before. I believe he is extending the same urgent call to all Christians of all denominations and none. 

In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis observes: “We are summoned from the outset to combine as creatures with our Creator, as mortals with immortality, as redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer.” How do we experience such union with God? “Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.” 

Where on the road to holiness are you? 

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Publication Date: June 10, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Mitchell Hollander/Unsplash