This week Russell Moore wrote the following article (This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse) for Christianity Today regarding the external report on sexual abuse and the SBC Executive Committee. In addition, David French wrote another fantastic article on the same subject for The Atlantic, The Southern Baptist Horror. Both articles describe horrific and evil actions of not protecting those that are in need and actually sheltering those who did the harm.
I have just enough Reformed thought in me to believe that we live in a fallen world so I am not surprised that evil took place inside various churches by the leaders of those churches. While I don’t expect evil to take place, I am not surprised when it does because of the fallen nature of the world. Of course, this isn’t just in the church. Look at any institution and you will find evil that has happened or is happening within it. Yet the church is supposed to be a place where we know that we have sinned and we come in repentance, which means admitting to and confronting with the power of the Holy Spirit the evil of which we have been participants. Like a spiritual Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, we enter the church by admitting our fallen nature. Hi, I’m Robert and I am a sinner – much like the wonderful Jesus prayer from my Orthodox spiritual family members – Jesus, have mercy on me the sinner. When we admit our sin there is no need to try and hide it to save face. Light drives away darkness.
But the report that came out this week shows that the SBC Executive Committee didn’t do that. Instead of repenting of evil and helping the victims, the SBC EC fought to protect itself, some of the members of the EC, and at least in its own mind, the SBC from reputational harm and possible legal liability. The church is supposed to be the place that leans towards the oppressed and yet the report shows that the EC leaned toward the values of power and cared more for organizational security than for the needs of those who have been victimized. It was very unChristlike behavior and evil.
What does this mean for me?
After all, I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I recognize that I owe a good bit to the SBC. While I wasn’t raised in church when I came to faith as a teen it was through an SBC church. The spiritual formation that still shapes me the most came from my college minister, Mike Nuss, who was funded by the SBC. My first step into church ministry was paid for by the SBC when I served over a Summer at Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit. I have two different degrees from SBC seminaries where at least half my tuition was paid for by the SBC. Finally, Tapestry‘s initial funds came from the SBC. I recognize that I have a large debt to the support that came through the cooperation of many SBC churches.
But I never want to turn my back on victims out of some sense of indebtedness.
Matthew 25 is one of the passages of scripture that most shapes my faith in Jesus. In that passage, Jesus describes the sheep and the goats being separated and the determiner of that separation is how each has treated “the least of these.” Did they give something to eat, something to drink, invite them in, clothe them, or visit them? The sheep did and the goats didn’t. Jesus reveals that whatever they did or didn’t do for “the least of these” was done, or not done, to Jesus.
SBC Executive Committee the One you turned your back on, “gaslighted”, and exposed to potential harm by hiding predators was Jesus and your fruit is being shown for what it is. I didn’t participate in any of that but now that it is known I will be judged on my response to it. So what do I do?
Honestly, I don’t know yet.
I’m not one to care much about denominational business, and I don’t like “hot takes” and quick responses, but I will be watching the convention VERY closely this year to see the response to the report. The actions that happen at the 2022 SBC Convention in Anaheim June 12-15 will shape much of my response. If the SBC responds to the report in true repentance, not just with an apology but actually declaring evil as evil and taking steps to correct that evil and repair, as much as possible, the harm, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to really begin listening to the victims, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to be more concerned with biblical justice than when protection of the powerful in our midst and our perceived reputation, that will shape how I respond.
And if it doesn’t … that will shape how I respond.
I am sure that the SBC won’t really care how I respond because I am the pastor of a small church in Wisconsin. Someone who doesn’t have a name in the SBC, doesn’t have a desire to have any power in the denomination, and a church that doesn’t hold any sway in the SBC. So it won’t hurt the SBC if I say “I can’t be a part of this anymore” because there aren’t any “real” numbers of people or money involved. Therefore few will probably care. Yet I know the One who does care and He is watching to see how I respond when the people who are supposed to be His bride respond to Him in His most distressing disguises by turning their backs on Him.
I know many like to use the word “sheep” as a derogatory statement by saying people are “sheeple”, but Jesus likes sheep and I want Him to see how I respond and call me a sheep.
SBC I am watching how we respond on June 12-15. I pray that response is the response of sheep and not goats.
SIDE NOTE – Russell Moore has an informative podcast episode with Rachel Denhollander concerning the SBC Executive Committee report that is very insightful and well worth the listen. It is located HERE.