Thoughts on the SBC Sexual Abuse Report

This past Sunday, a document nearly a year in the making was released to the public. Last summer at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, messengers commissioned a Sexual Abuse Task Force to address accusations of sexual abuse in the SBC. Sunday, the Task Force made public the findings of an investigation conducted by an independent, third-party firm.

You can read the entire report here. It’s nearly 300 pages long, so you may wish to read one of many summaries of the report, like this one. If you want some background history, here’s a timeline of events.

Or, if you want my summary, here it is: Over the years, hundreds of women and children have been victims of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, perpetrated by volunteers and paid staff, including some pastors. Over the past twenty years, as the sexual abuse survivor community has gained a voice, they have sought justice from the leaders of our denomination. And over and over again, a small group of those leaders chose to keep the stories quiet because they cared more about protecting the SBC from financial liability than about getting justice for victims. Thanks to some good reporting (including from the Houston Chronicle) I knew most of this already. This report adds some new information, and confirms what we already believed to be true.

So what are my thoughts?

First, we should all grieve. It’s tempting to dismiss this entire story. In the days leading up to this, I have heard and read voices that say things like, “We’re only talking about a few hundred cases in a denomination of over 47,000 churches. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that every one of those cases represents a person whose life is forever damaged. Every case was someone’s son or daughter…not to mention there are likely many more cases that were never reported.

Or, “This kind of thing happens anywhere that adults are working with kids. Look at the Boy Scouts, or youth sports.” Yes, but this happened in churches. This was at the hands of people who purported to represent God. And those who had the courage to speak up were silenced, shamed and ignored by those who could have–and SHOULD have, done something.

We need to feel the weight of this. We need to take responsibility. We may not individually be guilty, but we are responsible for what was done in the name of our God.

We should all pray. Pray for those who were victimized. They need our prayers for healing and for justice. Pray that those responsible would all be held accountable–we know they will face God’s judgment in the end, but it’s always so much more edifying to see it happen in this world. Pray for revival in the SBC. This entire sorry episode shows that there is a profound brokenness in us, and we need God’s Spirit to bring us to repentance, so we can represent Him well once again.

We should hold our convention and its officers accountable. The report lists a series of recommendations. There are clearly changes that must be made. Amazingly, some voices in our denomination want to simply express sympathy, then move on unchanged. In my opinion, that would be a travesty. This week, I booked a flight to Anaheim for the SBC annual meeting in a couple weeks. I am just one person among thousands, but I feel that I need to make my voice and vote heard. Please pray for that important meeting, June 13-15.

We should protect people. In the end, God will hold Christians like us accountable not for how we protected our financial bottom line, our reputation, or our own rights. We’ll be judged for how we treated people. They are the ones Christ died for. At FBC, all of our staff know that if we hear an accusation of any kind of abuse, it must be reported to the authorities immediately. That’s true no matter who is accused–including me. Our Children’s and Student Ministries revised their child protection policies last year. You are welcome to review them if you like. We employ police officers as security in our main area and children’s area every time we meet. There are cameras in every room of our kids’ building.

Still, we must do more. If you attend FBC and spot any way we are failing to keep people safe, please make it known to us. If you have questions, I or any of our staff will be happy to answer them. If you ever feel we are being less than completely transparent, call us on it. As a church family, we must all be vigilant. The enemy loves secrecy and complacency. We must be people of the truth, defenders of the vulnerable, and soldiers of the light.

We must not be discouraged. Between this story and so many other ongoing crises and tragedies, I am reminded how profoundly broken our world is. It’s easy to feel discouraged, to think that evil is winning. But this SBC story reminds me of something Jesus said: Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops (Luke 12:3). In the end, no one ever “gets away” with sin. Even powerful people who try to cover up evil are eventually exposed, as this story shows.

More importantly, nothing can stop our God from ransoming this world, one soul at a time–not even our own failures. In churches (SBC and otherwise) around the world, people are coming to faith by the thousands. Missionaries are spreading the Gospel and improving communities in the poorest, most war-torn places on earth. Individual believers are loving their neighbors with courage and compassion, displaying the love of Christ that the world so desperately needs. And remember, He’s coming back to redeem and renew creation. I pray that it happens soon. In the meantime, we have work to do.

Thoughts about the fall of Roe v. Wade

The following excerpt from my book American Idols seems even more relevant in light of the recent news from the Supreme Court:  

How do we protect the life of the unborn? For most of my life, the answer from the pro-life side has focused on legislation and the courts: Capture statehouses, and urge representatives to pass laws that restrict abortion. Elect Presidents who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will then overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal in the first place. In light of Scripture, a ruling that prioritizes a “right to privacy” over the life of a child is indeed evil, and therefore these political efforts are worthy. But overturning Roe v. Wade won’t end abortion in America. It will merely allow individual states to make their own abortion laws. One study found that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, it would only reduce abortions by 13%.[ii]  And even if the pro-life movement were able to ban abortion in all fifty states, thousands of abortions would still take place each year. So when the day comes that Roe v. Wade is overturned, we shouldn’t celebrate as if the battle is won. It’s only getting started.

How do I know this? The abortion rate has been declining in America for over forty years, and today it’s actually lower than it was in 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade.  That’s right, women were more likely to obtain abortions before the procedure was legal than they are today. In other words, changing the law won’t change the fact that many women who are pregnant do not feel they can bring their baby to term. If abortion is banned, many will still find a way to terminate their pregnancies. To truly be pro-life, we cannot simply ban abortion. We must seek to end it.            

How?  I think the answer requires asking other questions, such as: What factors have caused the abortion rate to decline? What factors drive women to seek abortions in the first place? Obviously, if we want to save unborn lives, we should work to accentuate the first set of factors, while addressing the second set. What about the men involved in these pregnancies? Could tougher laws against deadbeat dads reduce the number of abortions?

Of course, we know the answers to those questions will vary, depending on the source. Conservatives will say that the ultimate answer is to strengthen families, while maintaining a healthy overall economy. These should be supplemented by supporting adoption, foster families, and the work of crisis pregnancy centers. Progressives will point to initiatives such as more access to contraceptives, free child care, and an increase in the child tax credit. Thinking biblically instead of politically means being willing to try any solution–even those that don’t fit with our own political ideals—that saves lives. Are we as evangelicals willing to support all proposals that will reduce the number of abortions, even if some of those proposals seem “liberal”? If not, then we’re guided by political idolatry, not our Scriptural convictions.

You can find American Idols: Overcoming the False Gods that Keep Us From Abundant Life by clicking here, or by contacting me directly.

[ii] David French, “In a Post-Roe World, Pro-Lifers Would Still Have a Lot of Work to Do.” National Review, July 19, 2019.