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.

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