Everyone, especially women and children, should be safe when they go to a place of worship. However, according to the recent Houston Chronicle report that disclosed over 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers going back as far as 1998, this was not the case for every church member or visitor. In reaction to this demoralizing report, several prominent Christian leaders are weighing in.
“Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing—to obey Christ—in every situation. It is heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse,” Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said. “Church autonomy should never be religious cover for passivity towards abuse.”
Greear was, of course, most likely speaking about the failure to respond to abuse claims due to the Southern Baptist Church’s autonomy guidelines.
Liberty University professor Basyle ‘Boz’ Tchividjian, who is also the executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, said the following via Twitter pertaining to the report:
“Southern Baptist leaders must honestly examine how they have contributed (directly or indirectly) to fostering a culture of systematic abuse and one that all too often ignores, marginalizes, and demonizes God’s children who bravely step forward to disclose it.”
According to Scot McKnight, who has authored over 50 books and is a New Testament scholar, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), “needs to talk to the abused.”
“If you want to focus on that failure, focus on those who have been abused — some 700 of them,” he said. “This is about women who are vulnerable to overpowering men. This is about young people, mostly women, who looked up to male leadership. About mostly women whose trust in the (mostly)’ man of God’ turned into a nightmare of moral violence.”
Renowned Bible teacher Beth Moore commented via social media on the dangers of second wave offenders, “monstrously common for victims to be abused again by one they thought safe to tell. Second wave abuse occurs when those told are either scandalized (say don’t tell me) or tantalized (tell me more). Both heap shame upon shame.”
Moore was herself a victim of sexual abuse, so she can personally relate to the 700 victims within the report.
“In tears scrolling through childhood pictures of sexual abuse survivors thinking how…utterly precious each one is, how innocent and worthy of valuing and protecting, most victimizations are never reported,” she added on Twitter. “Many victims who reported got blamed, some victims didn’t survive.”
Despite these very troubling reports, co-founder and CEO of Denison Forum, Jim Denison cautions the public to remember the amount of abusers is actually very small.
“There are more than 47,000 Baptist churches in the US,” he said. “If each church had only one pastor, five deacons, and ten Sunday school teachers, there would be more than 752,000 Baptist leaders. The report lists 380 credibly accused perpetrators. They would be 0.05% of the total. The vast majority of Southern Baptist leaders are committed to godly integrity. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are safe places for children and families to worship and serve.”
However, Denison does add that the abuse was an “appalling tragedy.”
“While I cannot comprehend the victims’ suffering, I am praying for their healing, I am praying for the churches and leaders across the Christian world to renew our commitment to engage our culture with positive, proactive service and transformational love,” he concluded.
The confirmed abuse will most certainly need to be addressed by the church leadership, and the issue must be forced into the light. As it says in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it.” Therefore, the issue must not be allowed to stay hidden in the darkness but must be brought out into the light, where it should be properly addressed by the SBC.
~ 1776 Christian