Monday, March 4, 2024

Brought to the Light

A Walk with Pastor John Smith


On May 22nd, an independent investigation regarding sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention was published. The 250+ page report documented events that occurred over 20 years, and needless to say, the results were horrifying. Grooming, failure to report crimes of sexual abuse, cover-ups, and gaslighting victims from entity heads and denominational leaders left me sick with anger and grief.

I was present in 2019 when the SBC voted to amend its constitution to protect victims and hold churches accountable. I was also there in 2021 when messengers pressed the SBC to conduct an independent investigation regarding the allegations of sex abuse and for the Executive Committee to show a measure of transparency. In both instances, I rejoiced.

Now that the report has been put forward and what is done in the darkness has been brought to the light, I am in a storm of emotions. First, I am exceedingly thankful for the investigation and that churches throughout the country stood in support, despite some measure of pushback. Although our church is now formerly SBC, we were present last year and were part of the vote for the investigation.

Second, I am left questioning how this could have happened? I know the answers—lack of accountability, ego, politics, etc.--but I am still sitting here in disbelief. As leaders, we are held to a greater account and that the quality of character and virtue should be impeccable (1 Tim. 3:2, Jas. 3:1). Leaders are to model Christ, yet the report shows that the SBC leadership modeled anything but Christlikeness. Don’t they know the Scriptures?

Many, if not all, have more training in the Bible than I do, and most pastors for that matter, and yet how could they act so unbiblically as to appear ignorant of what the Bible says about sin, righteousness, and repentance?

Lastly, I am angry. As a pastor, who has had many conversations and has walked with victims of sexual abuse towards healing, seeing church leaders abuse their authority to hurt and victimize those under their care and bring reproach to Christ, is beyond infuriating. The Church is a sanctuary for those harmed by the world—a place of rest where one who is hurting may sit under the grace of the Word and know that God does indeed “bind up the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit.” Yet what leaders within the SBC have done is treat the church as not a place where a victim can find refuge but rather where victimization occurs, and no one will be held accountable for it. To put it bluntly, that is Satanic.

Moving forward, we must understand that most SBC churches and non-SBC churches care about victims and strive for the well-being of their congregations in all areas. The majority of churches have a high view of Biblical accountability and believe in appropriate church discipline to protect the vulnerable. The sin of denominal leadership is grievous, but in this case, it does not reflect on the Church as a whole. In other words, there are still godly and faithful pastors in churches who model sacrificial love for those in their care, and there are churches that take the command of Christ seriously to love.

In addition, we must face the sin of sex abuse directly. We can’t sweep it under the rug or hope it goes away because it won’t. We have to deal with this issue honestly and biblically and hold any who perpetrates predatory acts accountable regardless of who they are or their position in the church. People need to feel listened to, and they need to feel safe. Failure to listen to victims and failure to respond decisively is why the SBC is in trouble.

Can the SBC recover from this? I have no idea, and frankly, that is not the point. Some would discourage me from writing this article because it may put local SBC churches in a bad light or disparage churches. However, as Christians, we must expose sin so that it can be repented of and the healing of forgiveness. This sin happens to be manifest not out in the world but within, and judgment must first begin at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

And finally, may God be merciful even as He judges the SBC and those who have been abused; may they see Christ’s compassion and be healed.

sexual abuse, religion, southern baptist convention, Pastor John Smith


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