The SBC and Sexual Abuse

"But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness, must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints" (Ephesians 5:3).

Sexual abuse is abhorrent to every genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is abhorrent even to the vast majority of non-Christians. (This is, by the way, what makes the current push of the LGBTQ agenda into the public elementary schools so disturbing. It is classic pedophile grooming to sexualize young, pre-pubescent children. But I digress.) Sexual lusts and sins of every kind, as defined by the Holy Scripture, are also abhorrent to Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ has always stood against such evils. To oppose abuse in any form takes no courage at all.

But, to oppose worldly solutions to sexual abuse does take courage, especially in today's environment. And to oppose secular ideologies informing or influencing our view of what abuse is, and how to investigate a claim of abuse, and when to actually label someone an abuser, takes courage. And to oppose cultural labels undergirded by a worldview of perpetual victimhood placarded upon professing Christians who either have been abused or who claim they have been abused, also takes courage.

And it seems the Southern Baptist Convention is lacking just such courage. Or, those within the SBC who do possess such courage, by the sanctifying grace and power of Holy Spirit God, are becoming fewer.

My friend and one of my all-time favorite preachers, Evangelist David Miller, encouraged messengers to the 2022 Convention to reject the Guidepost report and recommendations, and to reject the recommendations of the internal, SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF). Brother Miller did so not because he is pro-abuse, nor because he lacks compassion for anyone, not the least of which are those harmed by abuse. But, he rightly discerned that the whole process was flawed from the start, and threatens to so restructure the SBC that our historic Baptist bottom-up organization is turned on its head. If the "local church is Baptist headquarters," you surely wouldn't know it by reading the recommendations of either the Guidepost report or the SATF recommendations (which were overwhelmingly adopted).

The messengers from our local church were in the miniscule minority in Anaheim that voted to reject the SATF recommendations. And, our messengers in Nashville, last year (2021), voted to reject the proposal to hire a third party firm to conduct the sexual abuse investigation. We did so knowing we might likely be viewed or even called "uncompassionate" or "pro-abuse." But we did so out of biblical convictions. If the Scripture is all-sufficient, as Baptists have always maintained, then it seems the SBC leaders and messengers did something very unwise by hiring Guidepost (a pro-LGBTQ organization) to investigate and recommend ways we backwoods Bible believers can get with the times to prevent sexual abuse. I wonder how many millions of Cooperative Program Dollars we paid Guidepost have been put to use to endorse and support what God hates?

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 instructs Christians in local churches not to take their disagreements and offenses into the secular courts. To do so demonstrates an incompetence to rightly judge and discern right and wrong. And to do so is an embarrassment to the Church of Christ before unbelievers. Now, I realize that this is directed to local churches, but it seems to be wise to apply it also to a convention of voluntarily cooperating churches, too. Doesn't it?

Don't misunderstand me. I am not for a second saying any church or entity should not report suspected abuse or crimes to the proper governmental authorities. In fact, that's one of the biggest take-aways for me from the Guidepost report (which I read in its entirety), that local churches in the SBC are absurdly unhealthy and often fail to properly deal with both sin as well as crimes. More on this in a bit. But for now, I am simply arguing that it is a shame if we cannot ourselves as Southern Baptists somehow conduct an investigation into one of our denominational entities that is biblically just, fair and wise. Among 47,000 churches affiliated with the SBC, we just do not have the wisdom and expertise required to conduct such an inquiry? Hiring this out to a secular firm was lazy, unwise, shameful and unbiblical.

But, what's done is done, as they say.

The Guidepost report itself was actually fairly helpful. At first blush, it is shocking. And upon deeper reading and reflection, it was clearly written to shock. As I plowed through all 288 pages over several weeks, it began to occur to me that I was reading about the same claims and reported incidents over and over and over and over again. That's because only 22 "survivors" spoke to Guidepost. And, over the 21-year period investigated, I think about 400 incidents of reported abuse were noted. In a convention of 40,000+ churches! While every instance of actual abuse is abhorrent and unacceptable, statistically this was nothing close to the "apocalypse" (Dr. Russell Moore's description). This does not merit the media's hyperbolic headlines. This is nothing of the sort that was uncovered among Roman Catholicism. And for that, we Southern Baptists ought to be humbly grateful to our God, for it is all of His grace. And we ought to be doubly vigilant to ensure the number of cases continues to decline steeply among us. Our Lord and Savior is worthy of our best effort to eradicate abuse in and among us in the SBC, and in every other organization, for that matter.

But, how we go about this battle matters. It matters because we have an absolutely authoritative and sufficient Book, breathed out by God. It matters because our Baptist polity, which has historically, and we believe rightly, hinged upon local church autonomy, is at stake.

The recommendations of Guidepost were not all bad. I do not oppose all of them. But they infused so much secular mantras and labels and language. Everything has to be "trauma-informed" (which I take as a buzzword for grounded in the worldview of secular psychology). Everything has to be farmed out to "qualified third parties." In other words, local churches and local associations of churches are deemed totally incompetent in this matter. Every committee or task force has to be "gender-balanced." This one is especially intriguing to me because it assumes the presence of more women automatically means less abuse, or more able handling of abuse, more compassionate care for abuse victims, and so on. If that's so, then someone please explain to me the atrocity of sexual abuse within the public school system? More than one study and investigation into the public schools, which is dominated by women, has shown that as many as 1 in 4 kids in that system will be abused at some time. Again, this is not meant to disparage women. And I hate the fact that most sexual abusers are men. But the Guidepost recommendations are flowing out of a feminist worldview that believes women are actually better at protecting children from sexual abuse than men. But that reverses God's creational design! God made men to protect women and children. The public school system emphatically disproves the theory and worldview lying behind such recommendations for "gender balance" on SBC teams and committees.

The SBC SATF took the Guidepost recommendations, and pared them down to about two pages of recommendations (which were adopted overwhelmingly by the messengers). Again, there is much I appreciate about the recommendations. We clearly do want to take sexual abuse within the SBC with the utmost seriousness. But, I have concerns with the adopted SATF recommendations:

  • More than one new layer of bureaucracy and administration is being added (aka hierarchy). That's millions more of our CP dollars not going to missions, church planting and seminaries.
  • The standard for "credibly accused" is solid, at least as its stated in writing, but it relies upon "an independent third party" to make such a determination. Again, local churches are deemed incompetent, as are local associations and state associations. Indeed, it appears Christians in general are just not up to this task. So, we hire the world to determine if an accusation is credible.
  • What if the third party's process for determining "credibly accused" comes from the worldview of #MeToo? Local SBC churches' fates are being handed over almost entirely to outside firms.
  • Funding is established for churches to hire third party firms to conduct investigations, but one wonders if re-directing that funding to allow more local churches to raise up certified biblical counselors (through ACBC or CCEF or Rick Thomas) is not more biblical and effective.
  • More often than not, victims or so-called survivors (a label I do not prefer as it lends itself to a status of perpetual victimhood, rather than "more than conquerors through Him who loved us") are allowed if not encouraged to remain totally anonymous throughout the reporting process. Is this biblical? Anonymous accusations against those in churches, even in your own local church?
  • How a local SBC church handles or "cooperates" with the newly christened ARITF (Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force) greatly determines whether that church will be disfellowshipped or not. But who defines "cooperation?" What if our local church fundamentally or doctrinally disagrees with the hiring of a third party investigative firm? As I read it, such a local church would pretty much be guaranteed to be disfellowshipped from the SBC, were an accusation against someone in that local church ever made.
  • The establishment of a "Survivor's Compensation Fund" makes me extremely nervous. Does this not encourage accusations and "out-of-court settlements?" Who determines who gets what? Is this what SBC churches want their CP funds to go to? More power taken out of the hands of local churches in the matter of how funds are allocated and spent.

I realize my view is clearly not the majority view of the SBC, at least not as it is expressed through the messengers to the annual convention. I would have voted against adopting these recommendations. I believe we are complicating what is a simple matter of local church health. No amount of top-down initiatives or mandates will fix what is really wrong with the SBC. Our local churches are not biblically healthy. Far too many SBC churches practice little to no biblical discipline of their membership (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Cor 5; 2 Tim 3:1-9; Titus 3:9-11). One of our messengers told me that just before the vote for the President of the SBC Pastors Conference, a very large gaggle of people who were not in attendance at the conference arrived, apparently to cast votes against Voddie Baucham. I told the messenger, "Sounds like a typical Southern Baptist business meeting where a pastor gets fired by members who roll into the meeting even though they've not been in a worship gathering for a year or more."

The SBC is unhealthy because its churches are unhealthy. Far too many are unwilling to do the hard work of ensuring, as best we can by God's grace and wisdom, a regenerate church membership. The Guidepost report manifested far too many instances where a local SBC church did not handle sexual sin biblically, did not call proper authorities to report potential crimes, and did not call other local churches. The SATF report includes this comment: "One of the problems in our churches is the ability of abusers to move from one church to another to perpetuate their abuse. This often happens because churches don't have the means to communicate with one another."

Say what? SBC churches don't have cell phones? Or email? Or Facebook? Or Instagram? Or Twitter? Or laptops and printers to type and print letters to mail? This is one of the lamest claims I think I have ever heard. I have never had any great difficulty contacting and communicating with other SBC churches or pastors. But I have had problems with those pastors ignoring my advice not to receive someone into their membership because he or she is under discipline at my church, or left my church slanderously.

No amount of CP money can fix unbiblical, unhealthy churches and pastors. Only a repentant return to doing church God's way, and honoring other local churches who do, will serve as a long-term solution.

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by Keith McWhorter