The SBC Report - Don't Hide the Clouds
I've tried to write this several times. Every time I sat down to type, I got angry. I cried. Or both. I realized I may need to sit with what I was thinking and feeling. I watched how others responded, and now I'm ready to respond in a way that honors Christ.
Two weeks ago, Guidepost Solutions released a 288-page report of an independent investigation on the Southern Baptist Convention's mishandling of sexual abuse allegations for the last 20 years. We knew this report was coming, and it was even more heart-wrenching than we thought it would be. The most disturbing revelation being that though a database of sexual abuse reports was suggested and denied in 2008 (so ministers could not "job-hop" without the report following them), this database already existed and was being kept a secret. This list is 205 pages long.
I've never been sexually assaulted or abused. So, I don't possess the authority that other men, women, and children have on that horrific experience. But, I have been made uncomfortable by several men in the church. I've had a youth pastor (who was fired when I was 13) lure me to get coffee under false pretenses. He asked me out the next day more explicitly. I had just turned 18. I've spent many church services avoiding a man who made a beeline for me every week to scold me for not shaking his hand or being excited to see him. I've had men in service comment on my clothing unprovoked. If these instances have impacted me as much as they have, I can't even fathom the pain, shame, and trauma the victims of these hundreds (with more unreported) of leaders in the church.
I know there are hundreds of reasons the SBC is in this position right now, but I wanted to maybe give a few that aren't at the top.
Celebrity Pastor Mentality - Johnny Hunt has been a prominent name in the SBC for years. Pastors for decades have considered him a hero, a mentor, and probably an idol. We see in the church job market, men serving at 6 churches in 6 years because the numbers got bigger and bigger at each church. More numbers means more recognition. More recognition means more trust from the congregation (In the communication field, we recognize this as part of Uncertainty Reduction Theory. Our uncertainty of someone can be reduced in several ways, and one of them is seeing others follow this person). More trust leads to less accountability. Less accountability leads to pride. And pride leads only one thing.
Misdiagnosing the Problem - Sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are crimes. There may be different levels in the eyes of the law, but these are CRIMES. Many pastors have been treating sexual abuse as a moral failure. Something that can be fixed with counseling, prayer, or confession only to God. Some pastors have been hiding behind "clergy-pertinent" privilege, harming victims and protecting abusers. And if they can't be "fixed," they might ban them from their congregation. But, they're free to roam to another church who has no clue what danger lies before them. Moral failures don't show up on a background check.
"I'll Fix it When it Breaks" - Prevention isn't the most attractive option ever. As humans, we're naturally reactive to situations around us because being reactive seems more efficient and pragmatic that being proactive for or against something that may never happen. None of these pastors woke up one morning and decided they were going to commit assault without having fallen down a path of compromise and lack of accountability. I shared some experiences I've had within the church. That's where this abuse started. It started with comments, glances, and probably pornography. There are normally people who have an inkling or a gut feeling about people's mannerisms, but they don't want to speak up because they haven't "messed up" yet. And leadership often isn't trained to search for nonverbal signs of abuse in victims or predators. They're able to hunt in public.
I've watched the responses for the last couple weeks, and that has been more eye-opening than the actual report. I've seen pastors and leaders respond with grace and humility, but I've also seen them respond tactlessly and soaked in gaslighting victims. Some victims have had old wounds re-opened and some have received closure. Churches are considering leaving the SBC, while others are trying to be the change within. I'm writing this hours after I saw a former seminary president express "concern" that the SBC was shifting its budget to prioritize righting these wrongs and preventing further abuse.
So how DOES one respond to this exposition of egregious acts that was systemically hidden for decades? The answer isn't simple because not everyone should respond the same way. Not everyone has had the same experiences in this realm, so they should respond differently. So, I can only give advice as someone who is not a survivor, and someone who loves the church and longs for it to heal under the banner of Christ.
Don't Hide the Clouds - I've seen responses showcasing that while this situation is awful, the SBC is still doing wonderful and great things. Though these posts are well-intentioned, they're trying to bring out the sun when it's not done raining yet. We have all the time in the world to exalt the good works of the Christ-honoring people in the SBC. I'm not an expert, but I don't think the world is ending anytime soon. But in this moment in time, we need to collectively grieve. We need to be working towards active resolutions, sexual abuse training, and prayers of confession and lament. I fear the less we sit in necessary discomfort, the less empathy we have for the victims. And the less empathy we have for the victims, the more likely we are to return to the cycle of sweeping this under the rug.
In All Things, Walk Humbly - Before Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he humbled himself through a baptism he knew he had no need for because he was without any sin in need of saving. I wonder how many of my sins could have been avoided if I made a conscious effort to humble myself. If I confessed my temptation before I gave in. You are not immune to this. None of these abusers ever thought this would be their life path. It started with pride. With thinking they were un-temptable. Their wall of conviction cracked and sin crept in. Then, because they didn't repair the cracks, their conviction was swept away as the wall crumbled around them. Seek justice, Love mercy, Walk humbly.
If You See Something, Say Something - If someone is making you or someone you know uncomfortable, report it to the pastor, the deacons, or any leadership that will take you seriously. If someone confides in you about current or past abuse, I urge you to file a police report first before going to church leadership. Your pastor is not equipped to handle an alleged crime. If not addressed or reported, the behavior will continue. Abusers generally will try to get away with whatever they can, and sometimes in escalation. If you're confused on how to report, visit https://www.rainn.org/resources. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Bring it to the hands of people who are trained and equipped to help. And please don't feel guilty for reporting. It's is ALWAYS better safe than sorry.