Southern Baptists and Sexual Abuse
I was born into a family of Southern Baptists, with a pastor father and a missionary oriented mother. My middle name was taken from the name of my parent’s pastor. At the age of ten, I decided on my own to profess my faith in Jesus Christ and join a Southern Baptist church. I spent summers at Southern Baptist youth camps, responding to the call to ministry during one of those camps. I attended and graduated from a Southern Baptist University and then received a master’s and a doctor’s degree from a Southern Baptist Seminary. I pastored two Southern Baptist churches and worked for two Southern Baptist agencies before spending twenty-two years on the faculty of a Southern Baptist Seminary. I have served as Interim Pastor of twenty-four Southern Baptist churches. Needless to say, I was interested in reading the “Houston Chronicle” study of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers. While I respond as only one Southern Baptist, and not on behalf of anyone but myself, I do have a rather solid background for my response. I have known thousands of Southern Baptist ministers (In just my Seminary faculty days alone, I taught over 4000 of them). Yes, I have known a few, but a very few, who have been guilty of sexual abuse. The percentage would be miniscule. The overwhelming majority have been divinely called, morally upright, servants of God, embarrassed and disgusted by the results of the Houston survey. My first response to the study was if even one SBC minister abused someone, it was too many, and was not only unacceptable, but was deserving of discipline and punishment. My second response was the study was a bit heavy in its criticism of Southern Baptists in general. For instance, the study included “deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers” as a part of the “minister” group. While this may be true in some denominations, it is not generally true among Southern Baptist. If you are going to study vocational ministers, do not include non-vocational ministers in the study. The study mentioned 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, yet only identified 250 cases of sexual abuse charges in the past decade and 380 facing allegations in the last twenty years, with 220 convictions. That seems to be a very small percentage for such a wide-spread study. Again, one abuse is too many and comparison is not an excuse, but I wonder about similar percentages if such studies were done among other vocational groups, However, having been found guilty, we must admit our guilt and repent. Then, with the denomination’s help, each autonomous church must do a better job of screening its ministerial candidates (although I am not sure a church could always be successful in predicting such unacceptable behavior). As Interim Pastor, I have both followed pastors who were not held accountable and thus had sexual shortcomings resulting in their termination, and witnessed several churches, becoming so enamored with a prospective pastor, that they overlooked his lack of moral integrity, thus later suffering from his sexual issues. My word to churches seeking new ministers, take your time, do your complete background checks, don’t let your emotions override your judgement, do not decide until all the facts are in. Then find ways to hold your ministers accountable – support groups, accountability partners, etc. My word to ministers (as I said in my January 13, 2019 Manna, “Marked by the High Calling”), “Keep your focus on the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:14), not the low calling of ‘the sins of the flesh’ (Colossians 2:11).” I have more grief than I have solution, but this much I know, ministers must take personal responsibility and “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1).