The intention has always been for the Church to be the safest place in the community. We pitch open, transparent relationships based on trust and confession. There is nothing hidden and everything to gain in a place like this. That is, until you hear the story of one who has been hurt by the Church. In their cases, the Church is the darkest, scariest place on earth. The world has watched with shame as countless Catholic priests have been exposed in molestation charges. Other denominations have wrestled ethical and moral battles in the last few years. Pridefully, I’ve assumed the SBC would not have to enter these minefields. I was wrong.
The charges facing the Southern Baptist Convention right now are critical. Investigations have been underway for quite some time into sexual and predatory scandals in many individual Churches. But now, for the first time, we are hearing that the top leadership of the denomination I serve have known about all of these abusers and kept their names and allegations quiet. This ‘cease fire’ has allowed the abusers to continue their dark work and the abused to writhe in their pain and shame of what was done to them. I am sick at my stomach as I write these words.
Christianity Today has the most open report I’ve read. I encourage you to read before you comment. Don’t assume you know what’s going on. This is not something to bleed about on Facebook. Seek out the facts and then pray. What we are talking about here is sin (the coverup and wide-spread abuse) and deep grief on the part of the abused. There is nothing here deserving of gossip and everything crying out for prayer.
We are not at a place where we can talk about what needs to happen next. People are still in shock. The majority of our denomination’s nearly 50k Churches need to break down and humbly cry out to God for His work and restoration. But this cannot happen until we swallow our pride. For far too long abuse victims have seen the sin committed against them as something they cannot talk about. Rape and sexual assault have far too long been topics not discussed on holy circles. This has to change. The scars inflicted on victims are wounds only the Spirit of God can heal. As long as the Church turns a blind (or black) eye to them, we leave these wounded souls to work out their salvation by themselves. We don’t do this in any other situation I can think of. We wrap up those who’ve faced addiction or mental illness. We gather up the hurting and those blinded by sin and lead them to a place of healing and restoration. But to this group we say nothing. We must start talking.
We are bordering a point of no return for many in our society. The world is seeing and hearing more and more of a Church they want nothing to do with. We’ve already lost our voice in many public circles. Do you want that voice back? It won’t be gained by passing out tracts or patting strangers on the back with the words “God loves you and I do, too.” The time when the Church held enough sway to build a brick structure and survive by inviting people inside has passed. We are on the defensive now. We have to prove our worth. When asked “Why is the Church necessary?” what will you say?
If we are ever going to re-enter society as a major player, we must do so humbly and with much respect. We are not here to swing sticks or make accusations. We aren’t here to point fingers or single people out. We are here for the sick and the hurting. We are here to bring THE message of peace and reconciliation to a world torn by pain, grief and destruction. If we cannot offer these gifts to the world, we might as well close our doors. But the truth is we can offer these gifts. The only question that remains is will we.
This is not a time to prove our strength or know-how. This is a time, if there ever was one, to let the Light of Jesus shine through us to a confused, hurt world that is collapsing. This is a time for the Body to act in grace, not judgment. This is a time for us to ask for forgiveness, rather than demand it from others. Will you come to the table? I’ll be there as well as a great many other leaders, asking God for wisdom to speak and take a step forward. I pray it’s not too late.