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First Thoughts

Four Facts about Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention

Part 2: Not Everyone Offering Help Is Our Friend

When I was in the fourth grade, my mom celebrated Christmas by getting drunk, grabbing a gun, and chasing me and my twin brother out into the snow. The next day, we were being interviewed by social workers, and not long after that, we were moved to a different town and placed in foster care.

That probably sounds reasonable. My mom’s behavior was clearly wrong and had to be addressed. It was unthinkable to leave two young boys in such an environment. What was unreasonable about the foster solution was that we had numerous family members—a dad and several grandparents—who wanted to take us. Instead, we were relocated away from the people who loved us.

The foster solution was offered by people who wanted to stop our abuse but whose lack of wisdom made things worse, not better.

We are facing a situation like that today in the Southern Baptist response to sexual abuse.

Multiple Voices, Different Goals

Many voices are shouting out many different solutions to the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But the voices in that cacophony are not all created equal. If you listen carefully, you can discern at least three distinct kinds of voices.

Disregarding Abuse, but Loving the SBC

One group of voices out there in the SBC loves our convention but disregards abuse. They have never really taken these problems seriously and only want to get back to business as usual. This group exists but is small and has become quite marginalized over the years. They have been rejected by messengers as convention votes never go their way. Condemning them has become something like a popular sport.

Hating Abuse and the SBC

Another group of voices are those who clearly hate abuse but who also have no love for our convention. They don’t understand the SBC, they are not part of the SBC, and they are definitely not in favor of the SBC. There is an ironic connection between this group and the abusers they hate. Abusers know how to leverage weakness and fear to get others to do what they want. This group of advocates has mastered these abusive power dynamics.

The voices of those who hate abuse and the SBC are using the sex abuse crisis to weaken our convention. They use a powerful tactic against the faithful leaders who oppose their agenda. They know being labeled an abuser is a sure path to ministry extinction, and so they use the threat of that label to intimidate those who disagree with them. They cultivate a reputation of being advocates but ironically use tactics that mimic the behavior of the abusers they say they oppose.

Hating Abuse and Loving the SBC

The largest and most significant group out there are the thousands of churches and millions of people who hate sexual abuse and love the SBC. They love Jesus and his gospel, they have invested in the SBC, and they want to be sure every church in our convention is as safe as possible from predators. They are willing to take any righteous and responsible action to address this crisis. But discovering those righteous steps has been complicated by the crush and clang of confusing voices.

Discerning the Difference

How do those of us who love the SBC and want to address this crisis recognize trustworthy voices? How do we tell the difference between those who love the convention and those who love power? Let me propose three tests.

The Integrity Test

The integrity test requires us to discern who is telling the truth and who is spinning it. In Part 1 of this blog series, I demonstrated that sexual abuse in the SBC is a real problem but is not the one we were told. It is true that the SBC is confronting a sexual abuse crisis. It is not true that sexual abuse defines life in the SBC or that the convention has refused to deal with it. On the contrary, the SBC has declared war on the existence of any abuse in our convention.

That is the truth. Anyone who says something else is telling a lie in pursuit of power. Those who lie about the existence of the crisis are fighting to keep their power. Those who lie about the nature of the crisis are fighting to acquire power. We always lie to get what we want. Lies and lusts go hand in hand. Regardless of the nature of the lies, those telling them fail the standard of integrity and do not deserve the trust of the SBC.

The Consistency Test

The consistency test ensures that everyone offering solutions in this situation is consistently biblical. This is why the controversy over Guidepost Solutions and their support of LGBTQ+ ethics was such a big deal. Christians are not allowed to embrace everything the Bible says about sinful sexuality regarding predators and reject what the Bible says about the sinful sexuality regarding LGBTQ. Good intentions notwithstanding, those who persisted on this course failed the consistency standard and rightly lost the confidence of Southern Baptists.

The Reasonableness Test

Reasonableness is the ability to see the point of view of another and is a command in Scripture (Philippians 4:5). It is a crucial characteristic when good people debate complex matters. It is absolutely necessary in charting a safe path forward in the SBC on the issue of sexual abuse.

Every honest person admits that we have a problem that needs solving—that’s the integrity test. What is not so clear is what is required to solve the problem. Over the last few years, truly faithful men and women have disagreed about which solutions are best. It is entirely reasonable to expect good folks to disagree on complex matters. It is entirely unreasonable to accuse those with whom we disagree of being wicked and corrupt because they don’t like our proposed solutions.

A personal attack against someone who has a good-faith concern about a proposed solution can only come from an unreasonable person who doesn’t deserve the trust they desire to have.

From Discernment to Courage

Ultimately Southern Baptists must move from discernment to courage. The wisdom to discern which voices are helpful and which ones are harmful is one thing. The courage to reject harmful voices is another.

Our convention has found the courage to marginalize the voices of those who disregard abuse. We have not yet found the courage to marginalize the voices of those seeking to manipulate a crisis to create a weaker SBC. Progress and solutions will require a denial of influence to this important group.

Such a denial is both harder and more important than it looks. It is harder because when Southern Baptists take away the influence of this group, we will lose their approval. Like any good abuser, they will leverage their power and mobilize a mob to punish us. That will be painful. What will be more painful is an SBC weakened by the influence of harmful voices who insist they want to help but have never been our friends.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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