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First Thoughts

This Won’t End Well: Where The SBC Is Headed with The Guidepost Recommendation

An Impossible Decision

I was still in first grade when I mastered the art of recognizing an impossible decision.

Way back then, long before my mom became a Christian late in her life, she was a drunk and violently abusive. On one occasion, she tossed me through a glass coffee table, leaving the table smashed and my face and arms covered with cuts. When I showed up at school, some anonymous teacher did what my teachers always did and called social services.

I don’t remember all the social workers that we met when I was a kid, but I do remember the one who came by after my mom threw me through the table. She got me alone and asked me all sorts of questions, including what had happened to my face. I told her the truth.

Then she went and talked to my mom. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I saw my mom crying, pointing to me, and reaching out and grabbing the hands of the woman doing the investigation. After that, the social worker called me over and asked me to tell her again how I got the cuts on my face. I answered her question, but this time I lied. I said I had fallen off a swing. Shortly after that, the woman left, nothing changed, and the abuse got worse for years until my brother and I finally wound up in a foster home.

I lied that day because I had danced with these social workers before. As a young child, I figured out that nothing ever happened after they made notes on their clipboards (in the 1980s, iPads were called clipboards). But with my mom listening, I knew she would make something happen.

It was a horrible position for a little boy. I could tell a lie and stay in trouble or tell the truth and make the trouble worse. That’s when I first remember recognizing an impossible decision.

I recognize another impossible decision today. The one facing the entire Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the recommendations of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).

The ARITF Recommendation

In the days since the ARITF released its report, I have talked to dozens of people, including pastors, state executives from all over the country, and Marshall Blalock—an incredible man and pastor and the chairman of the task force. Hearing from so many has made a few things clear. First, The ARITF is seeking to serve the SBC in a faithful way and fulfill the mandate they received. It is full of good men and women who love Jesus, love the victims of abuse, and want to ensure the churches in our convention are protected against predators. I am thankful for this task force and am praying for them. You need to pray for them too.

The second thing that is clear is that the task force made a very controversial decision when they made the recommendation to create the Ministry Check database using Faith-Based Solutions and their parent company, Guidepost Solutions—an LGBTQ-affirming corporation. This decision is going to be a divisive issue in the SBC for a long time to come.

We need to understand this division.

In The First Corner . . .

The first side of the conflict is the ARITF and those that support their recommendation. Here is a summary of their case:

  • The task force had a mandate from the convention to complete their work in a year. That job was harder than anticipated, but the recommendation fulfills what was required by the convention.
  • Several factors mitigate the fact that Guidepost Solutions has expressed public support for LGBTQ+ causes.
    1. This firm is the only firm in existence that can do the work.
    2. In private, they have been at pains to apologize for their public support of LGBTQ+ causes and have promised to avoid public expressions of support in the future.
    3. They have created an entirely new division, Faith-Based Solutions, which will be overseen by a woman with a Southern Baptist background.
    4. Neither Faith-Based Solutions nor their parent company, Guidepost, will do any of the investigations into abuse allegations.
  • The demand to protect the people in our churches from abusers requires this particular solution and requires it now.

I sat across the table from Marshall Blalock for nearly three hours with several other pastors and heard his heart on these matters. He is a good man, and his committee is well-intended. They are not a group of liberals disregarding LGBTQ+ issues. Anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth and is harming the unity of our convention.

Despite that reality, there is another legitimate position in this debate.

In The Second Corner . . .

The second side of the conflict is a large group of Southern Baptists who, though appreciating the work of the ARITF, will oppose their recommendations. Here is a summary of their case:

  • The task force had a mandate from the convention, but the work of protecting people in our churches is too important to rush. They should ask for more time to do the job well in a way consistent with all our Baptist convictions.
  • The support of Guidepost Solutions for LGBTQ+ causes is a bridge too far and disqualifies them for the work the task force is recommending.
    1. They believe with more time, another firm could be found, one could be created, or multiple firms could work together without compromising our Baptist beliefs.
    2. A private apology for a public endorsement of LGBTQ+ is very different than a real change of heart on this issue and doesn’t demonstrate Guidepost’s common cause with Baptists on the crucial issue of sexuality, but only their desire to receive Baptist money.
    3. The creation of a new division of Guidepost fails to eliminate the involvement of a corporation who has lost the trust of Southern Baptists.
    4. Guidepost, nor any of their companies, will be doing the investigations in churches, but they will receive allegations and will determine whether each investigation is legitimate.
  • The demand to protect the people in our churches requires a solution that can work, which requires more trust than currently exists between Southern Baptists and Guidepost. This solution will not work, and so we need to find a better way.

The pastors and other leaders expressing these concerns are faithful men and women. They desire their churches to be safe from predators and want sexual abuse reform. They are not corrupt and are not dragging their feet on reform. They just want reforms that will work. People who scream that these people are stonewalling or fighting against reform are dishonest, are damaging our cooperation, and do not deserve the trust of the people listening to them.

Where To From Here?

Those are the two sides I’ve heard from since the ARITF released its proposal. I am no good at predictions, but I think Southern Baptists can reasonably expect two realities moving forward.

First, there is going to be a big fight about this at the convention in New Orleans. That reality is regrettable for all of us. The debate will be between two sides who want reform but disagree on how to achieve it. The world will only see a divided convention on the issue of abuse. Whichever side you are on, you need to understand that this will make the entire convention weaker.

It is impossible to know right now what will happen to this recommendation. One option is that it will fail. It may fail because the task force finds a way to withdraw it or the convention finds a way to defeat it. If the recommendation fails, the desired haste in fixing this problem will vanish as we return to square one. That will be a sad and frustrating development.

Another option is that the recommendation becomes denominational policy. If that happens, some will celebrate, but I’m afraid that celebration will be short-lived.

That gets to the second reality we can expect moving forward.

If this recommendation becomes the denominational law of the land, many churches will leave the convention or redirect their giving to avoid funding the program. State conventions will vote to defund the Executive Committee. Those are simple facts. Anyone who doesn’t know how this works needs to understand that an already weakened Executive Committee only requires a very small percentage of churches and state conventions to withhold money to exacerbate their already significant financial difficulties. When that happens, cruel financial realities will rapidly move this discussion away from what the SBC should afford to what it can afford. An insolvent Executive Committee will institute no reforms whatsoever. When that happens, it will be another sorrowful and frustrating development.

I was still in first grade when I figured out the problem with an impossible decision. The decision is impossible because, whichever choice you make, you lose.

Regardless of which side you are on, I’m afraid the SBC is now facing an impossible decision.

There will be no winners when this thing is over.

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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