How Should Christians Think About The SBC Report?
The Love of God and the Stench of Sexual Sin
On Sunday, May 22, 2022, something that Southern Baptists in particular, and Christians in general, had been waiting for a long time happened. And what that was, was the release of the independent investigation into sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. What I want to do on the podcast today is just honestly speak to you from my heart about that report. I’ve been very clear in statements to our church at First Baptist and a blog that I wrote that’s available online. I want to be clear here that I rejoice over the release of that report. I think it is good news and a good day. I want to be clear abuse is wrong. Cover-ups of abuse are wrong. Exposure of abuse and exposure of cover-ups are a very good thing. We have been asking for transparency for years, and on Sunday, May 22, we got it. That is a good thing that is a cause of rejoicing. That is true. It’s true because the existence of the report is good. But there’s another side. And the other side is that what the report contains is horrifying. So, on the one hand, while I’m happy for the exposure of abuse and abuse cover-ups, and while I’m happy to live in the light of day of all the bad things that have been happening, we also have to admit that what the abuse that’s represented in the report is horrifying. Victims and predators. And that’s what we know. What I’ve also said is what’s even more horrifying is all the things we don’t know, the victims that didn’t come forward, we don’t know the predators that have not yet been revealed. And so, it is absolutely horrifying. And what I want to do this week on the podcast is speak to you if you’re not really clued into this, if you haven’t really known what is going on. If it’s kind of lost on you, if you want to know what the big deal with this Southern Baptist Convention sex abuse report is, I want to speak to you and help you feel the weight of what has happened.
What has happened, what we have learned, is that a small group of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention apparatus engaged in a years-long cover-up of sexual abuse in order to protect the legal liability of the convention. What I want you to understand is how horrifying that is. What I want you to understand is how horrifying abuse is and how horrifying it is to cover up and conceal it and essentially protect and defend the abuser instead of the victim. That is what’s horrible. It’s horrible because nothing is more at odds with the character of God. I want you to think about this. When you think about the Bible and what God himself reveals to us about his character in a place like 1 John 4:8. It says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.” God is love. God is the essence of love and care and compassion, and abuse is consumption and hatred and self-interest. I want you to think about this. Abuse happens every day, all day long. There are kids in homes that are being abused. There are wives in homes that are being abused. There are countless people who are going to die today at the hands of parents, boyfriends, moms, and dads. There are girlfriends that are going to die because of physical abuse. All of that is horrible. All of that is to be lamented, but in the church, in the Church of Jesus Christ, who claims to represent God. We serve a God whose essential character is love. The consumption of victims in abuse and in abuse cover-ups is completely at odds with the character of God.
The Character of God
We should also be horrified by this because nothing is more at odds with the work of Christ. In the Christian church, we represent Jesus. We represent the embodiment of love; in fact, a lot of people are familiar with 1 John 4:8, it says that God is love. A lot of people aren’t as familiar with the next verse, 1 John 4:9 “In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” God is love, and how do you know it? What is? What does God’s love look like? How do you identify it? What is the definition of God’s love? And the answer is Jesus. Here is how you know the love of God. You look at Jesus. Jesus left heavenly glory, and he came to earth, and he lived a perfect life, and he died on the cross, and he rose from the grave. All as a selfless act, investing in weak people so that they could live. God is love, and Jesus Christ is the representative of his love. Jesus Christ is the proof and the demonstration of his love, and it is the opposite of abuse. It is the opposite of a power grab of a person in power using his power to oppress and demean.
It’s at odds with the work of Christ that leaders under the banner of Christianity would distort and blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ through their mistreatment of weak people. The abuse is so horrifying because nothing is more at odds with the character of God. Nothing is more at odds with the work of Christ. Nothing also is more at odds with the work of pastors and Christian and religious leaders. In a different passage, in 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter is talking about the calling of pastors and what we ought to do. He’s telling us about the work and what the work is and what it isn’t. And in 1 Peter 5:3, he tells pastors and Christian and religious leaders, “not domineering over those in your charge, that being examples of the flock.” That is one of the most humbling and sobering passages any minister of the gospel could read. This passage talks about the people in our church as our flock. It talks about the people in our church as those who are in our charge, we have custody of these people, and the clear command of God is, you’re not allowed to domineer those people, you are not allowed to hurt them, you are not allowed to consume them, you are not allowed to mistreat them. And abuse, sexual abuse, in particular, is a minister of the gospel when it happens in church, a person representing Christ, a person representing the God who is the very definition of love. Sexual abuse looks at those in our charge, it looks at those in our flock, and it is a corrupt man seeking to consume that flock seeking to hurt that flock instead of seeking to help them invest in them and be an example. Nothing is more at odds with the work of pastors.
And finally, I’ll say nothing’s more at odds with the character of God. Nothing’s more at odds with the work of Christ. Nothing’s more at odds with the work of pastors. Finally, nothing’s more inconsistent with the nature of the Christian life. Different passage and John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world is supposed to look at the church and see something and know we belong to Christ, and what the world is supposed to see so that they know we belong to Christ is our love. They’re supposed to see a representation of the character of God. They’re supposed to see a representation of the work of Christ and when the testimony of the church that we domineer and abuse and hurt and mistreat, and then cover all the garbage up. When that is the testimony of the church, nobody’s going to know about Jesus; nobody’s going to know about his love for the world. Nobody’s going to know about the loving Father in heaven, who sends a son to live and die and rise for broken people. Nobody is going to know. This is hateful. This is awful. This is terrible. This is cataclysmic. The witness of Jesus, the witness of the church, is at risk and our behavior in this day. And so, we rejoice over the exposure, not because it’s not shameful, not because it doesn’t reveal horrible things. But because it gives us an opportunity to repent, that gives us an opportunity to turn to change to be better and stronger and to have churches that were safer than they were before and to represent the character of God, to represent the work of Christ to represent the work of pastors and through our love, of hurting and broken and needing people to represent to the world that we are the followers of Christ. We have to take this seriously, and everything important is on the line, even including our representation of the character of God and his Christ.