Long article. And the first of three.
Eye-opening to say the least. We should do better. If this doesn’t light a fire under Greear, I wont know what to say. But he may not be concerned since scripture apparently only “whispers” about sexual sin. It certainly gives a context to his words a few weeks ago, a shameful context.
That said, some of the statistics they use are not impressive. “But the newspapers found at least 10 SBC churches that welcomed pastors, ministers and volunteers since 1998 who had previously faced charges of sexual misconduct. In some cases, they were registered sex offenders.” 10 over countless congregations over 20 years. Still 10 too many. It seems the convention could have a list; it seems from this article that almost nothing has been done. This is certainly an article written the intent to tear down the church, not to build her up. Yet God can and constantly does use the bad to work for good.
We were just talking about being above reproach last night at church. A charge must not stand. But these charges do stand and it is to our shame.
Prayers for these “victims” as well as the perpetrators.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: "The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse": A Protestant response (2)
I haven’t read this yet, but my comment on the similar articles about the Independent Fundamental Baptist churches applies equally here, I think:
First, I wonder whether the numbers of the SBC scandal are as bad as they are framed to be. Divide the number of credible allegations against SBC pastors divided by SBC churches and then do the same with public school teachers and public schools. How do they compare? Where is the mass public outcry, conferences, etc. to stop sexual abuse in public schools? This is not to excuse the problem, but to point out that the response appears to be disproportionate. And because of that, it’s unlikely the response will actually address the problem.
That said, SBC churches don’t need more celebrities descending from on high to blow hot air at all the little people. This whole event is moral posturing. Moore and Greear are letting us all know that they are the solution to the problems that they have been too thick or aloof to notice until 5 minutes ago. The fact that Beth Moore is involved means that there will be a push for more female leadership in SBC churches as a solution to the problem, because we all know that no woman would ever mistreat another woman or cover up sex abuse.
I’m not in the SBC, but you don’t have to be an insider to see where the problems come from:
- Unregenerate church membership. The SBC has pushed for higher baptism and membership numbers for decades and is now reaping that fruit.
- Lack of plurality of elders in the local church. There’s a model of leadership common in baptist churches where a sole pastor ministers alongside a board of deacons, who function as quasi-elders. Associate pastors answer directly to the senior pastor. The board of deacons provides some oversight, but can’t really admonish, exhort, rebuke the senior pastor with any real spiritual authority. “Deacon” just means “servant,” after all.
- Celebrity worship of the senior pastor. This is partly a result of #2. The senior pastor hired by the congregation as the only real elder of the church and is often thought to be God’s anointed man who can do no wrong. Add in #1 above, unregenerate membership, and things really go off the rails. The pastor is evaluated by carnal people by carnal means–speaking ability, entertainment value, attention given to pet issues, personality, golf handicap, etc. The pastors most comfortable with this are usually unregenerate themselves.
- Congregational ecclesiology. I am a baptist (just not SBC), so I agree with these churches on this point, though I doubt many of them have actually given it a moment of thought. In baptist ecclesiology, Christ gives the power of the keys to the congregation. The elders (plural, according to scripture) of the church are to lead the congregation in the use of the keys. But mix that with #1, #2, and #3 above and the keys are either misused or, more commonly, never used. So the scenario plays out where the senior pastor has disqualified himself, there are no other elders to rebuke him or investigate the matter, and the congregation responsible to remove him refuses to believe he is capable of sin. And even if they do see the man’s sin, they’ve gone generations with no concept of church discipline and no desire to exercise it, even if they had someone to lead them through it. That’s how these things happen.
It’s worth noting that this same ecclesiology makes a comprehensive cover-up impossible. The SBC can’t move around its ministers the way the Vatican can move around its priests. The SBC was originally founded to allow independent churches to pool resources for the sake of missions. It isn’t and was never intended to have ecclesiastical courts or any authority over its member churches. The SBC can, and has, disfellowshipped with certain churches for moral or doctrinal reasons and should do so in cases where a church has covered up sexual abuse. But it doesn’t have the power to defrock ministers or to require churches to report who they are hiring.
There’s been a lot of talk about changing the SBC’s polity to give it more power to deal with these sexual abuse cases. I don’t think that’s likely to help, even if it were possible to do. I don’t know presbyterian polity well enough to make an analogy, but I hope we would all agree it’s absurd to say: “[Bad thing] happened, so we need to abandon our ecclesiology, even though we still think scripture teaches it, in order to stop [bad thing] from happening.” And such talk misses the point. If you have unregenerate members and unregenerate pastors, no ecclesiological structure will prevent scandal.
If Moore & Greear want to actually help, instead of just posturing, they would loudly expose the real problems, break the 11th commandment (“Thou shall not publicly criticize another Southern Baptist”), and then publicly defer things down to the state association level, where men could actually do the hard and dirty work of shepherding. State associations could co-operate in such a way as to address the problems without giving up on baptist polity. The public trust that Moore, Greear, and Moore enjoy would be put to much better use if they deferred things down to the state and local associations and to no-name pastors who are wise and forthright. In seeking to address the problems themselves, I fear they are reinforcing a culture in the SBC that contributed to it–and many others.
I’m a part of a pastors group on FB, and the issue of polity related to abuse was discussed a fair bit. It seemed odd to me that most of the men wanted to discount the particular dangers of particular polities, simply because there were ways to abuse other systems, too. I’m glad you see the dangers. That’s the first step to addressing/preventing them.
Very well said, sir. We differ over plurality of eldership vs. congregational polity, but that said, your observations and recommendations seem to me wise. Love,
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: "The Church and the Scandal of Sex Abuse": A Protestant response (2)
Yes, we Baptists and you Presbyterians must differ over polity until our Lord returns and teaches you these things.
But all joking aside, I think we agree about the necessity of having a plurality of elders in the local church. Our baptist church will be voting soon, Lord willing, to move from a pastor-deacon polity to a plurality of elders, while remaining congregational.
Don’t be surprised, if the SBC don’t act, that many of the sheep at local congregational levels will vote with their feet in disgust.
When I was a young man, the senior pastor of the A/G I belonged to was fired for ‘conduct unbecoming’ - a severe sexual misdemeanor which today would probably be referred to the police to make sure that the offence was not also a crime. The problem was not in the discipline itself - the church elders, backed up by the national leadership of the movement, did act. However, they made what proved to be a fatal mistake; with the best of intentions, the precise details of the offending were not made public. One, to protect the other people involved and two, because the whole thing was pretty prurient.
Unfortunately, the flock did not appreciate being treated like, well, sheep, and the gruesome details leaked out anyway, despite the leadership’s best efforts. So they expressed their view of how the elders had acted in the only way they knew how. A church of about two and a half thousand lost 500 rank and file overnight, and another thousand or so left in the next twelve months.
I’m not an elder and not likely to be, and something of this nature would be handled very differently today. But, under any polity, remember: the rank and file have minds of their own.
For the sake of covering nakedness, church leaders won’t and shouldn’t tell everything they know; for this to go well you need the trust of the congregation. I don’t know if the leaders in the story you relate actually erred in how they handled things or if they were faithful and suffered for it. That happens sometimes!
But help me understand your main point, is it:
- That the leaders should have said more to the congregation initially; or
- That church leaders should count the cost before undertaking church discipline at all; or
If your point is to count the cost, that’s good and right. Would you be willing to also exhort us to take up the work by faith? It would be an encouragement to me. Maybe you were already doing that and I didn’t pick up on it.
OK, to clarify: the point I was initially wanting to stress is that for good or ill, the “sheep” have minds of their own and as in the case of the SBC, will vote with their feet if they think something has not been handled properly.
In the specific case I mentioned. The problem, I now think, is that the elders lost the trust of the congregation in how they handled the matter - because they came across as trying/wanting to sweep the whole matter under the proverbial carpet. More open communication with the flock could have avoided this, but it is too easy to be wise after the event. I do acknowledge your point that there is only so much that leaders can tell of what they know.
Many years ago the elders of the church I grew up in “asked” for the resignation of a much-beloved youth pastor who had served as such for nearly 20 years. In this case there wasn’t any moral failure, but they just wanted “to go in a different direction,” as they say. But everything was dealt with in such a hush-hush manner that it seemed impossible to believe there wasn’t more to the story. This was exasperated by the fact that the elders of this church had virtually no role in shepherding the congregation, so there wasn’t much trust to begin with (they basically served behind the scenes as a board of directors).
The strangest thing was that there were no actual reasons given for why this guy had to go–just generic platitudes about what the church “needed.” And strangely enough, his eventual replacement didn’t match the description of the person they were so clear about “needing.”
The point is, even if the details of the issue can’t be shared with everyone, I do think the nature of the issue has to be clear. In the case of this youth pastor, the elders covered up both the details and the nature of the issue, which led the sheep to speculate–usually assuming something far worse than was the case. I think these men were sincerely trying to minimize the fallout of a hard decision they felt they needed to make. They were protecting everyone involved the best they knew how, and maybe it was the best of all the bad alternatives. The Lord knows.
And as I said earlier, there wasn’t much trust between the congregation and the elders to start with. It’s hard to trade in a currency you don’t have.
Thanks - this expresses well what I was trying to say.