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Articles

Seeking justice in the SBC for survivors

Turning our lament into action

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May 27, 2022

I cannot recall ever sitting down to write something from a place of such profound sadness. The last few days have been cause for deep grief and lament. Chief among them is the sexual abuse cover-up and concerted effort to dismiss the pleas of survivors within a key committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. An independent report ordered by representatives of the churches of the SBC reveals how survivors of abuse reached out to fellow Christians looking for advocacy and help, but got animosity instead. For years, survivors had their claims ignored, forgotten, or tossed aside. It makes me physically ill to know this has occurred.

Remarkably, these brave survivors did not give up. In the face of injustice upon injustice, they continued calling for Christian leaders and for the church, as a whole, to repent and be obedient to God’s Word. The perseverance of the survivor community in the face of all of this is nothing short of courageous. While we should mourn the misdeeds uncovered in this report, be angry about what has been perpetrated under the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, and resolve to correct past injustices, we should also be grateful that these individuals continued calling for justice.

In the wake of this report, it is likely that more survivors will come forth to share their experiences. When they do, we must be ready to hear them. And it is essential that we resist the urge to react defensively or from a position of protecting ourselves or an institution rather than precious individuals made in God’s image. Whether at a church or an entity, we must foster an environment where survivors are confident they will be received, listened to, and supported. It is imperative that the stories of survivors be met with the same compassion Jesus exhibited for those who were marginalized or vulnerable. Moreover, we must respond appropriately, whether that means engaging law enforcement, trauma-informed counselors, or medical professionals. 

At a more basic level, much of the horror detailed in the report’s coverage of the apathy, negligence, and intentional misdirection related to abuse is perpetrated when a Christian begins to focus more on their platform or role in a movement, or the need to protect an institution, rather than the commands to love God and neighbor, and to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God (Matt. 22:37-40; Mic. 6:8). In other words, just as in all areas of life, when one finds their identity in something other than Christ and him crucified, it creates a foothold for the enemy to exploit and our flesh to indulge. And that is what has happened here. Individuals appointed to be Christian servants became operatives who denied protection and care to those who needed it most. All of our hearts should be broken by this and moved to introspection.

At the conclusion of the report, the authors make a number of recommendations and provide multiple avenues for protecting survivors and ensuring that this crisis does not repeat itself. We all await the official recommendations from the wise members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, and their guidance should be given due consideration by the messengers who are assembling in a few weeks for the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California. What is clear is that a response is needed. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. As a whole, Southern Baptists must commit ourselves to making our churches and convention a place where the vulnerable are protected and survivors receive the care they need. The injustice revealed in the SATF report must not go unanswered, and I have hope that the messengers will not let that happen. 

All of us, as those who proclaim Christ as Lord, must ask God to search us and reveal any wickedness in our lives (Ps. 139). We must humbly ask him to make us men and women who fear him—in private and in public—and who proclaim from the depths of our hearts, “Not to us Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1). We must be people who commit ourselves to the task of seeing justice done because our God is a God of perfect justice. We ought to be more concerned with the fact that we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an answer for every idle word and action (or inaction), than institutional preservation, however great that institution may be. And, as Southern Baptists, we must join our voices together in California, following our Savior as we affirm the dignity of survivors by turning our lament into just, loving, and decisive action.

Brent Leatherwood

Brent Leatherwood serves as the President for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Since September 2021, Brent served as the Acting President of the ERLC, where he provided steady leadership for the organization’s staff and continued the mission of the ERLC during the interim period. Prior to serving as Acting … Read More