Article  Human Dignity  Life  Marriage and Family  Religious Liberty  Sexual Abuse

Abuse is a scourge upon our churches

A statement from the ERLC president

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When disaster strikes, no other ministry or organization mobilizes like the SBC. Whether it is a warm meal cooked after a hurricane or care packages for folks fleeing a war zone, Baptists will be there to offer help and hope for the suffering. 

Why is it when abuse is the issue—a disaster that so often strikes our churches—we get weak in the knees or let lawyers take the reins of decision making? Do the same responsibilities outlined in Scripture to do what is right and seek justice not apply here, as well? Of course they do. And, here’s the thing, every pastor I’ve spoken with and every entity head I have worked with feels the same, even if we aren’t always consistent in applying that belief. 

Our messengers know this too. In fact, they have repeatedly made clear what they want—in overwhelming fashion: Abuse is a scourge upon our churches, and this evil must be confronted; survivors who have suffered so much are to be supported; and the vulnerable in our midst—even those you may not have at the forefront of your mind—are to be protected.

Some say what messengers have asked for is not feasible or that they don’t really know what they’re doing. I reject this line of thinking. 

By my lights, it is clear what messengers are requesting. For they see rightly that disaster has struck, and continues to do so. While so many of our churches, associations, state conventions, and national entities are taking proactive measures to combat abuse, there have been far too many instances when lives have been preyed upon by an abuser or rendered vulnerable by the failure to act. Messengers have given explicit instructions to entities at the national level and have initiated strong task forces for action at the state level. In all this, a clear call to action has emerged that no legal position or policy preferences should outweigh. Personally, I’ve interpreted this charge from our messengers to mean if it costs our entity its entire existence, it is worth it—if it means our churches are the refuge for survivors from abuse they should be.

That is why the news of the last week has filled me with grief. 

As the head of the entity that has been engaged in abuse reform efforts for years now and as the one that routinely reviews legal briefs as we carry out our ministry assignment, this move struck me as out of step with the work that has been done and the considerable work that is to come for our convention. This is not a path we would have chosen.

Nevertheless, we, at the ERLC, remain committed to getting this right. I know Dr. Barber does as well—his statement today confirms this. His heart for the Lord has been, and will continue to be, instrumental in moving reform efforts forward. And I know my fellow entity heads and executives of our state conventions are aligned in this effort, too. Of course, we are all autonomous and so we are free to go about this our own way. But, again, that’s not the expectation I sense from our messengers. They want us to not merely cooperate, but to be interdependent upon one another. That is, to see one another as part of the solution for ultimately stamping out abuse. Until we heed their call, instances like this will occur that erode the trust needed to implement the necessary reforms and assistance our churches need.

Above all of this, though, my heart is heavy for survivors. You have, for so long, made appeals, demanded justice, and suffered through inaction—and worse. You have rightly said disaster is striking within our churches, and the same urgency we bring to global events should animate a similar action here.

My only response to that justified frustration is this: Please don’t give up on us. To even ask that of individuals who have been subjected to so much terror feels wrong and hard-hearted. And while no individual or entity will be perfect, there are those of us who want to be a voice for the vulnerable, who want our churches to be sanctuaries of safety, and who want our convention ridded of this evil. We want our words matched by action. I am committed to working with you, our pastors, and all of my peers to do just that.

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