By / May 30

NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 30, 2019—Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commended a new proposal announced today that would establish a new standing credentials committee to assess claims of sexual misconduct against Southern Baptist churches.

In response to the proposal, Moore said:

"This proposal for a standing credentials committee is an excellent step in addressing issues related to church sexual abuse. No one policy in a church or in a denomination is enough, but this is a monumental advance, as part of a larger, concerted effort at education, equipping, and response. As Baptists, we cooperate together on the basis of shared doctrine and a shared mission. Having a better process for helping us to know when a church is or is not in friendly cooperation is positive and healthy. That's especially true when it comes to churches that are negligent, or complicit, in the abuse of vulnerable people. I am grateful to work with SBC President J.D. Greear, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd and others on addressing, together, this crisis. This is not a one-year issue, but an ongoing project requiring constant vigilance and reform. I am thankful for this great move in such a direction, and I support it wholeheartedly." 

The full proposal—which will be considered by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention next month at its June 10 meeting—can be accessed at Baptist Press at this link.

By / Feb 27

A Pennsylvania Catholic priest raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. Bishop James Timlin wrote a letter of sympathy after this traumatic situation, saying,

“This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”

But the bishop’s letter was not directed to the traumatized girl. It was actually sent to the priest.

This and many other horrific stories have recently emerged in the wake of a wide-ranging 884-page grand jury report that documents hundreds of cases of sexual assault and abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. Not only that, but the latest news stories seem to be filled with example after example of prominent leaders, actors, or politicians who have been accused of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Unfortunately, this issue has also escalated amongst Southern Baptists, as has been seen in the recent Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The #MeToo moment has drawn significant attention to an issue that has flown under the radar too often for many churches. That’s why I am thankful that Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear announced 10 calls to action for Southern Baptists on sexual abuse.

The national statistics on sexual abuse are overwhelming.

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • One in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.[1]

The most common places sexual predators search for victims is in youth activities such as school, sports, and church. This is not just a problem “out there” in the culture. It has impacted people in our pews and people we are trying to reach with the gospel.

The need to address sexual abuse in the church

In 2018, J.D. Greear announced the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Group. The purpose of the study group, according to Greear, is “to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.” As I have led this effort for the ERLC, we have discovered eye-opening insights from survivors, advocates, pastors, and churches. What is clear from this study group is that churches desire to get this issue right but often don’t because they lack confidence or competence.

Furthermore, churches lack confidence to address sexual abuse because they don’t feel equipped to address it. While 58 percent of pastors say the #MeToo movement has made their congregation more aware of how common domestic and sexual violence is, only about 55 percent of pastors say they are familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community. And half say they don’t have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.[2]

If a predator came to your church in hopes of grooming a child to sexually abuse, how confident are you that your church’s policies, procedures, and personnel would successfully deter him? If an incident of sexual abuse or assault occurred in your congregation, how positive are you that your church would be able to respond and minister well in the aftermath?

If a woman from your community came forward to a staff member or lay leader in your church and confided that she still faces trauma from the rape she experienced in college, how sure are you that he or she would be ready to minister well to her?

How can the #MeToo moment that the culture is facing be turned into a movement that results in lasting change in the church? It is important for churches to review policies, improve procedures, train personnel, and minister to people. But the need is more foundational: Churches need to understand why this issue matters in light of the gospel and how this issue should be addressed in light of the gospel. Specifically, we need to embrace a clear understanding of how the gospel shapes our approach to sexual abuse in five significant ways.

First, churches must care for survivors. Sexuality was created by God for our good. When it is practiced within the boundaries of marriage, it leads to true human flourishing. Understanding the beauty of what God designed should lead us to understand the devastating effects of sexual abuse on victims. For example, one victim abused as a child by a priest “was so violently raped when he was [seven] years old that he suffered injuries to his spine. [He] became addicted to pain medication, and eventually overdosed and died.”[3]

The lingering effects of sexual abuse cannot be overlooked or minimized. The trauma experienced by a survivor of sexual abuse should drive us to compassionate ministry. Many survivors have never told anyone before, so when they do, they need to be met with support and care that assures them they are not alone. Because it is often hard to share, we must be sensitive to vague, delayed, or partial disclosures.

When a victim does share, we should listen to a victim’s story and respond calmly, while avoiding questions that might shame the victim. There is no quick fix to trauma, so we will need to walk patiently with him or her, allowing time for grief. Failing to appropriately respond can bring greater pain to a traumatized individual. Unless we approach issues of assault and abuse by prioritizing the care of victims in our churches, we will not be able to effectively address the issue.

Second, churches must confront sin. We must call sexual abuse sin. Since we understand God’s design for sexuality, it would be sad if the world were more willing than the church to name and address the atrocity and brokenness of sexual abuse. Because of the Fall, we should not be naïve or shocked by sexual abuse. Moreover, the original intent in creation and the hope of redemption should keep us from ignoring or covering sexual abuse. Instead, both should allow us to confront it.

Our testimony is at stake: properly dealing with sin reflects our theology of God and the gospel. Sexual abuse is not just an issue related to sexuality; it is fundamentally rooted in the misuse of power. Authority for selfish gain is never appropriate in the eyes of God, especially when it comes to sex. When leaders or celebrities offer remorseful, half-hearted, non-apologies for their actions, it provides a backdrop for churches to discuss what genuine repentance and sincere apologies should look like.

Confronting sin also means being honest when something goes wrong in the church. A church must evaluate what went wrong when abuse occurs in order to make appropriate changes, report the abuse, own their errors, and apologize appropriately. Even if the incident occurred years before, it is never too late to do the right thing.

Third, churches must seek justice. Abuse is not just sin. It is also a crime. Consider these startling statistics I heard at a Ministry Safe Summit:

  • A child on average has to tell seven adults before one actually makes a report to authorities.
  • Only two to five percent of allegations are false.
  • Only three percent of abusers are ever prosecuted.

The comprehensive report on child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania demonstrates the injustice of a systematic cover up by church leaders of the extensive abuses. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”[4] The main concern was with avoiding scandal. The problem included a broken system that empowered and protected predators. And children suffered grievously as a result.

Churches need to be more concerned about dealing with sexual abuse in a way that demonstrates justice and care for victims than with lawsuits or the damage that scandal might produce. We should not wait to investigate allegations as a condition of reporting. When in doubt, report. Reflecting the God of justice, the church must seek justice for victims of sexual abuse. We must take sin seriously and recognize sexual abuse is a sin issue and a crime that needs to be dealt with in the legal system.

Fourth, churches must protect the vulnerable. As we embark on our efforts to address this issue, we must have an unwavering commitment to protect the vulnerable and never tolerate any form of abuse. Many churches now require criminal background checks and have a child-check-in system. These are great first steps in addressing the problem, but more needs to be done.

Churches can protect the vulnerable by requiring sexual abuse awareness training, thoroughly screening church staff and volunteers, considering the specific context of the church, continuing to monitor and give oversight to their programs in this regard, and by improving strategies and ministry for future incidents. These steps may make it harder to give volunteers a name tag, but even if it deters some volunteers from serving, protecting the vulnerable is worth a small inconvenience. The call for church leaders to shepherd the church certainly entails protecting the children from the potential of sexual predators.

Fifth, churches must equip the saints. The previous four steps take sexual abuse seriously and also demonstrates to a congregation that the church is a safe place—both in preventing abuse and in getting help for those abused. In addition to this, the church should teach members how to respond when a friend from small group or a child in AWANA shares they were abused. An individual traumatized by sexual abuse will likely tell someone close to them who is trusted. That may be a counselor or a pastor, but it will often be a friend.

As a result, we need to train the people in the pews who will likely have the first conversation with a victim. They need to know how to care well for each survivor. Help first responders know how to model empathy and action. Their first instinct should be to take the stories of victims seriously. We have a God who cares for the most vulnerable and hears their cries; his people should be characterized by this as well. The church should be the place where victims of sexual assault find help and hope in their time of desperation. Training on how to identify sexual abuse and respond to survivors will help church members navigate a difficult topic in a Christ-centered and compassionate way.

Churches need to actively address sexual abuse by caring for survivors, confronting the sin of sexual abuse, seeking justice, protecting the vulnerable, and equipping the saints. One church recently made a bold move in addressing sexual abuse in their congregation. Although there were no known instances of abuse in their church, they hired an independent investigator to see if there were abuses they were unaware of. They knew that the church had to respond to this #MeToo moment in a way that brings about lasting change.

The pastor of the church stated in an interview, “The Church in America has been so afraid of ‘being attacked’ by our culture that we cover up anything that doesn’t make us look good.”[5] He continued, saying, “We want to be a safe place for people, both a place for those who have experienced abuse, but also a system that prevents it in our context.” This pastor understands that the church doesn’t need to cover up sexual abuse to maintain God’s reputation. In fact, addressing sexual abuse gives us the opportunity to proclaim we are great sinners in need of a great Savior and demonstrates the character of our God to a watching world that is taking the brokenness of sexual abuse seriously.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.


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By / Feb 15

The Houston Chronicle has published a three-part series about sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. Here are parts one, two, and three. As J.D. mentioned, what these articles describe is heinous. There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable.

We completely agree with the words of ERLC president Russell Moore:

Jesus does not cover up sin within the temple of his presence. He brings everything hidden to light. We should too. When we downplay or cover over what has happened in the name of Jesus to those he loves we are not “protecting” Jesus’ reputation. We are instead fighting Jesus himself. No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden.

But anger and grief, while appropriate responses, are not sufficient to protect victims. What can easily be lost in the size of these numbers (700 identified victims), which are grievously large, is the tragic fact that they cannot be the whole story. More must be said and done in the coming days. But today, we want to provide some initial guidance to victims who have not yet come forward on how they can receive care.

How to receive care if you are a victim

If you have been victimized by a church leader (or anyone else for that matter) and the Houston Chronicle story rekindled fear and doubt about how you could receive care, please hear us: we are profoundly sorry. It is an unjust tragedy that you experienced abuse in the past. And it is unjust and tragic that you feel fear in the present.

We, the church, have failed you, but we do not want you to forgo care or counsel.  To that end, here are some options to consider:

1. Realize you did nothing wrong. Abuse is never the fault of the abused. The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.

2. It is understandable to be afraid. When people who should be trusted (like church leaders) violate that trust, it can make an already fearful situation (like abuse) even more disorienting.

3. Speak with someone who can help you process the abuse and resulting trauma.

For immediate guidance, here are three numbers where you can reach trained professionals who are available 24/7:

  • The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

For ongoing care, identify a counselor near you who is experienced in working with abuse and trauma. If you need help finding a counselor, here is guidance on finding a trusted Christian counselor near you with experience in your area of need:

If you are not ready to speak with someone yet, consider reading On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg or The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. Both of these books do an excellent job of describing the healing process after abuse and would provide a taste of the benefits you would receive from working with a Christian counselor.

4. If you were abused as a child, then a report to Child Protective Services (or the equivalent in your state) will need to be made. If you are fearful to take this step alone, the counselor you speak with can help you do that.

5. If you are an adult who has been abused, the offense against you is no less wrong. Know that you have a choice about when in the process of your recovery that you choose to seek justice.

Taking the steps in #4 or #5 ensures that the crime (not just sin) your abuser committed against you shows up on a background check. This helps protect others. Reporting a crime is not just a matter of protecting others, though. It can also be an important step in restoring your voice.

6. When you are ready, involve your current church in your recovery journey. This assumes you are not in the same church where your abuser is in leadership. It is understandable if you do not take this step for a while. Don’t feel rushed. Your first step in this direction might be inviting a Christian friend to be an advocate in your counseling sessions. God is a patient Shepherd who walks at the pace of his sheep (Psa. 23:4).

A word to pastors and church leaders

Before we close, let us say something directly to pastors and church leaders: Please share the resources above through your personal and church’s social media accounts. It is easy for church leaders to become self-centered and self-protective when news of churches’ failures come to light. But it would be another tragedy and a reinforcement of the problem if we allow that to happen.

People in our churches and communities need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation. Until that confidence is restored, no one who has been abused will feel safe in our churches. The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.

Pastors, let us also remember to be patient with those who are understandably slow to trust. Even if we are not individually guilty of the things being discussed, people in our roles, who said the kind of things we say, are guilty of these very things. For those who have been abused or are close to a survivor, trust will come slowly.

As leaders, we need to remember that trust should not be an assumed entitlement for those who hold positions of authority. When situations are suspicious, then mistrust is not a sin. It is, in fact, wisdom rather than vice. For those who have suffered injustice and great harm from ministry leaders, their mistrust is something to be honored, not rushed.

Imagine it this way: if your child was abused by a teacher, wouldn’t you want your child’s next teacher to be patient with your child’s fear? Sure, the teacher could easily personalize that fear as mistrust and respond defensively, but the only appropriate response—the one you would want for your child—is one of patience.

If you want to learn about the impact of abuse, we would recommend this series of podcasts from Diane Langberg titled Church as Refuge. Dr. Langberg will be giving similar lectures in the Washington, D.C,. area on February 15-16. We encourage as many ministry leaders as possible to attend.

And one final word, this time to everyone: While it is not enough to “just pray,” we absolutely should be praying for those who have been abused: for the 700 people in the Houston Chronicle article; for the many, many other victims who have not yet come forward; for the abused in our very churches.

In addition to grieving and praying, we need to make sure, to the best of our ability, that those who are hurting in silence are cared for. What we have described here can help us toward that end. There is more to be done, and more will be coming out from our Sexual Abuse Advisory Group in the coming days.

This article originally appeared here.

By / Feb 13

We are in a significant moment in our society because of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. As we have now seen clearly, sexual abuse and assault has deeply affected the Southern Baptist Convention. People are coming forward about suffering abuse at the hands of ministers, church leaders, and family members—trusted individuals that were supposed to be sources of safety and help. What has been a private, quiet, and likely agonizing reality for thousands of men and women dealing with the trauma associated with sexual assault for many years is coming to light. What we know now cannot be ignored.

As the church, we have a responsibility to care for those who suffer among us. But perhaps this burden is rightly placed most heavily on the men established and called to shepherd Jesus’ flock. There are policies and procedures that must be in place for when a victim comes forward. Without the proper tools for responding swiftly to tragedies such as sexual assault, we simply will not be able to care for victims properly. Yet we also know that there will be a need for spiritual care as well.

I am not a psychologist, but I am a survivor, and I offer six ways pastors can care for those in their midst who may come forward in the coming days as victims.

1. Reduce shame and blame

One of the hardest things a survivor of sexual assault ever does is say these words out loud: I have been a victim of sexual assault. People often do not share this because of shame and unwarranted guilt that plagues them. So when someone tells you this deeply personal part of their story, you must be ready to listen and care without any hint of accusation.

Women,* in particular, are blamed for their assaults. I’ve heard women share with me some of the terribly hurtful and preposterous words said to them:  

  • “You were too friendly.”
  • “You shouldn’t have been wearing that.”  
  • “You shouldn’t have been in the room with him in the first place.”

Accusations such as these aren’t only inappropriate, they are soul-crushing and damaging. You cannot eliminate shame, but you can reduce it by being conscientious of how you react and respond. Tell her it’s not her fault. She did not make her perpetrator assault, harass, or abuse her. He is responsible for his actions.

2. Resist shock

Although studies show that nearly 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted, few speak openly about the experience. Survivors may feel isolated and alienated because of the lack of openness of survivors around them. I don’t say this to put blame on those who remain quiet. It took me many years to speak openly about my experience, and to this day I know many women who have never, and will likely never, share their experience.

It’s incredibly hard to vocalize victimization. When a woman comes forward to share, reduce her fear by limiting your shock. Of course, we will feel sorrow and righteous anger, but when we are shocked, we tend to respond with: “What?! Why haven’t you said anything?” Or, we might be completely and uncomfortably silent. Maybe the best thing to say at that moment is, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” The first time someone shares with you is not the time to ask questions. Be there for her. Comfort her. Listen to her.

3. Remind them of Jesus

When a congregant shares the deep wound of abuse, she will need to hear that she is clean and covered because of the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:22). She will need to hear that Jesus was a man of sorrows and is acquainted with the deepest grief (Isa. 53:3). She will need to hear that she can draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and help in her time of need (Heb. 4:16). She’ll need to be reminded that Jesus and God, the Father, love her.

4. Be their advocate

When we think of advocacy, we might immediately turn our minds to public work such as being a mouthpiece for sexual assault in the public square. That may very well be where the Lord leads you. We need Christian advocates willing to speak up about abuse. Part of loving our neighbor involves advocating for our neighbor. When one person mourns, we all mourn, and when one person weeps, we all weep (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). She will need a champion, a person who might have to sacrifice his comfort and perhaps even his reputation to advocate for the abused. It might cost you something to stand up for what is right. At the end of your days, it will be worth it to have kept your integrity.

5. Pray

We don’t usually think of prayer as an action, but prayer is an action. If we have access to a holy God, the Father and Creator of the universe, we should never minimize prayer. Prayer is quite possibly the greatest action. So in all our supporting and advocating, we want to make sure that we are also praying. God is the only one equipped to handle and fully care for our burdens and those of our friends. Let’s take those cares to the throne of grace. God is ready and willing to help us.

6. Know your limitations

You may have a deep desire to serve the person who came to you, but you are limited. Know your limitations and insufficiencies, and seek the proper help. Involve a counselor, pull in the authorities, find someone who can actually help. Learn about resources available to victims and have them prepared and ready to give to your member. Knowing your limitations and inadequacies may very well be the wisest, safest, and most caring thing you do for victims. And as an overseer, telling a victim that you, too, need help is a humble and honest example for what she needs—and what we all need.

*For the purpose of this article and to keep it clear and succinct, I am using the pronoun “she.” I am aware that many men are abused yearly and that this is not a problem isolated to women.

A version of this article originally appeared at

By / Feb 11

This past Sunday, the Houston Chronicle released an investigative piece detailing sexual abuse cases of leadership in Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years. When news hit social media that the article would be forthcoming, my heart skipped a beat. With minimal clicks, I found the Chronicle’s promotion video for the article that included dozens of minister’s mugshots.  

Scanning row by row, my heart sunk to see the familiar eyes of my ex-husband, on the third row from the bottom looking back at me—one of the approximately 220 abusers who reporters found records for, all of whom have either been convicted or took a plea deal. An all-too-familiar wave of nausea, anxiety, and grief washed over me.

On Aug. 12, 2009, my husband, a 19-year veteran of full-time church ministry, left our parsonage explaining that he needed to prepare for a meeting at church.

A blatant lie.

The truth was that he was reporting to the local Sheriff’s department, for questioning.

I went about my morning routine having absolutely no idea that, just a few blocks away, my husband was trying to justify his heinous, sexual abuse crimes. I did not realize on that hot, August morning that our entire world was shattering into a million pieces. Life for me, our four children, the two young victims, and our church community would be forever altered.

How do you explain to your children when sexual sin has been committed by the man whom they call “daddy”? What words can comfort victims who trusted a manipulative leader who twisted Scripture to justify the violent violations they suffered? And, how does a church respond to such a crisis?

My church was present from the beginning

Upon hearing the horrific news, our church cancelled regular activities and spent Wednesday night grieving together. Shock, anger, and disbelief hit this steadfast body of Christ with the force of a tidal wave.

My church had a decision to make in those early hours—one that would set the course of either justice or sinful cover-up. Would they choose love over a tainted reputation? Would they choose healing or destruction? In those dark moments, my church wisely made the decision to run to God, their only hope.

The testimonies of two incredibly brave, precious victims, along with irrefutable evidence led to Jack’s arrest on 18 felony counts. He admitted guilt and was ultimately sentenced to 17 years in prison.

It was a high-profile media case not only in Virginia, but across the nation. My family hid as media trucks sat in our church parking lot. It was terrifying. I made plans to leave the area. I was deeply ashamed. How had I not seen this coming? How was I going to provide for my children? How could I help the victims? Where would we go?

Where was God?

My church stood beside me throughout those first and worst days, protecting my children and me, providing us a safe place to hide, and helping me think through all the decisions that had to be made. Church leaders relayed hundreds of messages of love and concern to me from members. Despite their hospitality, I wanted to run.

On what I expected to be my last Sunday at the church, I quietly slipped into place after the worship music began. My plan was to flee, to leave between the sermon and the offering, never to see them again. However, that was not God’s plan.

My church pursued me

Following the sermon, an older couple left their seats and approached me. They took my hands in theirs and told me that they loved me. They were followed by students, deacons, choir members, and friends. One by one, they grieved with me out of their love for me and my family. Some spoke words. Some slipped money into my trembling hand. I shook, not with tears, but with the sheer magnitude of grace. The line stretched down the aisle and around the sanctuary as people expressed sorrow, grief, and concern for my children. Some said nothing at all, but looked me in the eyes and communicated what a thousand words could not say. My entire soul was enveloped in their love, sorrow, grace, and mercy. I was not alone.

My church continued to care for me and my family

The church never left our side. They encouraged us to stay in the community. They healed alongside of us. They provided us the parsonage to live in and job leads for me. They helped me write a resume after 18 years of being a pastor’s wife and a stay-at-home mom. They gave my children Christmas that year, and the next, and the next. They could have turned their backs on us; instead, there was an outpouring of Christlikeness. They allowed us to heal at God’s speed. They were my family.

Where they lacked expertise, they recruited helpers. Consultants and counselors provided services to the body. There was never talk of cover-up, maintaing an image, or protecting their reputation. They continued to point people to our only hope in the midst of darkness—our sovereign God.

There are still hard days today, but there has been tremendous healing. There is still deep grief for everyone whose lives were impacted. There will always be grief, but there is also hope, redemption, and joy—real joy. In the lives of the victims, my children, my church family, and in my own soul. God is restoring the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).

Because of the redeeming power of the gospel, there is also the ability to say that it is well with our souls. We are learning the hard work of grief in preparing for an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). He is truly the God who sees and knows (Ex. 2:25) and never abandons or forsakes us(Deut. 4:6), and neither should the church.

My church set a powerful example for others to follow as these stories continue to emerge. Let’s be a people who are present, pursue, and care for our people. Let’s be a people who point others to the only hope in the midst of the darkness: Jesus.

By / Feb 11

Top leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention promised to encourage reforms that protect children and women after a sweeping investigation publishedSunday that found more than 700 victims of sexual misconduct by church leaders or volunteers.

Read the full article here.