Sexual abuse in the local church...
It’s sickening that such words are in the same sentence.
Sadly, this isn’t breaking news anymore.
In fact, we recently learned of another scandal with the Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of nuns. This on top of the years of reports of sexual abuse by priests and the cover-up by Catholic leaders.
Then this week happened—the 3-part series by the Houston Chronicle regarding sexual abuse and cover-up by churches and leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. This piece uncovers 20 years of 380 leaders accused, 700 victims, more than 100 youth pastors convicted or charged in sex crimes.
Read it at your own risk. But read you must.
To read some of the actual court interviews of the victims, and their comments in the article will break all your heart.
And enrage you.
This. In a church.
And for me personally, in a Southern Baptist church.
Though I’ve been a pastor of a non-denominational church in New York for nearly 10 years, my roots are deep in the Southern Baptist tradition.
I’m from Alabama.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church—a wonderful church with godly leaders and pastors. Many supported and loved me through the worst. My youth pastor was my mentor and a close friend still.
I received my seminary degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A seminary that was foundational for my theological and pastoral training that plays a huge part in how I pastor, lead, and preach today.
Today, most of my church-going family living in the south are members of Southern Baptist churches.
This hits really close to home. As a pastor, the issue always has, but this feels like it happened with family.
I’m shaken and heart-broken for the people who look to pastors for pure-hearted compassion, care, love, and support only to find wolves in sheep’s clothing. Trusted church leaders who then take advantage of someone’s trust or vulnerability and violating them in the most devastating way possible—spiritually. The worst form of abuse. Spiritual abuse… especially through sexual misconduct.
I’m struggling to find the point of this post. As a pastor, I’m just compelled to declare all this news for what it is—evil and catastrophic. For those involved, and for the reputation of the local church, the cause of Christ, Christianity, and pastors like me.
Pastors and church leaders, protect your church from you. In every way, including sexually. Protect by fleeing from and repenting of pornography. For the love of God, His Church, and the people who trust you, get control of your lusts. Get professional help. If you are in sexual sin of any sort, confess before God, and repent before your leaders, elders, spouse. And get help! If you have committed sexual misconduct, now is the time to bring it into the light. Though consequences will most likely follow, those victimized can perhaps experience a measure of healing through your confession and contrition. Likewise, you might find true freedom of the soul that has evaded you.
I’m proud of Grace Community Church, the church I pastor. Though not the perfect church, we do our best. We work with lawyers and authorities on how best to protect people in the church, especially the most vulnerable. We have policies, protections, background-checks, accountability, systems, and protocols in place to protect the flock of God—even from, God forbid, the shepherds of God. We do all we know to do on this side of heaven.
But I must be frank, foolproof protection on this side of heaven is an illusion. I have to face this reality regarding my own church that I love and pastor. Gut-wrenching.
Parents, communicate with your children. Be in their lives. As a pastor, I grieve in my soul to have to say this, but churches have proven they aren’t the safest place either. My God, they should be. But we need to confront reality. Churches have sinners. Some overcome by their sin. Some of them we’ve seen this week are church leaders.
I have talked with my kids throughout their young lives with a view toward schools, buses, and yes, my church. I’ve asked them: “Has anyone ever touched you in the wrong way? In places that are private? Has anyone ever said something to you that was inappropriate?” As teenagers, Christie and I review their social media, texts, and the like too. We check who they are dialoguing with on Fortnite.
It’s sad, but the truth is you can’t blindly trust institutions that should be trusted. You must do your due diligence to protect your family.
Pastors and congregants, we must labor and do all we can to protect our children, teenagers, and those vulnerable in our midst. Perhaps a good place for churches (and parents) to start is reading this piece: The way forward: How can Southern Baptist churches and parents help prevent sexual abuse?
Despite it all, I am hopeful, very hopeful, for the cause of Christ and His Church. Perhaps God is seeing fit to do a deep purging of evil, beginning with church leaders and pastors. History proves that the church may be sent reeling, but it always comes back standing stronger. And so does the gospel hope of Jesus.
I’m praying, and pastoring, toward that day.
God help us.