If you’ve been following developments in the SBC in response to the Houston Chronicle‘s devastating investigation into sex abuse in the denomination, you may have seen SBC president J. D. Greear respond with contrition and issue an action plan that included the possibility of expelling churches that have a “wanton disregard for prevention of sexual abuse.”
You may also have seen the bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee push back against Greear, chiding him for acting too hastily. They had asked Greear for his dossier of evidence against specific churches, and in just two days they came to the conclusion that “no further inquiry is warranted” in many of the cases. Just like that. Presumably by skimming documents, without talking to victims, without doing a proper investigation.
No wonder victims are despairing. As Rachael Denhollander put it, “The EC has demonstrated the exact problems that lead to the abuse of so many – whitewashing the crimes and coverup, choosing largely irrelevant criteria, and investigating issues they have no training to investigate.” Many victims took this as a clear sign that they shouldn’t even try to seek justice.
All this led Ed Stetzer to urge the SBC “to do the right thing.” In a strongly worded response, he called on the Executive Committe “to walk back this too-quick response.”
Like Stetzer, I, too, was angered and grieved by the Executive Committee’s response.
But I was also relieved.
Here’s the thing. You don’t get abuse as pervasive and pernicious as what has been uncovered in the SBC (and long been known if you’ve been listening to victims and victim advocates) without a culture of abuse. And that culture of abuse doesn’t happen without people in positions of power making it happen. Including at the very top.
I believe that many SBC leaders are horrified by what has come to light. I believe many genuinely want to work for change. But I think they need to know what they’re up against.
Thanks to the quick action of the bylaws workgroup, reformers have a clearer sense.
In calling the SBC to choose the “right path” forward, Stetzer quotes Keith Whitfield, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Seminary:
“Southern Baptists are proud of our ‘Conservative Resurgence’ of 1979, when we reaffirmed that we believed the words of Scripture were the Words of God and should be the authoritative basis for truth. But now Southern Baptists require a ‘Moral Resurgence’ to drive us to apply the teachings of the inerrant Word of God regarding who we are as human beings.”
But isn’t it time to take another look at that “Conservative Resurgence”? What if, at it’s heart, it was an immoral resurgance? What if it wasn’t about “believing the words of Scripture” as much as it was about claiming and asserting power in a way that was antithetical to the gospel?
What if they got it wrong, all those years ago?
If so, there will be no “right path” forward without going back and setting out in a different direction.