The Sexual Abuse Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention/Great Commission Baptists released the findings from an extensive study on Sunday, May 22, 2022. The investigation focused on claims of sexual abuse and coverups of sexual abuse over the last twenty years by those in key leadership positions.
- In the 1980s, we saw a Conservative Resurgence.
- We called a time around 2010 as a Great Commission Resurgence.
- We are now at a time of a Convention Reckoning.
I refrained from offering any social media hot takes on summaries that I read from others. I wanted to read the lengthy document myself and process the findings. While there is still so much to absorb and unpack, I am finding myself focusing on a few issues for myself, my family, our church, and our convention of churches.
#1. When Accusations Are Made
While ministers have to wear many hats and perform many duties, no ministry staff member should take on the mantle of an investigator. If accusations are made of a crime committed within your church, your job as a mandated reporter is to surrender your knowledge to law enforcement so they can determine what to do next. Do not fear the fallout. You didn’t commit the crime, but you could create more harm by failing to do something.
#2. When Training Has Been Done
Just because you have trained your staff and volunteers on what to do in cases of sexual abuse allegations does not mean they remember it. Teach it, and teach it again. The goal of training is not to avoid legal entanglements; it is to avoid abuse and protect all within the church. If you need resources, I commend this resource to you.
#3. When Victims Are Among You
The trauma of sexual abuse is devastating enough; we cannot couple that pain with a congregation or a convention disassociating or degrading a victim. We must work for a day when the victim feels safe at church and can trust spiritual leaders again. The Good Samaritan was the unexpected protector of the abused man in Jesus’ parable while the religious community passed by the need. It is a shame that many came looking for help within the Christian community and was left damaged on the side of the road only for those outside the church to comfort when none was found inside. If someone’s legs have been broken, you don’t criticize them for walking with a limp. Many have misunderstood the gravity of abuse and demeaned them while suffering. Do better.
#4. When Heroes Disappoint You
While every year produces more moral implosions of Christian leaders, some shocking allegations of names were unexpected in such a report. Some people and situations were public knowledge; some of these accusations are unexpected and shocking. For those reeling with the questions surrounding these accusations, never confuse your mentor for your Savior. Heroes will disappoint you; Jesus will never let you down. Use those moments as a learning lesson. You don’t have to discount their impact when God used them in your life. You need to wake up to your own frailty. You need to draw closer to Jesus rather than further away.
#5. When the Pile Under the Rug Turns Into a Mountain
It appears that cases of sexual abuse were brushed under a rug for decades. Obviously, there are more cases than reported in this document, and there are those in our history before the scope of this investigation. You can only brush things under the rug for so long before it becomes a mountain upon which all can see. What should have been addressed as crimes when they happened were carefully covered up to protect the convention. This desire to keep things in the dark has made the presentation into the light much more damaging than if the horrible situations had been dealt with well in the first place.
#6. When the System Is Corrupt
After years of asking for a database of leaders that could endanger others, people said it was impossible due to certain factors. The reality was it was possible, lawful, and apparently, even accomplished. A registry has been kept, and other people could have been protected if they had let that list see the light of day. While those in power have not done what was right in the past, it is time to do the right thing now. Suppose someone has admitted, been convicted, or accused with evidence of sexual abuse within the church. In that case, their names need to be on a list to that every church can see them and prayerfully bar them from service in another congregation. The grace of Jesus is vast and powerful. They don’t have to be cut off from the faith, but they should be prohibited from serving again.
#7. When the Protectors Rise Up
The printing of the document and slamming it down on my desk had such a symbolic thud. This process was time-consuming. It wasn’t easy. People had to become shrewd as serpents yet innocent as doves to see it happen (Matt. 10:16).
- Those in power did not listen to accusations from the abused to make a change.
- Those in power stonewalled recommendations to protect others through messenger pleas of task forces, practical training, and helpful databases.
- Those in power explained the financial concerns of doing either of those paths so much that some of those not in power decided finally to talk their language and get their attention by threatening to reroute Cooperative Program dollars away from those disobeying the clear will of the messengers. Only then, when a few pastors started a firestorm and catalyzed a wave of likewise support did the committee surrender to do what had been asked them to do.
It was Cooperative Program dollars they were protecting. “We don’t want to hurt our opportunity to fund the Great Commission.” Yet, in their unwillingness to do the right thing, our ability to fulfill Jesus’ call was hurt in much more damaging ways.
#8. When the House Is Getting Cleaned
Many people who have issues with Baptists are having a heyday with this news. Make sure you know that there are no winners here. I am affirming things have been handled poorly in the past, but this document represents a new day to me. Right is being done finally. Despite all the horrible, unthinkable, unnecessary things that have been done and covered up, the system is finally starting to work. Victims and protectors wouldn’t relent. The document represents phone calls made, motions presented, actions taken, and steps stated. The hundreds of pages on my desk represent all that was done wrong, and yet now we have the opportunity to do what is right. The document means that the house is getting cleaned.
#9. When Autonomy Is a Smokescreen
The convention is based upon the theological concept of church autonomy. It’s biblical. It’s practical. It’s workable. But it has been a smokescreen. I know the church or the pastor down the road can do what they want to do, but that doesn’t stop me from confronting them if they are damaging the reputation of Christ in our community. It’s time for us to take Christian responsibility for the larger Body of Christ.
While I have been disgusted with how some leaders have led in the past, I have hope in the way that others are leading now. It may have been right to leave it all behind in the past, but not now. Now is the time to get to work.
I’m a simple pastor who has committed my life to helping people believe and experience the life-changing hope in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That work is all-encompassing. It changes everything about us. Some days it is difficult to go forward, but I know Him to be unwaveringly faithful no matter how frail we prove to be.
Jesus came to confront the prideful and encourage the downcast. While this moment hasn’t completed that, it is a beginning. And like others, I am committed to seeing us do the right thing now by helping those who have been hurt and doing our due diligence to reduce the possibility of it happening again on our watch.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.