SBC Sexual Abuse: Our Plan to Protect Our Kids
In 2019, the Houston Chronicle released a bombshell report about a massive sexual abuse cover-up happening in the nation’s largest denomination that spanned 20 years and over 700 victims. Many of the predators were pastors and youth ministers, people you’d least expect, that were molesting/raping young boys and girls. This has been a problem in the Catholic church, USA Gymnastics, and now we see it in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In Summer of 2021, I attended my first ever Southern Baptist Convention that was hosted right here in Nashville. One of the motions of the messengers was to put forth an independent investigation of how the SBC’s Executive Committee handled the sexual abuse allegations reported in the Houston Chronicle’s articles.
This past Sunday May 22, that investigation was finally released. It contained over 280 pages of evidence, emails, and interviews with alarming details that showed a systemic cover-up to protect SBC insiders. As bad as all the details were already, many leaders were still shocked by the latest details to come out of this investigation.
Some of those details include:
- SBC Headquarters in Nashville had a Secret list of Offenders — For years abuse survivors have asked denominational leaders to make a database of known sex offenders so that they would not be able to go from church to church committing more crimes. The Executive Committee said that would not be possible based on legal grounds (violated local church autonomy). The investigation found out that not only was a list possible, but that the SBC headquarters in Nashville already had a list of offenders and abused victims. But instead of making it public to protect the people, they kept it hidden to protect the big-wig SBC names that were on the list. This is probably the most gut-wrenching news for me personally. The list consists of over 700 abusers spanning a decade.
- Beloved SBC Leader Johnny Hunt exposed for Sexual Abuse — One of the few leaders that seemed to be beloved across the divide of SBC politics was Johnny Hunt. He was a former megachurch pastor and current VP of Evangelism at the North American Mission Board. He was known for being a fiery, passionate, and full of charm. The investigation found that he had probably committed sexual assault against the wife of a pastor he was mentoring at the time. It appears that one more of our heroes has fallen and who knows the countless Christians in SBC life that are devastated by the news.
- Law Firm for SBC Executive Committee Advises Dismissal of Victims — This Law Firm regularly advised EC staff not to help or even respond to abuse victims requests. Many victims were hushed or even guilt-tripped using spiritual entities like the Lottie Moon Offering and IMB. Victims were even told that if they kept focusing on sexual abuse whistle-blowing this would cause less people to give to the CP and thus missionaries would be sent home. In other words, people will go to hell because you made a fuss about this.
- Several Former SBC Leaders had Protected Sexual Abusers — Former SBC president Steve Gaines, while pastor of a megachurch, delayed reporting a staff minister’s sexual abuse history. Another former SBC president Jack Graham, and megachurch pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, quietly dismissed an abuser of young boys instead of reporting it to police. That abuser was then found abusing boys again 20 years later in Mississippi.
I can’t speak for our denomination but I can speak about what we are doing as a local SBC church. Here are 7 things we are doing to protect our kids.
7 Initiatives We Are Doing at Unity to Protect Our Kids:
- Sexual Abuse Awareness Training for Leaders and Volunteers— Starting in 2021, all volunteers and pastors for youth have been required to complete training videos from Ministry Safe. Personally, I have found these videos to be eye-opening in terms of understanding who and how sexual abuse happens, from the “grooming process” that abusers often use, to the reality that most abusers are the least expected because they intentionally try to gain gate-keepers trust, to the danger of peers (other kids) abusing each other. The result for me personally has been a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to anyone wanting to serve with youth/children.
- Background checks — We’ve made it a requirement where all volunteers who want to serve our youth must complete a background check using Ministry Safe. All our pastors/staff/deacons have completed background checks. This is especially necessary for us since our congregation is so transient. We have a high number of people coming in and out of our congregation having moved from a different city. We need a system for vetting their criminal history since we would have no prior history with these individuals.
- Youth Director that is a Sexual Abuse Survivor — Our youth director is not only knowledgeable about sexual abuse but she herself was a victim of sexual abuse (permission received to share). That actually gives our church a unique advantage in that we have a Youth Director who has first-hand insider knowledge, expertise, and added motivation to protect our kids.
- Membership Process — Our process for becoming an official church member has become much more rigorous. This process includes completing a 4 week class, completing an application with testimony of conversion and prior church history, 1 on 1 interview with pastor, and then final approval by congregational vote at the next members’ meeting. Having a more rigorous process enhances our ability to know our new members more intimately and possibly uncover possible red flags if they exist.
- Oversight and Accountability from a House Church — The membership process handles the initial vetting of newcomers, but the requirement we have for every member to be part of a house church gives on-going accountability and oversight. This is another layer of peers and church leaders who have regular contact with a person’s spiritual health. Our house churches are designed to encourage transparency in the small group setting. Shepherds are charged to be pastors of their house church and spiritually responsible for house church members. Sometimes this support looks like encouragement, but occasionally shepherding looks like discipline and correction as well.
- Modeling Purity and an On-going Commitment to Purity — Starting with me as pastor, to our deacons, shepherds and volunteers, we are intentionally creating a culture where purity is expected and lived out. Sexual sin is not something that happens overnight. It takes years of hiding and feeding to grow into the wicked perversions of sexual abuse. We are committed to regular preaching/teaching of the Word on purity, confession, and accountability. Even pornography is regularly talked about with the expectation that it can and will be eradicated from our lives. Here is me talking about my own battle with sexual sin from the pulpit to bring it into the light and model to my congregation transparency, confession and repentance: See 45:30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrD4u7lIJmY. Why do I feel it is important to be transparent about my struggles with sexual sin? 1. Because I am seeing victory and so want to give others hope. Through God’s help, I’ve made large strides in my battle against Lust and Pornography. 2. I do not trust myself. If men like Ravi Zacharias and Johnny Hunt can fall, then why not me? I always want to have a healthy level of fear that that could be me someday if I’m not continually vigilant.
- Staying to Help Rebuild — Many are questioning if they should stay or leave the SBC. I am still saddened that Dr. Moore (my favorite former professor from Seminary) would leave the denomination that is currently in roiling from these scandals. I feel that it is exactly men like him who are most needed to create reform and rebuild. As of now, I believe that we should stay. Although we are a tiny church in the vast SBC nation, we can play our part by focusing on ourselves to becoming healthier, more Biblical as a church, and model better sexual abuse prevention. I want to stay in the SBC because I still believe that the decentralization of local churches is the best system we have when it comes to options of church governance. I still believe that the Cooperative Program and International Mission Board is still the best system for carrying out the Great Commission in our lifetime. And I still believe that the more difficult path is usually the one we should take until God states otherwise…