A Word from Walker
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Last year at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), an overwhelming majority of the 15,000 plus messengers voted to hire a third-party organization called Guidepost Solutions to investigate charges of sexual abuse, assault and cover up of such activities within the Convention, particularly at the Executive Committee (EC) level. This two-hundred and eighty-eight page report dove into great detail about heart-wrenching allegations from several hundred victims. These findings sent a shock wave throughout our denomination. As your Executive Director, I thought it important to address this report.
I had read, as many did back in 2019, the Houston Chronicle series of articles on sexual misconduct, abuse and assault in SBC churches and institutions. These articles counted over 700 such instances. Following on the heels of these sobering articles, SBC President at the time, JD Greear, set up a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group to look at such issues as caring well for abuse victims, re-examining what it means for churches to be affiliated with the SBC, and digging deeper into greater accountability by looking into the potential of a national database of past abusers. Following that, regional and national workshops were conducted to help initially mitigate this systemic problem. State conventions, seminaries and other organizations followed suit by issuing their own statements about such terrible offences. It seemed that some good work had been started.
But there were problems, particularly within the EC. The gist of this was twofold. First, many leaders/trustees within the EC thought that an internally-directed review was sufficient. Others did not. This is why the issue moved to a consideration by messengers last year at the meeting in Nashville. Second, despite this mandate, some of these same leaders/trustees did not support the waiving of client-attorney privilege (which was necessary to have investigators talk directly to victims) and diminished both the message and even the right of the right and ability of the messengers to provide direction to the trustees. A quick review of the bylaws of the SBC gave a different story. Resignations and retirements followed over the next several months when the effort to countermand the directive was thwarted.
When the report came out there seemed to be clear and organized efforts by staff of the EC to cover up hundreds of reports of abuse. Even worse, victims were maligned and marginalized. This same pattern also seemed to be present in other organizations. Perhaps the biggest takeaway in my opinion was a systemic problem in our Convention that could be traced from churches to organizations in a loop of sin, cover-up and denial. The justification for this ranged from a hands-off approach, to the sticky issue of church autonomy, to a protective strategy for organizations over the needs and rights of victims. In the end, great damage was done to innocent people. A dark cloud now hovers over our denomination based on the actions of a small percentage of our leaders.
What are we to do? First, we should do everything in our power to help victims. Many leaders throughout the SBC are helping establish hotlines for victims and free training resources for churches, pastors and denominational leaders to do a better job in helping and advocating for victims of sexual abuse. In the last few weeks I sent out a copy of the book Suffering and the Heart of God by Dr. Diane Langberg, a well-known Christian psychologist who specializes in trauma. The timing of this was providential because I had no idea that this report was forthcoming, but the commitment of the staff and leaders at PMBA to equip pastors in ministering to victims of abuse is strong. We want to help you minister to others in need.
The second thing we need to do is to look at our own hearts to see if there is any sin in us and, if so, to repent. Even if we have never been guilty of a particular kind of sin, the revelation of others’ sins should always make us become sober and honest people about any broken and corrupted ways within us. God promises us that if we confess and repent we can find forgiveness and restoration. To not do so is to become hypercritical and set ourselves up for even greater future failures.
In the midst of our great sorrow over what has happened in our Convention, let us be reminded that God can bring good out of terrible situations. Please join me in praying for our SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, CA that will take place in a few days. May God grant us mercy and courage to do the right thing.
Yours in Christ,