ROCKVILLE, Md.–In light of recent news coming out of the Southern Baptist Convention – especially from some of our seminaries – we are driven to our knees. On our knees we express grief for those who have endured abuse and have subsequently been silenced, repentance as individuals in a denomination where these acts have taken place, and a heartfelt petition that God give us the wisdom and courage we need in the coming days. We will be tested in our actions toward our brothers and sisters directly involved in these events and in our witness to a world that lacks for examples of how to handle these situations rightly.
All of this relates to the recent sexual abuse allegations that took place in SBC seminaries that were subsequently covered up by the most senior leadership. This coupled with some erroneous teaching about women has resulted in a festering wound that has only recently come to light. There is a lesson even in that fact. These hidden acts are now seen in the light of day, and our task, if Ephesians 5:11 has anything to say, is to willingly expose the “unfruitful works of darkness.”
Moreover, it is the truth of God’s Word to which me must cling at this critical moment. God’s truth will clarify the errors that have been made, but will also ensure that our course correction aligns with what God has revealed and not with any other authority. With that in mind, what teachings might inform our own response?
Grieve with those who grieve
People are grieving. Our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are grieving. Some – especially our dear sisters in Christ – have shouldered the pain of abuse coupled with abandonment. The Christians in leadership whom they trusted let them down, to put it mildly. We the Church hurt because members of our body are hurting. They most of all need to know our hearts are broken for them, too. That brokenness extends even to the victimizers who themselves are coming to grips with the insidious effects of sin. We grieve for them all. We grieve with them all.
Repentance is a right response
And we grieve with repentant hearts. On this, I’ll confess, my first reaction is to say, “But I’m not the one who is involved with the sin!” Yet we all are in a sense implicated. Ephesians 5:3 says that sexual immorality must “not even be named among” us, but this is what has happened. Repentance acknowledges our own corporate share, much like Daniel confessed the sin of his predecessors as his own. This sort of broken and contrite heart pleases God and protects us from turning a blind eye, growing haughty, or committing the same sins ourselves. It is not to say we repent as the direct actors but as the church in which this has happened.
Men and Women are equally created in God’s image
Much of what has happened is the result of faulty teaching that was not recognized or addressed at the time. We cannot let it persist. The plain truth is that man and woman both were created as image bearers. Whether you fly the egalitarian or complementarian banner – another discussion for another day – we must affirm that there is no difference in value of either men or women.
Submit to authority
Romans 13 makes it clear that God instituted not only the church but also government as a civil institution. To skirt this authority is to skirt the commands of our Savior. The lines of authority were given as an act of grace by God. The church is able to keep to its role of making disciples in part because it is not burdened with the role of government. The attempt to handle a criminal issue “in-house” is a rejection of God’s design and the assumption of a burden that wasn’t designed for the church. To be fair, there are churches in other parts of the world where the government wouldn’t worry about these crimes. In that case, perhaps the church would need to take an increased role. But let’s be clear. That’s not us. We thank God for the role of government that allows us to trust His wisdom while keeping to the Great Commission He has given us.
Remember the redemption of the cross
Remembering our mission means we remember the hope brought by Christ through the cross. The stain of sin is removed, and the pain of sin will one day be alleviated. Following in the footsteps of Jesus means that we, too, pour out our lives for the sake of others – for the hurting, the abused, the confused, and the jaded. We live the hope that we know is found at Calvary. Forgiveness for even the worst crimes can be found there. It’s that same forgiveness that we offer to those who have wronged. That is not the same thing as a restoration of former titles or positions. It is something much greater: restoration within the community of those redeemed by Christ. Where repentance exists, restoration is found.
Heed the warning
Because of what we know now, we are responsible to take the appropriate steps to avoid the same scenario in our own churches, seminaries, and conventions. The problem of sin feels more palpable in this moment, and it is a sobering reminder that protective measures must be taken to ensure we avoid its own deception and inevitable destruction. It’s time for introspection and action. A sure sign that we take these events seriously is our own safeguarding efforts. In doing so, we protect the vulnerable, which includes potential victims and those who would be affected by the fallout of such failures. May we be found faithful at this time.
Kevin Freeman is associate pastor for discipleship, youth, and families, Redland Baptist Church, and chairman of the Christian Life and Public Affairs committee for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.