You may have heard that our brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held their annual meetings last week in Anaheim, CA. Summertime brings all kinds of denominational meetings and gatherings across the country, with the SBC being the largest protestant denomination in North America, they typically have some headlines in the news. If you noticed, most of their headlines this year were not the kind of headlines you want. Scandal, apocalypse, abuse and cover-up were some of the words being used to describe the situation facing the SBC. In recent years it has come to light that the SBC has not done an adequate job of addressing instances of sexual abuse in its congregations and has even gone as far as to cover up alleged abuse in an attempt to protect the reputation of the church and its ministry.
I think moments like this provide an important juncture to humbly reflect upon what the Lord wants his people to do in light of these revelations. So, let’s be clear, there’s no room for pride in a moment like this. “Those poor Baptists, they need to get their act together”, we might say, but I’m reminded of the posture many protestants had during similar revelations with the Roman Catholic church, smugly assuming that these kinds of abuses are only carried out in “those” kinds of churches. Rather than pride in our own self-righteousness, a more Christian response might be one of humility and examination. “Where, O Lord, have we failed to protect the vulnerable?” “Where, O Lord, have we attempted to cover up what should have been exposed in the light of your righteousness?” “Where, O Lord, have we sinned against you and your people in similar ways?”
I think another appropriate response to moments like this is heartbroken compassion for the victims. Our brothers and sisters in Christ, little boys and little girls, young men and young women were indescribably harmed at the hands of those they trusted in the church. When they sought help from their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, they were often ignored or met with accusations of wrongdoing rather than supported, defended and protected. Not only have they been sinned against by their abusers, but they’ve been sinned against by the churches that should have listened to their cries for help and worked to expose all abuse and injustice to the light. How many others were put through the same kinds of awful abuse because these victims were ignored, disregarded, or silenced? We should be actively uprooting this kind of injustice in our own houses with equal vigilance and tenacity that the evangelical church typically reserves for our staunchest outside opposition.
We have a mission as the church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to bear witness to the reality of Jesus Christ to a broken and dying world. When the church fails to act justly, it undermines our witness to this world. You can’t preach the Gospel effectively if you don’t act justly. Furthermore, we are foolish if we think God accepts our praise and worship when we hide such hideousness. We do well to remember the words of Jesus from Matthew 23:23-28:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
We are at a time in our culture where it seems that wolves in sheep’s clothes from every cross section of leadership, whether business, politics, military, or religion, are being exposed and ousted, perhaps we thought we could be set apart, unique, or exempt. Sadly, tragically, the evangelical church is not. Perhaps where we could be unique is not in our lack of sin, for we are all fallen, but in our unique ability to root out and expose such sin. Perhaps part of our witness is that we show no tolerance for such evil.
It is, then, a good time to take stock of how we’re dealing with our own sexual sin and brokenness. Where are we failing our brothers and sisters by failing to act justly? Where are we missing the red flags or even worse, denying the abused a hearing for fear of the embarrassment or tarnishing of the reputation of the church? Are we protecting and enabling predators instead of protecting and defending the vulnerable among us? How could we do better in acting justly and taking steps to protect the vulnerable ones whom God has entrusted to us? Where have we failed to protect the vulnerable or stand with victims and how do we repent and rectify that today?
The world is watching, and they won’t hear Good News from a church who doesn’t know how to do good. Are we doing our best to stop abuse and protect the innocent ones we’re called to love and serve?
CGGC eNews—Vol. 16, No. 25