On February 10th of this year, the Houston Chronicle released a very detailed and excellent article on decades of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and volunteers within the Southern Baptist Convention. This article is heartbreaking and disturbing. Like many Southern Baptist pastors, I applaud the journalistic effort to expose these atrocities and bring the victim’s stories to light. It is my sincere prayer that in doing so, actions will be taken at all levels of our denomination to eradicate this horrendous crime from all Southern Baptist churches and all churches, no matter the religious or denominational affiliation.
As a Southern Baptist pastor and Senior Pastor of Stewartstown Baptist Church for the past two years, I want to make the following statements on behalf of our church.
- Sexual abuse has no place in our society and much less in our churches. We unequivocally announce our deep disgust at the crimes that have been committed by persons affiliated with our denomination. We mourn with the victims and their families. We are abhorred by the seeming lack of support and compassion for those victimized from both their local churches and national leaders.
- We agree with and support the efforts of now Southern Baptist Convention President, J.D. Greear, that any church “proving a pattern of sinful neglect—regarding abuse or any other matter—should absolutely be removed from fellowship from the broader denomination.”
- Southern Baptist churches are autonomous—owning property, hiring pastors and staff, creating church policies and guidelines—however, autonomy is not and must not ever be used as an excuse to overlook criminal behavior of any type. Further, Southern Baptist churches, and the Southern Baptist denomination at large, must never ignore negligent behaviors and must refuse to allow violators continued involvement and authority within our denomination. Autonomy cannot continue to be an excuse for negligence.
- At Stewartstown Baptist Church, we work diligently to protect against all types of abuse, including sexual abuse. These protections include:
- All staff and volunteers over age 18 working in children and student ministries must undergo the State of Pennsylvania mandated criminal background checks and FBI clearances, when required by law. Results of these clearances and background checks must be on file before working with minors.
- Ministry leaders and volunteers work in teams so that an adult and a minor are not alone together. As a matter of accountability and protection for all involved, as pastor, I will not meet with a minor without the presence of a parent and will not counsel members of the opposite sex behind closed doors without another adult present.
Pastors and ministry leaders bear great responsibility. Caring for the vulnerable, no matter the reason for vulnerability, must be held in high regard. Any allegation of sexual abuse or other criminal activity must be taken seriously and appropriate actions taken to ensure no further crime occurs. This includes notification of law enforcement and victim protection. Crimes must be dealt with as crime. Pastors, ministry leaders, and volunteers must ensure that victims do not face further victimization or be coerced into silence.
It is my deep, genuine, belief that the overwhelming majority of the 42,000 Southern Baptist churches in our denomination are led by people who are faithfully and rightly serving the members and guests of their churches. Praise God for the Houston Chronicle report. No more can church autonomy be used as an excuse to fail to stop the plague of abuse and continued ministry by known abusers! I stand with Dr. Greear’s statement, “There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.” It is time for the Southern Baptist Convention deal a decisively with churches and church leaders that protect reputations instead of protecting people.
By His Grace,