By Pastor Griffin Gulledge
Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia
As a young boy growing up in Southern Baptist churches, I was taught to save my pennies to give each Christmas and Easter to missions offerings named to honor two Baptist women, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. Those offerings are a small testimony to the beauty of our convention.
Sixteen million Southern Baptists stand together on the inerrancy of God’s word while setting aside other differences to collectively fund the largest missionary sending agency in the history of Christianity, church planting in North America and six of the largest seminaries in the world. These are all sources of pride and part of what it meant to be a Southern Baptist.
But after the long-awaited Guidepost Solutions report on the mishandling of sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, being Southern Baptist now means something different.
Today Southern Baptists are feeling many things: grief, pain, disgust, horror, shame and rage. In other words Southern Baptists are getting just a taste of what abuse victims have felt for decades as they suffered in silence, maligned and neglected by the ones who should have offered them help.
Online, men and women from SBC churches are clearly horrified at what they’ve read. What can we do? Here are four recommendations for how Southern Baptists and all Christians can respond to this report.
- Don’t look away.
In moments like these, we’re all tempted to say, “This doesn’t pertain to me.” We’re tempted to ask, “Is that my problem?” It’s an echo of the excuse spoken east of Eden: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The answer to that question was always yes.
So much mistreatment and abuse has happened because Baptists refused to look, refused to learn and refused to listen. Undoubtedly this is painful. But as light pours into a dark place, don’t shut your eyes or refuse to see. Educate yourself on the plight of the abused. Read the report. Learn to help.
- Don’t downplay.
Some will be tempted to say, “This is just a few bad apples,” or, “Most of that was in the past.” Humility requires us to honestly admit we have no clue how much abuse continues now. This report, limited in scope, is the first word on abuse in our convention, not the last. More will come out.
A similar scandal destroyed the witness and reputation of the Roman Catholic Church. Page 58 of the Guidepost Solutions report documents how Father Thomas Doyle wrote to SBC leaders in March 2007. He expressed his concerns that SBC leaders could be falling into some of the same patterns as Catholic leaders in not dealing with clergy sex abuse. He urged Southern Baptists to learn from Catholic mistakes by taking early action to implement structural reforms.
Sadly his warning was dismissed by SBC leaders. The priest responded that such reactions are “standard for people in church leadership positions, who tend to place the needs of the institution before their Christian obligations.”
We cannot continue to dismiss warnings. We must learn humility and stop pretending this is overblown.
- Don’t be silent.
We must listen and learn. We must also speak up. A source of clear pain throughout the report is how often abuse victims stood alone as they fought for reforms. If we read this report and cannot find our voice, how are we any different from those in James 2:16 who say, “Be warmed and filled!” and then refuse to give food and clothing?
- Don’t walk away.
This last point is directed to my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters rather than Christians at large. Many of you are likely ready to walk away at this point. But who are you walking away from? We now know that our leaders, our money and our institutions hurt people.
Can we say with a clear conscience, “I’m done”? At this moment when justice cries out, dare we walk away? This is the hour to speak up, to refuse to yield, to fight for the justice and mercy God requires of us. To walk away from the SBC now is to walk away from victims. To walk away now is to walk away from our responsibility.
The Guidepost report closes with important recommendations, all of which will receive serious consideration as SBC messengers prepare to meet for the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim.
At that meeting, the Sexual Abuse Task Force will be allotted time to bring these recommendations, and perhaps others, to the convention floor. My prayer is Baptists will live up to the inerrant Word we believe in and find the resolve to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10), no matter the cost. God help us.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article originally appeared at thegospelcoalition.org and is republished with permission. Griffin Gulledge is originally from Alabama and grew up at NorthPark Baptist Church in Trussville. He is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham and currently serves as pastor of Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia.
Lamenting should not be neglected
By Carrie B. McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Growing up, Mark Clifton said church was always a pretty positive place.
“We wanted to always be upbeat, always to be happy,” he said in a recent “Mondays with Mark” podcast episode on Facebook. “Even sometimes now I feel like sometimes we always want this Sunday to be better than last Sunday, and boy, next Sunday is going to be even greater.”
But recent events remind us that “life hurts a lot,” said Clifton, senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board.
Lamenting is a way to “grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. To say, ‘God, I don’t know why this is happening.’”
Scripture understands that feeling, he said.
“Much of the psalms is lamenting. Probably the most powerful lament in all of Scripture, in all history, was when our Lord on the cross cried out and said, ‘My God, My God, Why has Thou forsaken Me?’”
The weight of daily struggles can be heavy, and lament is a natural response to pain, he said. “Lamenting forces us to turn to God and to quit trusting in ourselves, to quit trusting in the affirmation of people. It causes us to look to God, to look to Christ.”
In lamenting, he said, it’s OK to express your heart.
“We turn to God, and we lean into Him, and we complain to Him and we express to Him our need and what we desire,” Clifton said. “And then we have to trust Him.
“He will work all of this together for His good and for His glory … . We may not know that now, but we’ll know it someday.”