By David E. Strope
Editor’s note: The views expressed are solely that of the author and are not a formal statement of the GARBC.
On May 20, 2022, the Southern Baptist Convention released the report of an independent investigation by Guidepost Solutions. Guidepost investigated allegations of sexual abuse within the SBC by pastors, lay leaders, denomination officials, and the SBC Executive Committee’s handling of these allegations.
The report scathingly addresses hundreds of occasions of sexual abuse by those serving in pulpit ministry or employed as local church staff. It further identifies credible allegations of sexual abuse committed by then SBC President Johnny Hunt (2008–2010). On May 26, 2022, the SBC released a list of alleged church-related sexual abuse offenders that denomination leaders had kept secret for more than a decade. This list contained more than 600 entries. The release of this data comes 15 years after Christa Brown began sounding the alarm that Southern Baptists needed to keep such a list to prevent abusers from transferring from church to church. Brown herself notes that she was abused by a youth pastor who then went on to serve other Southern Baptist churches in multiple states (source Washington Post, 5/27/22).
As believers we decry such abuse! Reactions now flood social media. Letters to the editor pour in. Outrage is being expressed toward denomination officials who buried legitimate charges of sexual abuse and allowed sexual abusers to move from church to church with impunity. Evangelical local churches, fellowships, and entire denominations, though not part of the SBC, are embroiled in these volatile discussions. We believers also express sorrow for the hundreds, and likely thousands, of victims who endured sexual abuse from church leaders.
While the GARBC is distinct from our far larger and more influential SBC cousins, we dare not merely curse the darkness of these sins. We must take a good, long, hard look at ourselves.
Our churches pride themselves in their autonomy, or independence. This Biblical view of church government must never, however, be used as a cloak for malicious, evil behavior. On occasion the genius of our fellowship (our independence) is also our Achilles’ heel.
Proverbs 28:13 declares, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (ESV). The heinous sin of a pastor preying on church members, even children, must never be swept under the rug. Doing so leads to disaster. Sin must be confessed to obtain mercy. Frankly admitting behavior, accepting full responsibility for our sin, giving no excuses, and shifting blame to no one else are essential. Dissimulation—downplaying the essence of our sin—must never be allowed. We gain God’s mercy when we come to Him through the work of Christ in full acknowledgment of what we have done and in agreement with God’s evaluation of our conduct.
There is much informal discussion within our fellowship as we consider the explosive release of the Guidepost report. What of us? Have we displayed similar actions? What should we do when one of our church leaders commits such sins? Perhaps the following six statements may be a good starting point for understanding and discussion by pastors, local churches, and our fellowship of churches:
- Local churches must act immediately and Biblically when sexual abuse is perpetrated by pastors and local church leaders. Appropriate steps of personal approach that follow the guidelines explained in Matthew 18:15–18 and Galatians 6:1 must be followed. Even if such an approach is met by a genuinely repentant spirit, public address in most cases must be made to the local church. Certainly church leaders who commit such abuse are disqualified from further ministry for the indeterminate future, if not for the rest of their lives.
- Crimes committed within the church assembly or in our local communities must be reported to civil authorities immediately.
- When a pastor commits such abuse, open discipline by the church assembly is essential. Local churches must provide resources for victims of sexual abuse so that they may by God’s grace recover from the crimes perpetrated against them. Listen to them. Hear their stories. Give them the support they truly need.
- Ordaining churches, or at least the church where the ordained pastor now serves, must boldly and unequivocally revoke his ordination. We dishonor Christ and hurt ourselves and the Body of Christ by passing off our problem pastor to another local church. Give honest, frank recommendations to churches that seek references. If you are unable to recommend an individual for pastoral ministry, say so!
- While our association possesses no authority over individual local churches, we can and must cooperate with one another to guard our precious flocks from predatory wolves. I as interim national representative will never provide a résumé or recommendation to a local church for a man who has been found guilty of sexual abuse.
- Pastors who serve presently must diligently guard their own lives. Each must be properly accountable within his local church. Each church should both respect and challenge its pastor regarding his moral purity, his relationship with his wife, and his abstention from every category of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
Has such sexual abuse occurred in Regular Baptist churches? Sadly, yes. Is there the need to provide to local churches seeking pastors relevant information about disqualified ministry leaders? Quite likely.
We must guard our own lives, our churches, and our fellowship of churches. Our churches have been purchased with the blood of God the Father’s own Son (Acts 20:28). Our churches—God’s children, our people—are indeed incredibly valuable.
May each pastor heed Peter’s call: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:2–4, ESV). These are the men God will use as true shepherds of His sheep.
May God allow the SBC to somehow recover its lost reputation and its commitment to godliness and holiness, and may the damage done to the cause of Christ be repaired.
May God help our churches, our fellowship—me—to manifest godliness and a right relationship with all so that all may be drawn to know and love Christ, our Savior from sin!
David E. Strope serves as interim national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.