First, thanks again for your support of our effort with the Salvation Army. Through the weekend, we almost hit our $200,000.00 goal. We made it to $189,587.00 with an additional $5000.00 coming through for a total of $194,587.00 raised. If you haven’t contributed, but want to, you can give here. All the money goes to help those who cannot afford gas and groceries.
Now, on to a painful, but necessary topic.…
When my friend Russell Moore left the Southern Baptist Convention, many said it was because of his opposition to Trump. Moore, in a subsequently leaked letter, said his departure had to do with sexual abuse within the SBC. Moore had, rather famously, scrapped an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission conference and repackaged it as one focusing on survivors of sexual abuse. (Full disclosure: I was invited to speak at the original conference, but the invite was rescinded when the focus shifted to that new topic)
People scoffed at Moore. He got branded a theological liberal despite being a Biblical complementarity, affirming Biblical sexual ethics, etc. He was, they loudly said, trying to dredge up controversy where there was none to avoid having to grapple with his theological drift and political antagonism towards conservative Trump supporters.
Yesterday, the internal investigation about sexual abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention was made public. Many of those implicated in the abuse turn out to be the very men who rallied to force Russell Moore out after he began publicly talking with survivors of the abuse. The report is damning. A sample of the review:
Mike Stone, the former chair of the EC and a candidate in the 2021 race for SBC president, helped craft an apology for a pastor friend of his after the pastor was found to have been exchanging explicit text messages with a member of his congregation in 2019.
Augie Boto testified as a character witness for Nashville gymnastics coach Marc Schiefelbein who had been convicted in 2003 of molesting a 10-year-old girl.
Jack Graham, SBC president from 2002 to 2004, didn’t report a music minister who was fired in 1989 after Prestonwood Baptist Church learned he molested a child. The minister went on to another church and was convicted for his crimes at Prestonwood more than 20 years later. (The church “categorically denies the way the report characterizes the incident 33 years ago,” current executive pastor Mike Buster said in a statement. “Prestonwood has never protected or supported abusers, in 1989 or since.”)
Steve Gaines, SBC president from 2016 to 2018, knew that a minister on staff at his church, Bellevue Baptist, had previously abused a child but didn’t disclose it until it came up on a blog.
The investigative report also found instances where EC leaders themselves crossed moral lines:
Frank Page, the president of the EC, resigned suddenly in March 2018. An official statement said the resignation was due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” The EC did not investigate whether it was consensual, nor did they look into “if his conduct carried over into the workplace.”
Johnny Hunt, SBC president from 2008 to 2010, groped and kissed the wife of a younger pastor a month after his presidential term ended and told the couple to keep it secret.
The last one hits home personally as I have an abundance of friends at Johnny Hunt’s church, First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. Hunt retired from the pulpit there a few years ago.
Hunt’s sexual assault had not been previously reported. The woman and her husband, an SBC pastor, came forward during the investigation to share with Guidepost what happened. Hunt, former pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock in Georgia, had been a senior VP at the SBC’s North American Mission Board before resigning May 13. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a chair position named in his honor.
By the couple’s account, they are 24 years younger than Hunt, who offered to assist them with their ministry. At one point he arranged a place for the woman to stay during a visit to Panama City Beach, where Hunt was spending his sabbatical. He then entered the condo unit where the woman was alone and sexually assaulted her, pulling down her clothes, pinning her on the couch, groping her, and kissing her.
That is painful to read. My heart breaks for my friends who worshipped under Johnny and are now learning about this.
And the report goes further. The Executive Committee fought an effort to create a database to track abuse allegations, but privately created one and documented hundreds of cases while telling no one.
[Executive Committee] attorneys Guenther and Boto discussed the idea of a database of abusers as early as 2004, in response to Brown. The subject came up again in 2007, after a motion at the annual meeting. The EC staff did not move forward with the idea at the time. Guenther wrote in an email that he worried “about a duty to warn a court might think was owed by the SBC.”
And yet, with the help of spokesman and vice president Roger “Sing” Oldham and an unnamed EC staff member, they did keep a list. At Boto’s request, the report said, the staffer collected news clippings and tracked abusive pastors in a table with name, year, state, and denomination. The first version, in 2007, included 66 people arrested or sued over abuse. By 2022, the list grew to include 703, with 409 believed to belong to SBC-affiliated churches.
The men in charge were worried about governance issues and litigation more than the sin and victims. In fact, many victims were attacked and maligned.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a loose confederation of churches. Governance is at the individual church level. The Convention itself chooses to affiliate with churches that share a common missional purpose and Baptist approach, but the Convention does not hire, fire, or even oversee individual church pastors.
However, over the last few years, many of those implicated in the report have led the charge to sever ties with churches who put women in positions of church leadership or let women speak or preach from pulpits. Many of their allies have vocally attacked prominent women in the Southern Baptist Convention for not knowing their place. Concurrently, these same men were stymying efforts to sever ties with churches that employed documented abusers.
EC attorneys criticized [then Southern Baptist Commission President] Greear for repeating the names of 10 churches that were reported in the Houston Chronicle investigation for employing abusive pastors and asking an EC subcommittee to look into them. Guenther said they were going to be sued for libel and worked to clear the churches’ names. Boto called one to apologize.
The reality is that the Bible lays out complementarianism. Men are the head of households and of churches. Women are to complement the roles of men but are not to be in leadership positions. The position these men have taken against women in church leadership is Biblically sound.
They also have undermined their cause and complementarianism in general. They have hurt the gospel mission of the church, wounded others, and driven a lot of people out of churches all while committing grievous sin or covering up the grievous sins of others.
The truth will set them all free.
The men and women of the Executive Committee who pushed for and fought for this investigation must be commended. Many of them had no idea what they were about to expose, but they knew it was the right thing to do.
What has happened is painful. These sins need to be exposed. The men involved need to be called to account. Those in the church should resist the tribal desire to circle wagons and offer weak defenses. Let the sunlight in. Let the truth come out. Let God work it all out. After all, all things really do work for the good of those called according to God’s purposes and this report and investigation will make the Southern Baptist Convention stronger.
For those of us not in that denomination, we should pray for it.
This breaks my heart. I’ve just finished studying Ezk 34. Not much has changed, human nature sins, even those who have been covered in the blood of Jesus. May we all learn from this, examine our own hearts, and pray for ourselves and for the church. Yes, let the light shine. PS 90:8, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”
I am saddened, but not surprised by the revelations you highlighted. As a Southern Baptist myself, although not a Denominational loyalist, I know that each of us is prone to sin and must be vigilant at our point(s) of weakness. I differ with your analysis of Russell Moore, but that is a subject for another time. Every Denomination or Church Association is made up of sinners saved by Grace. It is not sad to me to have this scandal exposed to the bright sunlight, but what is really sad is that if it had been exposed earlier, it would have deterred the follow-on abuse. The men who perpetrated the sin, as well as those who tried to mask or hide it are not blameless and need to be held up to the light for all to see.
I do think the men like Russell Moore who expose these kinds of scandals, in this way, do it more for vindication and humiliation of the perpetrators than for a true healing of the flock. If more people feared being exposed for what they do in "hidden" ways, and knew that what they did in private would be exposed widely, they would not have been so blind to their own sin.
I believe that Denominations are killing themselves generally by their actions. Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist...not to exclude others... are all settling into a Laodicean mindset and Born Again believers are being left to find Biblical Churches that adhere to Biblical and Christian Orthodoxy. In today's world, that can be a troubling endeavor..BUT GOD HAS THIS...and we must seek Him first and foremost. Maranatha!