Sexual Abuse in Independent Baptist Churches - The Hurt, the Heartache and the Harm.
Although I have addressed the issue of sexual scandal twice in the past year I feel that it is important that I do so again.
In early December the Fort Worth Star-Telegram issued a four-part series of articles entitled, “Hundreds of Sex Abuse Allegations Found in Fundamental Baptist Churches Across U. S.”
Since the #MeToo movement began rolling, there has been an unending string of sordid stories hit the news. Scores of network executives, political figures, business tycoons, and Hollywood celebrities have been confronted with major accusations of a sexual nature. Some were forced out of their position. Others have stepped aside in the midst of the furor.
The sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church have been unfolding for a number of years. Many hundreds of priests have been accused and charged with their misdeeds.
Now the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has done an exposé on Independent Baptists in which they cited over 400 cases of moral failure and in a number of cases in which crimes were committed, allegedly perpetrated by someone in the leadership of an Independent Baptist Church. They also allege that there have been cover-ups and the shuffling of guilty pastors to another church even when it was known that they were guilty of sexual misconduct.
Earlier this week (December 12) the evangelical publication Christianity Today called and asked me to comment on the charges being made against Independent Fundamental Baptists. I agreed to the interview without hesitation. The reporter was very fair and quoted me precisely.
This expose has created quite a stir in our circles and has also made national headlines, but I want it to be clear. Those allegations have not escaped our notice through the years.
In the last year I have written two articles. The first one was entitled “Harassment and Abuse Scandals” and was published in the December 29, 2017 issue of the Sword of the Lord.
The second one was entitled, “How to Respond Properly to Scandalous Allegations” and was published in the June 15, 2018 issue of the Sword of the Lord.
Both articles are available in their entirety at swordofthelord.com.
Since the national headlines broke this month some folks seem to think we have been silent about the issues of sexual abuse. We have not been silent and we will not now be silent.
Although it may be partially repetitious from my previous articles, let me make a few salient observations.
(1) Cover-up Is Never an Acceptable Reaction!
“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (I Tim. 5:20).
When accusations are made, you can’t just sweep it under the rug and forget it. If the accusation is something illegal (sexual contact with children, embezzlement, etc.) the authorities must be called. If it is not illegal (moral infidelity), church officials must still deal with it. Maintaining the integrity of a church’s ministry must be a daily priority. Anything that threatens that integrity must be addressed fully and promptly.
(2) The Law of the Land Requires That All Alleged Incidents of a Criminal Nature Must Be Reported to The Authorities!
This simply must be done. There are no excuses for not doing this as the law requires. Anyone who ignores the law will (and should) have to face the consequences of their actions. When things go wrong we should always do right. Every time, all the time, just do right.
Whether it is popular or not, we should do our very best to do right.
(3) Accusations Must Be Verified!
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (I Tim. 19).
If you think every accusation is true, you are not living in the real world. Lying is pandemic in today’s world. Some accusations are conceived in hate, revenge or out of retaliation, and are not true.
Consequently, accusations must be vetted either by multiple witnesses or some other physical evidence.
When the situation is a “he said, she said” dilemma, establishing the actual facts can be very difficult and in some cases impossible.
Invariably some will presume guilt and others will presume innocence. As a result, the yelling back and forth gets out of hand.
(4) “Presumption of Innocence” is a constitutionally protected right here in America.
Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial in which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
We simply cannot abandon this fundamental principal in our juris prudence system. Our founding fathers were wise to include this provision and it should not be forgotten in our struggles today.
(5) “Presumption of Guilt” has Become Standard Fare.
When an accusation is made these days, it has become pretty typical for most people to assume the accusations are legitimate and that the accuser has been vetted. Often the accused are guilty, but not always. Assuming that guilt and accusations are one and the same is not a good premise.
(6) Accusers Must Be Heard Without Prejudice!
Accusations do not constitute guilt for the accused, but the accuser’s claim must be handled promptly and seriously. The alleged victim must be shielded from the alleged perpetrator.
When you are in a position of leadership you must simultaneously defend the right of the accuser and the rights of the accused.
If you are the one who makes the charge of sexual abuse, you deserve to be heard, protected and helped (without any delay).
(7) Onlookers Adopt Conclusions Without Necessary Facts.
Hearsay and rumor, do not constitute a substantiation of the accusations. If something illegal or immoral is alleged, it is unwise to make comments and take sides until the facts are established. Those in positions of responsibility must take the appropriate actions, but those who do not have detailed knowledge of the facts should wait just a bit before declaring themselves to be experts on the case. If you are not privy to all the facts, holding your tongue is a wise response.
(8) If You Were the One Innocently Accused, You Would Want the Privilege to Defend Yourself.
We must not forget in any circumstance that “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12).
(9) If You Are Found Guilty, You Deserve Exactly What the Law Requires.
There is no excuse, no rationale which can justify sexual sin. If a person has abused a child or taken advantage of their leadership position to do something like this, they should face the full consequences of the law.
The fact is—the list of men who were pastors, youth pastors and laymen who are or have been in prison is a considerably long list.
(10) If You Are Found Innocent, You Deserve to be Treated with Respect.”
This is a part of the picture that gets very little attention. When someone is falsely accused, they never fully recover from the damage done to their name and reputation. Some onlookers refuse to believe anything other than the alleged victim’s accusations without regard for the facts that prove otherwise.
If accusations are proven to be false, once again the full weight of the law should be brought to bear on the person who perpetrated the fraud.
Where a person, male or female, is sexually violated, the hurt and the heartache brings significant, long-term harm to the person.
For people, men or women, to use a platform of leadership, whether it be religious or secular, to effect a criminal act is unconscionable and must be addressed strongly.
To say that all of the cases named in the Star-Telegram report are just now coming to light is totally untrue. Many of the ones named are either in prison or have been forced out of their positions. A few of them have been vindicated and are still grappling to regain their tarnished reputation.
No doubt the handling of some of these situations was clumsy, ill-advised and in some few cases even illegal. But in recent years our churches have been better advised. The Christian legal ministries have assisted most Independent Baptist churches in the handling of these serious issues. Any attempt to cover up on these grave issues is totally unacceptable. Most churches and ministries I know that and consequently that is much less likely to occur now than might have been the case in earlier years.
If you are an abuse victim, you deserve the compassionate care and support of all of us. We cannot erase the past, but we can be available to help you in whatever way you may need us.