DALLAS (BP) — Southern Baptists should take a strong stand against all forms of abuse and fight to create gracious church environments in which abuse victims are heard and loved, panelists said during the Baptist21 luncheon on June 12 in Dallas.
More than 1,300 people attended the sold-out event in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center during the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting to hear seven Southern Baptist leaders address the theme of “United and Diverse: Critical Issues for our Cooperative Future.”
The panel was moderated by Jedidiah Coppenger, co-founder of Baptist21 and lead pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tenn. The panel featured Trillia Newbell, Russell Moore, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Kevin Smith, Matt Chandler, Danny Akin, and D.A. Horton.
In light of recent scandals involving sexual immorality and sexual abuse throughout evangelicalism and the SBC, churches and institutions need to reevaluate and update their policies for dealing with immoral and criminal behavior, said Newbell, director of community outreach for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Churches and institutions need to develop extensive procedures well before abuse occurs, she said, so that abuse victims will feel free to speak out about their experiences. Victims need to know they are safe and loved, Newbell noted. This means leaders and other church members should not act surprised if someone reports abuse.
“We’ve got to take the shock out of our suffering,” she said. “If you respond in shock, it is so shaming. It immediately adds guilt and shame,” she said. “Make sure you have gracious environments. It is difficult to share that you have been sexually assaulted — you can be victimized and you can be viewed differently. You don’t need to re-victimize victims.”
Newbell, who previously shared about her own experience of abuse at age 18, also said women need to be part of every institution’s process of reevaluating its abuse policies.
“Talk to women in your midst who have experienced abuse, because they are the ones who will understand how to truly help,” Newbell said.
Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, and president of the Acts29 Network, said churches should look for outside help as they update their abuse policies. Village Church uses the Ft. Worth-based Love & Norris law firm, which helps both secular and religious organizations prevent abuse and appropriately respond to it. A lot is expected of pastors in 2018, Chandler said, and they need to understand where they need help.
“We need to be trained in this,” he said. “I don’t care how well you know your Bible — we are not ready for this. We have got to get Christian outside help that helps us understand what to do in a fallen world.”
No church or pastor wants to be known for enabling sexual abusers, but churches and institutions can be so single-minded about their mission that they overlook major sin and criminality, said Moore, who is president of the ERLC.
“We want so much for our communities to see the good things that Jesus is doing within the church. Sometimes that can lead to an institutional self-preservation,” Moore said. “That then leads to a silencing, a marginalization of victims, and it can actually empower abuse.”
Moore said churches need to remember that they live in a “Genesis 3 world” in which sin still exists, even in the church. Churches should plan beforehand to handle abuse appropriately, and when abuse occurs to handle it quickly and transparently.
“Start thinking about this in ministry long before it happens. And when it does happen, don’t move into a motivation to hide.”
Complementarianism ‘not the problem’
Mohler noted the evangelical church’s failure to deal appropriately with sexual abuse is often based on a misunderstanding of complementarianism — the view that women are equal to men but have different roles and responsibilities in the church and the home than men.
Mohler said Southern Baptists need to be clear about what complementarianism does and does not mean.
“It’s embarrassing to be called by people to defend your theology under the accusation that it leads to the abuse of women, but what if it does? Or what if it can? Then it is our responsibility to make sure it must not.” Mohler said. “Distortions of complementarianism will be no more welcome among us than distortions of any other biblical doctrine. And when we are talking about any other biblical doctrine, historically we know what to call it. So let’s use the strongest language of sin and idolatry like the word ‘heresy’ to indicate distortions.”
Chandler said Southern Baptists should not give up on the doctrine of complementarianism but make sure they apply it appropriately. The theology of complementarianism is not the problem, Chandler said, but rather its practice in many cases.
“Without even knowing it, you’ll [communicate], ‘Women are dangerous, and we can’t let women destroy taking the Gospel call to the nations.’ Complementarianism says ‘We need women,'” Chandler said. “Complementarian theology is right and good. But where it breaks down and leads to all sorts of dark things is in the philosophy and practice of a very good doctrine…. Are you in your practice actually more of a patriarchal oppressor than a complementarian?”
Racial diversity a ‘snapshot’ of the kingdom
The panel also addressed the problem of racism in the American church. D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship and chief evangelist for the Urban Youth Workers Institute, said the church needs to identify racism for what it is: the “sin of partiality.” When the church fails to use biblical language about racism, it lets it linger, he said.
Horton said the kingdom of God is ultimately multiethnic and multigenerational, and the church should be made up of people from different racial backgrounds — not just African Americans, but also Latinos, Asian Americans, and Middle Eastern Christians.
“We have to think systemically and structurally in our convention what it looks like to reflect the eschatological people we really are on this side of eternity,” he said. “[The church is] a snapshot for the onlooking world that this is what the kingdom of heaven looks like.”
Newbell added that Christians should recognize the value of knowing and loving their neighbors. Many believers approach racial issues from a negative perspective, she said, highlighting the church’s failure to denounce slavery and Jim Crow laws and the tainted racial legacy of the SBC. Racial diversity is not just a reversal of past wrongs, it is a celebration of God’s creative work, she said.
“If we really want our churches to be transformed, we have got to get to know our neighbor. Proximity changes everything,” Newbell said. “Look at the Scriptures, and you see God creating a people in his image — all very different — to reflect His glory. Jesus died on the cross, bearing the wrath that we all deserve, and anyone who would believe from every tribe, tongue and nation gets to be with Him for eternity. We can celebrate this. My prayer and hope for the church and us is that we can celebrate together the way we are made differently. Proximity allows for that change.”
Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said everyone comes from a different perspective — a perspective that can change as believers listen to one another. Akin said he was grieved by how aggressively political much of the SBC was during the 2016 presidential election.
“Some of [the politics] was absolutely wrong, ungodly, and it misrepresented people,” he said. “Those who said what they said and did some of the things they did ought to be ashamed of themselves. That’s not how we as a convention of churches should be doing our business when it comes to electing our president.”
Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said the church needs to value other believers’ political opinions. And this others-directed mindset is not optional, he said.
“It’s extremely helpful to engage a fellow believer that you’re disagreeing with as a brother or sister [rather] than an enemy,” he said. “Let us consider one another. To not consider one another is not a bad option — it’s sin. Biblical imperatives trump options.”
Video of the B21 panel will be available soon on baptist21.com. B21 is a pastor-led network that focuses on addressing issues relevant to Southern Baptists in the 21st century.