EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Stone is chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga.
NASHVILLE (BP) — I opened the February meeting of the Executive Committee with my own story of abuse. I had not shared it in 40 years, revealing it to my wife 48 hours earlier. Sharing it was one of the most difficult moments of my life. But I felt prompted by the Lord to reveal this pain so survivors would know they have an advocate in the EC chairman. Nobody in attendance that evening should question my unwavering resolve to deal with this issue as a leader in the Executive Committee.
But I believe that almost all of us, in our zeal, emotion and righteous anger have done some stumbling out of the gate. Whether by miscommunication or mistrust, few, if any, have handled this perfectly. Let’s own that, admit it, and come together.
As we begin a journey into this uncharted territory, we must get on the same page. Some argue that the president should not have named churches without contacting them. Others feel the Bylaws Workgroup responded too quickly, either in time or in result. Still others question whether the EC has any present authority to conduct inquiries at all.
But there is one thing that is beyond dispute in my mind: We seek the same goal. I haven’t spoken to a single member of the EC that isn’t willing to do all we can to address this evil and to seek the Convention’s approval to do some additional things we currently don’t have authorization to do.
In a desire to respond with urgency, the report of the Bylaws Workgroup appeared “rushed.” That’s an inaccurate but fair perception. The group doesn’t have the authority to do an investigation and did not claim to do one. And given the limited scope of authority and information, the preliminary report to the EC was as thorough as it could have been.
But an on-looking world, especially victims, doesn’t necessarily understand the limits of the workgroup’s authority and shouldn’t be expected to do so. It seemed like a two-day “investigation” despite wording to the contrary. So, questions of, “How did you do that so quickly?” or, “Why didn’t you talk to this person or that person?” are reasonable questions.
No churches were “cleared,” even though media reports characterized the study that way. The workgroup has no authority to “clear” any church. In fact, if additional information comes to the committee, as has already occurred, it may indicate further inquiries are in order to determine if the actions of the church reflect the faith and practice of Southern Baptists.
To abuse victims, I stand with you. Literally. As a member of a group that nobody asked to join, I am with you. Circumstances beyond your control have given you more than enough right to feel however you feel. And the possible sense of empty promises made in the past has made many understandably skeptical. So, my final comments are not directed to you. But to my fellow Southern Baptist pastors, leaders, bloggers, and tweeters, I want to suggest a short list of things I sincerely believe will help.
1. I want to invite you and encourage you to put down the rocks. I’ve tossed a few of my own and I repent before God. I am willing to believe we’ve each done our best. But we haven’t been together. That must change. Questioning people’s character and commitment to sexual abuse prevention will not bring us together. Having a passionately-held opinion does not give any of us the right to attack one another or to present ourselves as if we are the only one knowledgeable of or concerned about a righteous response to sexual abuse.
2. Process and passion are not enemies although they often seem to be in conflict. The reality is, there is no process in place right now to effectively deal with sexual abuse in some of the ways being immediately presented. I wish that were not so. If that’s an indictment on past inaction or a past lack of readiness, then let the indictment come. And let’s all own it.
3. With the exception of a few, not many pastors or leaders have been beating a path to a Convention microphone to address this issue procedurally. There was a 2008 report but little was done in its aftermath. We don’t really have the right to ask for more patience from victims. And I’m not. But we should be more patient with each other as SBC leaders. I’m not advocating endless delay, God forbid! But rather decisive and thoughtful deliberation.
4. I support our president and the recommendations brought forward to this point. As he stated, there are still questions about process and implementation. But with the Spirit’s help we can do this together. The president and I have disagreed about a couple of things procedurally. But NOTHING causes me to doubt his deep commitment or my willingness to cooperate.
No one person can handle this task alone. No single group or tribe can. This is an “all hands on deck” and “all family members on their knees” moment for the Southern Baptist Convention. I commit to offer my hands, bend my knees, humble my heart, and open my ears. And I pray we will each do so in order for the hurting to be loved, children to be protected, churches to be strengthened, and Christ to be exalted.