The Forth Worth Star Telegram has published a four part series detailing a culture of sexual abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Network. The series was written by Sara Smith. She reported on the Paige Patterson situation earlier this year, and, from my research, has been a leading journalist in exposing abuse in religious institutions and denominations.
If you have time, go read the series. It is scary. The Star Telegram interviewed over 200 people who were subjected to all kinds of abuse including rape, intimidation, and underage sex. The perpetrators, in most cases, were never prosecuted, but were quickly shuffled to another church within the network. This is not the Catholic church, these are our distant cousins and the accusations are coming closer and closer to home. What should we do? I have five suggestions:
- Pay attention: The #metoo movement has impacted various personalities within our denomination, not our denomination as a whole. that doesn’t mean our denomination has no secrets, or that a culture similar to the Fundamentalist Baptist Network cannot develop within our churches, conventions, and associations. When I was a teenager, our church hired a pastor who had cheated on his wife at three different churches. When he was discovered having an affair, he would shuffle off to the next church, rinse, and repeat. We have to pay attention to this issue. Satan would like nothing more than to catch us off guard.
- Be on Guard: I was reading the report and was amazed at how many of the perpetrators and their enablers were allowed private audiences with underage female church members. We cannot take that risk. I know pastors who continue to meet alone with females. That is never wise, and in today’s culture it’s foolish. How many stories like this do we need to read before we stop putting ourselves in compromising positions. We make Satan’s work easy when we take foolish risks. If you’ve been meeting alone with a female who is not your wife or a family member, cut it out.
- Update our policies: I have a friend who led his church in updating all of their policies concerning sexual abuse allegations. He also updated various counseling policies for his own protection. He has set the example for me, and in 2019, I’m going to lead our church to update our policies. Updating our policies facilitates discussion amongst the rank and file in our pews. They also protect the accuser, giving them a safe process and outlet to share their accusations, and they protect the accused against false accusations. We need to update our policies because discussion brings accountability, gets things out in the open, and puts this issue on the radar. The overwhelming issue with The Fundamentalist Baptist Network, according to the Star-Telegram, is a lack of accountability and a culture of intimidation and silence.
- Listen: When we hear an accusation, we need to listen and take the accuser seriously. That doesn’t mean we jump to convicting the accused, but The Star Telegram gives details of a shaming culture. the accusers were shamed into silence, and in several cases, the Bible was used to shame these accusers.
- Stay away from the Pedestal: The Fundamentalist Baptists have a pedestal for their pastors. Their pastors, according to the Star-Telegram report, are seen as next to God. The wield unquestionable authority. We cannot put our leaders on a pedestal. I appreciate Dave Miller’s series on criticism. Earlier this year, our denomination experienced what happens when one of our leaders falls off his pedestal. We should always feel free to Biblically criticize our leaders.
- Communicate: The Star-Telegram reports a culture of sweeping accusations under the rug, and transferring accused ministers out of state to other churches, often in the same ministry positions, given alleged perpetrators access to underage girls and children. This can happen in our denomination as well. It probably has happened. For example: a youth minister is accused of improper conduct with one of the youth. The pastor is informed. The pastor speaks with the youth minister and determines the accusations are false, but he advises the youth minister to resign. The pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister. Or worse yet, the pastor calls the authorities, and they find the accusations credible, but the youth and her parents do not press charges and the pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister, and the cycle begins again. How can we stop this? There should be a denomination wide group, organization, database where churches report and receive reports about verified incidents of sexual misconduct. Yes, I said verified, not alleged or rumors. there has to be something we can do to better communicate with each other.
This report scared me because it had the word Baptist in it. If you think this kind of culture does not exist in our own denomination, you have your head in the sand. It exists in our denomination. It may not be as wide spread as in the Fundamentalist Baptist Network, but it is there. Sara Smith, and other journalists like her are doing an outstanding investigative job. They are uncovering a culture of sin, and holding our leaders accountable. This report and others like it should serve as a warning to us.
The Christian vernacular has always consisted of unique words and phrases. We are supposed to be separate from the world and our shared theology has produced some barely understood phrases outside of our Christian circles. Some of these expressions are necessary. How else can you describe what Christ has done for us? There is no better tag than #salvation. Some of the verbiage, however, needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Here are my 10 Christian phrases I wish I never had to hear again.
- Connect: This one is popular among us millennials. I’ve never understood why this word is popular. Where I’m from in Texas, we used to say, “let’s get together”, or “let’s have lunch”. I guess my generation just has to be different.
- Bi-vocational Pastor: This phrase needs to go extinct. I know many “bi-vocational pastors”, They’re not bi-vocational. They’re pastors who have another job. They are heroes to me because they work another job and do just as much ministry as a full time pastor. I know many readers of this blog hold these men in high regard. We should just call them pastors.
- Our church is seeking a full time or bi-vocational pastor: I cringe every time I see this in a classified ad. Baptist paper editors should refuse to print ads with this phrase.
- Youth and Music Minister: Another job description from a bygone era. I once turned down a combination youth and music ministry position. I’m not a fan of combo ministry positions. The minister places emphasis on one of the ministry positions to the exclusion of the other. The youth and music minister combination is especially difficult. Do you really want a youth minister who has been at camp all week leading your worship on Sunday morning?
- Broken: I’ve heard this one abused. Few of us know what’s it’s like to be broken. We know struggle, but broken, and its cousin brokenness? I’ve seen it most abused when a speaker uses broken to refer to a spiritual experience. Perhaps surrender is a better word.
- Revival: This one is as abused as broken. Attend a Christian conference and you’re likely to hear a passionate appeal for a Holy Spirit revival. I’ve even written a post here titled “We Need Less Revival”. When revival and broken are used to promote experiences rather than consistent Christian living, they are being misused.
- Social gospel: This one has been discussed ad nauseum on this blog and other SBC sites. It refers to the liberal movement that seeks to enact social change while jettisoning the gospel. Those in the SBC who support social justice are not advocating the social gospel. This term needs to be relegated to those who support the social gospel.
- Next Gen Pastor: Seriously? When I was growing up, we called this guy the youth pastor. Nice try, but we all know it’s a shiny title for an old job description.
- Lost: These last two are going to generate some comments. We need to quit using this word to describe non-Christians. Why? Because non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to have a group conversation that does not include at least one non-Christian. I’ve had to stop using this word because it makes explaining salvation twice as difficult. No, I don’t have a replacement word, but I’ve been using the word non-Christian. Non-Christian defines itself.
- Invite Jesus into your heart: I know, I know, most of us grew up with this phrase as central to our soteriology. We were all encouraged to invite Jesus into our hearts. There’s something unsettling about this phrase for me. Two of my daughters have accepted Christ and during those times, we tried to avoid this terminology. Again, I don’t have a ready replacement, but I think we should at least be cautious with this phraseology.
Are there any other phrases, words, or Christian idioms that we should throw out? Which of mine do you disagree with? Which of mine do you have replacements for? If you’re in the Kansas City area, give me a call and we can connect with a bi-vocation or full time pastor and his youth or music minister who was broken and pleading for revival last Sunday because his church was promoting the social gospel, but he enlisted the help of his next gen pastor to lead the lost to invite Jesus into their heart.
I’m struggling. I’m struggling with how to engage culture for God’s glory. The recent nomination fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh forced that struggle to the front of my conscience. There are five realities guiding my decisions on cultural engagement, and five action steps I’d like to take in the future.
- I have friends who I want to influence with the gospel: This reality hits me hard. I have many friends who don’t think like me, vote like me, share my background, etc… I want be a Christ like influence in their lives.
- I see our society moving in a counter gospel direction: I’m concerned about the direction of our culture. We’re not moving toward the gospel. We’re not moving toward Christ. We’re moving away from Christlike values.
- I have opinions: I have opinions on politics and on other aspects of our society. I have biblically informed opinions that I’d like to share. I’d like to be a part of the conversation.
- My political party does not always align with my opinions: This has become abundantly clear in the past two years. The Republican party has moved farther to the right, and has left me feeling like a man without a party.
- God is neither republican or democrat: I may feel like a man without a party, but I am never without God. There will be democrats who spend an eternity with Christ. There will be republicans who do not. This is the most important reality. It connects back to the first reality. My heart’s desire is to see all my friends spend an eternity with God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
What am I to do? These realities are difficult to navigate. I’m not the only Christian struggling with the correct biblical posture for cultural engagement. Here are five action steps I’d like to recommend to those who are struggling with this issue, both democrat and republican. I’m committed to following these steps in the future:
- Do not be a stumbling block: When Southern Baptists met for our annual meeting in St. Louis in 2015, the messengers debated a resolution supporting a ban on the display of the confederate flag on public property. There were emotional speeches on both sides of the issue. Dr. James Merritt said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “If the confederate flag causes my brother or sister to tune out the gospel, then the confederate flag must go.” If the voicing of my political opinions causes my brother or sister to miss the message of the gospel, then I should keep my political opinions to myself.
- Engage with purpose and grace: I always need to ask myself, why am I engaging this person on this issue? Am I just looking for a fight? Am I just looking to prove someone wrong? Christ never engaged just to fight someone or prove someone wrong. He always engaged with purpose and with grace. The message of God’s grace was always on his lips, and He offered forgiveness while simultaneously standing against sin.
- Cultivate more relationships with people who do not think like me: I can’t engage in meaningful discussion in an echo chamber–see reality number one. I want to cultivate more of those relationships. I want to genuinely listen to arguments. Those arguments may not change my mind, but they give me an insight into people and their thoughts.
- Those who have different values are not my enemy: There are too many conservative Christians who treat non-Christians as enemies. They are not our enemy. The Bible says our fight is against the ruler of this atmospheric domain. I want to always be careful not to treat those who ideologically oppose me as my enemies.
- I will not belong to either political party: I’ve found myself in the position of not belonging to either political party. I will still vote for a certain type of candidate, but I will not vote republican just because I’m a Southern Baptist Pastor. The Republican or Democratic, or whatever party will have to earn my vote.
This is where I’ve arrived in my struggle. Paul wrote in Philippians 3, verse 12 and following, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
I talked to a friend a few days ago, and our conversation turned toward his pastor. His pastor is a mess, and not your typical everyone’s a sinner mess, but a dangerous mess. I immediately thought of Andrew Stocklein, the California pastor who took his life a few weeks ago.
Two years ago, I struggled through a bout of situational depression. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I wasn’t excited about anything. I remember feeling like everyone would be better off if I just left. There were some other mitigating factors to this season of my life, but after several visits to the therapist, his diagnosis was situational depression.
Situational depression, as it was explained to me, is not like chronic depression. Chronic depression can last for years, even decades. Situational depression is sometimes diagnosed as a case of the blues, or a sad season in life. Situational depression is just as dangerous as the more familiar chronic depression, and if left untreated can cause just as much damage. Situational depression is not just a case of the blues. A case of the blues resolves itself within hours or days, or maybe a week. Situational depression brings on the same symptoms as chronic depression.
I think many pastors suffer from situational depression. What did I do?
- I sought help–I did not want to talk to anyone. My wife made me see a Biblical counselor. If you are suffering from either type of depression, you need to seek help. There are gifted Biblical counselors who will help. Many of them will give you a discount for their services because they are former pastors. My counselor was a former pastor and he has a heart for helping other pastors.
- I remembered that church is just church–In the course of my counseling, one of the brought up was me tying my self worth to church growth. He told me, “Tony, it’s just church.” What does that mean? Here’s what I came up with: God knows who will and who will not be saved. He even knows how His children will be saved. God knows who’s church will grow and who’s church will decline. My obedience or disobedience will not doom someone to hell, or send my church to its demise. It’s just church and when my life is over, the most important legacy I will leave behind are the relationships I’ve invested in, not the church I’ve served in. My counselor meant for me not to take church so seriously.
- It’s all about relationships–This goes with point number 2. The most important relationship is with God, and then with my family. 100 years from now, no one is going to care that I was the pastor of First Baptist Rich Hill, but some great great grandchild, during his baptism, will be thankful for his heritage of faith. He probably won’t know my name, but just the thought of investing in future generations of my family puts an extra bounce in my step.
- I bought into Financial Peace University–Did you know the number one cause of divorce in America is financial troubles? There are so many pastors who have made poor financial decisions, and those decisions lead to worry, anxiety, and situational depression. Pastor, if you are under mountains of debt, go to Dave Ramsey’s website and get Financial Peace University. It will make a world of difference.
- I stopped weighing my deeds–We tend to life with a scales mentality. We measure our good works verses our bad works, and if we’ve done enough good for the day, then we proclaim the day good. I looked at my day, some the good works I had done, and I said it was good, and there was morning and evening on the 28th of May. There are no scales in heaven. There is no system of weights and measure. There’s only grace, God’s abundant grace, poured out on us every day. Our Heaven;y Father is our biggest fan. He doesn’t hold a set of scales in His hand waiting for your bad works to outweigh your good works so He can zap you. I’ll write a full post on this in the future.
I’m still processing how God led me though that very dark time in my life. I don’t want to go back there ever again. It was scary. I may write a part 2 to this post, but for now, if you are struggling with any kind of depression, anxiety, stress, or nervousness that’s beyond the scope of everyday life, please reach out to someone.