Fort Worth Star Telegram Report on Sexual Abuse

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.

 

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.

 

Thoughts on J.D. Greear’s Comments on Homosexuality

I was once asked to officiate a wedding for a young couple that had been attending our church.  The young man had waited for me outside the building and he was very nervous.  I knew the couple had been living together, and when he asked, I looked into his face and said, “I don’t normally marry couples who are living together.  That’s against what God’s Word says, so we’ll have to talk about that.”  I’ll never forget that conversation. I was right. However, I did a poor job of loving my neighbor.  I loved being right more than I loved that young man, and it cost me the opportunity to influence a young couple with the gospel.

J.D. Greear has been accused by American family Radio of jettisoning gospel truth in favor of loving his neighbor, particularly those neighbors who happen to be homosexuals.  If you haven’t read the accusations, you can read them right here.  The statement that prompted these accusations seems to have been “We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on homosexuality.”  Greear went on to say, “We say yes, this issue is important.  I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right.

I’d like to give a few thoughts on this article:

  1. The author says that the number one cultural and social issue of the day is homosexuality.  I respectfully disagree and believe that the number one social and cultural issue of our day is the tribal nature and labeling so prevalent in our culture.  If we could find our identity in Christ rather than a political party or a certain moral position, then, as Dr. Tony Evans said at the 2018 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, “Two hundred year problems would become two-minute problems.”
  2. Loving our neighbor does not mean we have to jettison Biblical truth.  we need only to look at the example set by our Savior to see an example of loving they neighbor and standing for truth.  In the eighth chapter of John, Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in adultery.  Did He shame her for her adultery?  Did he tell her that adultery was against God’s plan for her life?  Did he tell her that she would need to repent of her evil before He could offer His help?  No, He saved her life!  think about that for a minute.  Jesus, who could have rightly condemned this woman for her evil act, saved her life first from the hypocritical religious leaders of her day.  He loved her.  Did he let her sin slide?  No, he instructed her to go and sin no more.  He both loved her and stood for Biblical truth.
  3. We have to learn to live with those who have specks in their eyes.  The author of this attack on Dr. Greear seems to assert that we cannot live with those who are living homosexual lifestyles.  How exactly is Christ supposed to use us to draw others to Himself if we have to live separate from them?  We can live with sinners and not participate in their sins.  We do it all the time.  If we knew everyone in our communities who had been convicted of a crime or spent time in jail, we would understand that we’ve always lived among sinners without participating in or endorsing their sins.
  4. What about millennials?  The author says something about millennials and the election of Greear as SBC President.  I’m not sure what that has to do with Greear’s election other than I guess the author is blaming our generation for the future demise of the SBC.  I’ve been a Southern Baptist since I was born, and if our convention is advocating showing more love to those who do not know Christ, then I will continue to be a Southern Baptist.

Let me be clear, I believe sin is clearly defined in God’s Word.  God has shown us what is right and what is wrong, and we are responsible for communicating God’s truth to the unbelieving world.  We’re also responsible for loving the unbelieving world.  I would be willing to bet that the man who had been beaten and left for dead in Luke 10 was glad that the Samaritan man didn’t read him a list of all his sins before he bandaged his wounds. I’d bet Matthew was glad that Jesus didn’t condemn him for being a cheating tax collector before He asked Him to come follow.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal.”  What good does it do us to have knowledge of everyone’s sin yet fail to show them love?  I’m afraid AFR is becoming a clanging gong or a clanging cymbal.