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.

A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.