FENTON, MI – I was naïve during most of my childhood. I thought friends and family only did good things for one another. I was wrong. After forty-one years of adulthood, missionary service and ministry, I realize some people experience the most painful hurts and receive lasting scars from the friends and family members they should have been able to trust.
When I learn about vulnerable people being abused, I feel my heart pound in my neck, my breathing takes on a deliberate pace, I become nauseated, and angry ideas swirl in my head. My remedy is remembering the voice of my university Old Testament professor, in his shrill, penetrating voice quoting ceaseless lines of Bible verses from memory. Even now, I can hear him quoting Exodus 22:22 (CSB), “You must not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.”
Beginning on February 10, 2019, The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, published a three-part series entitled an “Abuse of Faith.” The team of reporters, during their long investigation while reviewing the last twenty-years, found seven-hundred victims of sex abuse in the churches. Reporters created a database of two-hundred-twenty church leaders and volunteers. I read those articles each day they came out, then again in one-setting. My soul is still sorrowful from the reading, but what I feel is nothing compared to what the victims and their family members have felt.
Dr. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention which is the moral and public policy agency of the convention. Moore praised the newspapers’ investigation and said people with “functioning consciences” have been “filled with rage” by the findings. Moore added, the two papers “really did a service to churches by collating together this information, doing the hard work of going through and talking to people who have experienced awful, awful trauma.”
Looking back to last year, I realize that I was too naïve again, but I am grateful for leaders who understood the times in which we live. On July 26, 2018, Dr. J. D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, NC and president of the Southern Baptist Convention formed a Sexual Abuse Study Group. It was one of his earliest actions as president. Last year’s press release said:
“The group’s purpose will be to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions. This group will study both how Southern Baptists are currently engaging these issues and develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on strategies and resources for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators.”
Greear in that same press release said, “How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed.”
I hope you will join with the growing crowd who will be calling us to rapid, radical, responsible and repeated efforts to protect the vulnerable.
Rapid – We must change immediately.
Radical – We must change aggressively.
Responsible – We must change personally.
Repeated – We must change constantly.
We cannot turn our eyes away from this matter even though it sickens us. We cannot abandon our personal response to 47,000 convention churches and do nothing in our own local congregation. We cannot expect national, state and associational leaders to police our individual churches. Each one of us must protect the vulnerable.
For valuable resources, visit www.bscm.org/abusehelp.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.