Processing the SBC sexual abuse crisis

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Processing the SBC sexual abuse crisis

May 25, 2022 - Denison Forum

Summary: Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss the tragic findings of an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention’s handling of sexual abuse, where they failed and mistreated the victims, and how the convention will move forward.

Show notes: Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman begin by giving a heartfelt apology to all the victims of sexual abuse, expressing their grief alongside them. They walk through the broader narrative of this report, where it started, and what the report broadly found (7:16). They discuss why this case is unique because of the way the Southern Baptist Convention works (13:10). They talk about the dilemma the SBC executive team faced, and why they failed to address cases and in some cases, were even guilty of further abuse and stonewalling hurting victims (17:32). They talk about what the board could have done differently (24:18). Then, Dr. Denison gives practical, pastoral application and why we need the Holy Spirit (34:32). They consider what will happen to the future of the SBC, and how this will bring about good change (39:21). They end by considering how Christians should be personally holding each other accountable and practical application (45:35).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai

Mark Turman  00:01

This is the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, executive director with of Denison forum with Jim Denson, Dr. Jim Dennison, the CEO of Denison ministries and a cultural apologist with Denison forum. We’re here today for a special podcast about reports you may have seen likely have seen in the news in the last couple of days regarding the Southern Baptist Convention, and the struggle of sexual abuse, and how sexual abuse accusations have been handled. In recent years in the Southern Baptist Convention, we wanted to give you an alert that some of the things that we’re going to talk about today could be triggering, especially if you have had personal experience with sexual abuse, or you know, someone closely that has been in that experience, we wanted to give you just a warning about that. We hope that today’s conversation will be clarifying and helpful to all of our listeners, and particularly to pastors and church leaders. If you listen to this podcast and your pastor perhaps is not aware of this podcast or of these issues you may want to share this with, with your pastor or with other church leaders, it might be helpful to them. But we felt it important because of what’s been in the news in the last couple of days. And simply because of how important this topic is. We wanted to bring you this special podcast. And we hope that the things we discussed today will be useful to you. So with that, Jim, thank you for sitting down and having a conversation today. It’s a pretty heavy week. I guess it would also be important. Our ministry is nondenominational in nature. And so we both come from the branch of Christianity that is Southern Baptists, and do so gladly, gratefully, joyfully. I came to Christ, as you did in significant measure through the witness of a Southern Baptist Church. We both been trained and educated at Southern Baptist universities and education seminaries. You’ve taught at seminary in Southern Baptist context. So it’s worth really heavy hearts on several levels that we come to have the conversation today.

 

Jim Denison  02:15

Yeah, it is Mark, thank you for that. And I agree with you that this is indeed grievious on so many levels for us, personally, isn’t it. And I’m so glad you beat you started by talking about the nature of this conversation for those that may themselves be victims. In fact, at the very top of the report that’s been making so much news, these are the first words warning, this report contains information and descriptions related to sexual assault, this may be triggering to readers who have had similar experiences, we encourage you to care for your safety and well being the content of this report is not appropriate for children. So let me just say at the very beginning, if that’s you, if you are yourself a victim in some way, I am so sorry, we are so sorry. We cannot begin to imagine the depth of your pain. And if you are on some level of victim of abuse perpetrated by a minister by a pastor, and even worse, something that a church or denomination didn’t hear, didn’t respond to, if you haven’t been heard, if somebody hasn’t great, hasn’t grieved with you, and walked with you and stood with you in this. I am so sorry, we are so sorry. And even as we have this conversation, we’re praying for you. And we’re praying that one of the ways God will redeem this conversation and this story and all that is around it is to help people that are in that position, know that they’re being heard and that they are loved unconditionally, and that the body of Christ wants to be the body of Christ for you. San Agustin say God loves each of us as if the only one of us know that that especially applies to you today. I’m so sorry. And we’re here to have a conversation in a way that hopefully could be helpful for you. And for the rest of us as we try to find a redemptive way to move forward in the midst of all of this.

 

Mark Turman  03:55

Yeah, and so well said. And a love Augustine quote in it. And I think it especially applies when we’re when we’ve been a victim, and when we’ve been wrongfully treated when we’ve been abused. And we’ll talk about a lot of things today. One of the things I’ve just been aware of is, we’ve seen so many expressions, so many reports of sexual abuse across our culture. This is not simply a church thing. It is a church thing for sure. And that’s what we want to talk about, because that’s where you and I live and have opportunity to serve. But it’s within government, it’s within business. It’s within the arts and within film and all of these places and just really illustrates in every way that inside and outside of the church, we’re all broken, we’re all sinners. But for me, and I just wonder if you’re you would share this sentiment with to have these kinds of things and have sexual abuse going on and have people not handling those accusations and those reports Well, our leaders not handling, it’s worse, because it’s wrapped in the cover up of spirituality and of faith and, and we do know better and and we should be better. And we, as the church present ourselves as hopefully being a safe place. And it’s, it’s like everything, every place should be safe, but especially the church should be super safe. And church leaders should be the safest among people, and certainly the most responsive when problems are brought to them when they are and when they’re not. It just seems, it seems doubly injurious.

 

Jim Denison  05:46

And the vast majority are, you know, as you know, as I know, and this is not for a moment to disparage the individual, they were just one that would be too many, right? If we were having this whole conversation, this whole report about one abuse, that would be too many God would grieve even that, but I will also wouldn’t want those that are aware of this that are following this to think Well, this must be true of everybody of every Southern Baptist pastor, every Roman Catholic, if you’re in that context, every church of any kind of any kind any counselor in Canada, because they’ve been in the news or anybody at Liberty necessarily the Ravi Zacharias would mean that anybody associated with organization, actually, in the report that dropped a couple days ago that has been making all the headlines, a document that an executive committee staff member had had a list of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SPC affiliated at some point in time. So the organization guidepost did an investigation of that list, they conducted significant research. I’m reading from their report right now, to assess whether any of the alleged abusers were still associated with an SBC church. Based on these efforts, it appears that nine people remain an act of ministry are connected to ministry, two of them appear to be associated with an SBC church. So we’re not talking about a large number of abusers here in this report. Right. And again, that would not be one is too many again, but the point isn’t so much the number of abusers as it is the way that denomination responded to the allegations of abuse, the pattern of response is much more the context of the of the conversation and the grief that we’re all feeling right, which,

 

Mark Turman  07:16

which is really what the conversation, the part of the conversation that is this week, or through this report, as you said, Can you help us a little bit and we’ll work through this, that this is a part of a conversation and a part of a story, a narrative that is actually broader, and it might be helpful. I was sharing with you earlier talking to some of my pastor friends, one of them just said, can somebody just kind of concisely frame how it is that we got here? And where it is that we are? Because today or this report this week is very, very significant. It’s very, very important. I would strongly urge pastors and church leaders to read this. Both obviously those that are in the Southern Baptist Convention and those listening to us that are not, because this is not simply a Baptist issue or problem. It’s been, as we all well know, a significant issue within the Roman Catholic Church, but it’s not even limited to that. Okay. One thing that I read that I thought it was insightful today was the person who said, hey, look, Southern Baptists could have learned better lessons by a number of groups that have come through similar kinds of situations, and apparently they didn’t. But can you kind of frame the narrative for us with some context of history of where we are right now and how we got there? And what where this report fits into this larger conversation.

 

Jim Denison  08:45

And that’s difficult because there’s so much it’s in this this has been a story that’s been happening for quite some time. But there is some history in this. There are some things that can get us perhaps to a better understanding of exactly what’s going on, perhaps in a way that would make us understand even a little better, why we are where we are right now. And so really, I guess the first place where all of this started coming to the attention of a lot of us that are following this goes back to some Houston Chronicle investigation. Yes. This is back in 2019. Houston Chronicle San Antonio Express News, published a thing called abuse of faith. It was a series of investigations, detailing widespread abuses occurring in the Southern Baptist Convention 47,000 churches. So you go back before that to the spring of 2018. Frank Paige who was the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, the executive committee resigned his position after it was uncovered that he had an affair with a member of his church. Paul Pressler, a former Texas Appeals Court judge and a co leader of the SBC, his 20 year resurgence or whatever you want to call that over biblical truth, accused of decades of sexual abuse by a former youth group member who had sued him. So that started happening back in 2018. There began to be controversy around Paige Patterson at that point was president of the southwestern seminary, the largest of the Southern Baptist seminaries as regards how he had handled, not abuse allegations against him. But when he was president at previous seminary, right and in his leadership, so some of these allegations in 2018 began surfacing in 2019. The Chronicle in the San Antonio paper, as I said, began looking into this. And they came forward in the June of well earlier in 2019, with 400 church leaders that have been criminally charged with sex crime since 2000. That’s what their investigation found. Many of those abuses occurred after 2008 and moving forward. So in 2019, in their annual meeting, Southern Baptists took their first step in response, they advanced a constitutional amendment on abuse and the imperative committee to intake abuse reports and make voluntary inquiries into church handling of all of this. Well, it’s a long story from that point forward. But that’s when this all really began to snowball was when the convention was asked to speak into this, their Ethics and Religious Liberty commission later in 2019. Had a conference on all of this February of 2020. The Executive Committee began meeting on this then in the SBCs annual meeting in 2021. More allegations of intimidation came forward. And at that point, the SBC messengers demanded a third party investigation. And that’s what led to guideposts organization that was hired by the Executive Committee. And that’s what brought forward the report that’s here. So 2018 began to surface allegations 2019, the Houston Chronicle report, and then in June of 2021, messenger is demanding a third party investigation that led to where we are now.

 

Mark Turman  11:36

Okay, so it’s, it’s a little bit was a little bit confusing to me when I first started reading the report on Sunday that guides guidepost solutions was commissioned by last year’s annual SBC convention to do this study about how sexual abuse accusations and reports had been handled basically over an 18 month period, but that those accusations and reports actually stretched, in some ways all the way back to 2000. In almost 20 years, that’s what they were asked to investigate. But they were asked to investigate how over a specific 18 month period, how the leadership particularly in what is called the executive committee that oversees the Southern Baptist Convention and its operations on a day to day by day basis, how they were handled, and in took this longer look of reports and accusations, and actually indictments and convictions, all of those kinds of things stretching all the way back at least to 2000 and kind of building on the Houston Chronicle report that had really brought much of this out into the public eye in a much more significant way. But the the report itself that has generated so much attention, since Sunday really has to do with how SPC leadership handled and responded to, or in many ways didn’t respond to these kinds of reports and accusations, correct?

 

Jim Denison  13:10

That’s right. And you’re right, it is two phases, they went back to 2000. Looking for abuse allegations and 18 months, how did the SBC respond. So to understand that for just a moment, I need to explain a little bit. What’s kind of unique in some ways about something that’s convention. So the Baptist churches are autonomous, meaning they own their own property, they call their own pastors and staff, as sending liability therefore stops with that church. If somebody wants to sue a particular church for allegations on any level, that church is where the ascending liability stops, because they have no authority outside them. That’d be different from a lot of other denominations where the denomination owns the property, where the priest let’s say, or the bishop or the leader, whomever is called to that church by the denomination, sending liability,

 

Mark Turman  13:53

a lot of a lot of a lot of non Southern Baptists that may be listening to this will relate to this around the word ordination. That’s right that in a Southern Baptists context, it is the local church who ordains calls, hires, and ordains gives ministerial credentials to an individual in other denominations, other groups of Christianity that comes through a hierarchical structure, that if you don’t understand that, then then this whole conversation about how the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with these issues is really not going to make much sense to you this whole issue of what is called polity, what is called autonomy, that every Southern Baptist Church is independent, that it is owned by the members of that congregation. And you have to start with that to understand the uniquenesses of how this whole issue is playing out within our context. Exactly

 

Jim Denison  14:45

right. Because what you have beyond that is purely voluntary. A local church in our Dallas context where we are right now can decide to work with the Dallas Baptist association with the Texas Baptist Convention with the Southern Baptist Convention if it wants to do that, but none of them have any authority over that local church. So let’s say I’m the pastor of a church here in Texas, let’s say that somebody wants to sue me. For financial malfeasance, let’s just say that they can’t therefore sue the Dallas Baptist Association, they can’t sue the Texas Baptist Convention to the SBC, because a sending liability stops with that church because we are autonomous. If however, somebody in those other entities Dallas or Texas or the SBC were to get involved in this, it’s possible that the courts could say that they

 

Mark Turman  15:30

assumed some liability by becoming involved. You can even as a consultant or

 

Jim Denison  15:35

on any level, right being engaged on any level. So from what we can tell from reading the report, when abuse allegations that were specific to pastors and local churches, were brought forward to executive committee members in the SPC, they were advised by counsel not to respond not to get engaged, because if they did, they could implicate the Southern Baptist Convention in liability. And their first job, their fiduciary responsibility is to the Southern Baptist Convention itself. That’s who they work for. They don’t work for that local church, right? They don’t work for that local body of Christ, they work for this denomination, they and they’re thinking about to mission sending agencies and 1000s of missionaries and six seminaries and all the other things that the Southern Baptist Convention does, their first job is to protect the institution. That’s what they’re called to do. That’s what they’re hired to do. And so they were advised by counsel apparently, not to respond to local church issues less they get involved in liabilities that could be engaged as a result, from what we can tell from the report. That’s most of the issue. And I need to hasten to say there are some allegations of sexual abuse on the part of people that were in the leadership itself, right. That’s a separate issue. Yeah, the degree to which they were responding or not responding to allegations made of people that were on that level of leadership is a different story. But the vast majority of the allegations were in local church context. And it’s the ascending liability issue that came into play, which,

 

Mark Turman  16:57

which gets really confusing at some point, when you start realizing that some of the people that were guiding the denominational entity, were, in fact, apparently abusive themselves. And part of the tragedy, and that’s, that’s not only part of the huge, incredible tragedy, but also makes the story really confusing. It’s not simply that they didn’t handle Apparently, some of their they didn’t handle their responsibility. Well, they were actually guilty of abuse, in some cases on their own, and indices

 

Jim Denison  17:32

as well. And they kept saying that, for instance, one of the things that the abuse victims and their advocates kept asking for is at the very least a list, right, of alleged abusers of accused abusers much less those that have been convicted on some level. So they can’t keep doing this so that they can’t be employed by other churches so that they, this can’t keep happening. And they kept saying, No, this is a local church autonomy issue. We can’t even keep such a list. They kept saying, and now we’re discovering they had such a list now was in private, they weren’t making it public. And perhaps they could argue they had no right to make it public. But they at least had a private list that we had been told they didn’t have, right, that perhaps could have been helpful Had that been made.

 

Mark Turman  18:11

And they and they kept saying that they didn’t have a list. Because if there were a list and they were using it as a way for churches or other entities to vet candidates, then they would then have liability around that. That was what they

 

Jim Denison  18:25

were advised by the legal authority. Now we keep hearing that, in fact, there were attorneys that said that wasn’t true that you wouldn’t be assuming liability for the SBC by doing that, in fact, Texas Baptist Convention has done something very similar to that, where they’ve published a website, a database of convicted sex offenders, who on some level have been related to Texas Baptist churches. Right. And so apparently, there were ways to do it. But I’m no attorney. But apparently that was the case. But at least some attorneys were telling the executive committee leaders that that wasn’t at least, what would one say wasn’t at least the best manner to move forward in good and safeguarding the SPC itself. And so bottom line here, Mark is it appears, and I’ve written about this, I’ll write about this in tomorrow’s article as well. It appears that there were some leaders that felt that they were protecting the institution, to the detriment of the very people the institution exists to serve.

 

Mark Turman  19:15

Yeah, which is a really core issue in this and let’s explore that a little bit more about when, when you’re in this kind of dilemma, Licious leave off those leaders that were guilty of their own forms of abuse. Let’s just leave those people out in this, because there’s a lot of people involved in this. I can’t remember how many executive committee members there are. But there’s a large number of executive committee members. One of my friends is one of those executive committee members. And then inside of that group numbering perhaps 80 to 100 that there’s almost like an administrative executive team inside of that around around the executive job right.

 

Jim Denison  19:57

And he has a staff that are full time job, right and then the Executive Committee are almost like trustees. Right, as it were, in fact, a lot of them didn’t know what we’re talking about. They read the report. And were as shocked as we are, right. A lot of what happened wasn’t the executive committee per se, it was the executive staff, executive committee staff, the Executive Committee, your volunteers, your friend is volunteering his time to serve like a trustee member, what it was executive staff, and the General Counsel to the staff and the internal counsel and all of that, that appears to have been mostly implicated by the report, right?

 

Mark Turman  20:27

And then, then you get into this issue of protecting this institution called the Southern Baptist Convention, over the needs of individuals who have been abused and are trying to trying to bring that to light trying to bring offenders into accountability. And the decisions that were made, again, around this idea of fiduciary responsibility to protect this in as the Southern Baptist Convention, and as they began to unfold this, particularly in the last year, hiring guide, post that type of thing, there was a big conversation about would they would they surrender attorney client privilege. And actually, the executive director at that point resigned when they decided to do that, so that this investigation could be as thorough as possible. He contended to the point that, well, he could no longer carry out his fiduciary responsibility. If client attorney client privilege didn’t exist. But you get into this very interesting and very difficult question of your responsibility for the institution that hired you, versus the people you’re trying to serve.

 

Jim Denison  21:51

And it is challenging, it truly is. I know that person personally. In fact, several members that are involved in this are people I’ve known over the years, and some of the pastors that have been named this are friends, I’ve been friends of mine over the years, none of them wanted this to happen. Right. None of them were accused of abuse themselves. Each of them was seeking I think, as best they understood their job to do what was in the best interest of the denomination, they were called to serve. And it’s his classic ends and means sort of an issue. It’s kind of like the politician that says I have to get elected in order to serve, or the business person that says I have to make a living in order to make a difference. And it’s all the things that are inside that. And so now I have to hasten to say some and the friends I just named are not in their number, not only took legal advice to not respond less the SBC be implicated. But some responded in a very antagonistic way to the very victims who are coming forward with their stories. Their horrific stories in these reports mark of victims themselves that had been castigated by SBC leaders that were called unmentionable names, which is

 

Mark Turman  22:53

just unconscionable behavior sinful on every on every level on

 

Jim Denison  22:57

every level. And so they were further victimized. In other words, by some, not all, but by some in the process. But even to put those a bit to the side for those that did not victimize the victims per se, there were simply out of the purest of motives seeking to protect the institution itself, they have this classic issue that you’re discussing, whether we’re going to care about the individual, small number of victims, or the massive denomination doing all this good, all these 1000s of missionaries, all these 1000s of students, all this good that’s being done out there. And at the end of the day, Mark, and this is easy for me to say sitting in this chair, I wasn’t in their position. But at the end of the day, I think Jesus is calling us to act like Jesus in every moment. In every circumstance, we have to be Christ like in private and in public, we have to do what he would call us to do and let the chips fall. I think in this case, what they did wrong. And again, it’s easy for me to say sitting here, and I hope I would make the decision I’m describing right now, if I were in their position, do what the victim requires. And if there are liabilities involved, if the institution has to suffer on some level, the institution’s members would want me to do this right. The pastor’s across the denomination, the members across the denomination would want me to do this, they would want me to care for that victim. And if there are liabilities and financial issues, as a consequence, we’ll deal with them as we have to not get an easy for me to say. But I believe that is what the character of Christ would require in this moment, right?

 

Mark Turman  24:18

Because you can understand if you’ve ever served in a board and committees in some of these responsibilities, you can understand how some how challenging some of these things can be where you get to the point I could, I could easily see an executive committee member number one who may not have known any of the depth of some of these things that was going on. But some of the people that didn’t know or didn’t know more anyway. And their their struggle being well, we don’t have power or authority to investigate any of these things. We have this person who has emailed us or has called us about what happened in their independent autonomous church. urged somewhere in the country, right? And, and they’ve been injured or somebody they loved has been injured, and they’re trying to, to rectify this situation, they’re trying to bring this perpetrator out into the light, you could easily perceive that probably in many of these cases that they had already gone to law enforcement in their local community, and hopefully, to their church, where these things may have happened or where these things did happen. But now they’re calling the denominational entity and the denominational entity is saying we have no authority that we know of, or that is obvious to us to investigate or to, in any way, bring this person a no under investigation. Or you could see how they would be saying, well, we, we might want to help, we would love to help but we have no authority to help in some ways. And that put them into a quandary.

 

Jim Denison  26:01

And that would be in the minds of right. And again, as you said, and described it very well, that would be understandable. And Had that been all that happened here. And that they then expressed that to the victims, right and said, We are so sorry, I am so sorry for what’s happened to you. I am so sorry for your story. I grieve with you over your story. I wish we could do more. But here’s what we can’t, this is all we can do Had that been the story. And Had that been the tone of this, I think the report would have been somewhat different. It’s because so many of the victims were further victimized by the various people. And you can read in the report, you can see some of the emails, you can see some of the internal conversations, some of the horrendous things that have been said to and about some of these people coming forward and the degree to which they were seen as threats to the denomination. And

 

Mark Turman  26:43

some of this played out even on social media, oh, and just attacks coming from leaders who know better and shoes, right should treat people with more of the compassion of Christ, actually treating them this way, in a public environment in a social media context. And

 

Jim Denison  27:00

exactly. And so that was exactly the wrong response. Right. And then there are things he SBC could have done because they’ve done it another context. For instance, in recent months, they have D fellowshipped. To churches that began ordaining gay people and began acting in a way that would be more endorsing of LGBTQ than would be Southern Baptist understanding. And so in that context, the SBC came forward to say that, and so local church autonomy extends to the denominations as well, just as a local Baptist Church autonomous, so is the Dallas Baptist association. So is Texas Baptist Convention, so as the SBC, they can decide with whom they wish to relate, right. So what they could have done, when these allegations came forward is investigate them decide that, yes, that pastor or that church has acted in a way that we consider to be improper, and they could have broken fellowship with that church. They’ve done that, as I said, with two churches, just in recent months,

 

Mark Turman  27:52

so so they could have they could have had or even developed a simple protocol. That’s right, with any victim coming to them that would have said, Hey, have you done this? Have you gone to local law enforcement? Have you engaged your church? Have you engaged the leaders of your church? Have you taken certain steps that really only can be taken in your local context? Can we help you with that if you need it, and then talk with that person that is sharing their story, but also talk with that church? How have you responded? are you responding? Are you cooperating, as an example, with local law enforcement around these accusations? Even a simple three or four step protocol seems like they they that could have been something to have been done, I presume that would not have incurred liability, right? And I’m no attorney, or even if it did, it might still be the right thing to do and

 

Jim Denison  28:44

the right thing to do. Could you have worked with the local denomination? In other words that this had happened in Dallas? Could the SBC respond to the Dallas pap sociation? Say here on the ground there, you’re much closer to attend? We are. Could you be the people to do that? If you need resource, let us help you with that. But could you be the people, in many ways what we call the director of missions, the person that leads the local Baptist association is kind of a pastor to pastors kind of a bishop, as it were, if we had bishops, although he has no authority, but could the SPC have encouraged or empowered, even that local association or that state to be more engaged, all of these are things that could perhaps, have been done without liability, and relative to fellowshipping, with that church, that the SBC, as I said, has taken that step, then just even recent months relative to LGBTQ issues. And so they certainly could have taken that step relative to a church that has acted in very improper ways relative to one of its members of the pastor whomever in this and didn’t do that either. Right. And that’s less the spirit in which they respond to

 

Mark Turman  29:41

this. So the spirit of, of some of these actors, to many of these actors, one again, would have been too many, but too many of these actors seems to have been to repel this to, in some ways, see them as people who needed to be silenced or or needed to be attached saw

 

Jim Denison  30:00

them as a distraction to the gospel as a distraction that Gods were being used by the enemy himself that this was a satanic attack of deception, not that they themselves don’t want to say that were demonic or something like that, but that this whole allegation was on some level and attack of the enemy to distract them from the Great Commission, right and

 

Mark Turman  30:18

even use very derogatory terms. In some cases of a professional victim. That kind of thing is Unbeliev. One thing that, again, kind of just boggles my mind that’s in this report. One things we, that you and I learned when we got into ministry of Southern Baptist ministry, in the context of Southern Baptist churches is that the denomination exists to resource and to equip and enable the church, the local churches to be effective. That’s why it exists. Yeah, that when you talk about we talked about in Southern Baptists life, there is not a hierarchical structure, there is a cooperative relationship among these entities, and the local churches, but that the denomination exists simply to make the local churches strong and effective. And to facilitate not only the starting of churches, the in the best case of the Madison have always said churches start churches, the denomination doesn’t start churches, but then also to strengthen them to resource them. And in many ways, Southern Baptists have done that very well through seminaries and through literature and through facilitating mechanisms whereby we send missionaries, all those kinds of things. But what really just, I just can’t wrap my head around, it was the resistance of some to even put on a simple conference that would help ministers and leaders and members understand sexual abuse, to understand how it works. I was in a conversation earlier today on one of our media partners, that that there are numbers out there that 25 to 35% of the people who are actively involved in churches today are likely victims of sexual abuse. And so that’s, you know, that says one in four, one in three. And yet, and what came to mind in that conversation for me was, is that there are likely people out there who are victims of abuse, and they don’t even have a frame for it. They don’t, they have been injured, and they know something is wrong inside of them. But they don’t know how to think about it. They don’t know how to define it, they don’t know how to frame it, it’s possibly affecting other relationships in their lives. And they don’t know why. But they have been victimized in some ways, and they don’t yet even understand it. And yet, some of our denominational leaders within the context of the Southern Baptist Convention resisted the idea of even having a conference which is our denomination, which on conferences all the time, you and I have spoken at conferences, around things to try to equip leaders and to equip churches. And they resisted that idea. And, and, and, and they resisted it be in part apparently, because some didn’t want to be criticized for their own lack of response or form of response. And that’s, that’s one of the takeaways I want to bring to this conversation is, one of the things that did come out of the last couple of years of this struggle within Southern Baptists life is the development of a curriculum called caring well heard from one of our pastors, one of our friends, that is with us here at Denison forum, that they’ve used this material, they use this curriculum, and it’s been very helpful in their church. Their pastor was commenting how he’s brought this topic into the conversation of the church. He’s preached on it in appropriate ways within the life of their church, and they have used this material. And I just don’t understand why anybody would resist that. That just kind of boggles my mind.

 

Jim Denison  33:58

It’s a frustration, isn’t it? You’re talking about the conference that was put on by the Ethics and Religious Liberty commission back in 2019. And the fact that there was so many people that felt that that was an affront to the executive committee that it was on some level taking matters into their own hands. And Russell Moore, who was then the head of the RLC, in large measure resigned because of the degree to which he saw the kind of negative response you could say to sexual abuse victims within the SBC and the degree to which he was treated, mistreated, because he was advocating for their cause advocating for the issue. And to be market really just kind of boils down to this. At the end of the day, there is no wrong way to do a right thing. At the end of the day, the temptation if I so want to do a right thing is for the enemy to cause me to do it in the wrong way. If he wants me to do the wrong thing ultimately doesn’t want me to share the gospel doesn’t want me to be involved in ministry doesn’t want me to make a difference, but if I’m insistent on doing that, he’ll try to tempt me to do it wrong ways. He’ll tempt me to take shortcuts and sermon preparations. He’ll tempt me to to use other people’s sermons as though they were my own, he will tempt me to say things that aren’t entirely true. In order to make a point in something I’m communicating, he will tempt us to say one thing to one member and another to a different member, he’ll tempt us to take shortcuts in financial ways in order to raise funds that could perhaps make a difference. There are all sorts of ways in which the enemy will tempt us to do the wrong thing in the service of the right outcome, and that itself is sin. At the end of the day, it doesn’t work. Jesus said, what you whisper in the dark will be shouted on the housetops years ago, I heard a pastor say something I’ve never forgotten. Sin always takes you further than you wanted to go, keeps you longer than you wanted to stay and cost you more than you wanted to pay. It always does. And if you’re the one person hearing this conversation, I think you’re getting away with it. What’s really happening is, the enemies let you climb up that ladder higher and higher. So when you fall, not if but when you’ll hurt yourself and more people even more on the way. So the outcome here isn’t go and try harder to do better. The outcome isn’t that if you’ll just double down, this won’t be your story someday, the outcome is to say I need the Holy Spirit. To make me a holy person, I have to start every day by submitting to the Spirit everyday by Ephesians 518, being filled with him by asking him to show me my sin and confessing that sin by asking him to manifest his fruit in my life, the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to the fruit of the flesh, there. But for the grace of God go, I should be our outcome here. Every single day, God helped me to be the holy person that can be the other side of this narrative, they can turn this story and understand this will be your story. You will be the person that takes the shortcut, you will be the person that does the wrong thing in the service of the right outcome, unless you’re everyday submitted and surrendered to the only one who can make us holy people. And that’s the Holy Spirit himself. Look at how this has turned out. Apparently, two years ago, some Southern Baptist leaders, well intentioned people, gifted people, excellent leaders, people that had done across the career, some remarkable things thought they were serving the denomination by keeping this quiet by not responding to abuse victims. And now here we are having a conversation that is so much more damaging for the SBC and the witness of Baptists around the world than would have been the case, had they responded more proactively two years ago, had they risked liability had they risked the story becoming known, then, as opposed to the story coming out now. years ago, I was watching a movie in which one actor said to the president at the time, give the story, no place to go. Yeah, I’ve always thought that was good wisdom, give the story, no place to go. Be the one to tell the story. Take, take the story where it needs to go. That’s right. And be proactive about it. And again, easy to say, on my side of this conversation, but in your life and mind. We must everyday be so filled by the Holy Spirit, that he can lead us to be the people of God who take those courageous steps have courageous wisdom and a time when we need it most.

 

Mark Turman  37:57

Right? That’s a good word. Help us understand, Jim, from your perspective. This is a very significant chapter in this long unfolding story. And there are more chapters to come. We’re about a month out from what is called the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention where churches sin, what are called messengers kind of like delegates, but they send messengers to this annual meeting, which is what brought about this investigation. A year ago, the men of 5000 or so messengers, insisted that this investigation be done, which thank God that they did, thank God that they insisted, because they did meet with some resistance around that. But that’s where this guidepost solutions report started was a year ago, last June. And so there is another meeting coming, this report will be formally presented in a number in a few weeks at that annual convention. And then the convention will be asked what they want to do next, the messengers in that room on that day will be asked, okay, what do you want to do next? And we could anticipate that there would be a number of recommendations or ideas that would be offered up? What do you think will happen in the days to come? How do you think it will play out from your history and experience with these things?

 

Jim Denison  39:21

Yeah, thank you. So you’re talking about the SBC annual meeting, as it’s called to be an Anaheim, it’d be Jun 12 to 15. And I would ask all of us to be in prayer, whether you’re a Baptist or not to be in prayer, as we would be for any body of Christ as a coming together around this. So the guidepost report has some very specific recommendations in it. I’m expecting them all to be adopted. I’ll be surprised if they’re not.

 

Mark Turman  39:43

Which which some of those recommendations do you want to articulate some of the more significant ones that you saw

 

Jim Denison  39:48

happy to do that one of the first things that they’re wanting to happen and I can go over to the back of it over here and start reading some of these tools but that they’re wanting to see happen is that that be an ongoing process

 

Mark Turman  39:57

put in place. I saw one recommendation It actually stipulated a 20 year process of a task force that would, that would be put in place and could be renewed.

 

Jim Denison  40:10

That’s right, with professional help. The first thing that needs to happen in this in the guideposts people did this themselves is get the help of professionals in this space, right to know how best we can speak to and speak about victims, how we can best be engaged in being redemptive in their lives, how we can do things that could be most effective. But in these very, very specific reports I have, we’re talking about administrative leadership, we’re looking at ways that Southern Baptists policies regarding sexual abuse should be changed. There are several pages here a number of pages of specific recommendations here, I’m expecting because of the spirit of this, what I’m hearing from pastors, what I’m seeing in the reports about this, what I’m seeing happening in various kind of Christian press agencies, that sort of thing. The Southern Baptists are so hurt, they’re so grieved, they’re so angry about all of this, and I expect there to be a groundswell of support in Anaheim for the next steps in terms of how to make all this happen. The first thing that they would do is they would establish an independent commission that would be responsible for implementing and overseeing reforms. Again, that would not be under the oversight of the executive committee or the SPC. It would be an independent group, it would define duties and responsibilities, it would valuate appropriate duration, it will consider compensation for members of that commission, and it would evaluate outside experts. That’d be the first i I’d be shocked if that doesn’t happen. Right commission isn’t created, if there’s not effort right now, to create that. The interim president of the executive committee in a meeting today expressed profound apology to the victims and promised and pledged absolute transparency on the part of the executive committee going forward. So I’ll be shocked if the executive committee doesn’t partner with some outside group like that an independent commission that would take the next step specifically. And then beyond that guidepost has very specific recommendations for that entity, as as it is formed and created everything from a leadership group and a permanent resource for prevention and respondent response efforts relative to sexual abuse. They’re looking at things here our resource toolbox for prevention and response, looking at support for establishing safe spaces through self certification programs,

 

Mark Turman  42:16

I saw a variety of others I saw one thing I saw on there in the list of recommendations was the idea of a victim’s compensation fund, because Can we stop right there for a second? Because I did have a question from one of my friends on this. So generally, when a church comes to participate in the Southern Baptist Convention, they give to this incredible idea that was started a number of years ago called The cooperative program where individual churches contribute to a fund that then is used to form a unified budget that then sends minute missionaries around the world as well as to the United States. It funds our seminaries where we train ministers, that type of thing. The camera, the question was raised, hey, I, I give to my church who gives to the Southern Baptist Convention to do that? I don’t know if, if I want to send money for this purpose. How would you if a pastor gets asked that question, or somebody is thinking that way? Hey, that happened in that independent church in another state in another place. That’s not really what my missions giving, or our missions giving, was really supposed to be about? How do you think that a pastor or church should handle that conversation?

 

Jim Denison  43:42

Sure. First of all, let’s understand the nature of what’s being suggested here. This Compensation Fund program that’s been that’s been suggested, is related to misconduct survivors for abuse related medical and psychological services. So that’s what is limited to medical and psychological services. This is not reparations. Okay, we’re not having a CRT conversation here. We’re

 

Mark Turman  44:02

gonna look good distinction,

 

Jim Denison  44:03

right, we’re not going back to 1619. We’re not talking about compensation on that level. They’re talking specifically about medical and psychological services, first of all, just to know what it is we’re talking about. But second, if a pastor at church has any concern about how the SPC is using their funds, there’s a process for that. There’s a process for going through to be able to make recommendations even at the SBC to get up on the floor and make a motion on the floor of the SBC as regards how budget is being administered. They have a budget process, they obviously have a financial process. It’s a what is $147 million budget, something like that. And so massive process here. And so if a church has any question on any level, there’s a process at the SBC annual meeting, and a means through which the executive committee could receive questions and concerns as well. So that’d be a process for objecting about that or anything else that’s in this but again, understand this is not reparations. This is medical and psychological services that are being suggested

 

Mark Turman  44:59

this is caring for hurting purrs? That’s right. Yeah. And why wouldn’t we even if we’re doing that through a denominational mechanism, why wouldn’t we want to do that?

 

Jim Denison  45:08

That’s right. And again, they’re not required to use SPC recommended providers here, there’s a very specific recommendation here in terms of how the criteria would be developed, severity of abuse, duration of abuse, age of the victim at the time of the abuse, prior efforts of the survivor to report the abuse, prior harm, magnifying Institutional Responses to the survivor. It’s very specific things that are in place here as regards what this could look like. So, again, it’s not reparations, it’s really very different from that.

 

Mark Turman  45:35

Right. Yeah. So there’s, there’s a lot more to come. And we will hopefully see really good redemptive actions taken at this year’s convention coming up in a few weeks. And and that that would be encouraging to those who have been victimized and encouraging to the others of us who have been involved in Southern Baptist life in such a deep way. It certainly is humbling, and an important reminder for us, that all of us are broken. And yes, and our, our churches, and our denominations have brokenness in them as well. You know, one of the things will probably many of us take away from this is that many of the leaders that we esteem so highly, maybe we esteemed them too highly, in some cases. And we all know that we can sometimes get carried away with that. But that every person doesn’t matter what level of charisma they have, or what level of leadership or leadership acumen that they may have, everyone is still still walking around with feet of clay, all of us need that dependence on the Holy Spirit every single day. And we need, we need healthy accountability around us, at every level, in local church, and in every ministry, and certainly within the larger entities, such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

 

Jim Denison  47:04

And so I think the takeaway for our conversation today, Mark, among others, is what can I do about this myself? Right? Where does this come to me personally, starts with me, Lord, are there places in my life where I need to confess anything that I need to confess to you anything I need to confess to somebody else, anyplace else where I need to be accountable to somebody that Jesus told us if you bring your gift to the altar, and remember, your brother has something against you leave your gift at the altar, First be reconciled your brother, then come and present your gift? So is there any place I need to be engaged on a second level order? Am I in accountability, relationships? Is there somebody holding me accountable? Somebody I’m holding

 

Mark Turman  47:38

about in the Bible says confess your sins to one another? Is there? Is there someone that I have that kind of closeness with that kind of transparency with right? That’s exactly

 

Jim Denison  47:46

right. iron sharpens iron, were to do this together, you take the coal out of the fire and it goes out. Right? Gotta stay connected to the other coals, right? And so what can I do to be proactive? Your Lord, the fact that I haven’t yet committed a sin like this doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t write, I heard someone say years ago, there’s no saint I can’t commit. So let’s not assume that that because this is them and not you. You might be committing sins, they’re not committing, right? You’ve we’re all broken, people are all broken sexually. We’re all tempted. And we’re all tempted bowl. And so at that point, what accountability structures can I put in place? And then third, Lord, how can I be praying? How can I be praying for the Southern Baptists as they get together? How can I pray for these victims? How could I be praying for these pastors that are themselves accused of such horrific sense? How can I be praying for those that have resigned from the ISI and those that are in leadership in the ISI? How can I be praying for them, and with the spirit of grace? I was many years ago on faculty at Southwestern seminary, when a very prominent pastor I’ll close with this in the Dallas area had been in the news over the weekend, when a number of affairs had been exposed. It was big front page news and very, very prominent mega church in our community. The next week, Tuesday in chapel, they had a pastor in a pastor of pastors. He was the leader of a of a group of Baptists, a Baptist denomination in one of the states who had been scheduled to preach. And so this individual began by referencing this story of this pastor. And I thought he was going to talk about how horrific is sin was condemned that sin condemn Him for the sins that had so defined the body of Christ and the reputation of the gospel in the community and all of that. That’s not what he did. After he went into some detail as had been in the press about what this pastor did. Then he pointed his finger at this packed chapel crowd and said, and there but for the grace of God go you. And he said, and there but for the grace of God, go i It was a prophetic moment. I’ve not forgotten it. And it’s true. And it’s true of this conversation even today.

 

Mark Turman  49:44

Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s a great word. One of the things I would add is just use your influence. If go to your pastor and say how can I help you with this issue? How can I help our church to understand what’s going on this is important if if you’re Southern Baptist Church or how is your church doing missions together? How is it doing the kind of ministry that happens through the Southern Baptist Convention which has really blessed the world in so many different ways. You could use your influence by going and learning about that if you don’t understand how that works. Every the people in that room who will make decisions in a few weeks are messengers, their volunteers elected by their church. If you’ve never been a messenger, you might consider going to your church talking about becoming a messenger on behalf of your church, to go into give your wisdom and to give your influence in these kinds of conversations and decisions, where there are opportunities for you to be involved in, in Victim Support victim relief, there’s ministries in almost every community, where you could go and volunteer your time, to come alongside of people that are walking through these great valleys of pain, and, and to help them to know that they’re not alone, and that God cares about them and that God wants to redeem what’s happened in their life. You can use your influence in all of those kinds of ways, inside your church and inside your community. Don’t let this push you away. Don’t Don’t Don’t let this don’t run into a hole and pretend that these things aren’t happened. That’s right, the darker the room, the more necessary the light, right, so, so to shine yours, wherever God gives you the opportunity. Thank you for the conversation today, Jim and we hope it’s been helpful to our listeners. If you have questions or comments, please, please feel free to reach out to us at ask Jim at Denison forum.org We’d be glad to try to respond to your questions. And again, if you are the victim of abuse, sexual abuse in any way we are. So so sorry for you and praying with you that God will lead you to places of healing, that God will lead you to places of restoration. And we want to be a part of that ministry in every way that we can. And we just continue to pray for your journey and for you to be redeemed in every healthy way. And thank you for being a part of this conversation with us today.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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