Reviews | After the Southern Baptist Report on Sexual Abuse, How Can Churches Do Better?

I think there are really two important parts to this question.

There is the political question: on a very practical level, what should I do? You should report this allegation to the police if it involves child abuse. As soon as the police have been notified and the alleged perpetrator knows that the police have been notified, you must inform the church and protect the identity of the survivors. Let your congregation know in every way possible: “Here are the allegations that have been made. Here is the informations. If you hold a piece of this puzzle, here is where you are going.

Notifying the congregation does not pass judgment. It is not accepting an allegation as if it were true. You don’t take that person out of the church just because there was an allegation, for example. What you are doing is opening the door for due process to take place, for all aspects of history to come forward.

On top of that, most of the time the church will need help in coming to some sort of factual determination. The average time to obtain a conviction is two to three years. What will the church do in the meantime? Does this allow the abuser to continue coming to church without any restrictions? Does he help survivors? If you’re taking steps to help survivors, to help them get therapy, to guide them, then you take a certain amount of determination, don’t you? If you are going to impose restrictions on the person accused of abuse, then you are going to have to reach a certain level of determination in order to do anything meaningful. It is therefore very useful for churches to obtain an outside consultation or investigation by a qualified company with expertise in sexual abuse and church dynamics.

That being said, when it comes to what churches really need to do, we need to start by understanding our theology and knowing how to apply it well to abuse and abusive dynamics. For a very long time, evangelicals have been incredibly negligent in getting any form of outside help or expertise to understand abuse and abusive dynamics. And they have been incredibly negligent in their exegesis of passages related to biblical justice. We have not understood our own theology of justice and forgiveness. The gospel must impact our relationship with those who have been hurt, who have been oppressed, who are victimized, who are vulnerable.

We often have a very twisted understanding of authority and unity, and it is exercised in a way that keeps whistleblowers quiet and turns them into bad guys for speaking the truth. The dynamic of the church is kind of unique, because when you start talking about these things, a lot of the time the response is that you want to destroy God’s church. You must be there to destroy the men of God. And so the immediate presumption is “You are attacking my theology.” And my answer to that is, “No. I don’t attack Scripture, I don’t attack theology. I’ll call you back at this.”

But if we don’t start addressing the theological errors that drive the actions we see in the church, we’re going to keep making the same mistakes no matter how many times we lay out the practical steps that need to be taken. Our ideas guide our actions.

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