From the statement on Sexual Abuse Prevention by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the SBC Executive Committee to the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10, 2008.
As Southern Baptists, we have much for which to be thankful. Our pastors preach the Word of God with power. Our churches witness effectively to the unsaved in cities and communities throughout the country. God continues to call many of our young people to the mission fields of the world; a new strategy for evangelizing the United States has been launched. Our seminaries excel in teaching new theologians and training new pastors. Our moral and religious liberty convictions are well represented in the public square. Our publications are some of the finest Bible study materials in the world. Our pulpits are filled with anointed preachers. Our classrooms are filled with brilliant teachers.
In church after Southern Baptist church across our country, God has called out many of our young men to "preach the Gospel," teachers to teach and train our young people, and hundreds of missionaries to go to the ends of the earth. We have every reason to rejoice in what God has done and is doing through Southern Baptists.
At the same time, the United States is in crisis. In fact, morality helped make this nation great; but now our culture is spiraling downward at an alarming rate. Why? Because a nation founded upon the principles of God's Word is abandoning such principles as purity, honesty, and integrity. Many people are facing crises because they are living out the consequences of defying God. The crisis is self-inflicted due to their disobedience. We have little time to get God's Word to the nation and the world.
I am praying for God to raise up a generation that no longer tolerates the moral lapses that characterize much of this generation. Our society is quick to disregard God and His Word. There are many crises, one of which I want to address today.
The Southern Baptist Convention is on record for having stood strongly against sexual abuse. We have long condemned those who would use our churches as a hunting ground for their own sick and selfish pleasure. At the same time, sexual abuse is a growing crisis in this nation, and we must continue to do everything within our power to stop this horrendous crime. Even though the number of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators may seem to be relatively small, we must be on watch and take immediate action against those who prey on the most innocent among us. One sexual predator in our midst is one too many!
We may not be able to prevent every sexual abuse crime in America. But our denomination and local churches must condemn publicly this despicable act in which an individual is robbed of human dignity and worth.
Jesus served notice: Men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19, KJV).
Cities post security lights in dark corners and alleyways.
Homeowners install lights around the house to eliminate shadows.
Companies illuminate points of access to minimize break-ins.
Security guards carry powerful flashlights to cast light toward unexpected sounds and to lighten darkened rooms.
Patrol cars are equipped with powerful flood lights to light up an area where trouble has been reported.
We must do no less for our churches. Sexual predators invade the halls and offices of our churches; many of them build public reputations as strong Christians and upstanding citizens. Some even send their resumes frequently to other churches looking for another field of vulnerable victims. We have a huge responsibility to our Lord, our nation, our church family, and potential victims. Sexual predators must be stopped! They must be on notice that Southern Baptist churches are not a harvest field for their devious deeds.
We shall not turn a blind eye when those in leadership roles violate our trust. We shall be responsive to allegations about ministerial misconduct, and especially so when that misconduct is perpetrated against one of our children. Those who would overpower our children and violate their trust must come to know that they will not be coddled; they will not be protected; they will not find refuge in our churches.
They must understand that they never again will be allowed to minister in Jesus' Name as a ruse for their sick minds and dark deceptions. They must understand that they will be reported to the proper law enforcement agencies and charged with their heinous crimes.
Sexual predators lie about their lust, calling it love, and in so doing distort the very love of God. They ask for special grace when they themselves have violated the grace of God. They crave darkness, not light. Therefore, we must expose them and their terrible deeds to the light.
Southern Baptists believe that the local church in New Testament times was autonomous and thus our local churches are autonomous. The world may never understand our polity. The Convention has no hierarchy and no ecclesiastical authority over our local churches. Therefore, the principal reason the Executive Committee is not recommending that a database of sex offenders be developed for the Convention is our belief in the autonomy of each local church; but we do commend our churches to the Department of Justice's national database which lists convicted sex offenders.
Additionally, we have taken a strong stand against this reprehensible crime. The Executive Committee has produced a list of resources for sexual abuse prevention on the Web page, sbc.net, and a special pull-out section of the current issue of SBC LIFE in order to post a security light for our churches, to shine the spotlight of God's Word, to bring to light the reality of crimes that are far too frequent in our churches, to expose to the light these horrible crimes against innocent children by those who have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness — their own lusts (Jude 4).
Our president, Frank Page, has spoken to this very issue again and again during his terms in office. He has said, "Sexual abuse in our denomination occurs at the local level and protection must be strongest at the local level. The Convention's role is to encourage, empower, and educate local churches as to how to best do their local work to protect our precious children."
But never let it be said that we are anemic in our fight against sexual abuse. To say so is a false accusation. Southern Baptists do and shall always turn on the spotlight when danger is lurking in the shadows.
We shall protect the weak and vulnerable.
We shall preserve the integrity of our witness.
We shall provide safe havens for our people.
We shall point out the inevitable consequence of sin.
We shall not allow predators to infiltrate our ministries.
We shall not allow uncertainty to hinder our strong rapid response.
We shall not allow fear of reprisal to stifle the stories of those who have been abused.
We owe our boys, girls, and women of our churches every protection possible. We owe them our prayers and loving care if they are victimized.
In American prisons, a sexual predator is considered the worst of the worst. We must determine that a sexual predator shall find no solace and no cover in our churches. We must never rid ourselves of the problem by pawning a sexual offender off upon an unsuspecting church where he will once again violate our children. It is a known fact that sexual predators are opportunistic and frequently migrate from one victim field to another.
We must adopt policies at local church levels to prevent first occurrences.
We must determine that when we know someone is a sexual predator we will expose him and bring charges against him for his crimes, whether he is the pastor, a member of the staff, or a member of the church. We cannot stand by and refuse to stand up against these vile criminals and allow them to practice their evil deeds.
In Matthew 18:6, Jesus spoke about those who might cause a little one who believes in Me to stumble. He said it would be better to have a millstone hung around their necks and be drowned in the depth of the ocean. Better than what? Better than what God would do to the person causing the damage.
God's Word commands us not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11, KJV). The word "reprove" means to "show, expose, rebuke, refute, convince, and convict."
Just last month, a minister on the staff of the Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano, Texas, was arrested in a police sting operation. The minister allegedly solicited sex from an officer posing online as a thirteen-year-old girl. An editorial in the Dallas Morning News headlined the incident this way: "Prestonwood Church does the right thing." The editorial stated that two days after the incident, senior Pastor Jack Graham addressed the scandal from his pulpit. Did he defend the disgraced minister? Did he speak of all the good things the perpetrator had done in his ministry? Did he call for forgiveness? Did he say that the pastor was going off for counseling and would be back in ministry soon, a "wounded healer"? Did he blame pop culture for the minister's fall or lash out at the news media?
No, he did not.
The editor wrote, "In his address, Dr. Graham said the accused pastor had been asked to resign and had done so. He acknowledged pain, but praised God for purifying the church.
"He exhorted his congregation to uphold Christian standards of morality.
"No excuses, no cheap grace. Just clear, firm, sober action.
"Because of this, it's probably safe to say that the Prestonwood congregation has a lot more faith in its clergy today than it might have otherwise."
Then the editor concluded by saying, "In the end, the real scandal in cases like this comes not from the sins and crimes of sexual offenders. No church will ever be free of that. The truly damaging scandals arise when church leaders mishandle these crises by failing to treat them with the gravity they deserve. Many in church authority have failed their calling and their congregations under similar circumstances, through defensiveness, dissimulation, and deferring hard decisions. Not Jack Graham."
We must join Dr. Graham in confronting this horrible crime, exposing it for what it is, and doing everything within our power to protect the children under the care of the ministries of our churches. I hope this offense never happens in your church. Regardless, we must be ever vigilant and watchful lest it happen within our congregation. Dr. Graham said that "in forty years of ministry I never had one moral problem with a staff member ... until now!" We never know, but we must be ready! We must be decisive. We must be resolved. We must stand in the gap against those who would distort the grace of God for their own lustful purposes. Paul's challenging word to Titus is a word we must hear and heed: For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God ... Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught (Titus 1:7, 9, KJV).
The llama is a domesticated hoofed mammal that is raised in South America for its soft, fleecy wool. But, in the western United States, the cowboys use the long-necked llamas to guard the sheep. While the sheep graze, a llama can be seen standing as a stately sentry protecting the sheep from wolves and coyotes. As long as the llama is on watch, the sheep are safe from these predators. With God as our helper, we shall stand as a sentry in the midst of God's children.
A Note from the Editor
Some churches have adopted accountability guidelines to help protect their staff and members from compromising situations. Others have adopted written guidelines limiting ministry options and participation for members or visitors convicted of sexual abuse. We are interested in hearing what your church is doing. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share what steps your church has taken in these areas.
Morris H. Chapman is a member of Thompson Station Baptist Church in Thompson Station, Tennessee, and is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.