Response to Abuse Scandal in the SBC
What You Built Needs to Crumble!
I am somewhat encouraged by the Southern Baptist Convention’s new president and his response. Which can be found here
I am happy that he is calling for people to be broken and he feels overwhelmed. It is a much better response than I’ve seen in the past.
Still, the problem is with the system. We will always see abuse when we see the institution mattering more than the individual.
The following advice is for ALL churches, not just the Southern Baptist Convention which happens to be the latest church in the hot seat. Don’t wait until a newspaper article comes out discrediting everything you’ve done. Care and change NOW!
Jesus’ Addressed Abuse in the Sermon on the Mount
In my study of the book of Matthew, I am now at the end of the sermon on the mount. I have been obsessing on it for a couple of months now. Each point that Jesus made, clearly addresses the difference between outward religious observance and inward heart change.
For example, I recently wrote about Jesus’ teaching on how intensely we should guard against ever using another person for our personal pleasure. The essence of what Jesus said was that we should be so extreme in guarding ourselves against ever using another person that we would cut our own arm off or gouge out our own eye if it would keep us from making those kinds of mistakes. It is extreme language meant to stir us and show how much God hates abuse.
Jesus’ Sermon Directly Applies to Church Abuse Today
As Jesus continued the sermon, he addressed more issues of the heart versus religious show: praying, fasting, wealth, worry and judging others. Then he wraps up his message with some warnings that are extremely applicable to the scandals we are seeing in American churches today.
Abuse Happens When We Settle For Religious Show Over Heart Change
1. The Narrow and Wide Gates: (Matthew 7:13-14) Unfortunately the traditional view of this passage focuses on the gate being narrow and few people entering it. The problem is, that this focus has led to arrogance among leaders who feel like they are “in” and made it through the gate while most people are “out” and doomed for destruction.
The problem with this interpretation is that the gate is an entrance to a road. You don’t just go through the gate and sit there, judging people who went through the other gate. The gate imagery is part of a concluding statement in Jesus’ sermon. He’s saying “all the stuff I just laid out for you is really hard. Not a lot of people are going to want to go down this path. It is total life change where you deal with every issue in your heart, not just outward religious show”.
Most people don’t want to continually grow in changing our hearts. We tend to prefer the easier path of trying to look good.
All of the scandals among churches show that they missed Jesus’ point.
Jesus Taught Us How To Spot Abusive Leaders
2. Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: (Matthew 7:15-20)
Jesus warned of false teachers who would use his teachings to victimize people!!!! He aptly described them as people who appear to be sheep on the outside but on the inside are ferocious wolves. He warned his followers that they would be able to recognize them by the their “fruit”.
It is so important to note. He didn’t say that we would recognize them by their bad teaching or people’s unwillingness to follow them. Nope. Turns out abusive people are generally really good at manipulating people and gaining a following.
Jesus taught his followers that we would recognize false teachers by their fruit. What are they producing in their own lives? Does it resemble Jesus? Are they full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control?
I recently visited a huge church where the pastor is a really gifted speaker. He is also really arrogant and hard to work with. I talked to a young lady who was in tears after volunteering one Sunday because he was so hard on the people he worked with (as VOLUNTEERS!) Why do they put up with this? Because he’s a dynamic leader.
It’s the formula for abuse. It’s ignoring what Jesus said. Jesus said we’d know the wolves by the things we see in their lives. Things like being an arrogant jerk! Again, he didn’t say we’d recognize them by bad speaking and an inability to draw a crowd. Abusive people are great manipulators. Hitler was a great speaker. He moved lots of people. Don’t use gifted speaking as an excuse to keep abusers in positions of leadership! It is flat out wrong.
Jesus Taught Us How to Spot Abusive Followers
3. False Disciples: (Matthew 7:21-23)
Not only are their false leaders, Jesus also warned about false followers. People are definitely using religious show to gain power over people. Jesus describes these people as: calling him Lord, preaching in his name, driving out demons, and doing miracles. Still, they were not doing the will of God.
Remember that Jesus is concluding his sermon here. He has just presented what it looks like to be in God’s kingdom: meek, honest, guarding heavily against abusing people, avoiding religious show, and dealing with the issues of our heart over religious show.
Jesus was telling us that many people will be good at putting on a show, many will even do good things, but their hearts have not changed and they are doing those things in order to gain control for themselves.
Jesus Warned What Would Happen if Churches Built on Anything Other Than True Heart Change
4. Build on all these things, or you are going to fall (Matthew 7:24-29)
Jesus tells a story of building a house on a rock versus building a house on sand. When the storms came, the house build on the sand crumbled. Unfortunately, in our world of coffee cup theology, we have removed this teaching from the context of the sermon on the mount. Most church people just understand “building your house on the rock” as a vague concept of being in church and getting your beliefs right and not committing any big sins.
Actually, the teaching is far more demanding and way more awesome than that. If we had properly lived it out, we wouldn’t see our religious institutions crumbling under the latest storms.
We’d see leaders standing up and saying, “I’d rather have my arm cut off than let abuse happen in my church and I will do whatever it takes to stand against abuse of any kind.”
How Do We Address the Abuse and Move Forward?
If you are in a church that is crumbling because of scandals, don’t be part of the cover-up. Be part of the healing and rebuilding. This time, build on what Jesus taught. This time, don’t elevate leaders above accountability. Value individuals over institutions always. Make the value of people your core value and don’t put up with leaders who don’t support this. Look for heart change over outward religious show. Build something better. Build on the rock of what Jesus taught and not the sand of celebrity leaders who bring in crowds.
1. Demand that your church hold all staff and volunteers accountable in every aspect of how they treat people. If these people are going to represent Jesus, the bar for how they treat people should be incredibly high. It’s beyond ridiculous that churches are covering up sexual abuse. We shouldn’t even be putting up with things like demeaning comments from leaders.
Stop Supporting Abusive Systems
2. Don’t give your time, money or any support to any institution that doesn’t hold people accountable for how they treat people.
Talk About ALL of It!
3. Bring the issues into the light! Sin thrives in darkness. When we cover up and explain away problems they grow and fester. This particularly true with sexual issues. They end up controlling every aspect of our lives. If we have open honest supportive communities where people can admit their struggles without fear of shame and rejection, we would find tremendous healing and freedom.
I absolutely know this is true. I have the privilege of being viewed as a safe person for people to admit all kinds of struggles to and I know that the most perfect looking people are often covering up the most junk.
Build Something Better!
All of us are wrestling with something. When we hide issues and focus on changing outward behaviors, we are doing the opposite of what Jesus taught. We are all messed up! We can’t fix our problems alone. We need to walk with other believers in honest communities where we expect each other to struggle. When that happens, we can help each other learn to deal with our heart issues. We will be building communities based on pushing each other to the ideals that Jesus taught.
Praying for you my friends, that you have wisdom, peace and hope as you navigate these issues. I pray that the love of Jesus shines through you and you see these issues with his eyes. I know that I’m bitter and angry because I have met so many of the survivors. I hear their stories and see their faces and it feels me with rage. I know there is hope. I believe that Jesus will empower his true followers to stand strong and be different.