The Roman Catholic Church has been shaken by revelations of rampant sexual abuse among its clergy. Now the Southern Baptist Church is being shaken by a similar scandal.
The Houston Chronicle has uncovered 380 church workers–pastors, but also youth ministers, Sunday School teachers, and other volunteers–who have been charged with sexual misconduct over the last 20 years. That list includes 250 who were charged with sex crimes, including rape, sexual assault, and child molestation.
The investigation found some 700 victims. Some were children as young as three. The cases seem to be mostly heterosexual assaults, but some were homosexual. Some of the girls got pregnant and were pressured into getting abortions.
As with the Catholic scandal, another dimension is the cover-up and failure to take action on the part of church officials.
From the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, Southern Baptists and the Scandal of Church Sexual Abuse:
All rape and sexual exploitation is evil and unjust. Sexual abuse is not only sin but also a crime. All of it should be prosecuted in the civil arena, and all of it will be brought before the tribunal of the Judgment Seat of Christ. But nothing is worse than the use of the name of Jesus to prey on the vulnerable, or to use the name of Jesus to cover up such crimes. The issue of predators in the church is not a secondary issue, on which churches should brush up merely because of the cultural moment. This is a primary issue, one that Jesus himself warned us about from the very beginning. The church is a flock, he told us, vulnerable to prey. That’s why, he said, the church would need shepherds who would know both how to feed the flock with the Word of God and also to protect the flock from predators who would tear them apart (Jn. 10:10-14). The Holy Spirit warned us expressly that some would infiltrate the church to carry out their sexually violent depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4-13).
The sexual abuse of the vulnerable is satanic at its very root, and, just as in the beginning of the cosmic story, the tools the devil and those who carry out such horrors use are twisted versions of the very words of God. How can these predators be back in churches, sometimes just moving down the street to another congregation, to prey again? Often, they do so by appealing to some perverted concept of God’s grace. “God can forgive anything,” they say. “Look at King David.” In so doing, these persons co-opt even the gospel itself (or, at least, a cheap, unbiblical version of it) as cover for their crimes. As the Apostle Paul said of such madness, “God forbid.” If your understanding of the gospel means that rapists and sexual offenders still have access to those who can be harmed, you do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
See also this response from Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Here are the links to the three-part story in the Houston Chronicle, a joint investigation with the San Antonio Express-News, by Robert Downen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco: Part 1, an overview of the findings; Part 2, focusing on churches re-hiring sex offenders; Part 3, focusing on youth ministries.
Illustration: “A Hypocrite and a Slanderer,” by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1770-1783) via Wikimedia Commons [CC0]