The Right and Wrong of the Houston Chronicle’s Articles on “Abuse of Faith”

The Houston Chronicle helped in that it shed light on some abuses that were not taken seriously enough, hidden or ignored. These abuses are immeasurably tragic and trivializing of them is the tragedy of tragedies. I regret cover-ups of any human tragedies by churches, Christians, and leaders. I regret when churches fail to follow the biblical teaching on church discipline because it results in the sacrifice of righteousness and mercy toward the guilty and victims and because it results in the world having to expose such grievous sins in the church (Mt 18:15-20; Rm 16:17-18; 1 Co 5:1-13; Gal 6:1-2; 2 Thes 3:6-13). Consequently, sin in the church is not the actual travesty since we are all sinners. Rather, it is the church’s failure to follow Christ’s teaching for addressing it that is the epic failure.

Denominational leaders can and should take appropriate actions to deal with abuse and immorality in its agencies, and in churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). There is much they can do. However, church autonomy aside, the Biblical reality is that immorality, including such that violates the law and that which only violates Scripture, and therefore is spiritually lethal, can only be thoroughly addressed on the local church level.

Our convention leaders are members of local SBC churches and are not exempt from church discipline if needed. Even if an agency leader is disciplined, fired, or arrested because of his sin, the agency’s disciplinary actions do not necessarily mean that the local church to which the person belongs does not have to practice church discipline; this may include further discipline and a call for repentance before the church or ministering to them.

Even if a highly visible leader apologizes or is disciplined on a national level, the local church that he is a member of is not, thereby excused from following New Testament church discipline if needed. Sins like sexual abuse that break the law must be dealt with legally, but they must also be dealt with spiritually. Thus, the ultimate resolution always resides within the realm of the local body of believers, the local church. This recognition does not relieve convention leaders from their designated and appropriate responsibilities in such matters.

A serious inadequacy of the Chronicle’s article is that it failed to sufficiently distinguish between churches that handled the abuses biblically and legally and those that did not. Without carefully distinguishing between those who handled these situations according to Scripture and those who do not, the Chronicle has committed a grave injustice.

This failure means that we should not view the Chronicle as a serious and unbiased investigative exposé; a serious investigative report would seek to protect those who are innocent of abusing the abused, who have been exonerated of any charges, as diligently as they worked to expose those who foster a cover-up. My belief that the innocent should be protected is not to minimize the travesty of these actual abusive acts, but rather I wish to expose the notable prejudice of the Chronicle’s coverage.

Noting the Chronicle’s failure to make this monumental distinction does nothing to ameliorate the heinousness of the abuse nor lessen the life-long hurt the abused suffer because of these predators and cover-ups. It does, however, highlight the Chronicle’s desire to make Southern Baptists look as hypocritical and unscrupulous as possible by minimizing or eliding any facts that would show that not all abuse in the SBC is so cavalierly treated as the article impresses upon people.

I have personally pastored such situations and counseled pastors in other churches who have handled their situation spiritually, publically, legally and with extended help to those hurt. That the chronicle would fail to adequately distinguish between these two groups in an article of such serious charges and consequences is troubling enough; however, I am even more disturbed by some Christian leaders in the SBC, and beyond, who eagerly and ever so publically endorse the Chronicle’s article as the quintessence of unbiased facts without making this vital distinction.

For example, in the NY Times, The president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, Russell Moore, said, “This week The Houston Chronicle ran a series of articles exposing, in painfully specific documentation, hundreds of sexual abusers who have worked within Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years.” (Italics added)

I believe some well-known speakers and some in SBC leadership were too eager to lock arms with the “Me Too” movement’s recent charges and attacks on men like Paige Patterson. This present rush to heap accolades upon the chronicles less than precise coverage seems to be toward the same end; make sure, at all cost, to be the first to show you are against rape, racism, sexual abuse ad infinitum, which seemingly they believe to be most effectively accomplished by joining the accusers in their excessively broad-brush portrait of Christians. Such endorsements and alignments are done while showing little interest to speak as quickly and vociferously for those who are not guilty, have been misrepresented or repented and apologized.

We should bemoan any cover-ups and the lifelong hurt the abused feel; we should do what we can to always approach these matters with righteousness and mercy. We should be equally diligent not to malign and ruinously commingle those who do approach these abuses with righteousness and mercy with those who do not. As it is, while the article seeks to expose those who hurt the innocent, it does so by carelessly besmirching the reputation of many who have sought to help and protect potential and actual victims of sexual abuse in the SBC. The ones who have helped, have often done so at great personal risk and cost.