Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear suggested Monday that the 700 victims of reported sexual abuse at the hands of leaders and volunteers in churches over the last 20 years doesn't give the “whole story” of the problem and urged other victims to come forward and get help.
“What can easily be lost in the size of these numbers, which are grievously large, is the tragic fact that they cannot be the whole story. More must be said and done in the coming days. But today, we want to provide some initial guidance to victims who have not yet come forward on how they can receive care,” wrote Greear and Pastor Brad Hambrick in a blog post.
Hambrick serves as pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, where Greear is senior pastor. He's also an instructor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
On Sunday, The Houston Chronicle published the first of a three-part series which found more than 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998. Some 220 have been convicted and 100 are still in prison.
Many of the victims, who were children when the abuse occurred, accused other Southern Baptist leaders, including past presidents, of concealing their ordeal. Some of those who were accused of sexual abuse also reportedly left their congregations and were able to find jobs in other Southern Baptist churches.
“We completely agree with the words of ERLC President Russell Moore: Jesus does not cover up sin within the temple of his presence. He brings everything hidden to light. We should too. When we downplay or cover over what has happened in the name of Jesus to those he loves we are not ‘protecting’ Jesus’ reputation. We are instead fighting Jesus himself. No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden,” Greear said.
In his outreach to victims who have not yet come forward, Greear pointed them to resources such as, The National Hotline for Domestic Violence at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); The National Child Abuse Hotline number at 1-800-422-4453 and The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
He urged pastors to help promote these resources to their members, reiterating the need to avoid the impulse to protect their image.
“Please share the resources above through your personal and church’s social media accounts. It is easy for church leaders to become self-centered and self-protective when news of churches’ failures come to light. But it would be another tragedy and a reinforcement of the problem if we allow that to happen,” Greear advised.
“People in our churches and community need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation. Until that confidence is restored, no one who has been abused will feel safe in our churches. The way we respond in this moment — either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions — will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach,” he added.