Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called on the Church to take a stand against sexual abuse, warning there are “horrific and satanic” presences hiding within the Body of Christ eager to prey on vulnerable people.
On Thursday, Moore delivered a message titled "The Church’s Response to Abuse is a Gospel Issue" at the Caring Well conference in Grapevine, Texas, an event designed to help the Southern Baptist Convention's 47,000 churches learn how to prevent abuse and support survivors.
The speaker and author first acknowledged that thousands of vulnerable people have been exploited, abused, and harmed within churches.
“When we see the horror and enormity of those numbers, we ask ourselves: How much do we not know about? How many of those survivors do we not see or recognize?” he asked.
One of the major drivers of church sexual abuse, Moore contended, is a “sense of invulnerability.”
“It’s this sense of, ‘Well, it couldn't happen in our church, or it couldn’t happen in our kind of church. It happens in churches with that sort of theology,’” he explained.
Others, Moore said, say, “Well, the numbers are so small, we really don’t have a crisis.”
“Your sense of invulnerability is what is killing you,” he said. “Your claim to see is what is blinding you.”
“If you think that responding to church sexual abuse is a distraction from the mission of the church, you do not understand the mission of the church,” he declared.
Churches must do "everything" they possibly can in preventing abuse, from training members to recognize abuse to making sure reporting standards are "are such that if there is even a hint of danger, that the authorities that are responsible are called immediately."
"We are the people that are caring for and loving and bearing the burdens of those that have survived that sort of trauma," Moore said.
In John 9:35 through John 10:18, Jesus uses the metaphor of a wolf to describe dangerous individuals within the church, The Storm-Tossed Family author said, adding that some people will use the church to carry out “satanic measures and acts.”
These individuals are almost “impossible to detect,” because they often have “perfectly orthodox theology behind which they hide some horrible, horrible behavior,” Moore said.
“There are some people who are able to answer every Bible question, some people who are able to volunteer for every active service, who are nonetheless part of the flock not in order to build up the body, but in order to prey on it. They may know theology better than anybody else, but they abuse that trust,” he posited.
Wolves, he said, use the trust built between sheep and shepherd to “kill and to destroy."
“Jesus warns us about this, and He warns us repeatedly that the church is often especially vulnerable to this because we are called to disciple one another and bear one another's burdens,” he said.
Church abuse is “especially awful” because it “adds to the predation and the trauma to the presentation of Jesus and that is a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he emphasized.
“There is nothing more satanic than using the cover of Jesus in order to prey upon vulnerable people with one’s own appetites,” Moore said.
But the problem in the Church is not just wolves; it’s also the “hired hands,” Moore said, explaining: “Hired hands aren’t the ones ‘preying upon sheep;’ they’re the ones who seem to be there to protect the sheep, but when trouble comes, they get scared and they run.”
“They are the ones who leave and are willing to allow the most vulnerable among them to be offered up simply so that they can have a measure of tranquility and peace,” he said. “A church that will say, ‘we’re not going to extend a lot of effort on this’ is a church that is not acting like a shepherd, but like a hired hand.”
Some churches refuse to discuss sexual abuse because they claim to be afraid that “Jesus will get a bad reputation” to the outside world. To this, Moore responded, “Jesus never protects His reputation by covering up sin.”
“Jesus instead pours out His reputation by confronting sin and injustice,” he declared. “The hired hands here, though, run. They are working at counter-measures to the mission of Jesus and sometimes, they even contribute and empower the shaming of those who have been victimized and have survived right in collusion with the predators whether they know it or not.”
“If the Church is simply about marketing, then we have no need of shepherds who care for a flock,” he said. “Then, we are people most to be pitied, because we have no hope.”
Christians have the tendency to turn the image of a shepherd into something soft and weak, but a shepherd “defends his sheep” and “fights off those who would rip them to shreds,” Moore contended.
“Every congregation represented in this room needs to go back and to say repeatedly, in every venue that you have, ‘If you are somebody who has lived through the terror of church sexual abuse, here is what this church will do to love you and support you and hear you and equip you,'” he told the audience. “This church will not shame you, this church will not reject you, this church will not cast you out.’”
Christ is not surprised or shocked by vulnerabilities or hurts, the theologian said, adding: “He knows all of those things and He joins us to Himself and He says to us in all of the ways that we have come to Him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
“The question is whether the Church will be shepherds,” Moore stressed. “The question is whether the church will stand for those who are vulnerable, or whether the church will stand with those who will prey on them.”
“There are horrific and satanic presences out there in the world and hiding within the church,” he concluded. “What the world is asking is not whether or not there are wolves or thieves or robbers; they know that. What the world is asking is, ‘Is there a shepherd? And is he good?’”
The Caring Well conference is being held in Grapevine, Texas, Oct. 3-5 and is hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention's Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and its Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Other speakers include Kay Warren, J.D. Greear, Beth Moore.