The prophet Micah reminded the people of Israel of what the Lord required of them: "to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic. 6:8). It seems that we need to hear these words once again. I have been quite troubled over the past few weeks and debated on whether I should even comment on the issue. The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination in which I serve as a pastor, is facing a crisis. An identity crisis. A moral crisis.
You have probably heard about the scandal that has rocked the Southern Baptist Convention and two of its seminaries: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, North Carolina. The scandals are based around Dr. Paige Patterson who allegedly failed to report charges of rape at SEBTS to the proper authorities and furthermore was claimed to have told one victim that it was good that she had been raped. While there have been claims that the whole ordeal has been blown out of proportion, evidence continues to surface that seems to suggest that the claims are indeed true. It does not help that Patterson has admitted to counseling abused women that they should stay in the physically abusive home, with one case resulting in a woman being given two black eyes by her abusive husband. In addition, Patterson used very questionable language in referencing a 16-year-old girl. While the latter was said in jest, it is still quite questionable.
The actions of Patterson have led to his dismissal from the presidency of SWBTS, even to the point that his President Emeritus title has been removed. Many of us in Southern Baptist life are quite hurt by the things that have transpired. We wonder what is going to happen to the denomination. Understand that the previous was not written to bash Patterson, but to simply convey what has already been published. I hope that everyone is praying for Patterson and the people he has hurt.
In full disclosure, I am writing this as a conservative, non-Calvinist, SBC pastor. I think that if the SBC is going to move past this tragedy, there must be a reformation within our denomination. This reformation must occur in five different ways.
The SBC must reform its view of women. The SBC needs to elevate its view of women. I am not referencing the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Rather, I am talking about the SBC's view on women. Have we elevated the status of women to where Christ has? Milton Hollifield, Jr., the executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has said much of the same. Hollifield noted, "Women should know and believe that if God has raised them up, they will be given the opportunity to serve on committees and certain places of leadership."
As an apologist, I cannot tell you the times that women have expressed concern that they have no place in Christianity. Some have even taken an erroneous view of Paul's beliefs about women which probably came from a pastor or denominational leader who himself espoused such a view. I think we must let women know that they matter and that they are of value.
The SBC must reform its view of morality. One of the most disturbing aspects of this entire debacle has come from fellow Christians who seemingly support the idea that abused individuals should stay in the home and expose themselves and their children to the abuser's assault. How is this justified? All in the name of a hardcore stance against divorce! While the Scripture indicates that God's intentions are for a man and woman to remain married, there are exceptions given. How are we to truly seek justice, as Micah says, if we allow bullies of the home to continue to abuse their spouses and children? Where is the justice in that interpretation?
The SBC must reform its view of justice. As a pastor, I realize there are certain issues beyond my level of expertise. If someone is suffering from a heart condition, I will refer them to a cardiologist. If someone is suffering from bipolar issues, I would refer them to a psychologist. How could we not refer a raped victim to the proper authorities? I understand that we should try to keep things in church as much as possible. But when a person's life is threatened, it is time to allow the due process of law to take place. Doesn't Paul tell us that our officials can serve as God's arm of justice (Rom. 13:4)?
The SBC must reform its view of leadership. A good friend of mine used the phrase blind allegiance to describe those who accept what a leader says without question. However, as a community of faith, should we not hold our leaders accountable? I am not saying that we should find every nit-picky thing wrong with a leader. Nor am I saying that we should take apart every word that is said. However, when our leaders fail, we hold them up in prayer, but also hold them accountable for their actions. This does not mean that we do not forgive. Forgiveness is a core element of the Christian faith. Yet, when a person's advice comes to the level of being dangerous, or even lethal, to the person receiving the advice, it may be time to have a serious discussion with that leader. The SBC needs to be able to hold its leaders accountable, no matter whom they are. These political power struggles need to be replaced. Perhaps, there needs to be some restructuring in the denomination. Whatever the case may be, SBC members need to have a voice from both small and large churches.
The SBC must reform its view of unity. As noted earlier, I am a non-Calvinist. Even still, I am dismayed at the hostilities that exist in SBC life between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Is it not possible that we can get along so long as both sides agree on the necessity of evangelism? When this came out, the non-Calvinist side claimed that the Patterson ordeal was nothing more than a political stunt by the Calvinist branch of the SBC. If we cannot find a way to work together, there will be a major schism in the denomination sooner rather than later.
Not all Southern Baptists will agree on everything. That is a given. But, if we as Southern Baptists cannot find a way to work together, there will not be a denomination left. Furthermore, God will not bless an institution that permits abuse. On that, I am quite sure. Jesus said it best, "If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand" (Mk. 3:25). If we cannot find a way to fix these problems and unite under the banner of Christ, then the SBC will eventually be nothing more than a passing memory. Lord, help us learn to "to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with" you (Mic. 6:8).
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