An open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention

Dear SBC, you don’t have to be this way.

More than 14,000 messengers gathered for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June 2021 at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee. (RNS photo/Kit Doyle)

(RNS) — Dear Southern Baptist Convention, it doesn’t have to be this way.

You don’t have to be this way.

No church, no denomination, no congregation is perfect, of course. No one expects perfection.

To be sure, the bar is pretty low for a convention founded by slaveholders for the purpose of defending the institution of slavery, a history for which you formally apologized in 1995, a century after the fact.

But a lot of us took that apology seriously. We thought the lessons of the past had been learned and that you had become what you advertise yourselves to be: “Good news for the whole world.”

Last time I checked, the whole world includes everybody. And everybody includes those inside the church who have been abused.

Let’s be clear: No one expects abuse to be entirely absent from the church. Abuse is everywhere. But the church should be the place where it is hardest for abusers to hide, not among the easiest.

Even more importantly, the church should be the place where abusers are dealt with swiftly and justly, where the abused have their needs more than met. The church is the place where, once abuse is discovered, that discovery should be blasted from the rooftops, from the pulpit and in every Sunday school room — in lament, in repentance, in desire to prevent further harm.

This is what you could have done. You could have been like Jesus in leaving the 99 to seek out the one, in serving persons rather than mammon, in preserving souls rather than institutional power. You didn’t have to be like the rich young man.

You didn’t have to take the widow’s mite, over and over, millions of times, in the name of the Great Commission only to use it to pay for a $1.6 million renovation of a seminary president’s home, a $2.5 million retirement home for another seminary president, espresso machines, hunting trophies, fake scrolls, lawsuits and legal settlements for evil deeds done in darkness and the lawyers who defend those evildoers.

A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.

A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Holly Meyer)

You didn’t have to file an amicus brief in favor of those who ignored horrific child sexual abuse and against the one abused in a case that doesn’t involve you (but surely does involve your financial interests in another case).

You didn’t have to come to court in support of the abuser instead of the abused just because he is one of your own — or especially because he is one of your own.

You didn’t have to string along a survivor of sexual abuse by one of your pastors with empty promises and false hopes for years and years only to do nothing in the end.

When things went badly, you rewrote history rather than hold an abuser accountable, allowing the abuse of even more children.

You hid from your congregation and your staff the abuse of children that took place in your building during your worship services.

You ignored the “open secret” that one of the leading architects of your current iteration is allegedly a serial sexual predator who couldn’t even get clearance to serve in the government.

You put him and other abusive icons in your stained-glass windows.

You pretended not to see the clear abuse and neglect of his children by one of your seminary students and employees.

You did all this to esteem your reputation and your budgets more than the bodies and souls of the vulnerable. You didn’t have to do any of that, and you don’t have to keep doing these things.

When you do these things it demeans not just yourselves, but your messengers — delegations from the churches who fund you — who come at their own expense to conventions to pass ineffectual resolutions and make empty speeches. 

You listen instead to the whispers of abusers in your ears all day long and let their messages ding in your pockets time and time again telling you which direction to go in. You surround yourself entirely with young, fresh flatterers whom you groom into your own image and likeness, thereby ensuring that nothing ever really changes.

Meanwhile, you invite people to the table only for the sake of their different faces, not to listen to their voices. If you listened, you’d have to hear stories, experiences and perspectives that don’t reinforce your preferred narrative.

You don’t have to silence those who do speak up.

You don’t have to be silent.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

You can quit any time you want.

Until He Comes,

The Church

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