The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas may have had only one fifth of the messengers as the previously largest SBC convened in the Texas stronghold, but when messengers unanimously passed a resolution on abuse, they failed to note lack of a clear position on clergy-penitent privilege and counseling. The Resolutions Committee chairman offered a clarification and said there were no exceptions intended. Still, in a #MeToo social media moment, is the firing of an SBC leader over alleged bad advice and failed reporting of abuse – and a non-binding resolution – enough? Or should other leaders and entities explain their action or lack of action in regards to promoting those who are accused of abuse, covering abuse, asked to testify in abuse cases, or promoting or offering a system which provides controversial or questionable counseling for victims of abuse.
DALLAS (June 26, 2018) – For many at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas June’s meeting was a victory lap of sorts with one of the youngest presidents in the history of the SBC elected, younger leaders celebrated at the helm of its mission organizations and at least half its seminaries, and a well-branded, if somewhat tarnished, image.
For others, it was like watching taps at Arlington Cemetery, a noble and yet sad image of what once was great but is now lost — with former leaders firmly ousted — and state conventions, missionary agencies, and local associations all but dying on the vine along with Baptist state newspapers, accountable boards, and civility.
And in the midst of it all, #MeToo expressions like “misogynist,” “rapist,” “sexual assault,” “workplace harassment,” and “domestic abuse,” were thrown into a confusing mix of denominational politics which diluted meaningful discussion over the role of women in the denomination.
What might have at one time been a healthy discussion over women’s roles in church and in ministry positions turned into an ugly fight that threatens to label complementarians as “misogynists,” and egalitarians as liberals – while the world is expected to interpret ecclesiological and theological terms lest Southern Baptists be inaccurately defined.
Somewhere in the middle are hurting men, women and children who have seen the #MeToo movement hijacked by what amounts to a political movement rather than a social cause to help hurting people.
The Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas follows a year of disappointing losses in ministry leaders as a result of moral and personal failures — and other reasons not disclosed.
Those most recent high profile resignations include Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Alvin Reid, senior professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Christian George, curator of Midwestern Seminary’s Spurgeon Library in Kansas City; and David Sills, professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
The termination of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and a key player in the Conservative Resurgence of the denomination, grabbed most of the headlines, however, and prompted a resolution at the SBC in Dallas condemning “all forms of abuse.”
The statement on abuse renounced “all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful” and called for decisive action to report abuse allegations to law enforcement authorities. It also offered compassion to abuse victims, “being careful to remind the abused that such injustice is undeserved and not a result of personal guilt or fault” (Baptist Press).
The initial charge against Patterson was that he used an illustration in a conference years ago advising a woman to stay with her abusive husband. After that initial charge, which was assigned a #MeToo identity on Twitter, further accusations were lobbed at Patterson about how he dealt with an alleged rape at a seminary where he’d served as president. His lawyer, Shelbey Sharpe released a statement about these charges.
The resolution that ultimately was passed unanimously by messengers in Dallas, ironically omits any reference to “clergy-penitent privilege” however, a claim used by Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, in a court case reported in 2004 in Louisville’s Courier-Journal.
A Sunday School and choir volunteer who also worked at a school operated by Highview Baptist Church, where Ezell was then pastor, had been accused of sex crimes he later confessed.
News articles report that when Ezell was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, he invoked the clergy-penitent privilege. The former teacher later, after being charged with additional crimes, pled guilty to sexually abusing seven boys in the 1970s and early 1980s and is still listed in the Kentucky sex offender archive.
A subsequent blog noted that Ezell told the Louisville Courier-Journal the leaders of the congregation (one of the largest in the state) did not plan to tell members of the congregation about the predator’s arrest or conviction.
The chairman of the 2018 SBC resolutions committee, Jason Duesing of Missouri, in an
interview June 13 said it was not the intention of the committee to provide exception clauses.
“If they’ve been asked to testify, they should testify,” Duesing said when asked generally about pastor/clergy exemption clauses, even in the course of Christian or church counseling. “It’s the spirit (of the resolution) that if somebody is aware of something they need to report it and take action on it.”
Boz Tchividjian, founder and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), shared a similar opinion in 2013 after Sovereign Grace Ministries – embroiled in a civil lawsuit alleging it had covered up numerous cases of child sexual abuse over a several decades period – said it was practicing its First Amendment right to religious freedom.
SGM wrote in a 2012 statement it had the right to provide confidential pastoral counseling free from government infringement.
“SGM believes that allowing courts to second-guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse,” wrote Tommy Hill, SGM’s director of finance and administration, according to an article in Christianity Today. The referenced statement has since been removed from SGM’s website.
Tchividijian conceded he did not have all of the facts at the time, but, as the former prosecutor for child abuse cases in Florida, he said he was in disagreement with a view that clergy-penitent privilege should be invoked to avoid testimony.
“Quite frankly, any time an institution—a Christian institution—responds or defends its behavior as it relates to sexual abuse allegations with quoting laws and hiding behind constitutions, it causes me concern,” said Tchividjian, a law professor and the grandson of the late Billy Graham. The GRACE website notes with alarm the fact that SGM leaders kept members in the dark about the the wide-spread sexual abuse of children, calling it “staggering.”
Too often, those within the Church have been uninformed about the complexities of child abuse,” the website reads. “This has compounded its damaging effects on individuals, families, and faith communities with inappropriate and even negligent responses to signs and disclosures of abuse. Our collective failure as Christians to properly care for the most innocent and vulnerable among us has often been staggering.
In 2014 Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville cut ties with the pastors college of Sovereign Grace Ministries, ending a two-year relationship between the two organizations. Two months previously, popular author Joshua Harris resigned from The Gospel Coalition after testifying in court about the role of the leadership of the SGM flagship church – Covenant Life – in suspected covering up of crimes. He served as pastor of Covenant Life from 2004 until 2015, when he left to attend college. Harris had followed C.J. Mahaney at Covenant Life.
Mahaney, the founder of SGM, also stepped down from The Gospel Coalition in 2014, after being named in a 2012 class action lawsuit on allegations of a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse. That year he stepped away from the T4G (Together for the Gospel) conference he co-founded in 2006 with fellow evangelical Christian leaders Mark Dever, R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Ligon Duncan.
This year, Mahaney, pastor of the SBC-affiliated Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, which he founded in 2013, again stepped away from the T4G conference following new exposure related to the SGM controversy. Rachael Denhollander, the former Olympic gymnast whose testimony against Larry Nassar went viral, addressed the allegations of abuse at Covenant Life Church in interviews and on Facebook.
In late January Denhollander said the SGM situation is “one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse” and “one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen.”
Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly SBM) issued a statement in February calling Denhollander “mistaken in her accusations” against the church and Mahaney.
In a March 1 Facebook post, “Response to Sovereign Grace Churches,” Denhollander defended herself by more fully outlining the SGM situation and providing a provocative look at methods, evidence, court limitations, and rationale.
That same month, Hershael York, newly promoted dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary and a professor of Christian preaching there since 1997, commented on Denhollander’s post:
I am in awe of your graciousness, your relentless pursuit of truth, your commitment to the Gospel, and your willingness to do the uncomfortable thing. Only the grace of Christ could account for your balance. You have helped me think more clearly on this issue and I am grateful. Count on my continued prayers and support as you call Christian leaders (among whom I count myself) to face and embrace the truth wherever it leads us. As followers of the One who is Truth, how can we do any less?
In an exchange which followed, Dennis Hulick, whose Facebook profile says he lives in Raleigh, N.C., asked York if he “might work toward ending Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville’s involvement and affiliation with the SBC and SBTS.
“I hope that you might encourage and expect that the President of the SBTS would end his public involvement with CJ Mahaney as that would speak volumes to those that where abused and then unprotected by a number of leaders within the SG church association,” he wrote.
York’s response was short: “You need to share your opinions with the people and entities that you have mentioned. My feelings are already public and I have no more influence with anyone than my candor and honesty, which I have already given.”
A few weeks after Denhollander’s comments, Christianity Today’s editor in chief Mark Galli wrote an insightful review and timeline of the SGM “scandal” calling for an independent investigation.
We call for a fresh and thorough independent investigation not because we believe those accused are guilty of every one of its critics’ charges. We are as bewildered as anyone and simply don’t have enough information to make a confident judgment on the matter. We see, however, that SGC, churches current and former—and pastor C. J. Mahaney (founder and former president) in particular—are under a cloud of suspicion.
In May, Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville published a Facebook note: “We were Rachael’s Church.” In it the church confessed to being “sinfully unloving,” and pledged to “discontinue inviting (SGM) leaders to minister to our church.”
More than two months following Mahaney’s departure from T4G and on the day Patterson’s resignation was announced, Mohler abruptly released a declaration: “The Wrath of God Poured Out – The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Like Christianity Today’s Galli, Mohler calls for an independent investigation for churches, denominations or Christian ministries engaged in a pattern of mishandling charges of abuse – but unlike Galli, does not target a specific ministry in his actionable comments, and qualifies his statement by saying a “public accusation” requires such an investigation.
Also like SGC in a response to Denhollander’s accusations Feb. 13 called irresponsible the “horrific” comparisons made between its churches and widespread abuse, Mohler said “The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.”
In a sweeping statement focused on “public humiliation” and concern for “our public credibility,” Mohler delivered a treatise granting credibility to break-away moderates’ criticisms about the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, of which Mohler was a part, saying their “prophecies had some merit after all” without admitting his culpability in the failures. He wrote:
The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.
Shifting from Southern Baptists in the last few paragraphs of his lengthy essay, Mohler asserts, “The MeToo moment has come to American evangeicals,” before ending with the rhetorical, “The Southern Baptist Convention is on trial and our public credibility is at stake. May God have mercy on us all.”
Mohler, however, failed to mention SGM or Mahaney in his commentary.
A few days after Mohler’s commentary, Heath Lambert, a faculty member at Southern Seminary since 2006, the Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and the new pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, released a statement, “A Time for Choosing.”
In his own declaration of alleged abuse at the hand of his parent, Lambert opined about Patterson’s re-telling of a story about a woman’s abuse years ago, and spoke of “standing with God himself” against the “victimization of the weak.”
It’s “a clear time to choose,” he wrote. “[T]he world is watching.” Lambert announced ACBC would not be holding its 2018 meeting at the campus of Southwestern Seminary. Interestingly, commenters on a blog “Cry For Justice,” opining about a 2017 talk he hosted on involving controversy over counseling and domestic abuse, said ACBC has only recently begun to speak about domestic abuse.
Lambert, in “95 Theses For An Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling,” presents the current practice in biblical (neuthetic) counseling at ACBC and SBTS.
SBTS moved from “pastoral counseling,” including teaching by the former professor of Christian psychology Eric Johnson, to what Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission refers to as “biblical counseling.”
In a series of affirmations and denials, Moore in 2010 when he was serving as provost and dean of SBTS, wrote a comprehensive defense of the seminary’s new direction in his, Counseling & the Authority of Christ: A New Vision for Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Moore wrote that the changes came about after Mohler was elected as president during the “Conservative Reformation” and the curriculum was found lacking:
The CPE/pastoral care model of the Southern Seminary tradition was indeed founded on a theological worldview and on a ministry paradigm inconsistent with the theological worldview and conversionist outlook of the new era.
In his 16-page e-book, Moore wrote that psychotherapies should not be seen as medical practice.
We deny that psychological research, personality theories, and psychotherapies
should be viewed as “objective science,” as that term is usually understood. Neither should they be seen as extensions of medicine and medical practice.
Lambert earned his undergraduate degree in biblical studies and political science, and his graduate and post-graduate degrees in Christian ministry and biblical counseling. Moore earned his undergraduate degree in political science and history, and his graduate and post-graduate degrees in biblical studies and systematic theology.
Rickard Marks, now a former pastor of family ministries at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Lambert now serves, and vice president of Jacksonville based Live the Life Ministries, this month made a comment on social media about biblical counselors.
In a June 15 Tweet, Marks wrote:
Neuthetic counselors should be held liable for negligent counsel just like their professional counterparts. Your lack of training in areas of abuse, eating disorders, clinical depression, etc, will harm others. Know your limitations.
Marks holds graduate and post-graduate degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy, and psychology and counseling, in addition to a graduate degree from Southwestern Seminary in Religious Education. He is a licensed professional counselor and an ordained minister.
In addition to the SBC resolution on abuse, other declarations by SBC leaders and groups followed in the wake of the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
— The International Mission Board of trustee president Rick Dunbar said about a new policy on abuse released during its meeting June 10-11, “If anyone ‘sees or suspects something, they need to say something.”’ He said of the IMB it is its policy to investigate all cases (of abuse) regardless of when they occurred.
— The North American Mission Board of trustees meeting in Dallas June 11 made revisions to its Employee Guidelines and Operating Procedures. A spokesperson for NAMB has not yet released a review of those changes to this writer, however.
— Newly elected NAMB trustee Willy Rice, in a blog May 31, wrote about a family experience which happened 25 years ago in which the IMB and a local Baptist association “stonewalled” them after their two daughters had been sexually assaulted by the Director of Missions in that association.
Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., and a former president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, concludes his painful story with these words:
Finally this question, is a man truly a shepherd when he allows the wolves to devour the lambs because he is afraid of the consequences of confrontation? Isn’t it the very definition of a shepherd that he stops the wolves, that he protects the sheep, and that he guards the flock? When we fail to protect the innocent because we are more interested in protecting the reputation of institutions we serve, we not only fail those very institutions, we fail the sheep and fail the Chief Shepherd.
We have failed too often. There are too many stories like this one and too many scars that have never been able to heal. Let them be told. Let us repent. Let us learn to be shepherds again. God help us.
DALLAS (June 12, 2018) — Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, in an article on his website June 7 has alleged there is a “serious erosion of cooperation and trust between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and denominational partners.”
“Many think we are in the midst of a church planting boom in the SBC,” Adams wrote. “We are not.”
Drawing attention to the Reform NAMB Now movement, Adams outlined a three-step plan to “build back trust and cooperation at all levels of the SBC.”
In a brief interview with Adams June 11, he said that so far there have been no “informed” challenges to the information he presented in his article.
The full text of the article is below:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) needs a recovery program. Followers of Jesus, including those who lead, are not exempt from addiction to power, money, and sex, and we have been reminded of this with jarring frequency over the past few weeks and months. Deep wounds caused by multiple failures are now festering from infection. Added to the more public matters is a sick hubris that has caused some to weaponize money and leadership, intentionally hurting others, certain that they are smarter, wiser, or better than “them.” Much of the focus has been on the resignation of leaders and the firing of a seminary president, and rightly so, but perhaps worse than the headlines is our deficit of trust and partnership that has grown as large as the national debt. Although trust and partnership have been eroded in multiple ways, the serious erosion of cooperation and trust between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and denominational partners has led to a collapse in the numbers of churches started and the number of new believers baptized.
Many think that we are in the midst of a church planting boom in the SBC. We are not. In the past two years we have tallied the lowest number of new church starts in decades, reaching a new low of 691 throughout North America in 2017. Moreover, new church plant numbers the past seven years are far below the seven years prior, while the church planting budget is 350 percent higher than it was in 2010! The truth is we are experiencing a colossal collapse in the number of new church plants while spending far more money from the NAMB budget. The primary reason that Southern Baptists are planting half as many churches as we were ten years ago is because the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has greatly reduced its cooperation with state and regional conventions in favor of a top-down approach in which NAMB mostly controls church planting outside of the south, and in which NAMB has greatly reduced funding for church planting in the south.
Add to this the fact that NAMB has slashed evangelism funding to about one third of what it was ten years ago. In 2010 NAMB had an evangelism staff of 52 people, organized into six teams, in addition to hundreds of state convention jointly-funded positions. In 2018 there are only two people in evangelism (a leader and his assistant) listed on NAMB’s website, and the one evangelism leader is also the pastor of a church with attendance over 1,000. This is especially striking when you learn that NAMB currently lists 30 staff doing marketing and event planning! At the state convention level, NAMB has also slashed evangelism funding for personnel, so that we have a fraction of the national evangelism leaders and far fewer evangelism implementers at the associational and state level.
Evangelism funding was reduced because, NAMB argued, the best way to do evangelism is to start new churches. While that can be debated, there is no debate that evangelistic funding from NAMB was intended to serve all 47,000 SBC affiliated churches, while church planting funding focuses only on church plants. Most evangelism is done by established churches because that’s where the vast majority of our people worship – common sense! But we are experiencing a disastrous drop in the number of new believers following Jesus in baptism. Baptisms have plummeted to a level not seen in more than 70 years. In 2015 we dropped below 300,000 baptisms for the first time since 1947, and in 2017 a total of 254,122 persons were baptized. This is a drop of 24 percent from 2011 when 333,000 were baptized. There is almost no living memory of a time Southern Baptists baptized so few. As seen in the chart below, we are currently experiencing the steepest decline in baptisms in recorded SBC history (source is the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Vol. 1 No 2, Fall 2003 and SBC Annuals).
The extreme reduction in cooperation between NAMB and state conventions, including the elimination of funding for hundreds of associational and state convention positions, has greatly reduced the ability of local Southern Baptist denominational entities (state conventions and local associations) to serve the needs of our churches, which is partly why we are experiencing serious decline (including a decline in Annual Church Profile reporting because of fewer associational and convention employees working to get the information). In the Northwest Baptist Convention our convention staff is less than half the number that we were in 2009. Believing the incendiary charge that state conventions were “bloated bureaucracies,” a handful of influential SBC leaders and influencers pushed for state conventions to give more cooperative dollars to the national SBC (a 50/50 split was called for), and NAMB reduced funding to state conventions at the same time. These actions, and the accusations that were hurled toward state conventions, have done great damage to relationships, destroyed trust, and damaged our ability to start churches and engage in a cooperative evangelism effort. Both church plant numbers and baptisms plummeted following the changes that began in 2010, which, ironically, was the year the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations were adopted at the SBC in Orlando, FL, and in which the GCR called for “the phasing out of Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state conventions. Unfortunately, no effective cooperative strategy has replaced the cooperative agreements, thus we have become less effective at planting churches and doing evangelism than we were prior to the GCR. I’ve recently noticed that others, too, have recognized the need for recovery in the SBC, including those behind the Reform NAMB Now movement (www.reformnambnow.org).
Some think that talking openly and honestly about the fact of our decline, and the reasons for it, is “not helpful.” Some fear that if Baptists are told the truth it will demotivate cooperative giving. Apparently they weren’t taught the old Baptist axiom “trust the Lord and tell the people.” Transparency is vital. The truth of the matter is critical if we are to build and maintain trust. Unity without truth enables bad behavior. The people who support the work have a right to know the truth. They deserve an honest reporting of our present condition, and an honest and open debate, even if some leaders find it unhelpful to themselves.
Some might also think that because our entities are governed by trustees elected at the annual meeting of the SBC that it is unnecessary and counterproductive to discuss these matters in a public forum. But I believe that SBC trustees need to hear from rank-and-file, pew-sitting Baptists whose tithes are paying the bills. “Brett and Brianna Baptist” should not be kept in-the-dark about the issues and how their Cooperative Program mission’s dollars are being spent. Trustee boards operate best when the SBC constituency knows the issues and can discuss the issues with the trustees. Trustees represent Southern Baptist people and Southern Baptist Churches. They do not represent the entity on whose board they sit. Therefore, trustees need to hear from an informed constituency.
So, what can we do to build back trust and cooperation at all levels of the SBC? First, we must be open and honest about our present condition and not suppress “negative information” out of fear that Baptists cannot handle the truth. SBC entities need to present the reality of their situation and not merely provide reports that highlight the positives and conceal the challenges and failures. State conventions and associations must do the same. Acknowledging reality, and dealing with things as they really are, is where leadership begins. God’s people can handle the truth. What they cannot handle, and what they deeply resent, is the truth being concealed and covered up.
Second, building trust and cooperation requires selecting leaders who believe in the cooperative system, including the cooperative funding system that made the SBC the greatest missionary denomination we have ever known. Southern Baptists have some pastors who are effective leaders for their church, but they are not effective leaders denominationally because they do not sufficiently believe in, or participate in, the Cooperative Program method of funding our ministry and the cooperative structure that we have established locally, statewide, and nationally. Most Southern Baptists worship in churches of less than 200 on Sunday. These churches give the most money to cooperative missions and they send the most missionaries. They believe in, and practice, cooperative missions. We need leaders who understand this and celebrate the cooperative efforts and sacrifices of these churches. This doesn’t mean large-church pastors can’t lead the SBC – not at all! But it does mean these pastors need to believe in the cooperative method of missions from which we have benefitted for 90 years. If our missionary methods don’t capitalize on the combined strength of the 99 percent of our churches which have fewer than 1,000 on Sunday, we will continue to decline and fail to accomplish all that we could for the glory of God. In 2017 Southern Baptist churches gave $475 million to missions through the Cooperative Program and $215 million through the two national mission offerings. Those churches that strongly support the Cooperative Program need SBC leaders who do the same. SBC leaders must be able to look pastors in the eye and say, “imitate me” regarding Cooperative Program giving. If an SBC leader cannot do that, he’s like a pastor who implores his people to give generously while he gives miserly.
Third, we must return to a cooperative system between NAMB and state conventions that prioritizes a church planting and evangelism strategy that is formed and led mostly by those closest to the field of ministry. How can leaders in Alpharetta, GA know what’s best for Syracuse or Chicago or Seattle or Anchorage, not to mention the thousands of smaller communities that are inevitably overlooked by everyone except those who actually live there? This includes both church planting and evangelism strategies. In the name of planting more churches NAMB has exploded the church planting budget and slashed the evangelism budget. The result is far fewer churches being planted and a collapse in total baptisms. I believe this decline in church plant numbers is largely the result of a top-down national strategy that has reduced missionary boots-on-the-ground, ignored the input and pleas of local leaders, and destroyed the trust we once enjoyed between national and state convention leaders. It’s not working and the numbers tell the story. Actually, the numbers tell part of the story. The rest is told by the wreckage done to relationships and families in the implementation of this terribly flawed strategy.
Is the SBC still worthy of our support? Absolutely. We no longer have 5,600 international missionaries, but we still have 3,500 fully-funded missionaries and no other network of churches comes close to that number. Presently we are not starting 1,200 to 1,500 churches each year, but no other network started the 691 churches that SBC churches did in 2017. Can God rescue us and revive us and bless us once again? Without question He can. He’s done it many times before. But it’s a fact that churches die, movements die, and denominations have died too. It is not inevitable that we recover our former effectiveness, and it’s not even certain that we will survive for another generation. God’s plan is certain. He will prevail. Of that we can be certain. But whether the SBC continues to play a leading role in His plan is yet to be determined.
For now, we need prayer and repentance. We must execute a turnabout, spiritually, relationally, and strategically. Good organization and strategy won’t move the heart of a holy God. Only hearts directed toward Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, will bless God and cause His face to shine upon us. If we do that individually, we’ll be all right, come what may. As far as the SBC goes, a recovery program requires building trust, respect, and true partnership founded upon truth and acknowledging reality. If we can do this, we can recover and experience vitality once again.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 9, 2018) — I should have said something.
Tears flowed freely a few years ago when I sat at a table surrounded by women my age attending an event for veterans learning to engage in small business.
We were surrounded by dozens of younger women, many of whom were taking a stand against military sexual assault. After listening to the first female Secretary of the Air Force, they were discussing chain of command and who is overall responsible for providing a safe place for people to serve.
That day I was clobbered with intrusive thoughts that would not stop. I could feel the anguish of the young women – my own desperate heartbeat – shame and fear all wrapped in one.
If I had just told my story earlier and made someone pay. Made the man who assaulted me pay. The thoughts came as freely as the tears I tried to hide behind a large napkin.
Running to the elevator, I mostly bee-hived the remainder of the conference, trying to avoid crowds and loud people.
It’s as if every man who had ever wronged me had become “him” – the man who was my supervisor in the Navy and a deacon in the local Baptist church. He was the man whose children I babysat, the man whose wife I chatted with at baseball games on base.
I realized he was the reason I panicked months earlier every time my new boss insisted on sitting close to me at my desk or trustees reached out to touch or pat me condescendingly after they let me know they didn’t professionally respect me.
And when the presidential election forced me to read story after story of sexual harassment and women’s issues I became more deeply entrenched in wanting revenge – especially when I learned that military sexual trauma continues to be a huge disgrace in our fallen world.
And then came a more intimate knowledge of domestic violence after a close relative divorced her husband and began the fight of her life to get fair time with her two-year-old twins.
I learned more than I wanted to know about the church and its failure to hold women up. I learned there is still so much judgment for victims, so much asked of the same women who some say are the “weaker vessel” and who must be “protected.” I learned there is a valuable lesson in listening and remembering what people say versus what they do.
Thirty some years ago the military was not a culture where I could report my assault, as an 18-year-old, and feel that I would be taken seriously. My fear that my superior would minimize his attack or even punish me for it was also overshadowed by my suspicion that his assault was part of a test for my security clearance and I needed to keep quiet in order to prove my understanding of a “loose lips sinks ships” climate.
I realize now that my fear, although real at the time, was just that, fear. Honestly, that fear also was driven by the fact that I was ashamed of having been called in to speak with my superior about being out too late the night before. I was embarrassed. So he used his power to keep me quiet after he overpowered me.
That is what the #MeToo movement is all about.
Sure, there are times I would like to put a “face” on someone and “name,” in order to call attention to the issue and to also help others who might have been attacked or are in danger. But unlike Megan Lively in the Southeastern Seminary situation, who told the Biblical Recorder recently that she “honestly felt like if people could put … a face and a name with a story, it made it real,” I would like to put the name and face with the person who attacked me. And I would if I could.
Who will I hold accountable otherwise?
Will it be the Officer In Charge (OIC) in charge of Corry Naval Air Station? Or perhaps the Secretary of the Navy? Maybe the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the President himself?
Maybe I should hold accountable the citizens of the United States of America who have allowed an atmosphere for this type of crime to be perpetuated on its women (and men) for far too long with little repercussion? Indeed, that would be about changing a culture, something I would hope that every one of us as believers are about.
The fact that the chief who attacked me was a deacon in the church is perhaps the toughest part sometimes to deal with. That sense of betrayal was the strongest, but for some reason I never thought to hold anyone in the local church accountable — but put the blame squarely on the two people who were in that room.
I am still learning how to forgive myself for having ever landed in his office, and him for his awful misdeeds.
Hold your children tight. Hold each other tight. Cherish and value each other and love and behave in the nature of Christ. Speak with kindness and grace. Hold each one accountable where we fail. But stop short of spewing hypocritical words about protecting women and children while leaders, ministers, teachers, wives, and families are torn apart by denominational politics.
The #MeToo movement deserves more than the SBC.
Remember protection (in addition to reporting criminal activity to local law enforcement) can mean counseling, therapy, and a means to overcome the ravages of assault as well.
Stop preaching that “church discipline” and prayer is the only recourse for those involved while we don’t hesitate to use worldly business practices for separation agreements with “non-disclosure” statements, employment contracts, and to file non-profit tax status for our churches.
Stop preaching that “church discipline” and prayer is the only recourse for those involved while we seek out dentists, doctors and florists for our health and professional needs.
Those who won’t testify, won’t stand up against, and won’t defend those who need defense, and those who are the perpetrators — are the ones who should be held liable.
FORT WORTH (June 9, 2018) — Scott Colter, chief-of-staff for embattled former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, June 9 said he learned June 8 his position with Southern Baptist’s largest seminary had been “eliminated.”
“It has been one great honor,” Colter tweeted, outlining his 11 year tenure at SWBTS which includes his rising through the ranks of nine positions while pursuing a PhD, and earning the bachelor’s and master of divinity degrees.
I have been @swbts for 11 yrs. Earned a BA, MDiv, & pursuing PhD. Live here, married here, had first child here. Was promoted through 9 positions – ultimately served as chief of staff to president. Learned yesterday my position is being eliminated. It has been one great honor.
— Scott Colter ✒️ (@ScottColter) June 9, 2018
The SWBTS Board of Trustees Executive Committee announced Wednesday, May 30:
During the May 30, 2018, Executive Committee meeting of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) Board of Trustees, new information confirmed this morning was presented regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.
Deeming the information demanded immediate action and could not be deferred to a regular meeting of the Board, based on the details presented, the Executive Committee unanimously resolved to terminate Dr. Paige Patterson, effective immediately, removing all the benefits, rights and privileges provided by the May 22-23 board meeting, including the title of President Emeritus, the invitation to reside at the Baptist Heritage Center as theologian-in-residence and ongoing compensation.
The Friday previously, May 22, the full board of trustees of the seminary had met in an emergency 13 hour session and announced the following, in part, May 23:
After much prayer and a more than 13-hour discussion regarding challenges facing the Institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity, the Board determined to move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary.
The board passed a motion through a majority vote to appoint Dr. Patterson as President Emeritus with compensation, effective immediately, which he accepted. In addition, the board passed a motion to affirm the trustees’ September 2017 offer for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, scheduled to be completed in July 2018.
May 31 Colter’s wife, Sharayah, who is a journalist, graphic designer and seminary student, released a letter in which she said was not prompted by anything but her friendship with the Patterson’s and a release of facts in light of further accusations.
Within days SWBTS chairman of the board Kevin Ueckert released a statement justifying Patterson’s termination. In the May 30 statement, he claimed the board had new information about an alleged sexual assault at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003 (when Patterson served there as president) and allegations of sexual assault at SWBTS in 2015. In addition, Uekert cited a new dispute between Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Paige Patterson over the ownership of certain documents.
The dispute over the documents apparently arose when, as Sharayah Colter indicated in her letter, Paige Patterson, and his wife Dorothy, were away from their residence to fulfill a preaching conference assignment in Germany. Uekert’s statement notes, “SWBTS located Southeastern documents on the SWBTS campus and began taking steps to preserve them.”
Presumably, the documents in question were “located” after the seizure of the Patterson’s personal papers and archives, according to the timing in Sharayah Colter’s letter:
Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.
Hours after Scott Colter tweeted his message, Sharayah Colter tweeted:
A great honor indeed! What a treasure it has been to serve the Lord at Southwestern under the leadership of Dr. & Mrs. Paige Patterson. Grateful for the lasting friendships, the myriad memories and the invaluable lessons. I’ll remember it with a full heart. https://t.co/liQYm9uE4C
— Sharayah Colter (@SharayahColter) June 9, 2018
In 2015 Scott Colter preached a sermon at SWBTS chapel on compassion.
In the sermon, he encouraged students and faculty to imitate God’s compassion towards people, as illustrated in the book of Jonah.
“Arise, Southwestern, and go. The word of the Lord came to us today. The question is this: Where is your Nineveh?”
Months ago I received an unsolicited and very unexpected text message.
Its warning was clear and yet I had done nothing to draw the attention of a colleague late on a Thursday night, clearly after hours, and when I was enjoying a meal with my family.
My transgression, it appeared, was to write a rather lengthy and rambling analysis about events that had taken placed weeks before at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, and finally put them into a historic and current context. A sort of “state of the denomination,” if you will, released on my newly published website.
“The Truth IS in Crisis” was meant to cause people to ask questions about the Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders. As a reporter and editor for more than two decades, I had finally felt compelled to write on subjects of which I have particular insight and information.
The text followed a series of messages from earlier in June when an employee of the North American Mission Board was directing me to the correct hotel location of the NAMB full board meeting hours after I had been given a runaround about the location – following a terse email.
It’s frankly disappointing to think any trustees duly elected and entrusted with an SBC entity (or its employees) would operate with anything less than full transparency.
Perhaps more on that later.
But, for now, the message:
“Joni – I think you have put yourself into a potentially libelous situation. I am asking you and encouraging you in the strongest way possible to remove what you have posted about Kevin. I wish you had called to discuss this with me ahead of time.”
For starters, the timing of the TEXT MESSAGE, not email. I rarely correspond by text with this person, or any person, and in fact, have only in case of urgency – like trying to discover the location for a meeting that should have been well-established, but somehow escaped publication and was not available in the SBC newsroom.
The offending text is marked 8:38 p.m. (EST), June 26, 2018. This was just hours after I published my news analysis, “Was SBC #metoo resolution on abuse a band aid for larger issues?”
To “ask” or “encourage” me “in the strongest way possible” to remove a story about “Kevin,” is somewhat confusing. I would never presume to refer to Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, as “Kevin,” but instead, most know I reference people by their titles or by “Bro.”
This only leads me to believe the person was on very familiar terms with “Kevin” himself. To begin the message by telling me I might have put myself into a “potentially libelous situation,” actually made me laugh. Sort of. The sinister sounding legalese would be more humorous if I hadn’t already endured threats and intimidation by my own board at the now defunct Florida Baptist Witness, Inc. (newspaper) just a few years ago after voluntarily resigning.
Finally, there was the bit about calling someone to discuss information that has been published and online for more than a decade. None of the information that I used about Kevin Ezell is new. What was new was my informed analysis, the climate, and the remark concerning the resolution on abuse by the chairman of the resolutions committee.
It is time for Southern Baptists to be aware good people are being threatened. Intimidation is cloaked by honey-tongued individuals who warn people to “pray” and not “gossip” so the Kingdom is not hurt.
People are banished from social media accounts of highly compensated SBC leaders and pastors and those with influence use a newfound love of public relations to bandage over a once blessed missions powerhouse which is hemorrhaging and ill.
Like an ousted pastor once told me (that interview never saw the light of day); people who don’t know God will think more positively about honest people who point out the sin in their own midst than people who act as if they are perfect.
Stop with the slick, shiny, crunchy granola façade before it’s too late. Stop with the platitudes and the half-baked apologies and knocking knees.
Our children and our grandchildren deserve better. We deserve better.