Over the weekend, a devastating exposé of abuse and cover up in circles of fundamental, independent Baptist churches was published on the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Sarah Smith writes story after story of victims who were silenced by shame, intimidation, or fear of reprisal from the people they had been taught to respect and obey without question.
It's been tragic to not only read the testimonies, but also to see the attempts to silence and discredit the victims as gold diggers, plants, or worst of all agents of Satan.
In the aftermath and rubble of this awful reveal, those of us who lead in churches have to know and learn a few things.
1. We can no longer afford to be naive - When we pretend that things like this could never happen to us, we have set ourselves up for a horrific fall. Fundamental Independent Baptist churches have a wide reputation for legalism, shunning, and power. But so do many of our circles. We can't ever assume that abuse, assault, or sexual predation is a "them" problem.
2. We cannot ignore or solve problems ourselves - One of the mistakes that many churches make when they are confronted with allegations of misconduct is they try to handle things internally. I don't question the motive of most churches and pastors with this. There is no seminary class that teaches how to handle these situations. Or some think they can solve the problem themselves by treating it as a church discipline issue. We cannot do that. One story I know was that a victim came forward, was questioned by the pastor, and then was ignored until a second victim surfaced. Pastor, when confronted with an allegation of abuse or potential criminal conduct, call the authorities.
3. We must protect ourselves - The rule is simple guys, if it's not yours, keep your hands off. That goes for money, women, power, etc. You do not play lightly with fire. You do not put yourself in compromising situations. And you, under no circumstance, give a foothold for any kind of impropriety.
4. We can't tolerate abusers - Sadly, in far too many cases of abuse or misconduct, the church takes the side of the accuser and in many instances leaves the victims out to dry. There is a place for pastoral care and love towards the accused, but it never comes at the expense of the victim. If victims of sexual abuse or misconduct do not feel safe in our church, do not feel they are protected and loved, it really doesn't matter what our policy manual says. Those alleged to abuse must be removed from any roles, reported to authorities, and if necessary terminated from employment.
5. We must listen to victims - The reason why many women fail to report what happened to them? They're not believed. Or even heard. Our sisters in Christ are pleading for their pain to be heard, for their voice to be believed. The pain they live with, the scars they bear, are not something to be brushed off as "boys will be boys" or an "innocent mistake."
Let's pray for those who have experienced abuse in our churches. Let's pray for those who abused that they would repent, answer to justice, and be part of redemption. But above all, let's never allow this kind of rampant abuse to happen under our watch.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.