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The church is to be a place of healing, not hurt

For those who pay attention to the inner-workings of the Southern Baptist Convention, there has been plenty of drama lately.

Much of it surrounds how it has dealt with allegations of sexual abuse within churches or the denomination’s leadership.

One of the group’s leaders was accused of not handling an allegation properly and was eventually relieved of his duties at a large seminary. There was also an allegation that the denomination’s missions branch did not adequately handle an allegation of sexual abuse against a pastor/missionary. Women have also come forward to accuse church leaders of not simply failing to report abuse, but perpetuating it.

Those instances, and others, have awakened some in the denomination to problems many assumed happened outside the church, not within.

The problem, at least as I see it, is that too many leaders within churches — of all kinds, not just Southern Baptists —are quick to denounce any allegation against a powerful man as gossip, or hearsay, or unproven, or false. Too often, the response is not sympathy and understanding toward the alleged victim, who often is a woman. The victim is instead shamed, isolated and asked to meet a threshold for evidence that would be unreasonable in a court of law.

This cannot be how God desires his church to operate.

No one is pretending that churches are immune to sin — or crime. But it’s the way these matters are handled that is troubling.

Imagine being a victim of assault at the hands of a pastor or church member, finding the courage to bring those allegations forward, and learning that the church’s response is not support and encouragement, but rather shame and humiliation.

It does not paint a picture of a church concerned with justice, or love, or compassion. Instead, it paints a picture of a church concerned with preserving power.

The church must be a place where the abused, the hurt and the scared can feel safe. A church — or pastor — who puts the needs of those people below their own is a church that fails its mission. And it’s not only that church — or pastor — that is harmed by those actions, but the Church at-large.

Every failing of this magnitude harms the Church’s witness, reinforces the notion that all Christians are hypocritical at their core, and makes it more difficult for the Church to take a stand against immorality.

Sin within the leadership of any church is troubling, but the hesitancy to confess it and ask for forgiveness — and the attempts to discredit the accusers — does more harm. When faced with allegations, church leaders would be wise to put the Gospel first and themselves last.

Thankfully, an effort is underway to solve some of these problems. The denomination is forming a study group to address sexual abuse. Part of its efforts will be to ensure that Southern Baptists can take “discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.”

“Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core, and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the denomination. “Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues. We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis.”

Moore is right.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.