This report contains real stories of real women who were abused or assaulted. It’s tragic. It’s painful to read. However, the real answer is found in the pages of Scripture and does not require the implementation of new methods, programs, or policies. Women and girls within local churches need to know that men, pastors, and the church as a whole is committed to obeying the Scriptures which address matters of abuse, sin, assaults, and sexual misconduct.
Over the last few years, we have witnessed a barrage of news stories emerge within the Southern Baptist Convention that point to sex scandals, misconduct, and abuse. In 2019, the Houston Chronicle report rocked the SBC world. It revealed 700 cases that spans over a 20 year period.
Although I am no longer a pastor of a church within the SBC, I speak as a pastor who spent many years in the SBC and feels the tension growing rapidly. In short, the criticism I provide in this article comes from a heart of concern.
The 2021 SBC messengers approved to allocate funds from the Cooperative Program for a large scale investigation into the allegations and claims of sex abuse cases. Guideposts was hired as an independent investigative firm, and the SBC is prepared to use up to $4 million dollars on this entire investigation. This is the largest of such investigations in the history of the SBC.
On Sunday, May 22, 2022, the report from Guideposts was published and made available to the world. Needless to say, it was a lengthy detailed bombshell report containing harmful stories of abuse victims and accusations against public figures and well known pastors within the SBC. Since the report was published, there have been many different responses. Obviously, pastors and leaders within the SBC are trying to process this news just a few weeks prior to a decisive presidential election in Anaheim, California.
At this crisis moment, the SBC can make the right choices to move in the direction of biblical sufficiency or the Convention can choose to walk down the pathway of pragmatism. That one decision could change the future of the SBC.
The SBC and Pragmatism
The SBC has a long historical commitment to pragmatism. Not only is the SBC the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with some 47,000 churches, it’s also the most pragmatic denomination. In 1954, the SBC adopted a growth campaign under the slogan ‘Million More in 54’ and the results were extremely harmful. The idea was to grow the SBC by one million members, but the tactics were program driven and pragmatic which led to false conversions. That’s why the SBC witnessed an overflow of unconverted church members rebaptized through the years following that explosive era of church growth models.
Pragmatism is the philosophy that encourages people to make decisions based on whatever will give them positive results. In other words, if it works—do it. Pragmatism originated in 1870s and continues to be a popular means of evaluation and assessment. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that – very broadly – understands knowing the world as inseparable from agency within it. This general idea has attracted a remarkably rich and at times contrary range of interpretations, including: that all philosophical concepts should be tested via scientific experimentation, that a claim is true if and only if it is useful.
Like anabolic steroids offer instant muscular growth to athletes, pragmatism offers church growth success at a much faster rate than a model that is centered upon the Bible alone. Once leaders taste this instant success, they become slaves to it. Rather than focusing on the Scriptures, they begin looking outside of Scripture to arrange their worship services in ways that will attract people to their local church—regardless of what the Bible says.
In 2010, Andy Stanley was invited to address the pastors during the annual Pastors’ Conference of the SBC. Andy Stanley told the story of Chick-fil-A, which originated south of Atlanta. As Stanley tells the story of Chick-fil-A leaders who were trying to figure out how Chick-fil-A could grow faster, he explains how company founder Truett Cathy pounded on the table and said, “I am sick and tired of listening to you talk about how we can get bigger. If we get better, our customers will demand we get bigger.” The entire session was devoted to how pastors could learn from corporate America in making their churches better which would result in the community responding to make their churches bigger.
I recall being there in that session and looking around at a room filled with SBC pastors. What those men needed at that hour was more Scripture and less talk of corporate America. Yet, at every turn the SBC continues to turn to feed pastors pragmatism while promising them good results. It’s put on display and platformed at the SBC Pastors’ Conference and modeled through SBC leadership, Convention programs, and resolutions.
In the wake of the Houston Chronicle report, Beth Moore entered the conversation with an argument that women needed more women in places of leadership so that they could find help in moments of crisis. Moore spoke in Dallas at the ERLC’s Caring Well conference: