Why would I give advice to leaders and members in the Southern Baptist Convention?
As a part of the larger Body of Christ, I am concerned about what seems to me to be a pivot point in the SBC’s trajectory. The SBC has many positive elements to its legacy. However, as an association of autonomous local churches and Cooperative Program entities, it has fallen short overall in systemic ways that corrode the credibility of the whole and the parts, the mission and the message. While some may dispute those conclusions, the details behind them have been making their way into the light for a very long time — and especially in the past few months.
As a futurist, two of my main concerns are always:
(1) to equip individuals and groups to discern and decide the most preferable pathway forward, and
(2) to give constructive reasoning and resources for having hope.
As a Christian futurist, I seek to have all I do steeped in an understanding of Christlikeness and what it means for us to serve as His disciples and as “people of peace” who treat all others with dignity as individuals; with impartiality toward any group demographics, whether those are socially considered preferred or stigmatized; and with hospitality in welcoming them to see who Jesus Christ is and what a community of disciples looks like.
From all I believe I know about organizational systems and problems of toxicity, I am convinced that the SBC is at a critical moment in its history. If destructive patterns that have become especially evident in recent times are not addressed, I do not see much possibility for health and sustainability going forward. I am venturing to give advice in these suggestions and links, because what happens with your body of believers affects us all.
Who am I to give advice to leaders and members in the Southern Baptist Convention?
Although I view myself as a Christian disciple first of all and an Anabaptist in theology second, for most of the past 25 years, I have been almost exclusively associated with SBC congregations. I was first in an SBC church plant in 1978, and have been involved on the teams of eight church plants and ministry start-ups, primarily SBC, since the mid-1990s. I was in the first cohort of Nehemiah Project church-planter associates, and later was certified as a Level 1 church planter candidate assessment and did the self-study materials for Level 2. For several years early on in the 2000 decade, I evaluated the speaking portions of candidates assessments.
I later shifted my emphasis from church planting to social entrepreneurship/ministry start-ups. I created and facilitated several teamwork exercises that simulate cultural exegesis and contextualization. I am also one of three co-authors of The Transformational Index, a tool with over 50 qualitative indicators of social impact that can be used for project/organizational planning, implementation, evaluation, and revision.
I also worked at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary from 1996-2007, serving for several years each in five different departments, plus doing specialized publication projects for two others. I worked constantly with confidential student, alumni, and institutional files and databases. I also wrote departmental procedure manuals, helped transition programs from paper-based to digital, edited the seminary catalog, plus edited and indexed the faculty manual. The most detailed project I did involved working through 50 years of Trustee minutes to document every change to the institution’s constitution and by-laws, to ensure that all changes were reflected in the most current version on file with the state. As you can see, much of my work involved infrastructure issues.
Despite all that experience, I do not consider myself an SBC insider, more a relatively knowledgeable observer. Still, that track record – plus my other work with other non-profits since 1973 as a volunteer, including 11 years as a board member – gives me a base for making constructive suggestions about certain organizational issues.
In the midst of systemic issues, what will it take for the SBC to “clean house”?
For the past 10 years, I have posted research writings that deal with spiritual abuse, malignant leaders, and toxic systems. Although I know from my experiences that the concepts and practical indicators about health vs. toxicity are relevant to various kinds of organizations, I had the current SBC situation in mind when I created my Annotated Reader’s Guide to Futuristguy on Abuse Recovery, Advocacy, and Activism. This has over 20 links to articles with concepts and indicators regarding:
- Abuse of power.
- Abuse survivor recovery and advocacy.
- Institutional toxicity.
- Remediation (repair work) and restitution.
- Qualified, unqualified, or disqualified leaders.
From what I’ve been seeing, these are issues I believe the SBC needs to face in 2018. Since late April, I have been tracking the situations involving Paige Patterson, Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries, and a range of responses within the wider SBC to the issues raised there and to others. Once the situation regarding Paige Patterson settled down some, my attentions turned to tracking practical issues where SBC insiders and outsiders were calling on the convention to address. Various commenters were challenging the SBC toward specific changes, if it truly intended to get their house back in order, repair the damages, and regain lost trust.
Understandably, while local SBC churches are autonomous, their reputation is affected by SBC associations. There has been substantive damage done to the SBC’s corporate reputation and trustworthiness as a body, because of a series of credible accusations of abuse of power and other misconduct and malignancies in ministry. And that damage boomerangs right back onto local churches. So, I’ve been wondering: What will it take to “clean house”? And, what could happen in attempting to go forward if you do not clear up the past and present issues first?
The more that comes to light as a result of this “unraveling of revelations,” the deeper and more long-term the cleaning up process will be, it seems to me. I think this is especially true of situations involving abuse, harassment, and violence that have occurred in SBC churches and entities. If there is silence or other forms of shutting down the voices of survivors, I am increasingly convinced the SBC will face investigative reporting in the public spotlight, and potentially even lawsuits. Your theological view may be that believers should not be engaged in taking other believers to court, but sometimes no other options are left to victims when so many leaders have not lived up to their biblical ethics and responsibilities. So, lawsuits may prove inevitable as a last resort for victims of individuals associated with SBC systems. (I have been noting this for several years, in relation to all denominations and associations. See my series of posts on Trends in Survivor Communities for my reasoning behind that conclusion.)
But, the best way to avoid having to face such situations, is to integrate measures that promote protecting the flock from harm, preventing abuse where possible, and taking appropriate steps with legal authorities when there has been abuse, harassment, and/or violence. here are my four specific suggestions for doing what is now necessary to clean house and restore the SBC’s pathway to a more hope-filled, mission-fulfilling future.
1. Deal with past and present actions of people in power against whom there are credible accusations of perpetrating, enabling, and/or covering up: abuse, sexual misconduct, racism, etc. You need to fill in specifics, and SBC insiders are very capable are providing those details. For a framework, see this reference/resource post and its sections on:
- Missing SEBTS Archive Boxes; Publication of Student File Items
- What Does the SBC Need To Do To “Clean House”? Some Views From Around the SBC
- 1. Focus on Abuse, Survivors, #MeToo, #ChurchToo
- 2. Focus on Leadership Diversity, Especially Racial/Ethnic
- 3. Concerns about Mission, Structures, Activities
2. Deal with past and present commendations of people and organizations against whom there is credible evidence of unresolved wrongdoing. The most obvious and contentious entry in this category is C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries/SGM). Survivor communities have posted an enormous amount of documentation plus reasoned critiques of this situation’s history and ongoing issues. The reputation of Mr. Mahaney and SGC will likely continue to accrue to specific SBC entities, like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and even to the SBC as a whole, until there is a conclusive, independent investigation and resolution.
3. Apologize for past and present condemnations of people who, it turns out, have attempted to be of help with #MeToo/#ChurchToo issues, and/or who have been victimized by SBC people in power. A short list of people that the SBC needs to make things right with include the following, and certainly SBC insiders will be able to add more names to this list. (And if you aren’t aware of who these individuals are and why they’re on such a list, it would make a great research exercise to find out!)
- Christa Brown
- Wade Burleson
- Megan Lively
- Amy Smith
- Jules Woodson
4. Learn and apply concept frameworks and practical skills for integrity and justice when there is reported abuse, harassment, sexual misconduct, racist actions, etc. For instance:
- Listen non-defensively to those who report allegations. Don’t negate their narrative or excuse the evidence simply because it may involve an SBC person in power.
- Do not project your anger onto those who may report abuse, because of the responsibility and calls to action and accountability their reports raise for you to take care of.
- Develop a more holistic approach to repentance and reconciliation. “Making things right” is more costly than just “saying the ‘right’ things.” Genuine repentance is demonstrated in action rather than only in verbal apologies.
- Require seminaries to train/certify ALL students regarding intervention and prevention of abuse, harassment, and violence. Also require training/certification on key elements of organizational and non-profit integrity — namely, maintaining accurate and transparent records, and avoiding conflicts of interest and inurement (undue benefits to board members or employees or their family members or friends). The same goes for all board members, administration, and other employees of all SBC institutional entities. This is a crucial part of church/organizational administration, because if your leaders, employees, and volunteers fail here, they put their own credibility and integrity at risk, along with the viability of the church, ministry, or agency they work with.
- Due to local church autonomy, the convention cannot impose any requirements on them. However, they can ensure that all SBC corporate entities enforce standards like mandatory reporting of known/suspected child abuse, and dealing transparently and justly with clergy sexual misconduct. To do otherwise and let a predatory minister go without consequences means corporate culpability.
- Learn about the reasons for commissioning independent investigations instead of attempting to deal with such issues “in-house,” or by declaring them to be “relational reconciliation” issues when they are in fact institutional toxicity issues.
I believe many from survivor communities would step forward to assist SBC leaders and congregants with such issues, if invited. There has been extensive development of theologically-sound personal and pastoral resources over the past few decades to help you deal with issues like these. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, only decide to engage the challenge of getting on board and moving forward.
Thank you for reading this post, and I hope you have found something of help in it.