This week the Southern Baptist Convention has been ALL over the news sadly for terrible news. As someone who deals with spiritual abuse, sexual abuse in the church, and other atrocities within religious circles, I wanted to offer some professional insight for churches and pastors. SO, if you read this and go to church, please share it with your pastor and church leaders.
First of all let me say that I grew up Southern Baptist (SB) and have a lot of respect for the foundation by which I was raised. As of now, I consider myself someone on the spectrum between a SB and a charismatic. Ultimately, for me this means I am a lover of God’s word and stand on it as absolute truth and I trust the Holy Spirit to guide me daily to adhere to the Word. Secondly, I like to say that I have many SB pastor friends and family members who are amazing, godly men who have never harmed a women sexually. However, thirdly, I strongly believe every church needs to respond to the tragic news of the week…Even if you are in the SBC.
Here’s how I propose to handle it.
1-Do not shy away from the subject. Every pastor and every church should acknowledge the failures of the SBC regardless if something has happened in your church or not. By “acknowledge it,” I mean just that, you may simply only need to mention it to your congregation as a first step. HOWEVER, DO NOT act like it didn’t happen this week in the news. I promise you will lose a lot of respect if you don’t at least mention it THIS Sunday.
2-Have a policy for your congregation for how to address issues should they ever arise related to sexual abuse. This may mean you start with the basics and learn the definition of sexual abuse. Don’t assume you know…
3-Pray for the victims, the pastors, the congregations and everyone involved. Pray for healing, confession, and redemption. Also whether you are a complimentarian, equalitarian, etc. treat women with the respect they are due. They are daughters of the King of Kings.
4-Teach on the subject matter (not just once). God outlines how to treat others in Scripture. We are taught in Ephesians 5 that men are to honor their wives as their own bodies… 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-6 states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” We are taught to love one another period. Just like I teach my kids about what is and is not appropriate regarding sexual matters and touch, pastors should be preaching on how to treat others and how to help victims.
5-Offer support for victims. Find counselors and others who can help victims you come into contact with. Do not shame victims. Lovingly come alongside victims. Give victims a safe space to be vocal about concerns.
6-Offer support for REPENTANT perpetrators. God is in the redemption business. Often we kick people out instead of lovingly admonishing one another. Find counselors and teachers for perpetrators too.
7-As a pastor or leader, guard your heart, be humble, and surround yourself with those who you allow to call you out and hold you accountable. Beyond sexual abuse in the church from leaders, the main problem I see is narcissistic leaders. I have heard over an over of pastors who cannot take criticism, who are mean-spirited, hot-tempered, etc. As a pastor or leader, you should be SCARED to DEATH of not allowing godly brothers and sisters in Christ hold you accountable and help you stay on guard from yourself, temptations, and the enemy. You are not GOD, you are a minister of the Word and you are held more accountable for being in the position you are in by God. You should walk this out with fear and trembling.
8-Be aware of spiritual warfare and teach on this topic as well. We need to remember who our true adversary is. 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour: Be sober – serious about the fact that you have an enemy who wants to devour you and that is nothing to be nonchalant about! Be vigilant – That means to be on guard. Remind yourself and put your armor on daily. Also teach your congregation how to be on guard and prepare about who the battle is truly against (Ephesians 6).
I truly hope and pray and honestly beg you to respect my thoughts as you seek to push back the darkness in Jesus name,
Dr. Natalie Atwell