For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3
The movie Mississippi Burning chronicles the details of racial unrest in the southern part of the state during the 1960s. As the FBI begins to close in on the KKK, one of them says, “Looks like the rattlesnakes are starting to commit suicide.” And rattlesnakes turning on one another has to be an absolutely hideous sight.
Sometimes I feel that way as a Baptist. It seems that I (and many other people I know) can be pretty quick to criticize and call out those with whom we disagree. Since none of us are Saints, it’s pretty arrogant to jump the gun in our critique of other churches who may have nothing in common other than sharing the name Baptist and the classification as Christian.
Then again, issues seem to keep coming up that demand a response, from all of us. One of those has occurred at Prestonwood Baptist, one of the “crown jewels” of the Southern Baptist Convention. It boasts over 20,000 members and the pastor, Jack Graham, has been there for over twenty years. Graham has also been president of the Southern Baptist convention, and he is one of the keynote speakers at the 2013 gathering.
Graham is also in the middle of what could be–and perhaps should be–a massive scandal.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX is now facing the story of a former minister who has admitted to sexually abusing young boys. There are numerous allegations that the church staff knew of the allegations and concealed them for 20 years while the minister moved on to other churches and other opportunities to abuse children.
The church has been strangely silent about all of this, as has the leadership of the SBC.
It seems a little strange that Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary in Louisville and an SBC “kingpin,” has nothing to say on this issue. Mohler was more than happy to share his thoughts on the Sandusky scandal at Penn State, but has no comment when a church in his own denomination is involved.
It’s extremely strange that the convention who opposes everything from homosexuality to drinking to dancing to card playing has chosen to remain silent, and is featuring a pastor who presided over the scandal. The convention has passed resolutions against everything from Masonic Organizations to Democrats. So what is keeping them from speaking out against child sexual abuse (and those who cover it up)?
The answer is fairly simple: Self-righteousness.
Hate to say what I’ve already said, but we love to pick on sins that are not our sins. It’s a little tougher to turn and look at ourselves in the mirror to engage our own flaws.
When you spend a lot of your time and energy in judgment of other people, you have to work that much harder to keep your own nose clean. It couldn’t be that you might be sinful too, could it?
By setting themselves up as the arbiters of what is sinful and what is not, SBC leaders and their “golden boys” like Jack Graham have created an environment where they MUST cover their own sins, even those as heinous as sexual abuse. If a pastor who was on the convention agenda came out and admitted to being gay, he would be stricken from the program without delay.
But when overwhelming evidence emerges that a pastor/church covered an awful scandal, then the “rattlesnakes” are strangely silent when one of their own might have made a mistake.
Their silence speaks volumes. There is nothing more telling or more damaging than “circling the wagons” to protect one of your own and deceive people in the name of “pastoral authority” when “their” sins suddenly become your sins.
The problem with producing a Christianity based on condemning sin is that “accountability” rapidly becomes arrogance. It makes us think of ourselves “more highly than we ought to” because we can accuse others to avoid cleaning up the dirt in our own house.
In other words, we focus so much on the sins of others that we lose any ability to have “sober judgment” about ourselves.
And when we lose that ability, we lose our credibility with the people who trust in us. Much worse yet, we lose any credibility to point people towards the Christ in whom they should trust the most.
If the SBC is going to “rattle” at everyone else, they had better recognize the damage that they are doing to one another with their venom. Beyond that, those of us that are a part of the Baptist family–whether we are immediate family or distant cousins–need to make sure that our own houses are clean on these issues.
Failure to protect the children that are under our care and speak up on their behalf will make a circus bigger than anything produced in State College, PA. We bear a much greater responsibility than any football program ever did, and we claim a Lord and Savior that forbids us to look the other way.
If we do not remove this poison, it will be suicide for a lot of churches beyond Plano, TX.