For decades, Southern Baptist leaders rolled their eyes whenever there were headlines about clergy sexual abuse cases.
That was -- wink, wink -- a Catholic thing linked to celibate priests. Then there were those mainline Protestants, and even some evangelicals, who modernized their teachings on marriage and sex. No wonder they were having problems.
This was a powerful, unbiblical myth that helped Southern Baptists ignore their own predators, said SBC President J.D. Greear, during a recent national conference hosted by the denomination's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the new SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group.
"The danger of this myth is that it is naive: It relegates abuse to an ideological problem, when it should be most properly seen as a depravity problem. … It fails to recognize that wherever people exist in power without accountability abuse will foster," said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church near Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
"What part of society has not been affected? It happens on Wall Street, in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, in academic institutions, sports programs, Catholic and Protestant churches, liberal and conservative," he added. "I want to say something as an evangelical to evangelicals: We evangelicals should have known this. Didn't Jesus say there would be wolves in sheep's clothing that would come into the flock in order -- not to serve the flock -- but to abuse the flock?"
The shameful truth, said Greear, is that victims inside America's largest Protestant flock tried -- in recent decades -- to awaken SBC leaders. Then alarms sounded last February when the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed that several hundred Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers had been accused of sexual abuse, with 700-plus victims.
This created another myth -- that these news reports marked the beginning of the crisis. Some Southern Baptists, said Greear, also suggested that victims should learn to practice forgiveness, implying that their cries for justice were "attacks from adversaries, instead of warnings from friends."
The SBC president became emotional at this point: "It's wrong to categorize someone as 'just bitter' because they raised their voice when their important warnings were not heeded. Anger is an appropriate response -- a BIBLICAL response -- in that circumstance. …