J.D. Greear

SBC President J.D. Greear offers blunt sermon on sexual abuse. What happens now?

SBC President J.D. Greear offers blunt sermon on sexual abuse. What happens now?

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. …

A 'disruptive' new leader takes a powerful job in the Southern Baptist Convention

A 'disruptive' new leader takes a powerful job in the Southern Baptist Convention

It's a long way from Storyline Fellowship in Denver's western suburbs to downtown Nashville and a publishing-and-ministry operation the locals have long called the "Baptist Vatican."

That's 1,165 miles, on a map. The cultural gap between the Colorado Rockies and Tennessee seems bigger than that.

Storyline Fellowship is the congregation that the Rev. Ben Mandrell and his wife, Lynley, started in their living room in 2014, helping it grow into a modern evangelical flock with 1,600 members in a revamped Walmart facility. That's the kind of challenge church planters accept when working as missionaries outside the Southern Baptist Convention's heartland in the Bible Belt.

Now the 42-year-old Mandrell has jumped from the SBC frontier into one of the most high-profile jobs in America's largest Protestant flock -- serving as the new president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. That's the complex publishing, research and media company, with about 4,000 employees, that in simpler times as called the Sunday School Board.

Bible classes remain on the agenda, stressed Mandrell. But so are many other ministries that symbolize a new reality that all religious leaders will have grasp, one way are the other: The good old days of safe, predictable church work are gone.

"Not that we're not doing what we used to do" in terms of publishing materials used for Sunday Bible classes and other familiar forms of outreach, said Mandrell, in a telephone interview.

"But we're have to do so much more because America is getting so complex and diverse. … We have to keep asking our church leaders, 'What do you need us to provide for your tool boxes to do the work that you now know that you have to do?' "

This era of rapid change led to obvious changes -- including the series of explosions on January 6, 2018, that leveled the 12-story LifeWay tower, with its iconic giant stone crosses, that loomed over one corner of downtown Nashville. LifeWay moved to smaller, modernized facilities close to the Tennessee State Capitol.