For most Canadians, the Southern Baptist Convention is off of our radar. It is because it is an American denomination with very few churches in Canada. But the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant Denomination in North America and accounts for some 21% of evangelical protestants in the U.S. Since I try to pay attention to what is happening in the churches today, the Southern Baptist Convention often catches my attention.
The Southern Baptists recently had their annual meeting. This year, among other things, they approved a resolution encouraging all of their churches to “permanently” disqualify individuals who have committed sexual abuse while in the pastorate. While they believe in forgiveness and reconciliation of ministers who are involved in sexual abuse, they recommended that they should never again serve as a lead pastor. Former President of the convention, James Merritt said “We’ve got a big job ahead of us as pastors, I believe, to rebuild credibility and trust in the community.” Nathan Finn, who is chair of the resolutions committee agreed. He said that returning offending pastors to the pulpit “weakens the credibility of the entire office of the pastor”.
As I read those comments, my mind was taken up in
Daniel 6:4–5. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
Daniel’s political opponents wanted to dig of political dirt against him in order to disqualify him from office. As they met to discuss matters, they realized it was a hopeless task. Daniel had been faithful in his duties. His was not a scandal-plagued service. And so, in order to disqualify him, his enemies decided it would have to be on religious grounds. Daniel’s devotion to the God of Israel would become the reason for accusation.
Daniel’s conduct has often served as an example for Christians today. Paul seems to pick this up when he instructs Timothy in the process of selecting elders for the church in Ephesus. In 1 Timothy 3:7, he says,
7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Of course, the only reason to disqualify sexually unclean pastors is not just the reputation of the church and the gospel. The harm that is done to the victims is always of great concern. When people go to church, they should have the assurance that they are safe under their pastor’s care. But the reputation of the gospel is also at stake. It’s hard to proclaim the gospel as the solution for sin-cursed humanity when those that proclaim it are leading secretive evil lives. And of course, all pastors sin. But some sins are so egregious, that it hinders any further authentic proclamation of the gospel.
I wondered what others would make of the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution. Because of the structure of the Convention, each Southern Baptist Church functions in a fairly independent fashion. For this reason, such a resolution can’t be binding. But it does carry a great deal of moral authority. Will other churches and denominations follow the lead of the Southern Baptist Convention.
From my perspective, this is high time! Whenever I hear of one more pastor being found in sexual sin, I feel I want to weep. With each sin, the gospel’s impact is being blunted, and the wider society is no longer listening to us. It is time for judgment to begin at the house of God. It’s time for a stronger response to sexual sin in the clergy. Let’s hold Daniel as our example.