My thoughts on the SBC report

Last Sunday was an amazing day in the life of our church.  Our worship services were dynamic and filled with wonderful music, a special recognition of our graduating seniors, and a powerful video testimony from one of our own members.  I’d like to thank Nathan Wood and our student ministry team for helping make the day special for our graduates and their families.  Additionally, I want to thank Lisa Ghera for sharing her story and our Director of Media, Carlos Jordan, for doing an amazing job telling that story through film.  Many hours of unseen work went into that 7-minute video, so I do thank all who were involved and went above and beyond.  Additionally, I want to thank Dr. Todd Stearns, our choir and orchestra, media teams, and all who made our Savior Oratorio such a success.  The music was powerful, inspiring, and so well done.  Thank you for leading us with excellence, and I know everyone that attended was blessed by the immense talent that led us in worship that evening.  It truly was an incredible Sunday and I hope you were able to experience every piece of it.

As electrifying as Sunday morning was, I must admit that late Sunday evening became equally disheartening for completely different reasons.  As many of you know, Guidepost Solutions, a third-party investigative firm, released its Sexual Abuse Task Force Report for the Southern Baptist Convention that evening.  I came home from church Sunday night to read the headlines and began delving through the nearly 300-page report.  It was sickening to read so many instances of convention leadership mishandling reports of abuse, and even worse, mistreating and mischaracterizing the actual victims of abuse.  It appears that some in leadership chose to worry more about protecting the shield than protecting the sheep.  Some were more concerned with legal liability than the moral liability to our Gospel witness.  It was heartbreaking to see prominent leaders called out by name for inexcusable sin, lies, and cover ups.  But most of all, the report brought light to the depth of hurt that many victims have carried in Baptist churches for decades.  It is only appropriate for us to now grieve with those victims this week.  Paul explains that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV).  Just as we should honor and celebrate our brothers and sisters for their successes from last Sunday, we should also suffer and lament with our brothers and sisters around the country who have been carrying years of pain from abuse.

As we process the report with other SBC churches, I do want to remind you of a few key things.  First of all, this report is being called a “bombshell” report by the news.  Indeed, the report is filled with shocking and horrible things, but we must not forget that it was also a “requested” report.  Messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting overwhelmingly voted and demanded for this independent investigation to be conducted this year.  I was personally in the room and voted for it myself.  There has been writing on the wall for several years, and messengers knew it was imperative for SBC churches to receive an unbiased and true assessment of what has been going on behind closed doors.  This is why the report was conducted through a third-party and the attorney-client privilege was waived.  Guidepost was directed to dig deeply and they certainly did.  I think it is important for us to remember the origin of this report because it shows the heart of most Southern Baptists.  Virtually everyone at that annual meeting (and I believe in most SBC churches) want transparency from leadership and desire to do anything and everything to ensure the protection of our congregations.  I believe virtually every SBC member agrees that sexual abuse is detestable, unbiblical, and has no place in our churches.  That heart led to this investigation, and consequently, I believe light has now shined into previously dark places.

Secondly, I want to encourage everyone to pray for the SBC in its next steps.  Make no mistake about it, this report will be the talk of the annual meeting next month.  Many are wondering what are the SBC’s next steps?  The report does offer some guidelines to be considered which I know will be discussed further.  However, the bottom line is there must be reform.  Southern Baptists, a report like this demands a response, and I am hopeful that the SBC will respond accordingly.  Acknowledging mistakes is a vital first step, but it is not the only step.  Corrective measures must be put into place in response.  Paul explains, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV).  Worldly grief is simply feeling bad about the consequences of poor decisions.  It is wallowing in regret and shame about a poor course of action that has led to pain.  Paul says that kind of grief never leads to new life, only death.  However, Godly grief leads to repentance without regret.  As Christians, we are called to identify sin, crucify it with Christ, seek forgiveness, and then seek restoration and redemption through His grace.   My hope and prayer is that this will be the course of action for the SBC.  We must learn from this and do better, plain and simple.  I expect reform and so should you.  I am optimistic that reform will indeed come about because I still believe that is the desire for most Southern Baptists around the world.  I will look forward to hearing from leadership in Anaheim and reporting back afterwards.

Thirdly and finally, I do want to speak towards things here at ABC.  The report was correct in saying Baptist churches are autonomous, and consequently, we do have our own child protection policy that we adhere to. Every volunteer that works with kids is background checked every two years, has been interviewed and trained by staff, and has had personal references checked.  Additionally, every child and student volunteer has been certified through Ministry Safe training, which educates adults on best practices with kids and helps them better understand how to identify signs of abuse and potential predators.  Every staff member has likewise gone through each of these measures including the Ministry Safe training.  Additionally, about a year ago, we installed cameras in every classroom in the preschool and nursery area to provide both accountability and the resource of recorded footage if an incident report ever came up in a classroom.  I would like us to extend this technology to the children’s ministry classrooms as well in due time.  I say all of this not to provide a false sense of security.  The reality is no church or organization can 100% guarantee safety.  We do live in a fallen world, and sin will continue until Christ returns.  However, I am proud to say that we have been consulted by professionals and have implemented many commonsense practices that I believe mitigate risk.  As your pastor, and a father of three children, I want you to know we value the safety of every person on campus, especially our children.  I am proud of our church and I hope you are too.

I know it’s been a hard week for the SBC, and we should pray for our convention and for God to lead us in the next steps.  We do serve a God of redemption and my hope and prayer is that beauty will come from these ashes in His timing.  Thank you for your continued support and prayers, and I pray that all Southern Baptists will continue to unite under the authority of God’s Word, by the Great Commission that drives us, and through the Holy Spirit that unites us.   I look forward to seeing you this Memorial weekend for a special Lord’s Supper Sunday.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Changed – “Living Water” John 4:1-15

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