Americans have seen a sea change recently with sexually abused women coming out of their closets and identifying unscrupulous men in entertainment, journalism, sports, and a small stirring among academia. Watch for much more in that area. What will really shock people is when it reaches the Protestant and Baptist churches.
Roman Catholics experienced a major scandal in recent years that is still reverberating even behind the Vatican walls. It is commendable that the media have been willing to deal thoroughly with that issue after years of delay. It is not honest or honorable if Protestant pastors come to the defense of an erring pastor while being critical of the massive Roman Catholic sex scandal. That is pure hypocrisy, but then hypocrites are found in all races, regions, ranks, and religions.
However, the giant elephant in the room is the non-Catholic churches that range from Adventists to Zion Christians, especially the very visible megachurches. It is my opinion that there are thousands of pastors who take advantage of church members and staff. Alas, many of the victims are young girls — and boys! No doubt, the problem extends to the evangelical seminaries and universities.
Those pastors (like Roman Catholic priests) use their position, prestige, and power over members to sexually exploit them. Of course, adult women should have screamed to high heaven at the time of the sexual abuse; but later is better than never. The problem is the accused pastors have a right to defend themselves and it is difficult to prove a negative if they are innocent–as many are. The issue is compounded because the ministry demands and denotes such high standards that a false accusation can destroy a pastor. A false accusation is why the Bible demands that a rape victim must scream and fight at the attempted rape if she is to be believed. After all, women can deceive, dissimulate, defame, and debauch just as men can.
Church members are taught that the Bible requires them to forgive their perpetrator so it would be wrong to report them to lawful officials. They are then told that if they report an abusing pastor, they will be responsible for “tearing down the ministry.” Often, the sexually abused members have been in the church for years and have been deeply involved with its growth and often they have received much help from the ministry. How could they do anything to harm a church they love?
Independent Baptists have a problem that Roman Catholics and denominations with a hierarchical ruling system don’t have. Southern Baptists have a similar problem. With Baptists, there is no bishop or pope to move an erring pastor from one church to another to smother the scandal. When a priest goes bad, he is moved from Atlanta to Anchorage and often continues his lechery. Often, the Baptist pastor stays in town, denies everything, hunkers down, and stays in the same pulpit many years. And after a few months or years following the revelation of his sins, he is accepted by his peers as if he was only guilty of speeding! The acquiescing pastors must share some of the guilt when the predator pastor strikes again against an innocent one.
The non-hierarchical way is the Bible way but it is failing in our day because of weakness and vacillation of laymen and pastors. Laymen must hold their pastors accountable, but that very seldom happens–either because of intimidation by the pastor, or love for the pastor, or a desire “not to cause a disruption of the ministry.” Not hurting the church is the excuse leaders use for not dealing with a pastor’s sexual affairs. They often say, “Let God take care of it;” however, God has told the church to take care of it. Most Baptist churches are failing at this and other matters of church discipline.
According to Christianity Today, 61 percent of congregations have forced a pastor to leave–often for moral turpitude. According to a doctoral thesis by a Donald Q. Hicks, a Liberty University Fellow, about 2400 pastors are fired each year in the SBC! That is from the SBC alone! That means a train wreck is about to happen, since the six SBC seminaries have only produced about 1400 graduates each year during the last ten years. Shockingly, over 15,000 pastors are fired (for various reasons) each year from all denominations according to a poll done by George Barna, the Fuller Institute, and others!
If a pastor is fired, the firing church usually does nothing to inform others that they fired a predator preacher. He is free to prey on unsuspecting communities and left free to resume other sexual conquests. All groups, even Baptists, should keep a registry of pastoral offenders to warn churches to stay away from the culprits.
Some abusive pastors go through counseling, usually by a fellow pastor across town, and after a few months, he is pronounced “rehabilitated” and free to reenter the ministry. That rehabilitation back to the pulpit should be repudiated. My friend Jerry Falwell was super gracious and kind and taught that fallen pastors could serve in a church after they had counseling. While he was right in never being alone with an unrelated woman, he was wrong about returning fallen pastors to the pulpit.
Churches are careless in choosing a pastor often without doing any checking! I have been involved in calling a few pastors and always ask them very personal questions. “Have you been married before? Have you ever been sued? How much are you in debt? Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been accused of sexual misconduct?”
I don’t like to kick a man when he is down and I believe in loyalty to friends but when a man commits horrendous sins and presents himself as a man of God (with all that implies) then I consider him my enemy when he proves that he was not what was represented. I have opposed former friends of mine, pastors of large churches, who were guilty of sexual abuse. I have written about it and testified in the Maryland Legislature on sexual abuse by Baptist pastors.
It is time to recognize that there is a “good ole boy” network in church circles where our “heroes” are protected by their peers. After all, we don’t want to appear to be self-righteous or judgmental or unkind or whatever. So we who claim to believe, follow, and preach the Bible have become unbiblical! We are more loyal to sinners than to the Savior!
That great host of Independent Baptist and Southern Baptist pastors who live godly lives are harmed by those who think being a pastor means they can get away with any kind of sin and “work” really hard for God to balance it all out. However doing a great amount of good never negates the evil.
One famous Independent Baptist pastor (himself later charged with indiscretions and adultery) said, “If I walked into [a famous Baptist pastor’s] office and saw him on the floor on top of his secretary, I would assume he was doing mouth to mouth resuscitation, not sinful activity.” That sounds so gracious but it is cultic in thinking, if not in theology.
Laymen who refuse to pursue charges brought against a pastor must accept some responsibility for that pastor’s future indiscretions. Some laymen have been taught that they should not do so. It is supposed to be disloyal to ask a pastor to explain accusations against him! It is time for Christian men to act like men and fulfill their responsibilities as board members and get the facts. If a pastor is guilty, report him to authorities if that is required, then seek to help him and help him find another occupation. He has lost his right to be in the pulpit.
Some suggestions to stop or hinder sexual abuse and false accusations:
All pastors should demand they be held accountable by their church officers. Baptist pastors are super shy about this since the Bible teaches pastoral authority; however, it does not teach dictatorship or unaccountability. I have known pastors who consider any questions as a personal attack. That borders on cultic.
Everyone must realize that preachers are simply humans who are ordained. There are all kinds: highly educated, poorly educated, gracious, grumpy, greedy, generous, all prone to the same failures, foibles, and faults of others. Respect them if they deserve it and flee from them as if your hair were on fire if they are cultic.
No accusation against a pastor should be believed until it is proved beyond a doubt, but all accusations must be investigated. Laymen must deal with charges against a pastor and biblical injunctions must be followed. No pastor is above the law–of God or man.
A pastor should not be in a room with a girl or woman without an open door. It is amazing that this is controversial. It is common sense that even the secular world is starting to recognize! It is not that women are aggressive and not to be trusted; it is that no one is beyond temptation. Furthermore, no one is safe from false accusations.
Offices of pastors and staff should have glass doors or windows so that the office areas are visible. That would eliminate most false accusations.
There are scores of preachers in prison for sex crimes as I write. How many other pastors will join them this year?
Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives. He ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis. He wrote columns for USA Today for eight years. His websites are www.cstnews.com and www.Muslimfact.com andwww.thegodhaters.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.