Are All Pastors Automatically Abusers if They Commit Sexual Immorality? (or what’s wrong with
This post is directly related to the passage of Resolution 5 at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, which can be read in its entirety here. A more accurate title would be, “Are All Pastors Automatically Abusers if They Commit Sexual Immorality With Someone in Their Church?”, but I didn’t want to make it too long.
I read Resolution 5 the first morning of the annual meeting, and it initially drew up a concern in my mind and heart. Upon reading it a second time, I began to question my concern. Thus, when it was time for the resolution to be brought to debate, I was the first in line at microphone 3A to ask a clarifying question to the Resolutions Committee.
While I was waiting, the author of the resolution was given the opportunity to speak in favor of it, and he answered my question. My first impression of the resolution was that its intention was to get Southern Baptists to petition their lawmakers to make laws that would categorize pastors as sexual abusers if they have any sexual contact with anyone in their church, no matter the situation or circumstance. The resolution does not explicitly say that is the intention, but it heavily alludes to it.
Nonetheless, the author of the resolution made it abundantly clear that my first impression was spot on. He wants pastors to be categorized as abusers for sexual encounters in their church no matter the circumstance. I think that is dangerous and unwise. Let me explain why.
One of the arguments made for this points to some states that have similar laws with regards to therapists, physicians, and certain other professions. The default assumption is that those are good laws and should be applied in a blanket fashion to pastors across the country. I, however, do not care what laws any states have passed. Secular governments are usually not great at creating biblical, discerning laws, but they can be good at passing blanket, undiscerning laws. Christ’s church should be even more discerning than our secular counterparts, and such a law would be the opposite.
The argument for those laws in question is that certain professionals hold a unique position of trust and power, creating an unhealthy opportunity for abuse. I wholeheartedly agree with that. Certain jobs (therapist, physical trainer, lawyer, pastor, etc.) can create an unhealthy opportunity for abuse. It is an inappropriate conclusion, though, to say that every circumstance of sexual contact by those professionals with someone under their care is abuse. It may create an opportunity for abuse, but it does not automatically create abuse. Further, it is inappropriate to fundamentally label someone in a position of higher authority as the abuser in any given relationship.
This train goes both ways. Yes, a CEO could manipulate and coerce someone under them professionally into unwanted sexual activity, and then they could use their position to threaten their victim and cover it up. This is abuse. At the same time, someone in a lower position professionally could prey on and seduce someone above them and use that as a means to work their way up the corporate ladder. Or, let’s say they prey on and seduce a married person and use that as blackmail against them to achieve their goal. If the person they seduced was a willing participant, we cannot call this abuse. However, it would be ludicrous to label the one preyed upon as an abuser.
Similarly, a pastor most certainly could use their position to manipulate, groom, gain trust, and abuse someone in their congregation. However, a pastor could also fall prey to someone targeting him and trying to seduce him. Let’s say a woman comes into a church, decides she wants to have sex with the pastor, plots a plan to seduce him, catches him off guard at the right time, and pressures him into sex. If he engages, he has made a grave mistake. It is still most definitely immoral. It is still disqualifying from ministry, at least for some period of time. This post is not meant to delve into the debate on whether that would constitute a permanent disqualification. However, to call him an abuser is beyond absurd. It would be more correct to label him a victim in this circumstance. He couldn’t be called a victim of abuse, but he could be called a victim nonetheless. Still, I wouldn’t do that because I am against the victim mentality, which has no place in Christianity anyway. If he willingly participated, he should not be considered a victim.
I know some supported this resolution simply because they are fine with adultery being illegal anyway. I can understand that. If we take the route that we want all adultery to be illegal, though, we need to frame it that way. It is not appropriate to incorrectly label all adultery as sexual abuse. Additionally, I wonder if proponents of these laws would feel the same way when they inevitably get applied to female pastors? Of course, the SBC is supposed to only have male pastors *coughcoughSaddleback*, but our country has many of them. Are those women supposed to automatically be labeled abusers as well, or do we have ourselves a double standard? Indeed, my position is that we evaluate each situation individually and make appropriate judgments accordingly, but I suppose that is more work than just throwing everyone in the same bucket.
Simply put, it is wrong and sinful to categorize all pastors as abusers for sexual activity no matter the circumstance. That is an undiscerning, libelous position to take. And honestly, I think most SBC messengers would agree with me, but that brings me to the second part of this post. What’s wrong with SBC business meetings?
I never got the opportunity to ask a question or speak against Resolution 5. As I recall, nobody was given an opportunity to speak against it. After attempts for amendments, someone called it to a vote, and deliberation was done. It passed overwhelmingly. This alone is an unbiblical process if we want to conduct our business with the wisdom of Scripture.
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:7
This highlights one of my biggest disappointments of my first time attending an SBC annual meeting. I was saddened by what I believe is a lack of discernment and wisdom among SBC messengers. The author of this resolution made a passionate speech, but church leaders should not be so easily swayed by passionate speeches. Neither should we vote on things we have not properly and thoroughly thought through and deliberated. Heck, we might should even pray about these things!
From my perspective, SBC annual meetings are structured in a way that promotes motions and resolutions getting passed with little thought and deliberation. For further evidence of what I mean, you can watch the documentary By What Standard? from Founders Ministries, which focuses on the passage of Resolution 9 at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting. The meetings are just two days, and we only know the resolutions the first morning. We don’t even know the motions until they are brought during the meeting. When I vote in state elections, before the election ever happens I am presented with a book allowing me to read each bill alongside arguments for and against it. This information is given to me well before the election, allowing time for further thought, prayer, and discussion. Even with those kinds of resources, most voters end up being uninformed and just go with their gut feeling.
Messengers, we should not be making decisions with our gut feelings. We should be making decisions with the Holy Spirit in us, our Bible before us, and our church beside us.
The SBC annual meetings need to be heavily reformed, especially if our messengers have no more discernment than what we’ve seen the past few years. This is just one example of the lack of discernment I witnessed at this year’s meeting. I have more.
In my opinion, Resolution 5 capitalized on an emotional meeting and an emotional speech. It was presented at just the right time to gain widespread acceptance. Changes did need to be made in how our denomination thinks about and handles allegations of sexual abuse. We needed some correction. My fear is that we could begin to overcorrect, and the word “abuse” will start being inserted where it doesn’t belong, much like the word “racism” has been. I would encourage Southern Baptists to not petition their lawmakers to automatically label pastors as sexual abusers. If that happens, I believe we will live to regret it.