SBC Abuse Makes Headlines – Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog


This morning, a title popped up on my phone:

‘Explosive 400-page report reveals Southern Baptist leaders have systematically silenced sexual abuse survivors’

I clicked on the link out of curiosity to find out what this secular news agency had to say, knowing that there is often a bias against Christianity. However, like most of you, I know that there has been sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and all religious denominations.

How can I know? Because I have experienced it. Within my own marriage. To a Southern Baptist pastor. My experience is slightly different, but still abuse. He used the scriptures to manipulate me. He was in an adulterous relationship (think about it – adultery IS a form of abuse).

But let’s go a little further. Although the “other woman” made a conscious decision to have an affair with my then-husband, she could also be seen as a victim of his abusive behavior. He took advantage of his position as pastor to attract her. She was in love with his Bible knowledge, his piety, something she perceived her husband did not possess. How can I know? Because I read the e-mails and the transcripts of their late-night conversations. It was largely his perception of who he was from his pulpit – not who he was behind closed doors.

Why is abuse so prevalent in the SBC? Why are abuses so prevalent in the Church? While I’m sure it’s multifactorial, I can share a few things I’ve realized over the years.

We are dealing with fallible humans, not an infallible God. I know many of us yearn to be like Jesus, but we just aren’t. Our example was perfect in every way. He knew how to mold grace and truth. He could read hearts and lead people. He could see the deception in the hearts of men (Jeremiah 17:9) and direct them where He willed (Proverbs 21:1).

However, our earthly experiences are with sinful men, not with our sinless Savior. None of us are without sin (Romans 3:23). And that includes leaders who are supposed to teach us to be more like Christ himself. They are sinners, and we can be sure that they will one day be judged more severely (James 3:1). Although we often place spiritual leaders on a pedestal, they are human and sinners just like us.

We are taught forgiveness and Grace. Our faith is one that emphasizes forgiveness and grace, which are rightly key tenets of Christianity. We teach that women should dress in meekness, kindness and patience (Colossians 3:11-13). These are good qualities, essential qualities.

The problem is that we don’t give time for abuse, limitations and toxicity. We fail to see that Jesus himself was not a doormat for others to tread on him. When He faced the Pharisees, He recognized the toxicity in their hearts and called them about it. His words were not kind and gentle but direct and truthful. He chose to put space between Himself and those who were toxic to Him and His mission.

We must learn that limiting and acknowledging abusive and toxic behavior is not contrary to our faith. Instead, it can actually improve our relationship with God.

Our love for God encourages us to always do what is right. We sincerely desire to walk in obedience to God, bringing him glory and honor. But sometimes our desire to do good actually gets us trapped in unhealthy situations.

When my pastor-husband had an affair, I remember tearfully telling a friend that my biggest concern was the damage we had inflicted in the name of Christ. The truth is that we had done nothing to harm the name of Christ. He had done something to harm the name of God. But, I was connected to him. I was his wife. In my desire to do the right thing, I had forgiven and forgiven and forgiven again – and failed to stand up to my husband. I was so determined to stay in my marriage because it was the right thing that I couldn’t see how walking away could actually be God’s will.

Many of us are actually incredibly dedicated to our faith, and we fear that exposing our abusers will actually harm the name of Christ. It’s so much harder to walk away.

Spiritual abuse includes the subtle twisting of scriptures to make them biblical. Do you remember the serpent in Genesis? He didn’t make up some wild claim to distract Eve. Instead, it was a subtle shift in God’s words. “Did God really say…?” Genesis 3

Abusive spiritual leaders often know the scriptures and are able to twist them subtly to make them sound solid and biblical. They have often already won the trust of their victim thanks to their charisma and the personality they embody. They usually have scripture mastery. And, we rarely question or doubt their authority over Scripture. This allows them quite easily to gently groom their victims and convince them that their view of Scripture is not entirely correct.

Consider submission. How many times have we heard that a wife must submit to her husband? The man who takes this scripture out of the larger context and uses it to control his wife is guilty of twisting scripture. The truly pious man will recognize that submission is a two-way street that must be tempered by all the wonderful qualities of Christianity: forgiveness, grace, patience, tender mercy. This is not an opportunity for the man to exercise control, but rather an act of respect and putting others before ourselves.

Unfortunately, the abuses within the SBC and the Church in general are real and damaging. It is time to give the faithful the truth. The truth that people are sinners. The truth that our faith lends itself to missing out on toxic and abusive behaviors. The truth that we can be caught doing the right thing for God and not see how easily we are misled.

We must learn that Jesus did not always offer grace. Sometimes he chose to walk away from those religious people who were toxic and abusive.

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