By Joy Allmond
Russell Moore says there’s a “shocking scandal” going on in the church.
This “scandal,” says the president of the Southern Baptist Conventions’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), is two-fold: the existence of sexual abuse within congregations and the lack of disciplinary action—or even efforts to conceal it—by church leaders.
“When it comes to this issue … we’re very clear about sins we perceive to be mostly happening on the outside,” he said, as he recently spoke on the topic at an ERLC leadership gathering.
“And then often—within the congregational context—when it comes to whatever is happening on the inside (of the church), there’s this very muted language and approach that becomes more about PR than it does about actually addressing sin, oppression, injustice, and violence at the very place that is the most important.”
Churches should be the most vocal about bringing justice to the vulnerable and abused. But too often, Moore says, they take the silent route because they think they will harm their public witness.
Not so, he explained. In fact, the opposite is the case.
“Sometimes a church leader will say, ‘We’ve had this awful thing happen,’” Moore said. “‘And even though we may or may not have dealt with it, we don’t want people to know about this, because if they do, then they will think poorly of our church and then they will think poorly of Jesus.’”
Other times, he says, sexual crimes within the church don’t get addressed because leaders often don’t know what to do.
He identified a “dangerous” area where the church can be a breeding ground for sexual abuse and harassment: male-dominated environments where women are not adequately valued.
“I say this as a convinced complementarian,” he said. “Often within congregations, I feel like complementarians want to do with gender differentiations what the Pharisees tried to do with the law: build as many hedges around it so you don’t have any possibility of coming close to doing something that’s not complementarian. That [promotes] a sometimes condescending attitude toward women that can happen purely unintentionally, within male church leadership.”
He cited one example of how this often happens when a pastor—with good intentions—attempts to elevate his wife by saying from the platform that he “really married up.”
“It doesn’t actually honor women,” said Moore. “It’s almost a patting on the head. It’s communicating that they are the appendage of the man rather than someone created in the image of God.”
Moore explained that until the church regularly honors women in a non-patronizing way—and sees them as not only image-bearers, but as people who are called to serve in the church using their gifts—there could be a long road ahead when it comes to combating sexual violence within congregations.
After all, most sexual crimes are perpetrated against women.
“It’s really a bad situation we have to address,” he said. “Not only with biblical teaching, but biblical discipline.”
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JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.