Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman famously categorizes people into three groups: Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs – sheep being the average, vulnerable civilian, wolves being those who represent a threat to civilians, and sheepdogs being those trained and prepared to protect civilians.
As Grossman’s use for this analogy was to train “sheep” to become “sheepdogs,” he doesn’t explore the fourth obvious category that follows the logic of his illustration: shepherds.
You could say - and you’d be right, because the Bible does too – that pastors are the shepherds, directing the sheep towards the green pastures of a satisfying, God-honoring life. From a Christian perspective, the shepherds are even more responsible than sheepdogs for the wellbeing of the sheep, making it that much more heinous when the sheep become their prey.
To stick with Grossman’s analogy, when a sheepdog becomes a wolf and harms a sheep, that’s a travesty and a violation of trust, but it is still an animal doing what animals do. When the shepherd becomes a wolf and harms a sheep, it is something else. It’s a fall from a higher position. It’s a man becoming a beast.
Let’s leave the analogy behind.
When a pastor preys on his flock, particularly the weakest of his flock, it is one chosen to proclaim the Word of God and show his congregation the goodness of God instead sinking to the lowest depravity.
Yet, as the Houston Chronicle reported, such depravity, though not recognized by most, has been realized by many: “20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (obviously aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention), wrote this synopsis of the report and rally for change in the SBC:
“A heinous cloud hangs over the SBC. This unchecked pattern of sexual abuse comes like a deluge as scores of churches and denominational structures fail to protect its most vulnerable. Serial sex abusers move from one pulpit or place of ministry to the next and continue to carry out dreadful acts of violence. Ministers of the gospel, entrusted with a sacred duty to care for the people of God in their churches, breach that trust and defame the name of Christ by their actions. These stories of sexual abuse illustrate, in a lamentable way, the barbarity of unrestrained sinful patterns. Indeed, these abusers, caught in the torrent of their rebellion, cunningly hid or minimized their atrocities while churches willfully adopted a policy of ignorance, unwilling to see abuse that stood right before their eyes. They should have seen it.
Now, they must see it.
Our first concern must be for the victims. The dark reality of this kind of abuse leads many victims to hide their trauma—they sit silent in their pews while their abusers publicly preach God’s Word. Southern Baptists, indeed, all denominations, must ensure that denominational structures and policies promote safe places for victims to make their abuse known. Failure to do so not only commits gross injustice for the abused but fosters an environment where abusers can continue their acts of sexual violence on other innocent lives. If churches capitulate on this urgent responsibility, they stand culpable for tolerating the cycle of abuse that scandalizes the churches of Christ.”
Of course, this type of abuse is not unique to the SBC. Well-known Bible teacher Beth Moore created a seemingly unintentional forum for victims of abuse by spiritual leaders to sound off on a Twitter post. A yellowed picture of her elementary-aged self captioned, “We understand how you feel. We didn’t want to know either,” indicates that she was a victim herself at that age. The post has 283 comments, the majority of which are childhood snapshots of users stating some variation of, “I didn’t want to know either.”
Southern Baptist leadership seems to be responding to the report humbly but passionately. The unique makeup of the Convention – as I understand, it is actually a loose organization of independent churches who are united by SBC’s vision but have no denominational hierarchy which the churches actually answer to – limits the power of SBC leadership to come up with punitive solutions. The most they can do is disassociate with irresponsible churches. That, at least, should be done.
But, for the most part, action needs to be taken by churches themselves, not just the denomination they identify with. Churches should have policies which prevent the vulnerable from being alone with authority figures. Parents should be aware of these situations and not ignore red flags just because they assume someone with a position in the church must be safe. And when abuse does occur, it must not be covered up for the sake of the church’s reputation.
As this new report evidences, it would have been much better for the church to have a reputation of defending its sheep than defending wolves in shepherd’s clothes.
We pray God’s grace for the hundreds of victims over the years. May they know the peace and love which His false servants betrayed.
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