I have seen this before.
As I watched four pastors (two of them belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention) declare former convention president Johnny Hunt restored to ministry—six months after he was put on leave when a third-party investigation found he was “credibly accused” of sexual assault—I realized I knew what I was seeing. I hadn’t watched this exact 14-minute video, of course, with four men offering assurances of repentance, but I had seen it.
I’d seen it at the church where leaders gave their assurances that a young man would not abuse any more girls. “We gave him a stern talking to,” they said. “This won’t happen again.”
I’d seen it when a pastor told a woman whose husband had created a psychologically and spiritually abusive home that she shouldn’t leave. “Let the pastors work with him,” he said. “We’ll be like watchdogs.”
And here it was again.
The most terrifying thing about these scenes is that these leaders are not bad men. I don’t know Johnny Hunt’s quartet of supporters, but I know the leaders of the church where abuse took place. And I know the pastor who gave that bad marital counsel: It was me.
So as eager as I was to go online and denounce all that was appalling about this video—the misuse of Scripture, treating the abuser as the victim, and failing to even mention the real victim—I realized I couldn’t train my sights on this group of men. No, for a Southern Baptist pastor like me, the video is not a target but a mirror.
It is a mirror that shows us what happens when our convictions about complementarity rot into misogyny. It is a mirror that shows us how the can-do, we-got-this pluck of Southern Baptist leaders devolves into arrogance and presumption. It’s a mirror that reveals how, in our concern to preserve institutions, we don’t listen.
We don’t listen to survivors.
That, after all, was the aim of the Guidepost Solutions investigation into the SBC Executive Committee: to listen to survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Southern Baptist leaders. But by releasing this video, Johnny Hunt’s “restoration team” has said to the woman he abused, We don’t want to listen to you. We want to replatform our friend.
We don’t listen to women. The absence of any women’s voices in this 14-minute video was deafening.
But that silence compels me to ask: How well are female voices represented in the Southern Baptist Convention? We are a thoroughgoing complementarian denomination. But in practice, women are not just barred from pastoral positions. We are also not proactive in welcoming women into leadership positions that do not involve preaching and teaching. Just look at the low percentage of women that serve on our boards. In Christ there is not Jew or Greek, male or female. But in the Southern Baptist Convention, there is.
I wish that were all, but it doesn’t stop there. We also don’t listen to people of color. Two years ago, our six seminary presidents made a public statement that denounced critical race theory, saying it was incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message. There is a vibrant National African American Fellowship in our convention and many trusted Black leaders in our churches. They were not consulted or even alerted about this announcement on the limits of acceptable Baptist views on the problem of racism. No seminary president could be ignorant of our convention’s racist roots or our poor record of handling what used to be called “the race problem” or the national uproar in the summer of 2020. But they didn’t make any effort to listen.
I write this as a Southern Baptist pastor who holds to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and a complementarian view of church leadership. I’m not winding up to make a pitch for progressivism. But surely there’s nothing in the Baptist Faith and Message that says that pastors can’t listen?
Can I listen to Black pastors, who might know more about the right way to respond to racism than I do? Can I listen to abuse survivors, who have long known the truths most of us have denied? Can I listen to women who have faithfully sustained the work of the church for so long?
And what about our institution? What will happen if we listen to survivors, to women, and to people of color? Will this cause our convention to fracture?
Our convention is already fractured. Following the CRT announcement, some prominent Black pastors left the convention. Abuse survivors are perpetually discouraged by how abusers and their protectors are still platformed. And women are finding that the convention is more interested in assuring they never become pastors than protecting them from abusers. The ship is already sinking.
I think we could fix it, if we would just listen. But we don’t want to listen.
You can only plug your ears for so long, though. The church that gave their reassurances a man would not abuse girls again learned to listen—but only after the abuser hurt another person, another person, and another, and then was arrested by the police.
The psychologically and spiritually abusive husband learned to listen. But only after his wife divorced him and he came to the end of himself.
Lord, I want to listen before it’s too late.
What will it take for the Southern Baptist Convention to have ears to hear?
Chris Davis is senior pastor of Groveton Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and the author of Bright Hope for Tomorrow: How Anticipating Jesus’ Return Gives Strength for Today.
Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.
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