I was left standing at the microphone 6 at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention during the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) report to the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, gave that report and reminded messengers of the various ways he and his staff have stood for ethical and religious liberty causes in our country over the last year. So much of what he reported made my heart rejoice with praise to God. He spoke passionately about the organization’s concern for the protection of women. “There should not be one inch of toleration for the abuse or mistreatment of women or others within our churches, and if we care about human dignity, we must be clear about that.” Along those lines he announced an extensive study on abuse in churches that the ERLC is sponsoring with LifeWay.
As the father of five daughters I was so encouraged by and grateful for this particular point Dr. Moore made about caring for women that I arose during his report and went to a microphone to commend their good work and ask a further question about honoring women and not tolerating their abuse. Unfortunately, other messengers were recognized before me and I didn’t get to speak before time expired.
Before I left the convention hall a few minutes later I was stopped by people (including strangers) asking me what I was going to ask. Within hours I received several texts and messages from friends (some of whom were not even in Dallas) all asking the same question: “What were you going to ask?” That question is still being put to me from friends and acquaintances across the SBC.
My question was this:
As the ethics arm of the SBC what counsel would you give to Southern Baptist churches if, in the future, one of our entities were to host a conference in the name of a known woman abuser?
So as not to be coy about this, my question has been provoked by what seems to be an unavoidable inconsistency. The ERLC sponsored a conference in April named after Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who according to his closest friend, Ralph Abernathy, was a known woman abuser and a serial adulterer.
When people in denominational positions commit sexual sin, they are dismissed with little to no hesitation. Their contact information is erased as if they never were part of the SBC entity no matter how effective they were in their work. In such tragic situations we rightly conclude that one has disqualified himself or herself from ministry. Perhaps, however, at fifty years beyond their death the hope of public absolution lingers. Has the ERLC given such an absolution to Dr. King, even in the face of their present cries for taking action against any form of abuse of women? Has his laudable contribution to public justice been given precedence over his personal history of infidelity and violence against women?
As a Southern Baptist pastor, these are questions I would like to have addressed by our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.