The pastor of an Austin, Texas, Southern Baptist church “finds I’m spending more time in preparation than ever before” for his Sunday morning sermons.
Photo by Kathleen Murray
Jonathan Howe and Amy Whitfield moderate a panel discussion with Beth Moore, Russell Moore and Matt Carter, pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Austin. The panel discussed preventing and dealing with sexual abuse in the church June 11 at the Cooperative Program stage in the exhibit hall at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.
Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, said in a Cooperative Program (CP) Stage panel discussion prior to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Dallas that he weighs his words to make sure they do not send the wrong message to the potential 25 percent of the women in the church who have suffered abuse in their lifetime.
“I’m consistently filtering what I’m saying through the eyes of a woman who has been abused,” said Carter, who took the church’s entire staff through a week-long training earlier this year to be able to say to all women, “You are safe here.”
The 20-minute panel discussion on Sexual Abuse in the Church in the SBC exhibit hall covered a victim’s trauma; the churches’ response; and how to prepare children for potential situations without scaring them.
The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, teacher and author Beth Moore and moderators Jonathan Howe and Amy Whitfield filled out the panel.
The training at Austin Stone Church followed a woman’s report that in 1998 she told a leader in another church what a youth pastor had done to her, and she was advised to not say anything about it to anyone, according to a local news account. That leader was at Austin Stone Church when the report became public in a local newspaper last winter after the victim wrote about it on social media.
“Our natural instinct is self-preservation,” Carter said, voicing counsel, however, to “put the need of the victim first.”
Beth Moore said women – and men – who have experienced abuse have been damaged deep within themselves, which sometimes takes years to surface, and it affects every person they have contact with. Healing likewise has a ripple effect, she said.
“We know God is for us,” Moore continued. “When we begin to help a woman, it has an impact on her and her entire sphere of influence.”
One in four women experience abuse in her lifetime, she said.
When sexual abuse is reported, the investigation that follows should include an outside third party, Russell Moore said, with Carter recommending MinistrySafe.com, which has been in business since 1945.
A female advocate needs to be at every meeting with the woman, Beth Moore said. “Power has to be used immediately for the victim.”
Reporting sexual abuse “is not a PR issue. This is a spiritual warfare issue,” Russell Moore said. “As a church, we are to bear one another’s burdens. … Minister to the woman. She is not the problem.”
Beth Moore suggested putting a notice in Sunday morning bulletins, church newsletters and in restrooms that help is available for those experiencing abuse and how to get that help.
“The more visible, the better,” she said. “For us [the church] to be the leaders in this, it’s mandatory.”
Make sure law enforcement knows about the charge, Russell Moore said, with Beth Moore adding there is a difference between sexual immorality and sexual criminality, but “both require repentance.”
“Abusers use grace to hide behind and mercy as a weapon to hide behind,” Russell Moore said. “Repentance and restoration doesn’t mean grace and justice go together at the cross of Christ.”
True repentance bears fruit, Beth Moore said. “We want all people to be restored, to not fall into the same pit again.”
Youngsters as young as two should be handed the washcloth they use when bathing, Beth Moore said. In church, an adult should never be alone with a child.
“Teach your child to tell you everything,” Russell Moore said. “Tell them, ‘Tell us what makes you uncomfortable,’ and if anyone says, ‘Don’t tell,’ tell us immediately.”
America has changed, Beth Moore said. “Meek little girls are not going to work in this culture.” Girls need to be taught to stand up for themselves and to be alert to things being “off,” as she put it.
“And I always made sure my girls knew, there is no time of night you can’t call me. And they have!”
Carter said Austin Stone Church is “talking to the young men a lot” about the “long-term consequences of sin, that you are doing something in the heart of women and yourself. We try to teach through the lens of victims.”
The world is watching and the church needs to be the one raising a banner for the protection of women, Carter said.
“Your voice is needed,” Beth Moore told the abused. “Someone else needs to hear your voice.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent with Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)