Southern Baptists fail again

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

-- Matthew 19:14

Perhaps, like me, you subscribe to both The Sentinel-Record and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. If so, you are familiar with the ADG's Religion editor, Frank Lockwood. He has revitalized that section of the newspaper with hard work, intelligence and fairness. I have no idea what his personal beliefs are, as he keeps them close to his vest, which is what every good journalist does.

I'm no journalist, though my late father was one of the best in the state of Georgia. I'm a local pastor and contributing columnist for the HSSR. So, I can tell you openly and honestly what I think, believe, and feel. I think Lockwood has done old-school, award-worthy journalistic work on his latest series of articles about one of the largest churches in Little Rock. I believe the pastor and people there are guilty of heinous sin and a horrible cover-up. And as a fellow Southern Baptist (albeit in the historic, Reformed tradition), I feel sick about it.

Southern Baptists for many years criticized the Roman Catholic Church's handling of their various sexual abuse scandals. When some priests molested children, instead of turning them in to authorities, the church turned a blind eye and transferred these pedophiles to other parishes, where they did it again. Shame, shame, said the SBC, until the Houston Chronicle revealed the same pattern among some Southern Baptists. Shame, shame on us!

Now Frank Lockwood's excellent reporting has exposed a similar scandal at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock. You would think they would have paid attention and learned a lesson. But no, they kept a case of alleged sexual abuse from the congregation and simply moved the person in question to another unsuspecting church in Oklahoma.

I do not know the pastor of Immanuel personally, but rubbed shoulders once with his late father, who was a member of the megachurch cabal that ran the Southern Baptist Convention for decades. The son is probably a man of good faith and decent character who made a deplorable mistake. He is a product of nepotism and cronyism which defines the SBC, put into a position way over his head. I pray he finds solid ground elsewhere and learns to be a good shepherd rather than a bad CEO.

By the way, this megachurch mentality is the second scandal in the Immanuel Baptist Church affair. The reason the pastor tried to put a lid on the first scandal is this second scandal. Full transparency in this situation, caring more for the reported victim than the public image of the church, acting with compassion and honesty rather than expediency and opportunism, could have -- horror of horrors -- reduced the number of attendees and thwarted the cash flow of the church! Megachurches can only survive with mega-numbers and mega-contributions.

My first church was in a small town that had recently opened up its first Walmart. Local businessmen in my congregation decried the predatory pricing tactics of that retail giant. Scouts came into their stores, then went back to their store and lowered their cost to consumers by a few cents. One by one, these mom-and-pop stores went out of business.

This is what the megachurch mentality has done to the historically sound congregations of 50, 100, or 200 or so people, where the pastors actually know all the members, and care for them body, mind, and soul. The megachurches pop in, ramp up the music a notch or three, add specialized programs the small church can't afford, then that slamming door you hear is the sound of good-hearted but smaller-sized churches gathering for the last time.

Until the Southern Baptist Convention begins to value actual people more than attendance figures and dollar signs, these kinds of scandals are going to continue. I and our church are hanging on by a thread. We've already cut off the spigot to the bloated bureaucracy and give our dollars only to our brave missionaries on foreign soil. If Immanuel and others do not right the shady ship they are sailing on, we will fly our flag elsewhere. God help us.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].

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