This morning someone sent me JD Greear’s Facebook Live statement from Thursday, May 24th, about the needs of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is it.
Because I’m not a Southern Baptist and don’t keep up well with the politics of the organization, I didn’t know Greear was running for President of the convention. It was only after I told my friend that the talk bothered me and maybe I would do a blog post on it, that she gave me that bit of information.
I considered then, whether I should write the blog post, because I didn’t want to give the impression I was getting involved politically. But I do believe it’s important to point out problematic teachings.
I’m following Greear’s admonition that we seek to think the best of our fellow Christians, in saying that until further information is forthcoming, my hope is that he simply doesn’t understand several things, wickedness being one of them, and how it has infiltrated churches, even churches in his organization. This is the best light I can put on his talk.
Beginning after the introduction, at approximately two minutes in, Greear gives a list of eight principles the SBC needs to commit or recommit to. I’m commenting primarily on the ones that have to do with helping the abused and exposing the abusers.
In this first part I’ve mostly just caught the gist of each statement, and have included my commentary in brackets. . . .
We need to commit or recommit to a handful of things.
Honor sisters in Christ as equal in spiritual giftings, while being faithful to the Word of God. Be committed to raising up women to leaders in ministry.
Have more representation from people in color, racial minorities. Not having women and racial minorities has hindered our ability to see sin and injustice. We need them. God has gifted them with wisdom because of their experiences.
- The part below, beginning at 6:00 in shows that Greear apparently does not understand how to perceive or expose abusers.
“We need to be a people who are committed to protecting the vulnerable and exposing the abuser. I know there are situations happening all over, but we need to make that absolutely clear that we’re a place that realizes that God hates abuse.”
- By transparency he means accountability. I’ve written about transparency elsewhere and won’t be commenting on that here.
Cultures that insist on transparency of leadership and refuses to tolerate or turn a blind eye to abuses of power. We’ve seen revelations of a number of decisions that have been made in secret that should have been with a lot more transparency and we’re seeing the bad fruit of that.
- This statement is problematic. Who gets to decide what issues are primary? Why is the gender role issue, for example, primary in the SBC when many people would say it’s secondary? Many would say that SBC leaders themselves are being divisive by focusing to the extent that they do on gender roles. (I personally consider it a secondary issue and haven’t discussed it on my blog.)
Mark those among us of a divisive spirit who seek to create division in our denomination over secondary and tertiary things and keep away from them. Whether they agree with us on the issue they’re being divisive about or not. Distinguish primary issues from secondary or tertiary issues.
- How will they define slander? Will it be any speaking negatively about others? I’ve been accused of slander by pointing out errors or questionable statements in someone’s speech exactly the way I’m doing now. Will I be accused of slander because of this post? And how is he defining “mislead”? Is he talking about saying something negative about a leader and getting people to believe it? But what if it’s true? How will he determine if someone is “misleading” others?
Refuse to tolerate those who slander, backbite, and mislead others, mislead other leaders. We’re just not going to tolerate that.
Speak truth about one another in love. Call things out and do it in humility and love. The things that will define our relationships with each other and characterize how we talk about each other is love and mercy.
Be committed to removing any hint of immorality among us. There’s been a shocking number of leaders with heinous and immoral actions in the SBC, and it makes me want to, with our staff, just say, “God, will you search out in us . . . ” blessed are the pure in heart because they’ll see God. God cannot tolerate impurity. The sin of Achan. . . .
The following part is where I did as careful a transcription as possible, beginning 6 minutes in:
What if God decides to send destruction because of sin in the camp, but we’ve got to first say, “Is it me? Is it I?” And I implore you to look. Not outside, but look within, and ask God what He might be revealing about your heart.
It is important always to keep our hearts pure before the Lord, yes, through His forgiveness and His Holy Spirit power to follow Him. To always be willing for the Lord to search our hearts and show us our sin, yes, and quickly to turn back to Him.
But we should also be willing to look “outside,” at the Achans among us (since Greear provided that useful metaphor). When Moses asked the Lord what was wrong that the Israelites had been defeated by their enemies, he didn’t just “look within.” He was willing to allow the Lord to point out someone else, and to say to a different person, as it were, “Thou art the man.”
We need to deal with the sin among us seriously and soberly, but ultimately just with grace toward each other.
What does this mean, “with grace toward each other”? Does it mean always assuming the best of others and giving the benefit of the doubt? As we’ll see further on, Greear’s answer to that is yes.
I hope that what you’re hearing is that first and foremost it’s to look within. We don’t look out at others, we’re not assuming guilt of them.
What Greear seems to be promoting here, though I’m not sure, is that we are supposed to see our own sin first and foremost and not see the sin in others. This sounds good if all the people around us mean well all the time, but sadly, this is not the case. (This is what a gullible person would assume, which is what I used to be, so I speak from experience.) I addressed this “look at your own sin first and foremost” problem in the post called Four ways teaching Christians to embrace “I’m the worst sinner I know” is harming the church.
I have to remind myself daily what I try to teach our staff weekly is when you deal with people on these things, people in other leadership positions that are on the staff of our church, there are three cardinal rules to remember:
#1: Always try to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Always assuming the best of others, always giving the benefit of the doubt when a report of evil comes against someone, will ultimately mean that the Christian will be gullible.
I know a woman who as a teenager told her pastor that her dad was raping her. Because her dad was “a man of God,” the pastor didn’t believe her. So this pastor “gave grace” to the dad, erring on the side of grace, giving the dad the benefit of the doubt, and letting him know about the accusation. (And the dad punished the teenager in unspeakable ways.)
#2: Assume the best of others. Assume that they have good intentions and that they’re smart. I can’t remember what leader said, he said there are so many different conflicts that could be resolved if you just assume that your co-workers are smart and have good intentions, so we need to assume that about one another. You’re smart and you’ve got good intentions. If you prove that you don’t have good intentions then that’s something to deal with, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt as long as I can.
In a blog post I did a while back, I discussed how “erring on the side of grace” means that when people having to figure out whether or not someone is two-faced or whether or not someone has really “repented,” they know they can err in their conclusions. “Erring on the side of grace” means in order to keep their hearts from being cynical, they prefer to be gullible.
Instead of “erring on the side of grace,” instead of “giving grace” in the sense that we always try to believe the best about others, we can seek the grace of God through His empowerment to live by faith in His Holy Spirit, to seek His guidance through prayer, and to have discernment about people, whether they are good or evil. We won’t always do everything right, but we’ll be willing to seek the Lord when a report comes against someone and the accused denies it or “repents.”
#3 When wronged, when there’s a misunderstanding or disagreement, let’s extend grace in the same manner that Jesus showed to us. Thank God that He didn’t walk away from us when we were confused or we made a wrong statement but we continue to love and to reach out.
“Extending grace” here from the context apparently means continuing to love and reach out to others who are “confused” or “made a wrong statement.” Is this really the worst he thinks the people on his staff will face?
Greear is giving rules for business, rules for dealing with others in the workplace. I hope there is no one on his staff who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but if there is, the Christians will find that these rules don’t work. They don’t work at all.
Some time ago, because of people I know who had been harmed, I tried to bring attention to a character issue with a man in a prominent staff position at a church. I carefully approached one of the other leaders about it, asking him to take a relatively easy step to verify the truth of something the leader in question had said. But this leader I approached was so committed to “assuming the best” of his fellow leader that he declined to investigate. He even called it “crazy.”
These rules of conduct in the workplace don’t accomplish their goal in the workplace if one of the people there is a set on accomplishing his own purposes, building his own kingdom rather than the kingdom of God, stealing from God’s people, trying to carry on an adulterous relationship, hiding a pornography problem, visiting prostitutes on the side, or any number of other heinous activities.
How much more would this be the case in the church at large, when there are wolves who appear one way to the public eye and another way at home?
This set of rules is not the way to expose abusers, which Greear said in his first #3 above he was committed to doing and wanted the Southern Baptist Convention to be committed to doing. It is instead a formula for enabling them.
This is not just a problem we’ve got for us to see in other people, it’s a heart problem, each of us, myself included, I think we need to first search our hearts and see where we’ve contributed to a culture that has tolerated abuse and immorality and inequality in our midst, where we’ve entertained slander and not acted with love that is befitting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’ll not comment on the ways the conservative evangelical culture has contributed to immorality and inequality. I’m commenting only on the toleration of abuse. What JD Greear himself has said above, this is the reason his culture has done this. According to what he is saying now, the culture, in the name of “giving grace,” will continue to allow the wolves in sheep’s clothing in their midst.
Do we believe there’s a spiritual battle that goes on beyond the battle in our own soul? Do we believe there are those who have given themselves over to evil? Do we believe they can come as ministers of good, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15?
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
If that is the case, the church of Jesus Christ cannot take the “let’s all just get along” stance promoted above and at the same time expose abusers as Greear has admirably said he wants to do. Rather than always trying to give the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of the accused, people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ must listen to those who come to them to tell them about what someone has done to them. They must be willing to listen and learn and speak and take action about it, even if it’s a person of rank and standing. What JD Greear has proposed here is not the way to accomplish that goal.