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A Time for Moral Clarity

May 23, 2018

Evangelicals have been facing a moment of truth concerning abuse and misconduct in our own ranks. Recently, attention has been focused on Southwestern Seminary and its president. The controversy centers on past remarks about pastoral counsel to an abuse victim and about the objectification of a teenage girl.

As Albert Mohler declared earlier today, it really does seem to be a time of reckoning. But it is not only that. It is also a time for moral clarity from all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially as we consider the sobering words of 1 Peter 4:17: “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

Moral clarity1 requires that Christians be clear about the evil of abuse. It requires that we condemn all forms of physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse. It requires that we believe the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women, and that this teaching does not support but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18Eph. 5:25-29Col. 3:181 Tim. 3:3Titus 1:7-81 Pet. 3:7; 5:3). It requires recognizing that abuse is not only a sin but is also a crime. Abuse is destructive and evil. It is a hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purposes of God. Abuse must not be tolerated in the Christian community.

The local church and Christian ministries have a responsibility to establish safe environments; to execute policies and practices that protect against any form of abuse; to confront abusers and to protect the abused, which includes the responsibility to report abuse to civil authorities.

Church and ministry leaders have a special obligation to report abuse to civil authorities and to know the laws of their state about reporting the suspicion or accusation of child and spousal abuse, and for following those laws in good faith.

Moral clarity requires us to confess what the Bible actually teaches. Biblical Christianity blesses, honors, and protects women and children. Anything else falls short of what God requires of us. And we dare not fall short here. The glory of God and our witness are at stake. Nothing is more important than that.

See the CBMW Statement on Abuse.


Ever since this controversy began, we have tried to speak with clarity about fundamental moral issues related to abuse (see here, here, and here). After an interview I gave to The Washington Post, some readers have asked why waiting until now to refer directly to the indefensible comments from Paige Patterson. The answer is that my aim was to defer comment until after the trustees of Southwestern Seminary had a chance to meet and take action. Since giving that interview to the Post, the trustees have met and thus my response you read here.

Why defer comment until after the trustees meet? My reasons are the same as Albert Mohler’s, as he has explained here:

“I am president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which means I serve the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the ethical obligations that comes with a job such as mine is that I cannot speak publicly into a situation that is rightly between another president and an institution’s board of trustees. In such a case I have to wait until the board of trustees does its work. That’s simply another ethical boundary that comes with this kind of position, and thus it was the board of trustees that assists our institution that met and ended the meeting early yesterday morning. Thus, I could speak to the issue the way I did today.”

I think Mohler’s point is simply this. Unless one believes that the SBC system of trustee governance is fundamentally corrupt or irreparably broken (which I don’t believe), then it is generally wise for denominational employees not to preempt their important work.

If you still haven’t read the essay Mohler wrote, you need to. I resonate with it deeply and believe it to be a tremendous display of denominational statesmanship.

Update (5/30/18):

Earlier this evening, trustees of Southwestern Seminary released the following statement:

The Executive Committee unanimously resolved to terminate Dr. Paige Patterson, effective immediately, removing all the benefits, rights and privileges provided by the May 22-23 board meeting, including the title of President Emeritus, the invitation to reside at the Baptist Heritage Center as theologian-in-residence and ongoing compensation.

I am very grateful that the trustees chose to act with moral clarity. If there was some question about that before, there can be no question now. Indeed, they declare “the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse and grieves for individuals wounded by abuse.”

Pray for Southwestern Seminary, its students, faculty, administrators, and interim President Jeffrey Bingham. These are dear brothers and sisters serving a great school with a bright future ahead of it.

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