Two weeks ahead of a national conference on caring well for the abused, the Southern Baptist Convention promoted a book by a high-profile pastor accused of mishandling abuse, to the consternation of survivor advocates.
The SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission announced in May that in mid-planning, it was changing the theme of its 2019 annual conference to “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis.”
The program, scheduled Oct. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texas hotel in Grapevine, Texas, continues a discussion prompted in February when the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News joined forces in a series of investigative stories documenting widespread allegations of abuse and coverup in the nation’s second largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
Sept. 21 on Twitter, the ERLC recommended Texas megachurch pastor Matt Chandler’s Joy in the Sorrow: How a Thriving Church (and its Pastor) Learned to Suffer Well as “a moving, compelling, hope-filled book that will bolster your faith in times of trial.”
Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and president of the Acts 29 church-planting network, was the subject of a New York Times story in June questioning his handling of allegations that a former children’s minister had molested an 11-year-old girl at a church-sponsored camp in 2012.
In July the alleged victim sued The Village Church for $1 million, claiming church leaders were dishonest in sharing information about the allegation and appeared more concerned about protecting the congregation’s image than with child safety or member care. The Village Church denied responsibility for the allegations, saying that if they are true the former staffer, currently facing criminal charges, acted on his own in ways the church could not have foreseen.
The ERLC commendation for Chandler’s book sparked a twitterstorm among abuse survivors and advocates already skeptical about how seriously to take promises of reform coming down from denominational leaders.
“This tweet is ‘Exhibit A’ why so many abuse survivors and others have little trust or hope in the leadership of this denomination,” replied Boz Tchividjian, a law professor at Liberty University and one of the attorneys who is representing the anonymous woman suing The Village Church.
Tchividjian, a grandson to Billy Graham and longtime advocate for improving the way evangelical churches handle abuse allegations, is listed as a scheduled speaker at the ERLC conference.
“We must expose and confront abuse and those who abuse regardless of their power, position or influence,” Tchividjian, founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), said at a conference in April. “I’m tired of abusive Christian leaders who have gotten away with destroying lives, sometimes for decades, simply because of all the ‘amazing work they did for God.’”
Chandler’s new book, published by The Good Book Company in partnership with The Village Church, recounts his battle with a malignant brain tumor in 2009 and 2010. Pre-publication endorsements include one from SBC President J.D. Greear, who called Joy in the Sorrow “an incredible, personal, insightful journey led by one of my favorite teachers.”
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the leading voices calling for reform in light of new abuse revelations coming from the secular press. In February he said churches named in the newspaper reports should be investigated to determine whether they are in good standing with the denomination.
In June, Greear issued the Caring Well Challenge, a 12-month program to equip churches to prevent abuse and to care for survivors that was developed by a presidential task force and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC agency assigned to deal with issues involving private morality, public policy and religious liberty.
Baptist Press reported in August that about 750 churches signed up for the Caring Well Challenge’s official launch. That is about 1.5 percent of the total of 47,456 Southern Baptist churches reported in the most recent statistical profile compiled annually by LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC publishing arm.
Greear is also among speakers enlisted for next month’s Caring Well conference. Others include ERLC President Russell Moore, author and Bible teacher Beth Moore and Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast and the first woman to go public with charges against USA Gymnastics team doctor and serial abuser Larry Nassar, who is serving life in prison.
The ERLC recently presented Denhollander, an evangelical Christian whose husband is pursuing a Ph.D. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with the 2019 Distinguished Service Award for her work as “a leading voice against abuse and institutions that protect abusers, as well as a strong advocate for abuse survivors.”