Bible teacher Beth Moore said having too few women in power contributes to sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention in a Thursday night keynote address at a national conference on caring well for victims.
Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, broached the question of whether “complementarian” theology – the idea that men are to lead in the church and home and wives to serve their husbands as helpmates – is to blame for the abuse crisis in the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
“Does complementarian theology cause abuse?” Moore asked before a sellout crowd at the Oct. 3-5 Caring Well Conference sponsored by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“The answer is no. Sin and gross selfishness in the human heart cause abuse,” Moore said. “Demonic influences cause abuse. However, has a culture prevalent in various circles of the SBC formed and burgeoned out of it contributed to it? Absolutely and heavily.”
Moore, who was criticized this summer for questioning whether the Bible teaches that only men are called to preach, said the world is watching to see if Southern Baptists will deal with “what they believe is the biggest elephant in the room.”
“Complementarian theology became such a high core value that it inadvertently … became elevated above the safety and well-being of many women,” she said. “So high a core value as it has become, that in much of our world complementarian theology is now conflated with inerrancy.”
Moore said there are so few women in places of visible leadership in SBC seminaries and churches that women who are being abused within the system often don’t know where to turn.
“Here’s the best way I know how to put it,” she said. “If complementarianism were a woman, I’d tell you that woman is being abused, and somebody needs to call the police and start an investigation. And God help us if the police are in on it. I guess now I will enter the witness protection program.”
Moore said if the SBC is to become a “healthier church culture,” it is imperative “that she be protected from abuse and from exploitation for the sake of owning all the power.”
“We must be willing to courageously face all that makes us vulnerable,” she said. “Misogyny has no place in those who are being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The ERLC, a convention agency assigned to moral and religious-liberty concerns, was in the process of planning a different theme for its 2019 annual conference at a resort hotel near Dallas but shifted gears after the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published a series of investigative stories about widespread abuse and coverup in Southern Baptist churches and denominational structures.
Russell Moore, head of the ERLC, called abuse “a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ” in an opening address to more than 1,600 church leaders registered at the conference and others watching online.
“There is nothing more Satanic than using the cover of Jesus to prey on vulnerable people,” Moore said.
Convention president J.D. Greear, who at this summer’s SBC annual meeting issued a clarion call to take seriously the denomination’s abuse crisis, said the problem didn’t begin with the publication of newspaper articles in February.
“Survivors and advocates have been calling our attention to this for years,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, but in the past they were treated as “simply the latest leftist attack on the church.”
“Believing this myth has caused us as a convention to miscategorize the words of people like Christa Brown, Tiffany Thigpen and Mary DeMuth and Anne Marie Miller and Dave Pittman and Jules Woodson, Megan Lively and so many other victims, as attacks from adversaries instead of warnings from friends,” Greear said. “It is wrong to characterize someone as just bitter because they raise their voice when their important warnings were not heeded.”
Lively, who 15 years ago reported to officials at an SBC seminary that she was raped by a fellow student, said when she came forward “I was seen as a problem to be dealt with rather than a child of God who had been sinned against.”
“I was seen as someone threatening an institution rather than a sister in Christ,” she said. “I was viewed as someone there to tarnish the reputation of the church, instead of being seen as part of the body of the same church.”
Beth Moore described the mishandling of abuse allegations in Southern Baptist life “a very public stumbling block to the gospel.”
“This denomination is embroiled in a scandal where the name of God – of the Holy One who dwells in unapproachable light – has been used as a storefront for darkness,” Moore said. “What has happened among us broadcasts a message to the unsaved that we are unsafe.”
Jackie Hill Perry, a poet and hip-hop artist who was sexually abused as a child, said when she grew up and got married she had a hard time accepting her husband’s complementarian view.
“He wanted to lead me well, but complementarianism as it looks when lived was terrifying when I remembered the last time I let a boy lead me,” she said.