By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
It seems like the more Southern Baptists and Christians try to do the right thing, the more Satan interferes and creates confusion and chaos.
Southern Baptists took a strong stance against sexual abuse, especially of children, during the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, Ala. The cynics among us would say that’s “a no-brainer.” Southern Baptists, of all people, should be opposed to abuse of any kind. I agree wholeheartedly.
But, unfortunately, being opposed to sexual misconduct and abuse and actually stopping it is two different matters. We can do “all the right things” and abuse still occurs.
Why? Because Satan goes where the church and Christians can’t go — into the hearts and minds of weak people. Satan can twist hearts and minds of men and women until they can’t differentiate right from wrong and moral from immoral.
As a result, these men and women abuse and sexually assault others, including children.
Within only two weeks of the SBC annual meeting, at least two instances have come to light in larger entities that no doubt had safeguards in place.
The day I left for the annual meeting in Birmingham, a story broke on the local news about a former summer intern at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville who was arrested for the statutory rape of a student that “appears to have taken place last summer” on the church’s Gallatin campus, according to a statement from the church.
Long Hollow is a solid Tennessee and Southern Baptist congregation. Pastor Robby Gallaty is well respected across the country in Baptist circles. He stated, “As with all of our employees, every intern we hire must pass a strict background check and interview process before they can serve with our church family. It sickens me that our processes and safeguards didn’t prevent this from happening.”
Then, just last week, a 2019 camp staffer with LifeWay Christian Resources was arrested in Overgaard, Ariz., and charged with multiple felony counts of child molestation by the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office.
The alleged abuse of two minors occurred at Bison Ranch Retreat Center during the camp. Paradis’ LifeWay camp involvement was limited to the week of June 10-14, LifeWay said in a news release received by Baptist Press June 14. As soon as LifeWay was informed of the charges, they terminated his employment, according to the news release.
Again, LifeWay had safeguards in place. According to the BP story, LifeWay conducts both reference and criminal background checks for all seasonal and full-time staff at its camps, and all staff are required to take sexual abuse training.
There’s no doubt in my mind that both Long Hollow and LifeWay did everything possible to prevent abuse from taking place. Regardless of what we do, Satan is still present and at work. If abuse can still happen at two strong entities such as Long Hollow and LifeWay, it can happen anywhere.
So, does that mean we give up? Of course not. We must be more diligent than ever, taking every possible precaution to protect our church members and especially our children.
For years, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board has provided educational materials to assist churches. Today, other entities, such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission also are producing materials.
Southern Baptists and our churches must keep pressing on, doing whatever it takes. We can’t say, “Oh, woe is me” and give up.
As Satan continues his path of destruction in the lives of churches and people, we must resolve to be more diligent than ever – praying for a hedge of protection around our churches and continuing to put every safeguard in place, even when they fail at times in some places. We only hear about the failures. Only God knows how many children have been kept safe because churches acted in the appropriate manner.
That’s why we keep going. Satan wants us to concede and give him the victory. That would be wrong on our part because we know who wins in the end. God is on His throne.