It is difficult to follow the war in the Southern Baptist Convention without a working knowledge of Biblical symbolism.
Consider this passage in a May 31 letter from Rev. Russell Moore to SBC President JD Greear, which describes the key events leading up to Moore’s recent resignation as head of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission. .
“You and I have both heard, in closed-door meetings, about survivors of sexual abuse in terms of ‘Potiphar’s wife’ and other spurious Bible analogies,” Moore wrote in a letter posted to the Baptist Blogger website. “The conversations in these closed-door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew. … And as you know, this follows a toll from Executive Committee staff and others calling the victims “crazy” and, at least in one case, as worse than the sexual predators themselves. “
Who was “Potiphar’s wife”? She was known for her efforts to manipulate Joseph during his slavery in Egypt. The Genesis account notes, “Now Joseph was handsome and handsome. And after a while, his master’s wife looked at Joseph and said, “Lie with me. “” When Joseph refused, the seductress accused him of assault and had him jailed.
It’s easy to see how the insults of “Potiphar’s wife” would fit into attempts to discredit Moore and the activists who want America’s largest Protestant herd to change the way its agencies, seminars, and nearly 48,000 autonomous congregations deal with sexual abuse.
Moore’s resignation, after years of attacks by critics, put sexual abuse high on the agenda of the SBC’s national meetings June 15-16 in Nashville – with the election of a new president. One outspoken critic of Moore – the Reverend Mike Stone of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia – is one of four presidential candidates. Stone is also the outgoing chairman of the troubled executive committee and a leader of the conservative Baptist network, which has attacked Moore, Greear and others.
Other pressing issues loom in the background. Ahead of the 2016 election, Moore – a staunch conservative on issues such as abortion and the rights of religious believers in the First Amendment – made headlines when he called Donald Trump a “horrible candidate” with of “serious moral problems” who had to repent of his sins and embrace Christianity.
But in a 2020 letter to directors of ERLC, first published by Religion News Service, Moore claimed that conflicts with Trump supporters were not the main cause of investigations into the impact of his work in as the leading Southern Baptist voice in Washington, DC – including some critics withhold donations to the SBC co-op program.
“The problem here is, first and foremost, sexual abuse. This executive committee, through its working group on statutes, has “exonerated” churches … from serious accusations of cover-up sexual abuse. JD Greear, our president of the SBC, and I criticized the decision, believing that it endangered not only the evangelical testimony of the SBC, but, more importantly, the lives of vulnerable children in Southern Baptist churches. “
Tensions rose in 2019, when Moore allowed sexual abuse activist Rachael Denhollander to directly criticize the executive committee at the SBC’s “Caring Well” conference on sexual abuse, including what she saw as the unethical treatment of a survivor of abuse.
“It infuriated some of the executive directors on the Executive Committee,” Moore wrote. It didn’t help that the “executive committee contributed money to Caring Well.” Bullying tactics, he added, “have been used to create a culture where countless children have been torn to pieces, where women have been raped and then ‘broken’.”
The reactions online have been fierce, including a video of Stone declaring, “As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I find Russell Moore’s latest attack absolutely slanderous, and it’s as inflammatory as it is. inaccurate. … It’s not biblical, it’s ungodly, it’s scandalous. “
However, there was another strategic response – a motion from two pastors, Ronnie Parrott of Christ Community Church in Huntersville, NC, and Grant Gaines of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, calling on the next president of the SBC to initiate a process leading to a third party investigation by the Executive Committee. This would include “allegations of mismanagement of cases of sexual abuse, mistreatment of victims of sexual abuse, a pattern of intimidation and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.”
Terry Mattingly conducts GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.