The Farmer and the Viper: Lessons from the Guidepost Solutions SBC ReportMay 23, 2022
As I read the shocking revelations of pervasive and systemic mishandling of sexual abuse allegations in the Southern Baptist Convention, it all had the disappointing feel of inevitability to me. Not because Southern Baptists are any less God fearing than other denominations, but because I believe that many in SBC leadership positions have lost their way. I say this not as a judge, but as a weary, recovering Southern Baptist.
I’m weary because this didn’t have to go down this way. I’m recovering because after years of attending a Southern Baptist church and working in a Southern Baptist agency, I decided to leave both. There were and continue to be wonderful, spiritually mature, and generous people in my former church and former workplace. Each were places where I developed friendships that I cherish. I’m sure some of you who are reading this fit into that category! Unfortunately, each had an astounding stench of arrogance in their leadership structures that inevitably led to their own types of abuses.
First hand experience in each setting taught me that people who seek to highlight and fix problems are often treated as though they are the problem. Problems to be, at best, diminished and ignored or, at worst, to be accused and silenced. I never personally faced problems of the magnitude these survivors of sexual assault and harrassment did. I can still understand part of why the coverup and additional abuse of dismissing their experiences happened the way it did. A lot of you aren’t going to like hearing what I’m about to say.
I’ll quote from the denomination’s own Bible translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 1, verse 25; speaking of what he calls the ungodly: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” Many in the SBC, especially in leadership positions, let their arrogance lead them to worship the trappings of their own popularity and power rather than the Savior.
Again I will say that it didn’t have to go down this way. Many good people were courageously trying to hold abusers, both sexual and spiritual, accountable for their actions. When they did, self-serving leaders stifled those cries for help. People they promised to care for and serve were seen as objects to be used, or roadblocks to be removed. Let’s be very clear about something - this didn’t happen by accident. These evil actions were intentional. So were the inactions of those who could have stopped the abuse, yet chose to ignore what they knew to be true.
It all makes me think about one of Aesop’s fables, The Farmer and the Viper. In the dead of winter, a farmer came across a viper freezing in the snow. Instead of accepting the reality of the viper’s nature, he held it close to him inside his coat to warm the creature. Once revived, the viper bit the farmer, because that’s what vipers do. As he lay dying, the farmer said that he got what he deserved for being kind to something so evil.
It’s not a perfect analogy because, of course, as Christians we believe in forgiveness and the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit. But let’s not confuse kindness with turning a blind eye to evil acts just because the person committing them is influential or powerful. No one wants to believe that people they admire are capable of criminal or predatory acts, because what does that then say about us and our gullibility? But for the sake of victims everywhere it’s time to stop mouthing Christian platitudes about leadership and admit this reality - abusers hurt people because that’s what abusers do.
So in keeping with the moral of the fable, is the Southern Baptist Convention now getting what it deserves? Some within the convention might be, finally. The majority of people in SBC congregations are being scorned simply because for some reason they chose to follow vipers. Only time will tell if enough people will wake up, look around, identify the rest of the vipers, and remove them from leadership. If that doesn’t happen, I believe the denomination will and should go the way of the farmer from the fable.
If you want to know more about how and why all of this happened, please read this incredibly well written article by former Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who tried to sound the alarm and was hounded by SBC leadership until he felt that he had no choice but to leave the denomination. I’ll end this blog as he ended his article. I can imagine the tears of frustration and anger in his eyes as he wrote that he wondered “...how many children were raped, how many people were assaulted, how many screams were silenced, while we boasted that no one could reach the world for Jesus like we could. That’s more than a crisis. It’s even more than just a crime. It’s blasphemy. And anyone who cares about heaven ought to be mad as hell.”
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