On February 9, the Houston Chronicle released the first in a series of articles, revealing that over the past twenty years, there have been over 700 cases of sexual abuse, primarily against minors, perpetrated by leaders in Southern Baptist churches. These articles report that somewhere around 380 church leaders were convicted, creditably accused or sued, or confessed. The number of those abused certainly represents only the fraction of victims that will come forward. The articles also shine light on the utter failure on the part of churches and church leadership to address the abuses, to implement policies that would prevent further abuse, and to too often allow abusers to continue working in church settings.
I’m still dealing with the grief and deep, deep anger that I felt as I read these stories. Perhaps you feel the same, or perhaps you’re mourning the fact that these numbers don’t surprise you at all anymore.
The reason I bring this up, in the context of worship and in the company of this community, is because for many of us the Southern Baptist Convention is one of our spiritual ancestors. Some of us came here from SBC churches or are one generation removed from the SBC, but even if you’re not, we’re talking about relatives in our faith tradition. I’m bringing this up now because I believe in owning up to the sins of our families, our forbearers, and our systems, of confessing that we share roots and in some ways are complicit in these crimes. I’m bringing this up now because I believe it is only through confession and by leaning heavily on God’s grace that we will be able to make today different from yesterday. I believe this is the way we continue to more fully become the beloved and inclusive people we are called to be, people who listen to, and make it our work to protect the vulnerable among us.
My prayer today:
O God, have mercy. O God, we are bearers of your image, called to embody your Love in this world, and yet over and over the clouds of our own ego, our own privilege, our own self-interest and self-protection cover over your image and make us enemies of your cause.
We have made you a religion, an institution, have leveraged your Word for our own power, and in so doing we have silenced the voices of those you love.
We have created a hierarchy, a patriarchy that clears the way for heinous abuses to take place, protecting the oppressors in our own perverted version of your name.
We have created a narrow category for who matters, who is actually created in your image, and in so doing give license to objectify and use anyone outside of that category for our own gratification. O God, have mercy.
We confess that we stand in the same tradition, we were born into the same family that commits these crimes. We acknowledge that we are touched by the same system that perpetuates these sins. O God, have mercy.
Give us the courage and vulnerability to become aware of and root out these constructs and blind spots that clear the way for destructive action.
May your justice roll down like a waterfall and your righteousness like the mighty current of a river.
May we answer your call to die to ourselves, to crucify our flesh, to put to death our self-justifying and self-interested egos in the pattern of Christ, so that your Love may radiate out from us.
May we recognize that your image dwells fully in male and female, adult and child, and that in Christ there is no longer slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, white nor people of color, man nor woman. Open our fists to truly share power equally with all of your children, to live into your Kingdom, not ours.
May we live into the identity to which you’ve called us, children of the covenant to bless the world, sharers in your Divine, loving likeness, and repairers of creation.
We pray in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Zachary Helton serves as co-pastor of Northminster Church in Monroe, Louisiana. He led this Prayer of Confession on February 17, 2019.