Font Size » + | -By Randall A. Bach One out of every five American women has been raped. That is 23 million. Forty-four percent of American women, 53 million, have experienced some other form of sexual violence.1 Powerful men in the entertainment industry who fed their sexual appetites by feasting on females whose careers were at stake have been falling from their pedestals of power like timbers in a forest clearing. The reported scale of the abuse has been mind-numbing as the willingness of a few brave women to go public began like a trickle and soon turned into a torrent. The enormous scale of testimonials about powerful predators overwhelmed defense claims of “consensual” sex. Women who have maintained painful silence for years have felt emboldened to break free of imprisonment in their souls by publicly declaring how they have been sexually victimized. They have done that in spite of the fact that publicly revealing such intimate information can feel like being victimized again in terms of intrusiveness to privacy. Entertainment and business leaders in particular have been served notice that the presumptuous treatment of women as playthings can be costly to a leader’s career. A searchlight of accountability is peering into some very dark corners. AND THEN, THERE IS THE CHURCH If only the accounts and documentation of sexual abuse had stopped with the entertainment and business industries. They did not. Just when one thinks the many grievous chapters of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have come to an end, another head-shaking scandal hits the news. More recently, but on a much smaller scale, Southern Baptists have been confronting a history of sexual abuse by some pastors who had no accountability beyond the independent churches they led. We grieve for individuals who have been victimized by leaders who were trusted as spiritual and caring pastors or church elders. We also grieve for those denominations and their pain of addressing sin. Additionally, we have learned of a number of scandals involving megachurch pastors and their presumptuous use of power to sexually abuse congregants who looked to them for spiritual guidance and counsel. Every follower of Jesus mourns the damage done to victims and the stain against the Church. “EVEN MORE WILL BE REQUIRED” It often seems that leaders in contemporary America equate position with greater privilege instead of greater responsibility. However, Jesus declared a different standard for His followers: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Luke 12:48 informs us that When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. We are admonished in James 3:1, Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Furthermore, the Word is explicitly clear that sexual relations are to be exclusively reserved for a marital relationship between a man and a woman. In his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul emphasized, Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does (1 Corinthians 6:18). Clearly, a Christian leader’s taking sexual advantage of anyone, particularly under the mantle of a servant of God, is a sin with devastating consequences and grounds for disqualification from leadership. OPEN BIBLE CHURCHES So, what about Open Bible Churches? What do we believe, what preventative steps do we take, and what do we do regarding reports of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct by leaders? CREDENTIALED MINISTERS Prevention. Every person who applies for ministerial credentials with Open Bible Churches must agree to a criminal background check. These reports are studied for any flags of concern. Again, God can forgive any sin. Open Bible Churches does not “unforgive” sin when it does not issue credentials to people who have committed previous criminal sexual offenses. Rather, Open Bible has a responsibility not to recommend someone as an Open Bible minister who can be trusted when the nature of his or her past offense was a violation of trust that led to sexual abuse. Open Bible also recognizes that offenses such as sexual abuse can incur legal liabilities and other consequences if a person who may be judged guilty was knowingly entrusted with a ministerial credential and responsibilities. Standards. Every Open Bible minister signs and pledges to abide by a Ministerial Covenant of Ethics, found in the Open Bible Manual, which includes an ethic about maintaining appropriate relationships with the opposite sex. All Open Bible ministers are held accountable for adhering to this ethic (https://www.openbible.org/About-Us/OBC-Manual). Discipline. The Open Bible Manual includes a section on Discipline and Restoration of ministers. Among the listed causes for discipline are teaching false doctrine, conduct unbecoming a minister, immorality, insubordination, financial dishonesty, breach of ministerial ethics, and sexual harassment. The Manual also provides a procedure for initiating a charge against a minister. That charge is submitted to the respective regional executive director, whose responsibility it is to investigate. A person submitting a charge about a minister will be respected, and sensitivity regarding the situation will be exercised. Ministers are not judged purely on the basis of gossip or rumor. False or uncorroborated accusations can be devastating. Character assassination by false charges is an evil in itself. The recent confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh demonstrated the difficulty of sorting through allegations and the dangers of making judgments on allegations alone. However, if a charge against a minister is substantiated, a regional board of directors will take action regarding the minister’s service and recommend credential suspension or revocation to the Board of Credentials of Open Bible Churches. Depending on the nature and severity of the offense and the minister’s repentant acceptance of accountability, a caring avenue for discipline and restoration of ministry may be provided; this is always our hope. Our desire is care for the victim, the victim’s family, the minister, and the minister’s family (who are also victims). Counseling and other assistance may be provided in that quest. Depending on the nature of the offense and response of the minister upon being confronted, a prescribed pathway for restoration of ministry may be possible, or it might be necessary to revoke the minister’s ministerial credential, responsibilities, and privileges. Open Bible is Blessed. Barbara and I have traveled for many years among Open Bible churches and know so many Open Bible pastors and their spouses and other Open Bible ministers and church leaders. We love being part of the Open Bible family. The love of our pastors and church leaders for the Lord and their faithful dedication to serve Him, often at personal sacrifice, always moves my heart. They love their spouses and are honorable in their relationships. Like you, they grieve over reports of sexual abuse by church leaders anywhere. Open Bible is blessed by the spiritual dedication and faithfulness of our ministers and church leaders. Be Careful Not To Fall. However, we must be ever mindful that all leaders are subject to temptation: If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). When I served as a regional executive director, I was saddened to have to investigate and confront a couple of pastors (both of whom are now deceased) about accusations against them. Neither case involved minors, but both cases led to disciplinary action by Open Bible. So while loving and believing in our ministers and local church leaders, Open Bible must also approach sin among leaders with vigilant integrity. Mantle of Responsibility. Ministerial disciplinary matters are under the purview of Open Bible Churches rather than local church governance. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are independent and ordain their own pastors. The resulting lack of authority is a major problem they know they must address in order to provide consistent accountability for their ministers. The Open Bible Manual contains a Church Governing Board of Ethics, which clearly states the responsibility of a church governing board to notify their regional executive director upon learning of a violation of the Manual. Our regional executive directors are commissioned to serve at the front line of vigilance. It is our responsibility before God. That being said, there could be cases of sexual abuse in the past that were never brought to our attention. We regret that we could not address what we did not know. Additionally, there might be cases we have not addressed to the satisfaction of victims. We are accountable before God to be faithful stewards and ask forgiveness where we have fallen short while also praying for God’s direction, grace, and healing. LOCAL CHURCH LEADERSHIP Policies and Background Checks. All Open Bible churches have a holy responsibility to protect the lambs in our flocks. That means instituting policies for children’s and youth workers that safeguard children and protect the integrity of dedicated workers against false accusations. Every church, even smaller churches, should conduct background checks on children’s and youth workers. Pedophiles in particular like to find smaller churches where personal trust is high and the need for workers is great. We must protect the vulnerable by not enabling predators. A person with any record of sexual offense in the past should be disbarred from working with children or youth, ever. Can God forgive that person for past sin? Absolutely! However, the church must exercise great care about placing that person where there is temptation for another offense, just as we would avoid assigning someone who had been arrested for theft with the responsibility of counting offerings. That is wisdom. That is caring for people who have demonstrated vulnerability to a particular type of sin. If a parent decides to let a former sex offender have unsupervised control over his or her child, that is their decision. However, the church should not take risks with children and youth who have been entrusted to our supervision and instruction. In addition, if a church allows a former sex offender to work with children or youth, that church risks dangerous legal liability should the nightmare of an offense with children under the church’s care occur. That person may have repented, been saved, and long to serve in some way. Perhaps the leadership can find him or her another avenue of service with adequate safeguards, but they should not give the individual responsibilities that would bring temptation with other vulnerable people. A criminal background check as a matter of policy should be required for all children’s and youth workers. The policy is not selectively applied. In fact, many churches also make background checks a requirement for elders and all volunteers. No one should be offended; they are not being singled out. Embracing that practice makes a statement: “We value our children and aggressively take steps to protect them.” Many resources are available to help churches with policies and background checks. One is https://protectmyministry.com, where you can find information about best practices, implementation, training, and sample documents. Staff at Fort Des Moines Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines have written a Kids Policy Manual that could help your church get started on its own policy. The Fort has kindly made that manual available for download. Just visit the Resources page at www.openbible.org. Finding resources and help is not the problem today as much as awareness and the determination of pastors and church leaders to actually take necessary steps. Consider: how much is a child worth? SHINE LIKE A BRIGHT LIGHT Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16). The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:15). Those are powerful verses that include and do not exclude sexual conduct. You and I are called to be different as an important aspect of our testimony for God, so much that our good deeds (which include God-glorifying relationships) shine, so much that we are lights to the world, so much so that our lives make us shine like bright lights in contrast to the world around us. Powerful! “Live clean, innocent lives….” Sexual abuse and related sin will never be a problem for us if we stay in that zone, living clean and innocent lives. May the Holy Spirit be a beacon to Open Bible people, calling us to be faithful to God’s call to shine like bright lights! Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again (1 Thessalonians 5:23).