Southern Baptists Disfellowship Church Over Abuse for the First Time

"The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has disfellowshipped a west Texas congregation that knowingly employs a registered sex offender as pastor, the first church to lose its ties with the denomination amid a heightened push to combat sexual abuse." - CToday

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WallyMorris's picture

I don't know the details of this church's situation, but it brings up an interesting question as far as pastoral qualifications: Can someone who committed sexual abuse, goes to prison, gets saved and receives teaching/discipleship, then years later believes the Lord is calling him to pastoral ministry - Can he pastor a church? No problems since the initial offense, genuine life transformation. Can he be a pastor? Involves many interesting questions and situations. Some people will accept a man who has been divorced years earlier but not a man convicted of sexual abuse. People defending divorced pastors often use the "he's been forgiven" argument or the "happened before salvation" argument. The same argument could be used in sexual abuse. My point is not to advocate for pastoral ministry men who have been convicted of sexual abuse. My point is that Christians today are often inconsistent and very subjective on what and who they will accept for pastoral ministry. Divorced man? Yes. Man convicted of sexual abuse? No. Yet each have their significant problems.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Larry's picture

Moderator

Can someone who committed sexual abuse, goes to prison, gets saved and receives teaching/discipleship, then years later believes the Lord is calling him to pastoral ministry - Can he pastor a church?

Is he blameless and of good reputation with those outside the church? However you answer that answers the main question.

TylerR's picture

Editor

We wouldn't disqualify from pastoral ministry a man who had sex with his girlfriend when he was 19, even though this fails the "holiness" test. Yet, divorce is often the defacto unpardonable sin, even if it happened, say, 25 years ago before he was a Christian. Make of that what you will.

With sexual abuse, there is likely no way the man would ever really be trusted again. It's a bridge too far. The trust factor looms much larger with this offense. Not a good idea!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

WallyMorris's picture

The "blameless" and "good reputation" qualifications are significant problems for this situation. But then you have the practical question: There's almost always going to be someone who has criticism of someone. How do you practically determine if someone is "blameless" and "good reputation"? How do you objectively determine that? Someone convicted of one sex abuse 20 years earlier, genuine transformation since then. He's been blameless since then. So although these qualifications are significant, at what point does the past stay in the past?

As far as "trust": Well, some will trust him, some won't trust him. The same concern could apply to divorce. I would agree that someone convicted of sex abuse pastoring a church is "not a good idea" practically. But a consistent Biblical argument will be harder to develop.

Not to minimize the sin, but sexual abuse has become THE BIG SIN today. The SBC will spend years dealing with this one issue and its related issues.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Mark_Smith's picture

The EC targets this church with a high profile reason to disfellowship. I have no idea the details because they provided none. But, it seems the pastor has not been accused of doing anything improper at his church. Yet, there are dozens of churches where we know people have been abused and the pastor and other leaders covered it up... This is what I mean by the SBC leadership just wanting to look good rather than really fix the deep problems. There are wolves out there!

Larry's picture

Moderator

There's almost always going to be someone who has criticism of someone. How do you practically determine if someone is "blameless" and "good reputation"? How do you objectively determine that? Someone convicted of one sex abuse 20 years earlier, genuine transformation since then. He's been blameless since then. So although these qualifications are significant, at what point does the past stay in the past?

I don't know that you can ever objectively determine it in a foolproof way, but not all sins are the same. And not all issues are sin. Someone who complains that a pastor preaches too much on sin is far different kind of "blame" than someone who complains that a pastor seems a little too friendly with ladies or one with credible accusations of sexual abuse.

The same concern could apply to divorce. I would agree that someone convicted of sex abuse pastoring a church is "not a good idea" practically. But a consistent Biblical argument will be harder to develop.

I don't think it is that hard. It could apply to divorce but don't we all recognize that there a different between abusing a child and divorcing someone? That is not to say that a divorced person is qualified (or unqualified for that matter), but it seems pretty easy to see that there is a difference between them.

The consistent biblical argument is "blameless." The past stays in the past when it no longer a cause for blame.  

WallyMorris's picture

"The past stays in the past when it no longer a cause for blame. "

If true, then why not apply it to sexual abuse? If there is a difference between sexual abuse and divorce, then what is that difference? And how do you determine that objectively, avoiding subjective opinions? If not all sins are the same, then how do you determine which sins are not the same and avoid subjective bias? For example, divorce may involve physical abuse, neglect, adultery, fighting. So in what way is that different from sexual abuse? Yes, there is a difference, but how is it different? Is it possible that emotion and cultural expectations are affecting how we view sexual abuse?

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

TylerR's picture

Editor

Sexual crimes are likely the most intimate and personal kinds of violations you can commit against someone. They violate the most intimate trust there is. For these reasons, it is unlikely a congregation can really trust a man with this in his past in a spiritual care role. That doesn't mean he can't be used; he just likely cannot be used as a pastor.

That said, if a church is made fully aware of the facts and circumstances, and if the pulpit  committee did its due diligence to find out as much as it could, and the church still wants the guy - then this is the church's decision, of course. No worries.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

For reference, here's the Texas law under which the man was sentenced.  We are talking about actual penetration with aggravating circumstances indicating deliberate cruelty on his part, and he'd ordinarily spend a few years in prison for this--Jack Schaap's conviction was actually for, as far as I can tell, a lesser crime, and he got ten years.  Also worth noting; usually the actual conviction is for a lesser crime than was actually committed.  So as far as we can tell, this is not a guy whose hormones just got the best of him and he "copped a feel" or something, but rather a fairly serious criminal.  Judging by his picture, he was at least in his mid forties when the crimes occurred, too; he was old enough to know better.

To draw a Biblical parallel, if this timeline is indicative, Paul's first missionary journey was 12 years after his conversion, and he'd been risking death from the Romans, Pharisees, and Sanhedrin to boot.  He had some "cred" that this guy does not.  Likewise, Moses waited 40 years in the desert before resuming ministry, no?   And then you've got David's consequences--two rebellions, the deaths of four sons, and a plague.  So in Scripture, the path back to full service is a bit steep and tiring.  I don't see that here.

Probably the most damning thing here is a deacon's comment that "most" people know about it,and that he was kinda-sorta kept away from children, except for baptizing them.  And he wasn't kept away from counseling adults at all. 

So while I can, per Wally's comment and Scripture, leave some room for repentant sinners to rejoin ministry, I'm uneasy at this one.  Here's a bit more; aerial view of the church showing about 50 parking spaces and a 3-4000 square foot building, plus what appears to be a garage or something.  So it's definitely a small congregation, most likely without a lot of funds to pay someone.  Now here's a map of Baptist churches in Midland, TX.  Maybe if the best they can do is to hire this guy (possibly away from Wal-Mart stocking shelves or something), maybe....it's time to disband?

Maybe one of the biggest obstacles to purifying the church is the notion that "the show must go on", even when God does not provide the resources.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

The EC targets this church with a high profile reason to disfellowship. I have no idea the details because they provided none. But, it seems the pastor has not been accused of doing anything improper at his church. Yet, there are dozens of churches where we know people have been abused and the pastor and other leaders covered it up... This is what I mean by the SBC leadership just wanting to look good rather than really fix the deep problems. There are wolves out there!

Mark, regarding the notion that it doesn't present details, every journalist (my wife has a degree in the art, my great uncle was fairly eminent) knows that you get a certain number of column-inches, and that number really only increases as the writer makes a good case for it.  So you're not going to get all the details from any one article. 

What you do, though, is use Bing or Google to search on "Phillip Rutledge Ranchland Heights", and you're going to find a wealth of information.  Mug shots, birthdate, crimes committed, term in jail (originally sentenced to 11 years, appears to have been released in 2012.  Yes, these clowns hired a guy just four years out of jail for rape, apparently.  

No doubt there's a lot of work to do, but a lot of it has to do with persuading churches that tolerating this sort of thing, as well as the things you mention, is unacceptable.  So IMO, this is a great start.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

If true, then why not apply it to sexual abuse?

I would apply it to sexual abuse.

If there is a difference between sexual abuse and divorce, then what is that difference?

It's hard for me to under this question. I can't imagine you don't know the difference between sexual abuse and divorce. One is a crime against an unconsenting and unable to consent child that steals his or her innocence, their childhood, and their well-being. The other is (God-allowed at times) action taken between two consenting adults who entered into the partnership willingly. 

And how do you determine that objectively, avoiding subjective opinions?

By noting the participants and the views that even unbelievers have (cf. 1 Cor 5:1). Not even the Gentiles, so to speak, would question these things.

If not all sins are the same, then how do you determine which sins are not the same and avoid subjective bias?

By reading and studying Scripture and making wise applications to this age.

Is it possible that emotion and cultural expectations are affecting how we view sexual abuse?

This is the kind of question that gives religious people, especially fundamentalists, a bad name. I hope you will go back and edit that statement upon which time I will edit this out. There is no emotion nor cultural expectation that worsens sexual abuse. It is bad and we should not hesitate to say so. We in no way should make any sort of moral equivalency to divorce. Brothers, these things ought not so to be (to quote someone else).

Bert Perry's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

"The past stays in the past when it no longer a cause for blame. "

If true, then why not apply it to sexual abuse? If there is a difference between sexual abuse and divorce, then what is that difference? And how do you determine that objectively, avoiding subjective opinions? If not all sins are the same, then how do you determine which sins are not the same and avoid subjective bias? For example, divorce may involve physical abuse, neglect, adultery, fighting. So in what way is that different from sexual abuse? Yes, there is a difference, but how is it different? Is it possible that emotion and cultural expectations are affecting how we view sexual abuse?

I think the "rub" is "when it no longer [is] a cause for blame".  How do we know that?  To use divorce as an example, do we know the applicant's reasons for his divorce?  Would his ex-wife largely agree with him when he admits this?  (key gut check on our counsel, no?)  What has he done with that--is there something where we can point, as with Matthew, to clear evidence of repentance?  Maybe start ministry by talking openly and honestly about what caused his divorce to a families conference or something?  Something like "this is how I got involved in adultery/domestic violence/etc.."?

Same thing for someone convicted of a sex crime.  My gut feeling is that churches generally do not know their members well enough to parse this out, and hence almost all churches ought to be especially cautious about moving too fast.  (especially if the candidate spent close to a decade in the pokey)  Maybe like Ted Bundy pointed out his contention that the gateway to his rapes and murders was ever more violent porn?

Is it conditioned to a degree by emotion and cultural expectations?  Of course, no matter where we come down on this.  I was listening to a podcast involving Diane Langberg of GRACE today, and the cultural expectation she started with was to ignore allegations.  On the flip side, I've interacted with people who argued emphatically that there shouldn't even be cross examination of allegations.  Praying for a happy medium that conforms to the nature of the evidence here.

And I'd hope we'd all agree that a person ought to wait a bit more than four years after a rape imprisonment before resuming (or assuming) ministry.  This one just boggles the mind!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Larry, you wrote:

"I can't imagine you don't know the difference between sexual abuse and divorce." and

"This is the kind of question that gives religious people, especially fundamentalists, a bad name. I hope you will go back and edit that statement upon which time I will edit this out. There is no emotion nor cultural expectation that worsens sexual abuse. It is bad and we should not hesitate to say so. We in no way should make any sort of moral equivalency to divorce. Brothers, these things ought not so to be (to quote someone else)."

You apparently misunderstand what I am trying to do here. Read more carefully, perhaps without your bias against Fundamentalists. Of course I know the difference between sexual abuse and divorce. I am simply aiming for clarification on how we objectively distinguish the consequences of certain sins which affect qualifications for pastoral ministry. We have to evaluate qualifications objectively without the emotional and cultural influences of our time. Yes, of course, sexual abuse is wrong. My concern is that we don't let the emotion naturally associated with sexual abuse unwisely affect our application of Biblical teaching. I am not making a "moral equivalency to divorce" but only using divorce as an illustration of how we apply Biblical teaching subjectively. In fact, your last response reflects one of the points I am making: Over-reacting emotionally to a very sensitive problem. You misunderstood what I am doing here. Read more carefully.

Bert's last post is helpful and reflects a lot of what I've taught in our church about pastoral qualifications, divorce, and sexual abuse.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Mark_Smith's picture

What is this google machine you speak of? I've never heard of it?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Read more carefully, perhaps without your bias against Fundamentalists.

That may be the first time I have ever been accused of having a bias against fundamentalists. However, my point was about religion in general and fundamentalists in particular who are too often known for unwise or awkward statements. I think that was an unwise statement that reflects negatively on fundamentalists, something I do not desire because I am not biased. 

I am simply aiming for clarification on how we objectively distinguish the consequences of certain sins which affect qualifications for pastoral ministry. We have to evaluate qualifications objectively without the emotional and cultural influences of our time. Yes, of course, sexual abuse is wrong. My concern is that we don't let the emotion naturally associated with sexual abuse unwisely affect our application of Biblical teaching. I am not making a "moral equivalency to divorce" but only using divorce as an illustration of how we apply Biblical teaching subjectively. In fact, your last response reflects one of the points I am making: Over-reacting emotionally to a very sensitive problem. You misunderstood what I am doing here. Read more carefully.

Reading is all I have to go on. Rhetorical points are good, but I certainly question the wisdom of your rhetorical method appearing to equate divorce and child sexual abuse, particularly with regards to reputation and blame. As I say, even the Gentiles understand this. It just does not seem wise.

The issue is "blameless" and "have a good reputation with those outside." Of course there is some subjectivity there, but appealing to technicalities probably won't help that. I don't see how "blameless" can be separated from the emotional and cultural influences of our time. Can someone guilty of child sexual abuse have a good reputation with those outside the church? Perhaps in a Romeo and Juliet situation or maybe someone who is on the list for relieving themselves in public. But as a general rule, I don't see how.

Is having convicted and registered sex abusers in the pastorate really the battle that we as Christians want to fight? Forgiveness and restoration is clear in Scripture. Let's fight that one. The right to leadership is not guaranteed. 

I am not emotional about it at all. But the issue is blameless and of a good reputation. Tell me how a lifetime registered sex offender meets that qualification?