86 Alabama Baptist Pastors Sign Letter against Sex Abuse
By Greg Garrison
November 18, 2017
|Former Alabama Baptist Convention President Joe Godfrey and current State Convention President John Thweatt share a moment during a break in the state convention held Nov. 14-15, 2017, in Huntsville, Alabama. They have both signed a statement denouncing sexual abuse.(Photo by Greg Garrison/AL.com)|
More than 85 pastors at Southern Baptist-affiliated churches in Alabama have signed a letter this week saying they denounce sexual abuse against women, although the letter does not mention U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.
As of today there were at least 86 signees including the current president of the Alabama Baptist Convention and a past president of the state convention, though both and some other ministers expressed concerns earlier this week about whether the allegations against Moore are true.
Southern Baptists are the largest denomination in Alabama, with more than a million members affiliated through the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
Moore, a Southern Baptist who is a member of Gallant First Baptist Church, is a U.S. Senate candidate who is the subject of intense national conversation after allegations from several women that he targeted them for romantic and sexual advances when they were teenagers and he was a county prosecutor in his thirties.
"If he did it, we need to know that," said State Baptist President John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pell City. "We need to condemn it. If he didn't, then we need to know that too. There are probably some people who will believe him no matter what."
Thweatt, who has four daughters, said the denomination stands opposed to the abuse of women.
"Baptists have to stand against the abuse of women," he said. "It's not tolerable. There are no exceptions. We have to create a culture that treating women as sexual objects is not acceptable. There's no hesitance to speak against the abuse of women. But we're hesitant to speak out against Roy Moore because we don't know if it's true."
In addition to doubts about the allegations, pastors have reservations about Moore's opponent, said a former state convention president.
"I'm skeptical of everything that goes on in politics," said the Rev. Joe Godfrey, a former state convention president who is now in charge of lobbying for Baptists as executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program. "I don't know what to believe. The dilemma is Christians and pastors are torn. We don't know if the accusations are true. I hope we'll know by Dec. 12. (Democratic Senate candidate) Doug Jones is pro-abortion. That's weighing heavily on everybody."
On Friday, a group of liberal ministers released a statement explicitly denouncing Moore.
A Baptist pastor who signed the statement that does not mention Moore explained why.
"We chose in our statement to speak to the overall issue of sexual abuse and harassment of women taking place in our country, specifically over the past weeks as allegations have arisen from Hollywood producers to politicians," said the Rev. Carl Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Demopolis. "We chose, however, not to mention anyone in particular by name, because we didn't feel it was our place as pastors to step into the political arena, especially considering the climate of politics right now. In talking with others, we have been urged to mention Roy Moore by name. We have declined to do so, because if we name Moore, then we need to name many, many others who have been accused recently."
He said that directly addressing Moore would be entering the political arena.
"Often we hear criticism, and at times outrage, when pastors or church leaders enter the political debate," Williams said. "We are told that no one cares what we think, that pastors should stay out of politics, and that churches who try to persuade people to vote a certain way should have their tax-exempt status taken away. Yet here, in the midst of the Roy Moore allegations, pastors are applauded if they give an opinion publicly about Moore, and heralded as heroes if they denounce him, and those who don't are seen as somehow being complicit in child molestation and sexual abuse."
He added, "Our statement is strong. It strongly denounces sexual abuse and harassment, speaking from a biblical view, which is where we as pastors are to speak. God's Word is not silent on this issue, and we have sought to remind others that God's Word is the standard by which we should look at this situation, not the opinions of man."
Here is the statement and a list of signees:
A Statement on the denouncement of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and exploitation of women.
Prompted by the amount of victims of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and exploitation within the past several weeks coming forward with their accusations against persons (predominantly men) in positions of power and authority, we first, as followers of Jesus Christ, and second, as Alabama Baptist pastors, find it incumbent upon us to make the following statement:
We believe that the Bible declares that God has created both male and female in His image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:27) with intrinsic value and worth and to live before Him in complementary roles;
We believe that the Bible teaches that God created humanity to live in perfect relationship with Himself and with each other, and that God's perfect design was broken by the fall of man (Genesis 3:16-19);
We believe that the Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is to be practiced only within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman (Hebrews 13:4);
We believe that the result of man's fallen condition and deviation from God's perfect design for His creation is the brokenness of relationships between men and women which, at times, manifests itself in the form of physical and sexual abuse of women by men (Judges 19:25; 2 Samuel 11:2-4; 2 Samuel 13:14); and that in a broken and sexually depraved culture where every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and every year over 321,000 Americans are sexually assaulted (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence);
We believe the gospel redeems and restores the brokenness of mankind in every facet of God's creation, including relationships between men and women, demanding and enabling men to treat women with the utmost honor, dignity, and respect (1 Peter 3:7; Colossians 3:19) and that the Bible teaches that, in Christ, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28);
We resolve, therefore, as ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this fallen world to denounce and condemn every form of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and exploitation of women. We also resolve to pray for and seek opportunities to minister to victims of sexual abuse in the name and healing grace of Jesus Christ and to continue to uphold the honor, dignity, and respect of all people, both males and females, as image-bearers of God.