This is why people are leaving the church

Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]

September 21, 2023

By Julia Goldie Day

Recently I was surprised to see a post from one of my former seminary professors quoting leadership advice from John Ortberg. Perhaps he did not know what caused John Ortberg to resign from his church.

Multiple credible media reports have noted Ortberg left his last position as pastor because he allowed one of his children to continue to volunteer with minors after discovering the adult child struggled with a sexual attraction to minors. While reports and opinions vary on the result of investigations, Ortberg was reinstated after a period of leave and said he “failed to do the right thing” and apologized for his “lack of transparency.” Later he and the church parted ways, citing broken trust and fallout from his poor decision making.

I don’t think sharing leadership advice from this man is appropriate and said so in the social media comments. Particularly coming from a dean of a seminary. I’m grateful he listened and took down the post.

It brings to mind the recent actions of Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher in regard to their involvement with That ’70s Show co-star Denny Masterson’s sentencing after being found guilty of rape. Evidently, they wrote character letters to the judge on behalf of Masterson. This video from Kunis and Kutcher tells us they are “aware” of the pain they caused, and they are sorry “if” they retraumatized the victims as that was not their intent.

Christa Brown, a survivor herself and a loud voice in calling for reform in churches surrounding coverup of sexual abuse, posted on X: “Triggers in me the memory of letters I’ve seen from Southern Baptist pastors asking judges to grant leniency in the sentencing of their clergy colleagues who raped kids. Always the same. The powerful rally around the powerful. Stinks of infinite (bull and poop emoji).”

Significant public outrage ensued and Kunis and Kutcher resigned their roles at Thorn, an organization founded by Kutcher and former spouse, Demi Moore, to build technology to defend children from sexual abuse.

I can hear what many of you are thinking already — because you have been conditioned to think this way — “What about forgiveness?”

Did you not also hear Jesus say to gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin?

Our work as followers of Jesus doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to abuse and get to keep an eye, or a pulpit, or whatever position we have in which we exert power.

Jesus does require us to forgive as well. However, it’s not a binary choice between accountability and forgiveness. It’s both.

A well-known pastor who was removed from his lead pastor position at NewSpring Church in my home state of South Carolina started a new church called Second Chance Church after his very public marital and abuse of alcohol failings. While some commend his (late) attempt at honesty, the information already was out there anyway. Some could say he merely seized another opportunity or gimmick to get up in front of people and spout his gospel of spiritual success. In last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 5, he said people are leaving “woke” churches because they make you “weak.” His church is growing, so it must be of Jesus.

There are actions that require painful removals. Some actions like coverup of child sexual abuse should disqualify anyone from ministry and ever holding the title of pastor again. It’s beyond obvious that someone who perpetrates sexual abuse is disqualified from ministry, but considering the continual attempt to avoid responsibility in the SBC requires it to be said.

This is why folks are leaving the church.

This is why pastors leave the ministry.

Not because they have been caught out in some moral failing but because they are so tired of people covering up abuse who have eyes that do not see, and it’s not because they have been gouged out. They do not see because they are blind to the horrors of abuse. Not just blind to sexual abuse but blind to the abuses of racism, misogyny, poverty, nationalism and hatred of LGBTQ folx.

This is why I left. Maybe if enough of us leave we can hope to restore our vision, seeing with the eyes of Jesus and loving our neighbor.

Julia Goldie Day is an ordained minister within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and lives in Memphis, Tenn. She is a painter and proud mother to Jasper, Barak and Jillian. Learn more at her website or follow her on socials @JuliaGoldieDay.