Last month I attended the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, along with nineteen thousand other people. One issue discussed from the floor intrigued me—how should we deal with sexual abuse inside the church? Motions were made for zero tolerance toward any act of sexual abuse and toward any church that tries to cover-up such abuse. I don’t know of any church or pastor who would disagree with that.
But the discussion failed to acknowledge factors within our churches that help to cultivate sexual abusers. That’s like wanting to rid our nation of drug addicts while ignoring the existence of drug dealers. If we’re serious about dealing with sexual abuse inside the church, then we also need to seriously address two issues within our church walls—pornography and promiscuity.
Pornography is one of the most prominent breeders of sexual abuse. It not only promotes such abuse but is the key funding arm for sex trafficking, which is skyrocketing. That’s because the porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined. Sadly, many active church attenders are helping to fund this industry.
More than half of pastors say that porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation (57%). And the majority of pastors say porn has adversely impacted the Church (69%). So, why is pornography not included in the conversation about sexual abuse? In my opinion, it’s because dealing with sexual perversion also means dealing with promiscuity.
Promiscuity and fornication aren’t words we hear much anymore. The free love movement of sixty years ago has come full circle. Because sex outside of marriage is now the norm, many churches no longer call it sin. God’s Word, however, is not ambiguous on the subject. The Bible associates sexual relations outside of God’s plan with being “unrighteous.” The apostle Paul wrote that “fornicators, adulterers, and homosexuals” (among others) “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
Paul doubles down in Ephesians 5:3-5. “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Scripture demands zero tolerance toward those who practice sexual sin in general—not just those who participate in its most perverted forms. Be sure that any sin thriving in our culture also exists within our churches. We cannot pervert what God intended without experiencing unintended consequences. To be clear, I am not equating those who are promiscuous with sexual abusers. My point is that the American church has tolerated promiscuity for a very long time. And in doing so, we’ve seen the growth of sexual perversion. Sin is never static or controlled; it only grows in intensity and in its ability to cause destruction.
Denominational Resolution or Biblical Resolve?
Denominational resolutions pale in comparison to biblical resolve and obedience. Without a doubt, churches need to hold those who sexually abuse others accountable to the law. Victims of abuse should be shown compassion, given comfort, and receive counseling in order to overcome the harm done to them.
But if that’s all we do, then we’re stopping short. Churches who really desire to stand against sexual abuse must preach and practice the full counsel of God. I truly believe that as the standard for biblical purity is promoted and practiced, sexual abuse and perversion will become less prevalent in the Church.