By Steven Norris
“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.” Good for you, Bartimaeus. You wouldn’t be silenced and your plea for mercy reached the ears of someone who could do something about it. Thank you for speaking up and not allowing the crowd to silence your plea for help and your witness to the Church.
This week, I am struck by how often the cries of those in need are silenced. Dr. Karoline Lewis, professor at Luther Seminary, asks, “…how often do we feel like we are required to keep silent? How often are we asked to keep our voices down, lest there is some offense that would cause a disruption in our very controlled and contrived world?”
It pains me to write that this is exactly what we are seeing in the Southern Baptist Convention right now. This Sunday will mark the end of Ronnie Floyd’s tenure as president of the SBC Executive Committee, the governing body of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. He departs in the wake of deep controversy.
In 2019, the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles, bringing to light sexual abuses throughout the convention that had been overlooked, covered up, or otherwise ignored for years. The past two years have brought a sense of reckoning to this denomination that fostered my early growth as a minister. I have grieved deeply.
This past summer, messengers to the SBC Convention rejected the plan of the Executive Committee to investigate itself, calling for an independent task force to do a thorough and comprehensive look at the allegations. They also called on the Executive Committee to be fully transparent and waive attorney-client privilege in relations to the sexual abuse investigation to ensure that the whole truth was discovered.
Floyd and about a dozen trustees have opted to resign their positions rather than waive privilege as the messengers demanded. Just to be clear, Floyd has not been accused of perpetuating any abuse, but of hindering the investigation.
I am not a lawyer. I know that legal issues such as these are tricky and attorney-client privilege is a vitally important part of legal apparatus. As a pastor, however, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that silencing important voices does not result in healing. Bartimaeus teaches us that quite clearly. I also know that the scriptures teach us: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
Too often, victims have been hushed through explicit and implicit messages. They have been shamed and made to feel that abuse was merely misunderstood or that they shared the blame for its occurrence. We have also shushed important voices in our faith communities for any number of other reasons: race, gender, or sexuality to name a few. I find myself standing with Bartimaeus and for Bartimaeus. We need transparency. It is the only way that we might chart a path towards healing and genuine forgiveness.