Susan Codone, a member of Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, speaks as part of a panel on sexual abuse in the SBC at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, June 11, in Birmingham, Alabama. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
There I was, one of five men in a room full of women, one of three pastors. What brought me to this room I will explain but I was present to personally hear the testimony of Dr. Susan Codone, a professor at Mercer and member of Ingleside Baptist Church who most recently served on the Sexual Abuse Study Committee for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The event was the Centennial Baptist Association’s fall women’s ministry event, Abide.
A few years ago, I was told by someone close to me that she had been molested by someone else who was close to me. The reason I was being told – as I understand it – was because I am a pastor and that I may have opportunity to counsel and comfort others. This person then told me their story which included a journey of letter writing, pastoral counsel, forgiveness, and some semblance of reconciliation. Little did I know how this conversation would come into play in other ministry moments.
Most particularly, I talked with a lady in her ninth decade who was still dealing with the sexual abuse she’d suffered from two close relatives. I shared a portion of the earlier story and reminded her of Jesus’ teaching that it is better for a millstone to be tied around someone’s neck and thrown into the sea than to cause a little one to stumble. We also discussed how forgiveness on our part may still extend to those who are deceased. However, no one escapes the justice of a just God.
In a brief exchange with Dr. Codone, I was able to relate both of these conversations and thank her for her courage and for allowing God to use her to help this 36-year-old pastor think through these issues in such a way that I can be a more vigilant and faithful shepherd. She is telling a story by God’s grace that thousands of women (and near as many men) will never actually tell publicly for a variety of reasons. She encouraged those present to “endure” in a biblical sense and challenged them to know that through a process from which one does not “move on” but “manage,” the Lord will give us grace through His faithfulness.
The sexual abuse of a child is pure evil. That sexual abuse would take place in the context of the local church by adult leaders is horrifying and grievous. The sobering reality is that it is … and it has. Appallingly, in many instances, staff and volunteers have been able to quietly move on to other settings to become repeat offenders without being properly reported to authorities.
As a pastor of a normative church in rural Georgia, I want to challenge my fellow pastors and brothers and sisters in ministry to take seriously the “Caring Well” challenge (www.caringwell.com). We cannot ignore the research and report from LifeWay and the ERLC on this issue.
I am thankful for leaders in our convention like Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, and Thomas Hammond who take this issue seriously and have demonstrated godly and courageous leadership. May we be shepherds and church members who care well for our flocks and defend the Lord’s precious sheep against the vicious wolves of sexual abusers.
John Blackmon serves as pastor of Meansville Baptist Church.