Evangelicals, It’s Time for an ‘Integrity Resurgence’

By Tom Gilson Published on June 16, 2018

Evangelical leaders are finally opening up about integrity problems in the Church. It’s a hopeful sign — and it’s about time.

The turning point may have come in the past few weeks when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary dismissed its president, Dr. Paige Patterson. He had a long history of gross disregard for women’s concerns, ranging from treating them as sex objects to seriously mishandling reports of rape.

Patterson had been one of two key leaders in the denomination’s “Conservative Resurgence.”

Patterson had been one of two key leaders in the denomination’s “Conservative Resurgence,” the Southern Baptist movement that may well have preserved the future of Bible-believing evangelicalism in America. His co-leader in the movement, Judge Paul Pressler, is being sued by three men who claim he molested them over a period of years beginning in the late 1970s.

Sounds to me like it’s time for an Integrity Resurgence.

Leaders Not Above Criticism

Patterson and Pressler were powerful leaders, men of enormous influence. Were they above criticism? Too important to be held accountable? Not a chance. Their place in the Church couldn’t touch the apostle Peter’s. Peter (Cephas) let his integrity slip once, treating Gentiles as lesser persons than Jews. Paul saw that and “opposed him to his face,” telling him “he stood condemned” for his actions, as Paul writes in Galatians 2:11-14.

Harsh words. But Peter accepted the criticism, thereby keeping his authority to preach and to lead. For no Christian leader has any authority at all beyond his determination to follow Jesus Christ — which includes being ready to repent of sin.

Evangelicalism needs to be ready to repent. That includes its leaders.

Moore and Mohler Speak Up

Al Mohler, president of the large and influential Southern Baptist Seminary, predicts there will be many more Patterson-like revelations to come. This may be the time, he fears, when “the wrath of God” will fall on the Southern Baptist Convention.

Beth Moore, possibly the most prominent woman teacher among evangelicals today, chimed in with a very personal blog post detailing the flagrant sexism she’s put up with from other Christian leaders. This isn’t about whether women should be allowed to teach in the church.

This is about (for example) a highly respected theologian looking her up and down on their first meeting, and saying, “You look better than [another prominent teacher].” That’s sexism on anyone’s theology, and it’s wrong.

Some Resist Accountability

Ed Stetzer wrote in Christianity Today of Patterson’s strong and persistent resistance to criticism. Stetzer was formerly the head of the Southern Baptist LifeWay Research arm, and is now a professor at Wheaton College and executive director of the Billy Graham Center there.

He concludes his article:

In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods. What we really needed to do was be about our mission and hold each other accountable.

We Must Keep Our Guard Up

This is nothing new. Church history is filled with dismal stories of imperfect leaders’ errors. That the Church has not only survived but done enormous good in the world is testimony to God’s work. A merely human institution would have collapsed into moral irrelevance or outright destructiveness. It’s happened with other religions and it’s happened with nations and empires. Meanwhile the Church keeps moving forward, warts and all.

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But we must keep guard over ourselves. Galatians 6:1 instructs all who are “spiritual” gently and humbly to restore anyone caught in any sin. The command not to “sharply rebuke” a leader (1 Tim. 5:1) still leave room for younger Christians to exhort him, and for other leaders to take it from there as needed. There is healing in confessing our sins openly with trusted persons (James 5:16) and giving them up.

Accountability In Action

I’ve seen it in action. For a total of some fifteen years I served in accountability positions with the large evangelical mission agency Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru). I was a divisional HR director for a season, and later I was a senior advisor on a team closely connected with internal audit.

I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Cru had (and has) the finest people in the world: intense mission motivation, strong love for God, high integrity. Except for the inevitable few. There are always exceptions, and it was my job to deal with them.

Cru’s culture was marked with a positive, liberating pursuit of God and our mission. Yet we also practiced accountability. I was responsible to handle hard personnel matters ranging from petty theft to a man shacking up with a woman not his wife.

Our first question in every case was, “How can we help restore this person?” When restoration was impossible we removed the person from our staff. There’s biblical precedent for that in denominations and in the local church, too; see Matthew 18:15-17.

Accountability Works

I’m fully convinced that being fired was good for the people we let go, and not just for the organization. One man I dismissed from our mission thanked me for it later. It had forced him to “grow up,” he said. I believe the same thing happens with people who don’t come back and say thanks, too. Either that, or they’re not open to accountability and growth, and in that case they really don’t belong in leadership.

The Church depends on God’s blessing. Sure, God will keep His mission and ministry moving forward in spite of our human failings. We know that from Church history. But those who pursue God and His ways experience His blessing in ways no other can know.

While the world is on the lookout for Christians to fail, they still respect integrity. It will lead some non-believers to put their faith in Christ.

Time for an Integrity Resurgence

The Southern Baptists held their annual nationwide meeting last week. Paige Patterson wisely chose not to attend and not to preach a keynote sermon for which he’d been slated. The denomination issued a resolution on sexual abuse. It’s a start. How much good it does will depend on whether leaders will accept accountability now, not just regarding sexual matters but for the whole scope of their lives.

If they do maybe the Southern Baptists could help lead a new Integrity Resurgence. It would do the whole Church good.

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