Restoring trust appears to be job one for Randel Everett as he begins his tenure as Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. One of the lingering challenges he will face when he assumes his post of leadership is putting to the bed the “Valleygate” scandal, and any remaining doubts about the John Becker incident. In both counts the issue of trust revolves around the misuse and appropriate of Cooperative Program mission money for inappropriate and possibly criminal actions.
There are many voices in Baptist life that want to just walk away and let the past be the past. They call for “grace” to reign, and for the BGCT to stop looking in the rear view mirror, and look to the future. However, a minority voice still calls for justice and accountability. Some want desperately to see state and federal authorities to make arrest, and those responsible to pay for their crimes.
It appears to be the classic dilemma of forgiveness vs. accountability (or justice). Often people view this question as an “either/or” question. One either forgives or one must seek justice, it cannot be “both/and.” As I have wrestled with this issue, I believe a “both/and” answer fits the crisis the best.
However you look at the Valleygate scandal it is clear that serious mistakes were made and hundreds of thousands of dollars were misappropriated. In addition it is also clear the BGCT Executive leadership was slow to face the problem and in some cases may have desired to sweep it under the carpet and try to move on with only insiders knowing the full details. Many of those at the heart of the issue have either voluntarily stepped away or been forced from the places of leadership. Some may be under criminal investigation while others may walk away quietly.
How does one hold people in leadership accountable for their actions? First one must know without a doubt what happened remembering that in the body of Christ it takes two or three witnesses to confirm guilt. In this case there are numerous witnesses and often conflicting stories. There is a paper trail and many phantom churches and church planters than cannot be found.
Once the details have been established above a reasonable doubt immediate action must be taken. The action must be direct, fair, and as public as necessary to re-establish trust. The critical factor facing the BGCT is the fact as an organization it does not earn money like a business but depends on the freewill gifts of its member churches. Trust is the currency of its relationships. When trust is violated the BGCT finds itself in a very difficult situation.
Holding a leader accountable may come in a variety of actions depending of the nature of their failures. Being too trusting may result in one level of disciplinary action, while lying, deception, and scheming could lead to termination and serious consequences. In an organization founding on trust and light there is no room for deception and scheming. It cannot be tolerated or the very fabric of the organization is torn.
Has the BGCT leadership taken the appropriate actions on these matters? To some the answer is a resounding “yes” to others the answer appears to be “no”. Dr. Everett and President Joy Fenner can help us put this behind us by looking into the matters and clearly communicating to the member churches that the scandal has been fully addressed, appropriate disciplinary actions have been taken, and those responsible have been held accountable. I don’t know personally if all these actions have been taken, but if they have I believe we simply need to know so we can learn from this scandal and get on with Kingdom business.
In addition to the need for accountability, there is the need for forgiveness. Jesus made forgiveness a primary value of His Kingdom and His people. Grace gets messy at times. Too often we struggle with forgiveness when we have a deep passion for justice to be done in a matter. Forgiveness does not relieve one of being accountable to God and His Kingdom. Forgiveness grants pardon to those who have been broken by their sin and rebellion.
Can one forgive and still hold a leader accountable? I believe the simple answer is yes. If a leader violates trust, he or she can be forgiven for their actions, but may be deemed unqualified to continue in their place of leadership. Forgiveness does not let a leader off the hook always. It simply restores the relationship and grants grace. Leaders are held to a high standard of stewardship, and once this standard is violated it will take time and restoration before he or she once again holds a place of significant leadership.
Part of moving past Valleygate will be for us personally and possibly corporately to grant forgiveness to those involved. We were not called to be judges, but rather lights and lovers. Finding pleasure in the fall of a leader is not fitting for a follower of Jesus. Broken hearts should be in order. One may ask how can we forgive someone who has “robbed” the Kingdom of God, and drug our good name through the mud. How can one forgive if someone does not acknowledge their sin? Remember forgiveness has as much to do with us and our relationship with God as it does on the one who failed us. You can forgive because you need to for your sake. Bitterness chains us to resentment and revenge. These cold stones of a cold heart will drag you under and cut you off from the air of grace.
Recently I read an amazing example of forgiveness in Brennan Manning’s The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. Manning recounts a story from the dark days of World War II. In the concentration camp of Ravensbruck, Germany a prayer was found scribbled on a small scrap of paper by an unknown prisoner. The scrap of paper was found nestled beside the cold, lifeless body of a child—a child whose innocent and life were stolen away behind the barb-wires and angry stares. The scrap revealed a glimpse of another world—a light in the darkness. The prisoner wrote:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted on us: remember the fruits we have borne, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart, which has grown out of all of this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruit we have borne be their forgiveness.
It’s my hope and prayer we have learn something about ourselves, and the Kingdom of God through all of this. I pray these lessons will prepare us for all God has ahead of us, and I pray we will find it in our hearts to forgive and move on together into the future.