Tennessee Pastor Grant Gaines tweeted: “I think it’s imperative the next SBC president have a lot of trust from survivors and the convention as a whole regarding sexual abuse if we’re going to make the progress and reforms we need to make going forward. I really appreciate Willy sharing this video and am glad he has led his church to take the action they have now taken. I do believe, though, that in an effort to go forward with trust, it would be best for another candidate to step in.”
Abuse Survivors: Rice’s Candidacy Is ‘Broadly Harmful’
Christa Brown, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, describes feeling “heartbroken and nauseated” by Rice’s comments during worship. In a statement to Baptist News, she accuses the pastor of “exploitation of religious language for obfuscation.” Brown says, “I am revolted by how he essentially uses the blood of Jesus to excuse the church’s irresponsible act of making a known abuser into a deacon. Contrary to how Rice makes it sound, this isn’t about the man’s salvation. That’s between him and God.
“It’s about the uncaring recklessness of the church in installing someone with a known history of sexual abuse into a position of high spiritual trust as a deacon,” adds Brown. “It is exploitive of faith itself for church leaders to use ‘under the blood’ as an excuse for ignoring a history of sexual abuse.”
On Saturday, Brown had referenced Rice’s video, tweeting that he “blew it.” She wrote, “It exemplifies entrenched patterns that are broadly pervasive in #SBC life. And that’s incredibly sad & painful.”
Fellow abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell also addressed Rice’s comments and candidacy. The pastor appears to be “lacking the requisite convictional awareness of the foremost pastoral responsibility to protect the sheep — not to defend future ops of those who harm them,” she wrote. “He absolutely should recognize that continuing to run for SBC president is broadly harmful & myopic.”
On Monday, survivor-advocate Rachael Denhollander tweeted, in part, “Survivors are constantly hit with ‘this is just political…’. But if what was said was true, it frankly doesn’t matter even IF it is. Our job is to hold to truth and do what is right. Without minimizing or deflecting. Someone else’s motivation isn’t our responsibility.”
Willy Rice: Let’s Talk Leadership Qualifications ‘Away From the Firestorm’
In Sunday’s message, Rice indicated that discussions about church-leader qualifications are important. But he said those should occur “away from the firestorm and away from a bunch of outside pressure.”
As ChurchLeaders reported, Rice said he and other Calvary leaders were aware of the incident but permitted the man’s ordination as deacon because of his “genuine conversion” and repentant lifestyle. When a fellow pastor recently contacted Rice about the previous incident, Calvary leaders “realized the need to reevaluate his role as a deacon,” Rice said. “We were challenged to think more accurately about our leadership structure,” he added, and “all agreed that our brother should not continue to serve as a deacon at Calvary.”
Rice said his church had “grown in our understanding of the dynamics of sexual abuse and predatory behavior” in the past few years. “If we were making the same decision today, after all we have learned, we would have obviously chosen differently,” he noted. “We’ve learned a great deal about what should be categorized as abusive behavior, and we grieve that we did not recognize some of these things sooner and apologize for our lack of compassion or concern for the victim.”
Rice hasn’t said whether he’ll remain in the presidential race. ChurchLeaders reached out to Rice and will update this article with any response.
Voting for president will take place at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on June 14 and 15.