Willy Rice’s cowardly response to the latest “scandal” of a church deacon’s pre-conversion sin coming to light demonstrates perfectly why he should not be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But it’s not for the reason many are claiming.
In a recent video posted to Calvary Baptist Church’s Vimeo account, pastor Willy Rice describes how a long-serving deacon at the church was removed from serving as a deacon because of past sexual sin that might be “considered abusive.” It would seem that a deacon committing sexual abuse would be immediately disqualified and the sin would result in both church discipline and reporting to the authorities. Yet Rice and the church merely removed the offender from serving as a deacon. Why such a light reaction to such a serious offense?
Well… the sin was committed not only before the deacon began serving at the church, but before he was even saved. While unregenerate, the 27-year-old man committed fornication with an 18-year-old whom he possibly “groomed” before she became a legal adult (these details were not in Rice’s video). According to Rice (emphasis mine):
Many years ago, a member of our deacon body committed sexual sin that could also be described as abusive. Now, I want to be careful here, because we do not want this information to cause any harm to the victim or other innocent people. It did not involve criminal charges and he has never been identified by law as a sexual offender. Nevertheless, it was a terrible sin and it devastated people’s lives. After this brother’s deep sin, his world crashed. After this event, he experienced – as his own testimony has consistently stated – a genuine conversion to Christ. He repented of his sin, he trusted in Christ, and he was baptized as a true follower of Jesus. By God’s grace, his marriage survived. And several years after that, he came to Calvary. And he did not hide his story. It was a part of his testimony, and it was a story of God’s amazing grace. Because of our brother’s past, we did not allow him to serve in ministries to children or students. But he did become involved in other areas of our church life. And over the course of many years, he demonstrated – as much as we are able to judge such things – the genuine fruits of a repentant life. After several years of him being a faithful member in good standing, and having served in multiple ways and having borne great fruit in his life, our church ordained this brother to the office of Deacon, and there have been no issues during his service at our church.
Rice follows with a description of the scripture-less “growth” that led to the removal decision:
However, when this pastor contacted me last week, we realized the need to reevaluate his role as a deacon. We were challenged to think more accurately about our leadership structure, and allowing him to serve as a deacon was inconsistent with our desire to stand against all forms of sexual abuse. We have all agreed that our brothers should not continue to serve as a deacon at Calvary. Over the last three to four years, we have grown in our understanding of the dynamics of sexual abuse and predatory behavior. If we were making the same decision today – after all we have learned – we would obviously have chosen different (sic).
Rice and his church, in their “desire to stand against all forms of sexual abuse,” have grown in their understanding, he reports. But not in their understanding of scripture, apparently, which teaches that the lost become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) upon conversion, and the old nature is crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). Instead, they’ve grown to understand that the issue of sexual abuse – rather than being understood and confronted biblically – has become a smear tactic – a weapon of association to attack political opponents. So the deacon’s service becomes disposable, lest Willy Rice’s candidacy for SBC president become the latest collateral damage of the #ChurchToo mob.
The Bible clearly teaches that no sin or sinner is beyond God’s redemption – all church officeholders were at one time unregenerate and depraved. The apostle Paul stands as perhaps the best example. Once a murderer of Christians prior to conversion, he later wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Yet Willy Rice is content to “listen and learn” (to the whims of man) to figure out “what should be categorized as abusive behavior,” disconnected from what the Bible teaches about sin and forgiveness. He assures his congregation that the church is now committed to never letting anyone be a “church leader” if they’ve ever sinned (pre or post-conversion) in a way that could be “considered as abuse” (by the world, undoubtedly). Rice says that in the future, church leadership will “go beyond previous guidelines” when vetting potential church officeholders – apparently that includes going beyond the guidelines of scripture itself.
Rice ends his video by bending the knee to the patently unbiblical 2021 SBC resolution on “abuse and pastoral qualifications,” which stated that the messengers “believe that any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor, and recommend that all of our affiliated churches apply this standard to all positions of church leadership.” The resolution notably makes no distinction between the behavior of the lost versus the saved. By this standard, God is apparently unable to regenerate someone to a point where their past sexual sin is mortified and God can use them in spiritual leadership. True church leaders (according to the abuse-obsessed 2021 convention) are those who’ve committed sins that the world finds less icky.
Willy Rice admits that this deacon has been forgiven for his sins, and Rice presumably knows that the biblical qualifications for deacons are not applied to a man’s pre-conversion past. There is simply no biblical justification for holding a sinner responsible for sins they committed prior to conversion – even sins that would be disqualifying for church office if committed by a believer. Yet as soon as this brother’s past was potentially a political problem for Rice, the brother was removed and this sad video was produced and released.
If Willy Rice is unable or unwilling to stand up for one of his church deacons in the face of worldly accusations – and more importantly stand up for what the Bible teaches about regeneration, repentance, and reconciliation – why should Southern Baptists not assume Rice will similarly kowtow to any unbiblical demands or accusations made by the world?
We have now seen Rice’s response when the world condemns us for believing in miraculous regeneration and exercising biblical forgiveness. What will he say when they accuse us of being unloving for refusing to bear false witness by using preferred pronouns? Or when we insist that God can mortify the sinful desire of homosexuality the same way He mortifies the desire to commit sexual abuses?
We believe that even the most sinful people can be redeemed and become faithful servants of Jesus, yet the world (and indeed the Devil himself) stands ready to accuse us and the standard we find in the inspired Word. We are called to apply God’s standard, especially when the world demands we apply theirs. And Willy Rice failed miserably.
See the video below: