NASHVILLE, TN – The Houston Chronicle recently published a series of articles related to sexual abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention. The stories included are heartbreaking. Part 1 brought to light over 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders or volunteers accused of sexual abuse or misconduct impacting over 700 victims and survivors. Part 2 covered predators who successfully moved from one church to another. Part 3 dealt with youth pastors who prey on teens by using their access to students through the church to groom and sexually abuse youth.
Today as the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention convened, SBC President J.D. Greear announced 10 calls to action for Southern Baptists based on initial recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Group. The group’s efforts are ongoing, and there will be more resources and responses released in the months to come. But Greear called Southern Baptists to:
Enter a season of sorrow and repentance. Southern Baptists should lament abuse in our churches and repent of our failure to adequately address the issue.
Embrace a new curriculum for holistic care in the early stages of learning of abuse. Becoming a Church that Cares Well on Abuse is a free video-based curriculum created by a diverse team of survivors, advocates, and experts. Contributors to the curriculum include Rachael Denhollander, Diane Langberg, Andrea Munford and more. Greear encouraged people to sign up at the curriculum’s website to stay informed about its launch.
Affirm three separate “Statement of Principles” documents. Three separate documents were ratified by (1) all six SBC seminaries and (2) all 41 SBC State Conventions, and (3) SBC Associational Leaders signal a collective commitment to address abuse at every organizational level of the SBC.
Take immediate action on abuse prevention and care. Churches, associations, state conventions, and entities should seek to strengthen their policies and practices on abuse.
Consider requiring background checks, at a minimum, for all SBC standing committees and trustee appointments. The Executive Committee should consider integrating background checks into the standard process for evaluating appointees and trustees in a manner that fits our polity. Our goal is to be vigilant to make sure that predators have no place at any level in our structure.
Reexamine the ordination process. Churches should evaluate how to strengthen screening and background efforts in the ordination process.
Update the Annual Church Profile to ask about abuse. Questions related to updated abuse policies and occurences of abuse should be considered for inclusion in the Annual Church Profile completed by SBC churches.
Prepare to address abuse at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting. The 2019 SBC Annual Meeting will address abuse through prayer, reports, events, and resources.
Explore possibilities related to a database solution. The Study Group will continue to evaluate possibilities for a registry of offenders.
Request that the Executive Committee enhances governing documents on disfellowshipping churches and evaluates several churches. The Executive Committee should strengthen language in the SBC’s governing documents related to mishandling abuse as a grounds for disfellowshipping churches. They should also do due diligence on several churches specified in media reports on abuse to evaluate if their standing aligns with our faith and practice.
In addition, the SBC Executive Committee approved the following amended language to be added to Article 3 of the SBC Constitution, which states the qualifications for churches to be deemed in cooperation with the Convention:
(4) Has not been determined by the Executive Committee to have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse that targets minors and other vulnerable persons and in caring for persons who have suffered because of sexual abuse. Indifference can be evidenced by, among other things, (a) employing a convicted sex offender, (b) allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors, (c) continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or (d) willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.
(5) Has not acted to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity. In order for any constitutional amendment to become official, SBC messengers must vote to approve it in two consecutive SBC annual meetings. This means that, upon approval, this amendment will officially become part of the SBC Constitution at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando.
How can Southern Baptists stay involved and connected to the advisory group? The group wants to hear from you. If you have suggestions, questions, connections, or ideas, please send those to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive updates regarding the new curriculum, you can sign up for updates here. You can also sign up to receive updates on the presidential study here.
If you would like to learn more regarding this important issue, here are further resources:
Four updates on the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group, September 19, 2018
An update on the Presidential Study on Sexual Abuse, January 14, 2019
Facebook Live with Russell Moore, February 12, 2019
Becoming a Church that Cares Well curriculum website
Southern Baptists Face Their #MeToo Moment
NOTE: For resources to help those suffering from sexual abuse, please visit bscm.org/abusehelp.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phillip Bethancourt is Executive Vice President of the ERLC. He leads the ERLC team to develop innovative strategies to equip churches to address the key moral and ethical issues of the day. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, and have four boys.