During the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting this week in Birmingham, Alabama, Southern Baptists took several significant actions to address the crisis of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
Representatives at the convention, known as “messengers,” voted to adopt one resolution and approve two changes to SBC governing documents that deal with sexual abuse.
The first vote changed the SBC bylaws to make the Credentials Committee a standing committee with the authority to address allegations of sexual misconduct made against SBC-affiliated churches. The committee will conduct inquiries about whether churches are acting in accordance with Southern Baptist beliefs on sexual abuse, racism, or other issues, and make recommendations to the Executive Committee on whether an offending church should be deemed as “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
The Credentials Committee will consist of nine members: the chairman of the Executive Committee; the SBC registration secretary; three members nominated by the Executive Committee; and four members nominated by the SBC Committee on Nominations.
In response to the vote, ERLC President Russell Moore wrote on Twitter, “Milestone moment as #SBC19 approves overwhelmingly the executive committee recommendation to form a standing credentials committee. This is a key piece in combatting sexual abuse.”
The second vote approved an amendment to the SBC constitution that would explicitly state that addressing sexual abuse and racism is a part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist church. Since amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote by messengers at two consecutive annual meetings, this change will need to be approved again at the annual convention in Orlando, Florida in 2020.
“May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse,” said Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. “May this world know that this convention of churches—47,000 churches, plus a few thousand congregations, just under 52,000 churches and congregations—has given a clear signal not only about what we believe about sexual abuse, but we also stand against all ethnic discrimination in the United States and around the world.”
The SBC also adopted a new resolution, “On The Evil Of Sexual Abuse.” The resolution includes a call for civil authorities to review sex abuse laws, including statute of limitations that allow predators to avoid prosecution because their victims did not come forward in the required timeframe. The new resolution also implores “all persons to act decisively on matters of abuse, to immediately report allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities according to the laws of their state, to intervene on behalf of the abused, to do everything possible to ensure their safety, and to exercise appropriate church discipline upon abusers.” (The SBC had previously adopted resolutions related to child sexual abuse in 2007 and 2013.)
The SBC also launched Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, a new training curriculum produced by LifeWay Christian Resources, ERLC and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group that includes a handbook, an introductory video, and 12 lesson videos to “help leaders understand and implement the best practices for handling the variety of abuse scenarios at church, school, or ministry.” Every messenger at the convention received a free copy of the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused handbook.
SBC President J.D. Greear encouraged every SBC church to also take the “Caring Well Challenge ,” a new initiative launched by the ERLC and the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (appointed last year by JD. Greear) that is designed to confront church sexual abuse. According to the Advisory Group the initiative “provides churches with an adaptable, and attainable pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.”
While the changes at the annual convention are important steps toward addressing sexual abuse in our churches, SBC leaders made it clear that more still needs to be done.
“It’s going to take ongoing reform, and that’s the case at the local church level as well,” said Moore. “Congregations have to not only have good policies and procedures in place, but they have to constantly be evaluating, reevaluating, updating those policies and procedures as well.”
“This has to be at least a 20-year project that’s constantly reevaluated,” Moore added. “I hope that 20 years from now that we can look back and see sexual abuse in churches as something unthinkable and a long-buried horror of the past. We’re a long way from that.”
In a press conference hosted at the close of the annual meeting, Greear said that “bold resolutions and sweeping statements are not sufficient” to tackle the crisis of sex abuse.
“We’ve tried to be very clear that this is not something to put on a list and check off and say, OK, we dealt with that in 2019,” said Greear. “This is a milestone in something that will go on for the rest of our lives. It is the inculcation of certain values, and the inculcation of an awareness in a way of approaching things that will not just shape 2019, but will shape future generations.”
The ERLC is also hosting it’s National Conference in October around the theme of sexual abuse in churches: “Caring Well, Equipping Churches to Confront the Sexual Abuse Crisis.”