Robert Jeffress: SBC polity no excuse for churches not to adopt ‘zero-tolerance' sex abuse policies

Pastor Robert Jeffress gave remarks at the 'Freedom Sunday' service at First Baptist Dallas on Sunday, June 27, 2021.
Pastor Robert Jeffress gave remarks at the "Freedom Sunday" service at First Baptist Dallas on Sunday, June 27, 2021. | David Edmonson

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress is calling for churches to have a "zero-tolerance policy" after an investigation report released this week showed that Southern Baptist Convention leadership failed to properly handle sex abuse allegations.

In an interview with Shannon Bream of Fox News Monday, Jeffress touched on the findings of a report released Sunday by Guidepost Solutions after nearly a yearlong investigation into the convention's handling of sexual abuse allegations within its member churches dating back 20 years.

Among other things, the 288-page report states that SBC leaders had a pattern of intimidating victims of abuse and refusing to adopt measures aimed at making churches safer because they wanted to avoid liability.

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Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said the report is "absolutely horrific" and hopes it will serve as a "wakeup call for churches." He would like to see more churches "adopt the kind of policy that we have at First Baptist Dallas."

Jeffress said his congregation practices a "zero-tolerance policy for abuse and harassment."

"At our church, we have mandatory background checks for everybody working with children, both volunteers and staff members," he said. "We have mandatory reporting to law enforcement officers if there is any sign of abuse whatsoever."

Jeffress stated that "these things don't guarantee an elimination of problems, but they will sharply diminish the problem."

Jeffress addressed the concerns of some SBC leaders, who are worried about adopting measures that will make the convention more centralized.

"A lot of Southern Baptists say, 'Our polity doesn't allow that. We can't have a denomination telling local churches what to do,'" Jeffress said. "That's true. But I tell you who does have the authority to institute these reforms, and it's the members sitting in the pews."

"I would encourage any of your viewers tonight who are a member of any church to demand that your church have safeguards in place to protect women and children in the church," Jeffress continued. "The church ought to be the safest place in the world for women and children."

According to the Guidepost report, which was presented to the SBC's Sexual Abuse Task Force, multiple SBC Executive Committee leaders exerted strong control over abuse allegations within the denomination and "were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations."

"In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation," the report reads. 

In a statement to The Christian Post, the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force said that they "receive this report with open minds and heavy hearts."

"We grieve for those impacted by abuse, and we are prepared to repent for anything the Credentials Committee inadvertently failed to do to alleviate the suffering of survivors," they stated.

"We are committed to listening and learning from this extensive report and its recommendations. We look forward to implementing recommendations and strengthening the Credentials Committee's work."

Last June, messengers to the SBC's annual meeting approved a resolution urging churches to "permanently" disqualify individuals who have committed sexual abuse from the pastorate. The non-binding resolution urges churches to hold a standard that any person who engaged in sexual abuse in their life “is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.” 

The report's release comes just weeks before the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting kicks off June 12 in Anaheim, California. 

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