SBC to propose revised sexual misconduct measures at upcoming annual meeting

Pastor J.D. Greear speaking at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, on June 10, 2018.
Pastor J.D. Greear speaking at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, on June 10, 2018. | (Screenshot: Facebook/Prestonwood Baptist Church)

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is set to consider revising its constitutional amendment related to sex abuse, and may create a new committee to examine misconduct claims against churches.

In addition to sexual misconduct, the amendment revision will also address how churches deal with racism in their ranks.

According to Baptist Press, a denominational bylaws working group drafted proposed changes to the existing document, receiving contributions from and which were reviewed by current SBC president J.D. Greear, Executive Committee president Ronnie Floyd, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, and Rachael Denhollander, who led the charge against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and is an ardent voice for sexual abuse victims within evangelical churches.

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"Over the last year," Greear said, "it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.

“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction," the SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, told the outlet.

"This committee would be charged with handling any issues that may arise as to whether a church is in cooperation with the SBC, including (but not limited to) complaints of sexual abuse."

He added that the committee ought to ask about whether a congregation has cooperated with authorities and met pastoral obligations per the standards set forth in Scripture, specifically Romans 13 and Matthew 18.

"The Southern Baptist Convention must get this right," said Floyd, who recently left his pastoral role at Cross Church in northwest Arkansas to lead the Executive Committee.

"Unquestionably, we must make a clear, compassionate, convictional, and compelling statement about this issue in every way we can. Every church must be a safe zone for our children," he continued, noting that Greear has made addressing sexual misconduct "a defining issue" during his term as SBC president.

The revision will be recommended before messengers in attendance at the denomination's annual meeting, which will take place next week in Birmingham, Alabama.

While the Southern Baptist Convention has no hierarchical clerical structure and is congregational in its approach to governance, it will not consider a church to be in "friendly cooperation" with the denomination if the church does not act in accordance with the new provisions, documents of the proposal given to BP show.

Heightened by greater attention given to abuse dynamics amid the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, the issue has come to the fore within the denomination.

The proposed changes come a year after a reckoning of sorts occurred within the SBC in the lead-up to the 2018 annual meeting. In the months before that gathering, audio footage from an old interview emerged of former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson giving what many saw as poor advice to a woman who was being abused by her husband, in addition to other instances of sexual misconduct being mishandled within SBC churches and ministry entities also coming to light.

Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative report that found over 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998.

Greear called the report "a warning sent from God" as he called on the SBC to repent. He pledged to make changes, including a proposal on creating a registry of offenders, to make churches safer.

In a Thursday statement, the ERLC's Moore called the proposal for a committee to assess sexual misconduct claims made against churches an "excellent step."

"No one policy in a church or in a denomination is enough, but this is a monumental advance, as part of a larger, concerted effort at education, equipping, and response," he said.

"Having a better process for helping us to know when a church is or is not in friendly cooperation is positive and healthy. That's especially true when it comes to churches that are negligent, or complicit, in the abuse of vulnerable people."

This is a long-term effort, he said.

"This is not a one-year issue, but an ongoing project requiring constant vigilance and reform. I am thankful for this great move in such a direction, and I support it wholeheartedly."

Per its website, the theme of this year's SBC annual meeting is "Gospel Above All," anchored in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

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