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Southern Baptist Convention expels Texas church for having sex offender as pastor

Southern Baptist Convention expels Texas church for having sex offender as pastor

Nearly 9,000 Southern Baptist messengers at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11, 2019, vote to pass an amendment regarding churches and sexual abuse. | Van Payne

The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee voted to disfellowship a Texas church for having a pastor who is a lifetime registered sex offender.

The Executive Committee voted Tuesday to expel Ranchland Heights Baptist Church of Midland for employing Phillip Rutledge who was convicted in 2003 of aggravated sexual assault charges against two girls. Rutledge has been a pastor at the church since 2016.

SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd said in a statement published by the Baptist Press on Tuesday that he supported the result of the vote.

"We have spoken against matters of sexual abuse, and we have taken some major, demonstrative steps as a convention of churches," Floyd said. "Also, churches are being equipped more effectively in matters related to sexual abuse. ... Today, we've seen this process in action with the disfellowshipping of (Ranchland Heights)."

Ranchland Heights Baptist Church can appeal the Executive Committee's decision up until 30 days before the beginning of the SBC's next Annual Meeting on June 9, according to BP.

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, addresses the convention for the first time in his new position June 11 during the morning session of the SBC annual meeting at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala. I refuse to believe that division strife and disengagement is the will of God, he said. He believes God is calling the SBC to a future that is healthy and life-giving in every way. | Marc Ira Hooks

The Executive Committee's vote came in response to a recommendation by the Southern Baptist Convention's Credentials Committee that Ranchland Heights be expelled.

Ranchland Heights’ hiring of Rutledge as pastor garnered local media attention in 2016, with news station CBS 7 reporting on the controversy at the time.

Church leadership told CBS at the time that they were aware of his history, but explained that they took steps to be above reproach, such as never having him alone with youth.

“Our administration knew about Bro. Phillip's history before the hiring, and the vast majority of the church knew about it as well,” church leaders told CBS in 2016. “We believe that God can change people, and we believe that God has forgiven Bro. Phillip as well.”

In February, the Houston Chronicle published a report documenting 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998. Of that number, 220 were convicted and 100 remain in prison.

"This is a scandal crying out to heaven," wrote Russell Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a blog post last year.

"The church’s message to survivors should be a clear communication that they are those who have been sinned against, not those who have sinned, that they are not troublemakers in the church but those who are helping the real 'trouble' to come to light."

Last June, messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, voted to give the Credentials Committee the power to investigate sexual abuse complaints against churches and make recommendations for action.

“May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse,” Floyd said last year in response to the vote.

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