Sex Abuse Prevention at the Top of Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Agenda

Amy Whitfield (at podium) of Southeastern Seminary voiced a prayer for victims of sexual abuse at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee meeting in Nashville Feb. 18. Photo by Morris Abernathy

Preventing and responding to sexual abuse was a major focus during meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 18-19 in Nashville. Among the EC’s actions was recommending an amendment to the SBC Constitution stating churches are not “in friendly cooperation with the Convention” if they “have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse.”

The EC also:

— proposed an SBC constitutional amendment specifying racial discrimination as a basis to disfellowship a church;

— heard a report that the EC presidential search committee believes it has found “God’s candidate”; and

— responded to two SBC messenger motions seeking to disallow addresses by elected officials at SBC annual meetings.

Sexual abuse

The proposed amendment on sexual abuse — adopted without opposition — would add a section to Article III of the SBC Constitution defining a “cooperating church” as one that “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,” according to the amendment, “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.”

To take effect, the amendment would need two-thirds approval at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings.

EC chairman Mike Stone said adopting the amendment would make “explicit what has been implicit already in our government documents. That is, churches who do not deal decisively and biblically on issues of sexual abuse are not in good fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Survivors of sexual abuse “are loved, and we commit to seek to care for them,” said Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga.

As the proposed amendment was discussed in the EC’s Bylaws Workgroup and Administrative Committee, EC leaders clarified that abuse committed by one member of a church would not in itself trigger disfellowshipping, but only action of the church body as a whole that evidenced indifference to the abuse. Additionally, if a church evidenced repentance for its indifference, the disfellowshipping process likely would stop, according to committee and workgroup discussion.

SBC President J.D. Greear named several specific churches Feb. 18 as he reported to the EC on sexual abuse and asked the Bylaws Workgroup to determine whether they meet the SBC’s standards for cooperating churches.

After meeting with Greear Feb. 19 in executive session, the Bylaws Workgroup reported their adoption of a motion requesting that Greear “provide to the workgroup through its staff liaison any information which he wishes to provide tending to demonstrate that a particular church is worthy of consideration as to whether or not it is currently in cooperation with the Convention.”

Amid the two-day discussion of sexual abuse, at least five EC members shared their personal experiences with abuse, ranging from being abused and being pursued by a sexual abuser to prosecuting child abusers and dealing with abuse in churches.

“I was moved,” Stone said, “by the number of Executive Committee members who expressed personal stories of connection to child abuse.” Personal experience “did not drive our deliberations,” but it “gave a personal backdrop to the necessity of our action.”

Greear’s report to the EC addressed a plan to battle sex abuse and its enablers among Southern Baptist churches, noting the Gospel’s call to protect the vulnerable.

“We serve a God who laid down His life to protect the vulnerable,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. “How dare we proclaim that Gospel with our mouths and then turn a blind eye when the vulnerable in our midst cry out for help?”

Racism amendment

The proposed amendment on racial discrimination would add a section to Article III of the SBC Constitution specifying a cooperating church as one that “has not acted to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”

If adopted by SBC messengers, Stone said, the amendment would alter “our governing documents” but not “our position.”

“Southern Baptists have already taken strong stands on the issues of racial discrimination,” Stone said. “… But I felt, as we were amending our Constitution, that it was very important that we send a message of love, compassion and partnership to people of all ethnicities.”

In 2018, the EC, acting for the convention ad interim, disfellowshipped a Georgia church accused of racial discrimination.

Presidential search

EC presidential search committee vice chair Adron Robinson reported the committee has “identified God’s candidate for such a time as this” and will announce the nominee “very soon.”

Stone, an ex officio member of the committee, added that “every” candidate submitted “has been seriously considered, for every submission is a sacred trust from Southern Baptists.” The committee “has been both unanimous and unified at every single turn.”

Elected officials at the SBC

The EC declined two requests made by SBC messengers in 2018 seeking to bar elected officials from speaking at SBC annual meetings. The requests were made as motions amid discussion of Vice President Mike Pence’s speaking appearance at the Dallas annual meeting.

In declining to take up the messenger motions, the EC noted it “has updated the Committee on Order of Business’s orientation manual to highlight that SBC Bylaw 2 requires the authority of the officers … in conference with the Committee on Order of Business when considering inclusion [on the annual meeting agenda] of causes other than those provided for in the regular work of the Convention.”

EC ambassador Jimmy Draper told Baptist Press he recounted to the Bylaws Workgroup how he declined a 1982 request by then-President Ronald Reagan to speak at the SBC annual meeting when Draper was SBC president. Current and future SBC officers are free to do the same, Draper said, if an elected official requests to speak and the officers feel it would be inappropriate.

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Source: Baptist Press