Over the weekend, the bylaws workgroup of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee released a statement about President J.D. Greear’s call for reforms regarding child sexual abuse within the denomination’s churches. The committee urges a “deliberate and thoughtful response,” warning that churches shouldn’t be presumed guilty.
After the Houston Chronicle’s recent “Abuse of Faith” series about the SBC, Greear named 10 churches that need to “give assurance to the SBC that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures with regards to abuse and care for survivors.” He didn’t rule out removing congregations from fellowship with the Convention.
On February 18, Greear told the Executive Committee it was time “to own our error and to grieve for those who have been hurt.” Emphasizing victims’ safety, he added, “We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves publicly.”
Bylaws Workgroup Recommends an Amendment
According to a February 23 statement from the Executive Committee, it is recommending an amendment to the Convention’s constitution “affirming that the Convention does not, and will not, cooperate with a church that clearly evidences indifference to addressing the crime of sexual abuse.” The statement adds that “the Executive Committee did not intend for every allegation that a church has demonstrated indifference to establish guilt which would then have to be disproved—in effect, a presumption of guilt which the Executive Committee should view as untenable and unscriptural.”
Although the Executive Committee’s statement condemns the “abominable horror of child sexual abuse,” it warns that “our righteous anger” shouldn’t “prevent a deliberate and thorough response.” The statement continues:
The Convention, through its Executive Committee, should not disrupt the ministries of its churches by launching an inquiry until it has received credible information that the church has knowingly acted wrongfully in one of the four ways described in the proposed amendment: (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 info 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.
Bylaws Workgroup Reviews Dossier on the 10 Churches
At the workgroup’s request, Greear provided a dossier of information about the 10 churches he named. Although the workgroup emphasizes it doesn’t have “the authority nor ability to conduct a criminal investigation,” it tried to determine if there was “credible information that the church is evidencing indifference to sexual abuse in one of the four ways described in the proposed amendment.”
The workgroup listed each of the 10 churches Greear “publicly singled out,” indicating it believes further inquiry is warranted at three of them. The next step is sending those congregations letters of inquiry. Those congregations include Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas, Cathedral of Faith in Houston, Texas, and Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Executive Committee says it considered whether “factors such as the passage of time, changes in the church’s administration and membership, and the church’s adoption of policies to prevent abuse and properly respond to charges of abuse would make launching an inquiry of no value in addressing sexual abuse but only further harm a congregation recovering from the effects of crimes committed in its midst.”
The committee encourages victims to report crimes while urging people “to avoid publicly calling the names of churches without having documentation of criminal convictions and giving prior notice to the church.” It adds, “No individual possesses the authority to declare a church to be under a Convention inquiry of any kind.” The committee say it is “preferable and fairer” if the names of “suspect churches” are reported by “the local association and the state of regional convention.”
Reactions to the Statement Are Mixed
Reacting on Facebook to the statement, some people support how the Executive Committee “slapped Greear’s hand.” One writes: “It was grossly inappropriate and sinful for the president of the SBC to call out churches by name! Where is his brokenness over the pain he may have brought to these faithful congregations who now have to live with the fallout of his irresponsible behavior?” Others say the president did the denomination a service. “Greear merely provided an opportunity for these churches to publicly state that they’ve addressed the problem,” reads one comment.
Ashley Easter, founder of the Courage Conference, tweeted, “What a joke. Their four [criteria] are NOT good enough, not even close. Their investigation length and methods utterly lacking. Independent investigations needed!!”
Ken Alford, chairman of the SBC bylaws workgroup, says, “We understand it is difficult, if not impossible, to issue a report on sexual abuse that will be met with satisfaction by everyone. That is the reality of addressing an issue which has brought such pain, tragedy and hurt. But we remain committed to act on behalf of all individuals and churches who have been impacted by the horrific sin of sexual abuse.”