SBC Leader Resigns After Workgroup Hastily ‘Cleared’ Churches

executive committee

Ken Alford, chairman of the bylaws workgroup of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, resigned Friday, saying recent criticism of the workgroup has been both “unfair and understandable.”

On February 18, SBC President J.D. Greer asked the executive committee to look into 10 churches singled out during an extensive sexual-abuse investigation by the Houston Chronicle. Less than a week later, the bylaws workgroup released its findings, saying only three of the 10 churches warranted further review.

Outcry from survivors and victim advocates was swift, with some claiming the SBC rushed to judgment and whitewashed the troubling accusations. Activist Christa Brown called the February 23 clearing of churches the “Saturday night massacre of hope for any near-term change on sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Investigations Weren’t Conducted or Authorized, Alford Says

In his resignation letter, Alford writes that Greear’s assignment to the bylaws workgroup was “far beyond (its) capability” because it has no “investigative authority.” The workgroup “conducted NO investigation, because we were not authorized to do so, and we did not ‘clear’ any churches, because that determination was not a part of our responsibility,” Alford notes. “We simply sought to ascertain if the information that President Greear had shared with us was sufficient to warrant further inquiry.”

Greear wanted to determine if the 10 churches “evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse,” which he said could lead to their removal from SBC fellowship. The workgroup tried to comply quickly, Alford says, but members had to rely on information from Greear, which, in turn, usually comes from the churches in question.

Workgroup members also lacked the necessary background to delve into abuse allegations, Alford says, because they were “three pastors, a president of a Bible college, a church accompanist, an attorney, a dentist and a dental hygienist who is the WMU [Women’s Missionary Union] National President.”

Responding to Alford’s resignation letter, Brown writes, “What’s ‘unfair’ is for any SBC insider group to presume to investigate the SBC’s own affiliated churches. And that’s an unfairness that harms children both now and in the future.”

The SBC Needs “rehab” and “a change of culture”

“I understand why a lot of people reading our report were disappointed, disillusioned and even angry,” Alford writes. He adds that he hopes God will use his resignation “to be a help in our current environment.”

“What we need is the ultimate MRI: We need the Master’s Radical Intervention!” Alford says. “Only by his supernatural intervention will we recover the spiritual health that is so desperately needed in this hour. May the rehab begin!”

Others say the denomination needs a much bigger overhaul. “The resignation of one executive committee chairman does not begin to address the systemic failure of this important governing body to properly respond to the problem of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches that has been reported by the Houston Chronicle,” says Benjamin Cole, who writes as The Baptist Blogger. “The convention does not merely need a change of leadership; it needs a change of culture.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 27 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.