As it works to stem the tide of sexual abuse, racism, and other concerns in churches, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—through its Credentials Committee—announced a new online portal for submitting reports. The platform gives concerned parties, who must provide their names and contact information, a way to provide tips about alleged departures from the convention’s “polity, doctrine, or practice.”
At the SBC’s 2019 annual meeting in June, the Credentials Committee (CC) was repurposed to review incidents of misconduct and tasked with ensuring that churches remain in “friendly cooperation” with the convention. (The self-autonomy of SBC churches has been debated as a factor in the abuse scandal.)
Stacy Bramlett, chair of the Credentials Committee, says members have been busy developing “logistical details” and processes for carrying out their responsibility. The new reporting platform is an important first step—one that many church members, leaders, and critics will be following closely.
How the Credentials Committee Portal Works
Though allegations of abuse and misconduct still can be emailed or mailed, the online portal is an attempt to facilitate the reporting process. After agreeing to a disclaimer page (a “Statement of Assignment” about the committee’s role), users click whether they want to report “discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity,” “sexual or other forms of abuse in a church setting,” or concerns about “any other matter of faith or practice.”
Next steps include providing contact information, church details, and specifics about the concern. Portal users can opt to receive a call from someone outside the Credentials Committee who’s trained to help abuse victims and to pinpoint local resources for recovery.
Bramlett emphasizes that suspicions of current or past abuse—sexual or otherwise—also must be reported to law enforcement. “Our committee has no investigative authority or power,” she says, indicating that police must be informed of alleged crimes.
Is the Lack of Anonymity Intimidating?
One controversial aspect of the portal is that submissions can’t be made anonymously. The reason, Bramlett says, is that “there must be an individual with whom the committee can communicate if needed.” She adds, “Our deliberations will remain confidential unless we believe a church should be declared no longer in cooperation” with the convention, at which point they’ll “submit our recommendation to the Executive Committee.”
Throughout each inquiry, the Credentials Committee says it will stay in touch with the person who submitted the concern and the church in question.
Not being able to remain anonymous could prevent people from stepping forward, says abuse survivor and advocate Christa Brown. “And it’s not just survivors,” she tells the Houston Chronicle. Others, including “pastors, deacons, church secretaries” might want to file complaints without being named, she says. “All of them I think will be intimidated.”
Lack of anonymity adds one more burden on abuse victims, Brown says, especially in rural and small communities where backlash may occur.
Reactions Are Mixed So Far
Responses to the portal range from cautious optimism to concern. At SBCVoices.com, Brent Hobbs suggests giving the Credentials Committee “the benefit of the doubt” that they’re trying to do things “the right way.” What matters more than submission details, he writes, is how the committee “carries out inquiries and makes recommendations.”
Pointing to the “disaster” of concerns being quickly dismissed by the Executive Committee’s Bylaws Workgroup earlier this year, Hobbs suggests the SBC take reports seriously and not just try to protect itself.
Twitter is abuzz with comments about the portal, including this from Boz Tchividjian, a former prosecutor and founder of GRACE: “…it’s very confusing and extremely vague…and will undoubtedly mislead survivors and cause many to feel betrayed…again.”