Question: Who should I contact if I were or knew of a victim of abuse in an SBC church or at the hands of a minister serving in an SBC church and wanted something done?
It’s not that I don’t support the idea that offending churches should be more often and rapidly excluded from “membership” in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s just that the Credentials Committee is extremely limited in what they can do. Their ultimate action would be to recommend to the SBC Executive Committee as a whole that a certain church “in friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention be disfellowshipped. That’s it. Such action may indirectly impact the minister involved if he is still at the local, autonomous, independent church where the offense occurred.
Dee Parsons is the sole Wartburg Watcher these days and is in my view the most thorough and indefatigable advocate for those who have been abused in churches or by clergy or church staff. While I may disagree with her at times, if I had a church abuse story and had been ignored by the church, dodged by SBC associations or state conventions, or put off by any SBC leadership I had contacted, I’d call her. She has the ability to pursue an abuse story aggressively. There is power in this. Besides, I think she surrounds herself with vicious bull-pugs just to stay in the proper mind for fighting these battles.
I agree, though, with Susan Codone and Megan Lively in their article yesterday, The Credentials Committee: A Call for Patience and their statement,
The SBC Credentials Committee released its first set of guidelines yesterday. For the most part, these guidelines seem appropriate for a committee guarding the credentials necessary to be a Southern Baptist church.
The church that hires, supervises (or fails to supervise), holds accountable (or neglects to do so), and fires their clergy staff should aggressively and actively pursue wrongdoing in their congregation and by their ministerial staff and volunteers. Authorities should be called. No clergy should get quietly passed along to the next church to repeat their offense.
The Credentials Committee is an obscure administrative creation of the SBC. They have no power to investigate anything. There is no action they can take against any SBC minister. They can only push forward the expulsion of a church. After deliberation and action (and, while the ‘new’ Credentials Committee’s protocol may lead to action faster than before, action can be expected only a few times each year), an offending church would be named. Baptist Press would publish the matter for Southern Baptists and others to know. It’s designed to be a deliberate process. The Committee cannot compel any church to do anything.
The Committee is passive, seems to me, in the sense that they are prepared to receive submissions of church misbehavior. The SBC President made his own submission last year, publicly naming ten churches and asking for “due diligence” on them. Nothing is stopping anyone from making submissions (third party submissions to the Credentials Committee are accepted, though not anonymous ones), including members of the Committee, SBC leadership, abuse advocates or survivors.
My sense of things from the deep SBC hinterlands is that the Caring Well initiative (now used in some fashion by around 750 SBC churches) will help in the long haul. After all, the task of SBC entities and leadership is to persuade and influence churches and clergy, not to control them. SBC churches aren’t just autonomous, most of them are fiercely autonomous, but can be led to better practices.
Lest it not be said: Any SBC minister or layperson who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect should report it to the proper authorities. That should be the first contact, not Dee Parsons or any SBC committee. Presumably, the Credentials Committee process would lead to authorities being contacted in such cases.
Dee Parsons isn’t the only online advocate but is the one who is the most active, persistent, and thorough. Amy Smith will link abuse cases (she has even been known to cuss a little, something I feel like doing myself at times), and Christa Brown was the earliest to speak up about abuse in the SBC. While I don’t see any of these being involved in any formal way with the SBC’s efforts to address the issues, I’ve wondered if there would be some benefit in having conversations with them, or others.