The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is critically important even though it has a small budget (around $6 million, set at 2.95% of Cooperative Program national receipts) and a small staff. They do a lot.
But here’s what they don’t do:
- They don’t ordain ministers (and, thus, they cannot revoke ordinations).
- They don’t assign pastors to SBC churches.
- They don’t supervise pastors of any SBC church.
- They don’t fire pastors or staff of any SBC church.
- They don’t supervise churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC.
- They don’t investigate the constitution, bylaws, incorporation papers, policies, programs, or practices of any SBC church.
- They don’t prescribe documents to be adopted or accepted by any SBC church, not even the Baptist Faith and Message (there’s a hidden point here, maybe some will understand it).
- They don’t supervise the education and training of any minister serving in an SBC church.
- They don’t specify a list of requirements to be met to be a staff minister in an SBC church.
- They don’t maintain a list of approved SBC clergy.
- They don’t maintain a list of clergy ordained in an SBC church.
The list could go on.
Conversely, there are some things that the EC does relative to churches:
- They receive money, mostly from affiliated state convention offices but in some cases directly from churches and individuals. All of these monies are designated and held in trust by the EC for various other uses and entities (although some individuals and churches may send money directly to the EC for the EC’s use).
- They may “examine” a church’s practices and actions in regard to homosexuality, female senior pastors, doctrine, and actions in regard to abuse. This examination does not compel any church to cooperate although they may do so voluntarily. The EC has been granted no powers by the SBC to compel any church to answer questions or justify practices.
So, when Podunk Crossroads First Baptist Church, a church in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention, has a pastor accused of abuse, what can the Executive Committee do?
Hardly anything. The church may be excluded if it wasn’t handled in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message Statement. The church may be excluded even if the abuse is not acknowledged or admitted by the church.
(As an aside, it may be that the ad hoc Sex Abuse Task Force, while investigating a number of abuse-related items in regard to the EC, will discover ways to improve the EC’s role in regard to abuse in churches. The EC will be funding the SATF which has no charge to investigate churches, only the EC.)
What responsibility does the Executive Committee have towards the victim of abuse at Podunk Crossroads?
The answer to that is what has made for such a contentious public debate these past several years.
All our SBC Executive Committee can do is indirect towards any abuser or victim of abuse. They can, should, and do point the victim to law enforcement. They cannot by any process in place blacklist the minister involved, even if the individual is convicted. They can, by a couple of processes, exclude a church from seating messengers at the Annual Meeting (and removing them from whatever lists the Executive Committee keeps for SBC church searches). I don’t believe the convention can refuse to seat individual messengers approved by churches, save for cases where the sending church has failed to meet requirements for being in “friendly cooperation.” More detail could be given here but the weeds are deep.
This exclusion is extremely rare.
Question: Can’t the SBC EC maintain a database of abusers?
Answer: Yes, but they do not. It’s a question that will continue to arise and there are difficulties involved. The SATF may venture into this area. Presently, the EC links to National Database of Sex Offenders which is updated continually. If the SBC EC were directed to create a database, I’m not sure how effective that would be or how it could be made to be an improvement over the NDSO. It sounds like a good idea to do this but the details are difficult.
Question: Can the SBC EC attach “credibly accused” sex offenders to a database of their own?
Answer: They could. They shouldn’t for reasons that are sound to me but I’m open to being persuaded away from that position.
Question: Why can’t a victim of abuse in an SBC affiliated church come to the EC and get relief?
Answer: They can, but only in a general way in regard to resources, law enforcement and similar. The EC doesn’t have liability for actions of SBC individuals and churches nor any funds for victim relief. It would be unwise for the EC to assume responsibility and/or liability for actions of independent, autonomous churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC. This is because of the initial list given above.
Question: What can be done that isn’t being done now?
Answer: I suspect we will find out what might be done when the two current examinations of the EC and the SBC as a whole are completed. The SATF is a short term matter. That group is required by SBC messengers to finish their work by May 11, 2022. The other is long term (the Benkert motion referred to the ERLC).
The SATF, the hot item right now and for the next nine months, will investigate the Executive Committee, not any church or church staff or volunteer. It is unclear to me if any Executive Committee staff or member has ever been accused of abuse. At the most under a thousand individuals will possibly be investigated by the group. The number of SBC clergy, other staff, employees, volunteers in churches numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
I’m far from an expert on these things, just a lay observer. Others may add, subtract, or correct the above. There are Voices people who may be considered experts.
There are a few wild cards out there in that there are attempts to involve the EC and SBC in abuse lawsuits.
“Autonomy” is not the nefarious and sinister enemy of child protection. It is the reality on the ground for our loose collection of individual cooperative churches and entities. It could be changed with great effort. It seems to me that to make this change requires destroying the SBC. The likelihood of such is slight and it is not certain that the impact of such a change would help.
The best thing for the SBC is for individual, autonomous churches to implement child protection policies and actions and to maintain a safe environment for children and adults. The SBC could, one supposes, require churches who seek membership in an association or state convention, or who wish to send messengers to the SBC annual meeting to make a positive statement that they have and maintain child protection measures in their church. Perhaps the SATF and/or the ERLC will recommend that this be done.