The proposal by professors Whitfield and Yarnell, of Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries respectively, is serious, comprehensive, and deserves due consideration.
In my reading of their 2500 word article, Addressing Abuse in the SBC: A Proposal, it seems to me that the key sentence is this:
We must leverage our autonomy to call our churches into a covenant of protecting the vulnerable.
I do not know if their article previews the conclusions and recommendations of the work currently being done by SBC President J. D. Greear’s Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group a partnership with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee. The group, now called a “council” is said to be a diverse group, mostly women. Greear will present “steps to address sexual abuse,” the culmination of the group’s work thus far, at today’s Executive Committee meeting in Nashville.
My guess is that the concept of “leveraging our autonomy” will be the key focus of any recommendations. We’ve been roundly criticized for talk of our autonomous system so I’d expect that phrase, “leverage our autonomy,” to be used repeatedly. In the end, the only leverage a Baptist association, state convention, or national convention has over churches is the power of exclusion. In a time when there is less identification with denominations can that leverage be used in a positive way? I judge that there are several factors that lead to a “yes” answer.
The Whitfield and Yarnell article calls for a number of measures including: the creation and funding of some SBC level staff or groups that are given the assignments in various aspects of abuse in churches including an investigatory function, creation of a registry of churches that voluntarily submit to and follow certain strict standards and receive a certification of such, creation of a victim’s advocate office or official that is available to churches to call, establishment and funding of a foundation to help survivors with legal fees and counseling expenses, and a call to exclude churches that have knowingly hired an abuser.
The measures proposed by the professors are quite broad and far-reaching. It surprises me that little has been said in response but then we’re only a few days from publication. Besides, the offical word comes today from J. D. Greear at the Executive Committee. I would note, and don’t presume that our leading spokespeople, elected officers, and entity leaders are unaware of it, that the average SBC church sees about 125 people in their pews on Sunday morning. The median size for the more than 47,000 SBC churces is around 70. Tens of thousands of SBC churches have a single paid minister who may be part time or bi-vocational. Kids should be just as safe in a church of 50 as a church of 5000 but let’s see what the concrete proposals are. It may be my own bias and tendentiousness but I’m sensitive to the SBC’s affection and preference for big church solutions that may not consider small or average church characteristics.
If it hasn’t been noted already elsewhere the measures proposed by our two professors look a lot like what the abuse victims and advocates have been suggesting all along.
Let’s see what happens at the Executive Committee meeting today.