Southern Baptists stand in agreement that we must demonstrate to the world that sexual abuse is a wicked thing, that we will protect and minister to victims, and that the days of cover-up among us have come to an end. When we leave our Annual Meeting in Birmingham, we want to have spoken with one voice and loudly that we are united on this issue.
The exact path to achieve that end is less clear and there is certainly a hefty amount of disagreement as to the best way to achieve that end. Since the Executive Committee meeting a few weeks ago when our president J.D. Greear boldly stood up and challenge the SBC and its leaders to a new approach to the issue, a discussion has exploded around our convention as to what way is the best way.
What Has Happened
1. Of course, there was some turmoil in the SBC apparatus about the naming of names in the report – most of that apparently centered on two issues, the naming of a megachurch, Second Baptist of Houston, and the fear that a church might respond with a lawsuit. The fear of lawsuits drives us far too often.
2. President Greear asked that the Bylaws workgroup explore a system for vetting churches that were not in friendly cooperation with the SBC based on their failure to deal justly with accusations of sexual abuse. Instead, EC chair Mike Stone sought a more rapid fix. He devised the constitutional amendments that have circulated, the four-point system of judging whether a church is in violation (requiring a conviction, not just a credible accusation) and the Bylaws workgroup rushed through an inquiry that found that 6 of the 9 churches, even one with a known pedophile as music minister, needed no further inquiry. President Greear was not a part of any of that, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The Sexual Abuse workgroup was not consulted either.
3. The response to the Bylaws workgroup report has been resoundingly negative and while there was initial enthusiasm about the constitutional amendment approach, there has been a growing backlash that is questioning whether that is the best approach for the SBC to take.
- Since it is a constitutional amendment, it requires a 2/3 majority at 2 consecutive conventions, meaning that it could easily be defeated and will take about a year and a half to implement.
- Is continuing to amend the constitution to add standards that define friendly cooperation the way to go? A while back, homosexuality was added as an example of a church practice that might put a church out of friendly cooperation with the SBC. But that is not an exclusive statement, it is listed as an example. According to the wording of that section, a church engaging in racism or recalcitrant sexual abuse could already be deemed as not in friendly cooperation.
- This likely fits more as a bylaws change than a constitutional amendment. It is hard to change the constitution because it is best not to change the constitution unless it is absolutely necessary. If we can do this without amending the constitution it is best to do it that way. There are other ways.
- Some are nervous about putting this responsibility in the hands of the EC Bylaws group after their initial inquiry into this said that a church with a known predator as music minister did not need any further inquiry.
- The issue of whether a church ordains a homosexual or performs homosexual marriages is a relatively objective standard. Questions of racism and sexual abuse response are anything but objective. What is racism? When is a response to abuse inadequate? These are tough issues and a few conference calls will not suffice.
4. Our chief concern here should be that the SBC deal with this issue in a responsible and adequate way. We need to be timely, but we need to get it right. Please, let’s not have an inadequate proposal on the floor at the Annual Meeting and vote it down. We do not need another black eye like that. We have time to get it right.
If there is a better way, we should seek it now. Egos, personalities, turf – those things matter not a bit. Who made what proposal? Who cares? Let’s get this thing right before we hit Birmingham so we can send a resounding message that we stand together on these issues.
Ben Cole’s Credentials Committee Proposal
In the midst of all of this, Ben Cole has released a proposal at his site, “The Baptist Blogger,” that brings forward a different proposal in an article entitled “The SBC Committee on Credentials.” In that article, he proposes that we vote a BYLAWS change to make the Credentials Committee a standing committee, with the registration secretary as its chair. Committee members would serve 3-year terms on a rotating basis. There are details still to be fleshed out and questions to be answered, but this proposal has merit.
1. There will be those who will oppose this simply because Ben is advancing it. He has certainly been outspoken in his advocacy and has ruffled feathers. But this idea does not have merit because Ben advanced it and it is not devoid of merit because someone may have sore feelings over a past tussle with him. The idea should be judged on its merits and for no other reason.
2. One significant advantage of this proposal is that it is a Bylaws change and requires only a 2/3 majority vote at one convention. We can leave Birmingham with this in place.
3. Our current registration secretary, Donald Currance, is an administrative pastor with experience in children’s ministry issues. He is likely more qualified to deal with some of these issues than many others of us.
4. Most large state conventions have a system such as this in place, with a standing credentials committee that oversees issues as to whether churches are in friendly cooperation.
5. Ben does not intend for his proposal to be viewed as a final document but a working statement and realizes that there are issues that need to be discussed.
- The best solution would be for the EC to take up this idea, perhaps with input from the Sexual Abuse Workgroup, to come up with a final plan to present to the Annual Meeting in June.
- I have been asked about whether the members of the credentials committee should be appointed by the president or nominated by the nominating committee. That is a good discussion point.
- Another discussion point is the exact process we might take in dealing with a recalcitrant church. Let’s say Siouxland Saints Baptist (there is no such church) here in my hometown hid an incident of abuse or hired a predator as pastor. How would I go about making a complaint? What would the process be to get them declared as not in friendly cooperation? Ben has this in his document but it seems like it needs to be fleshed out more.
Here is where I am at this point:
- Though initially, I was enthusiastic, I now have some serious questions about the constitutional amendment approach being taken. We should not change the constitution if there are other ways to accomplish the same thing.
- Ben’s proposal is, at its worst, well worth exploring. It makes sense and should be given serious consideration. The EC should examine all possible solutions, not dig its heels in on the constitutional approach that was so hastily constructed.
- We have six seminaries, some knowledgeable experts, a Sexual Abuse Workgroup – it would seem the EC might avail itself of the wisdom of the seminary presidents, of the workgroup, of others who have expertise and knowledge in this area. One of the more disturbing things here is the speed at which the EC responded without consultation, study, or research, to come to its proposals. We have time before Birmingham to do research, put the great minds of the SBC together, to “leverage our polity” to come up with the right solution.
- For the love of all that is holy, let us not arrive at Birmingham with a mediocre solution and then see it defeated. That would be a black eye none of us wants. And we do not want to adopt a bad proposal just to avoid such a black eye.
I have not reached a conclusion here, and I believe that is where the SBC should be. The constitutional amendment approach was arrived at too quickly to be our final word. This proposal deserves a serious look. Maybe there is another solution that no one has mentioned yet. There are three months between now and Birmingham to get this thing right.