Our Grand Convention has the attention span of a toddler. We lurch from one topic/crisis/scandal/issue du jour to another at breathtaking speed, “forgetting what lies behind” and boldly, sometimes recklessly, turning our attention and energies to the next one.
Witness the ease with which sex abuse reform was displaced in favor of policing job title vocabulary in local churches. Egad.
What lies ahead is a task force on cooperation, one that has considerable possibilities for actual results. I predict that unless the abuse implementation task force moves into something very controversial, they will be of far less interest to Southern Baptists than the cooperation TF.
Since June, there has been intense interest and repeated news about women pastors (there are a few senior pastors in churches still identified, however lightly, as SBC) but near total silence about abuse reform, even though we have already voted to have a national database of convicted, confessed, and credibly accused sex abusers and are waiting only for the database to be cranked up. No more voting necessary. Presumably, this will be done prior to next year’s convention.
The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force is unelected, the convention voting to allow the president to appoint members. Evidently, the president can replace members who resign, which Bart Barber just did in a Friday news announcement. Big news announcement on a Friday? It’s well known that most SBC pastors play golf on Fridays, take Saturdays off, and are occupied with other tasks on The Lord’s Day. By Monday, Friday’s news is old news, easily ignored or overlooked. Secular politicians are experts at this. Nah. We wouldn’t do this on purpose, would we?
The ARITF loses their most experienced and outstanding member. Marshall Blalock was on the earlier Sex Abuse Task Force and was chairman of the new, implementation group. This is a considerable loss. The tasks assigned are difficult and he served long and well. I agree with Barber that “deserves the gratitude and affection of all Southern Baptists. His leadership of the Task Force as chair for the past year has been exemplary.”
Here are some unsolicited personal observations on sex abuse in the SBC.
- It is not at all clear that all the millions spent thus far by our Executive Committee will have any impact on the behavior of local churches in regard to abuse. We are a convention of small churches few of which have messengers at our annual meeting. The SBC Executive Committee has linked a database for years and years. No autonomous church has to consult Nashville for anything. Perhaps some will consult the new database before hiring staff but I doubt many will do that.
- The Executive Committee hasn’t proved to be capable of handling this (or any other major) issue. The EC’s handling of hiring a new CEO has not been exceptionally adept. Perhaps new, permanent leadership will correct this. I’d love to be optimistic but…
- The inclusion of “credibly accused” individuals in the new database may be it’s undoing, and if credibly accused individuals cannot be included, the entire concept of a database may be questioned. There are inherent issues in this that no legal language can solve and I have little confidence that the EC can manage this even through an expensive contractor. Their main task might end up being managing legal expenses. Do we need a reminder that the EC cannot “defrock,” punish, or discipline any individual clergy? The only stick they have is to exclude churches. I would offer the conjecture that few people would say they have done well even in this. It may be past time to reassess the whole business.
- The ARITF still has the assigned tasks of “establishing a survivor care fund and memorial.” If these were the easier tasks then I’d have expected some progress and news on them. Unfortunately, the idea of the EC accepting any level of responsibility for this crime in the local churches is a problem. Is a “survivor care fund” a compensation fund for abuse victims, a pool of money to pay for counseling, or something else? I didn’t choose the language here. The original Guidepost report (wisely amended by the SATF) spoke of a compensation fund. It cannot be said too often but the EC does not ordain, hire, supervise, or fire local church staff.
- The ARITF has a new chairman and new members. They have my prayers for the days ahead. Their’s is a difficult and unenviable task. Success is not assured.
For those who will point out how the SBC messenger votes to go down this road were near unanimous, I’d say that we are less a deliberative body than a convention of cattle easily stampeded. We only meet two days a year and schedule just minutes to discuss the most serious matters. When the Executive Committee had lengthy, deliberate, and serious discussion over wavier of privilege, the vote was very close.