In June, a motion was made at the SBC annual meeting calling for an “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC.” That motion was referred to the ERLC whose trustees met in Nashville this week. The executive committee of the ERLC (not to be confused with the SBC Executive Committee) recommended to the full board both a statement of support in response to the motion and initial funding and first steps in implementing the assessment.
In the board discussion, acting ERLC president, Brent Leatherwood, said that he believed that the motion was in line with the assignment given to the ERLC by Southern Baptists, was a continuance of the initial work of the ERLC in response to sexual abuse, that the ERLC was the appropriate entity to initiate the assessment, and that the staff were eager to begin work on the project.
The trustees voted to move forward. “We wholeheartedly support the intent of this motion and are committed to taking the necessary steps to secure the best oversight team and funding required to complete a comprehensive and thorough assessment, including the allocation of ERLC reserve funds to help offset the costs as needed.”
The decision was made with no opposition. A few minutes later, the Board took a second vote on initial steps to implement the assessment. The trustees allocated $250K as a “first commitment” toward the project and assigned the ERLC staff with
“1) Presenting for approval by the full board an advisory commity with broad representation to help oversee and execute the study process; 2) Begin working with other SBC entitites and organizations to develop partnerships and funding for the study; and 3) Develop a scope of work, for approval by the full board, and gather proposals from qualified independent firms to complete the study.”
Bottom line: The ERLC has taken on the responsibility for commissioning an audit and assessment of sexual abuse in the SBC.
This was the outcome I had hoped for. While the study will no doubt cost much more than $250K, the initial allocation allows the process to begin now and encourages other entities who wish to participate in funding this important study to do so. Further, the overwhelming support of the Trustees to begin this assessment gave me hope that there is a group of Convention leaders who are ready to address sexual abuse head-on, bring truth to light, care well for survivors of abuse, and take the next steps toward fulfilling our 2025 vision “to eliminate all instances of sexual abuse … among our churches.”
My experience attending the meeting was encouraging and uplifting. The trustees seemed eager to support the motion and recognized the important step that this was in addressing sexual abuse and response to abuse disclosures in our churches. Several trustees and ERLC staff shared words of appreciation and encouragement to both me and Hannah-Kate Williams who joined me as a guest at the meeting. Board Chair, David Prince, gave a personal word after the vote and told the board they had been a part of “one of the most important decisions to be made in the history of the Convention.”
Many survivors and survivor advocates have been praying for this outcome. While this is only a beginning step, it is an important one. I, for one, am encouraged to see Southern Baptist leaders who appear willing and eager to address the issue of sexual abuse. We have a long way to go before we earn the trust of those who have been hurt in and by our denominational system. Of course, what occurs at the SBC Executive Committee next week will also be a signal of our willingness to address sexual abuse. I pray that we continue to take forward steps to quickly and thoroughly address this issue. Still, this move by the ERLC trustees sparks hope that real change may be on the horizon.