Seminary professors Malcolm Yarnell and Keith Whitfield wrote an article put here on February 16, 2019, Addressing Abuse in the SBC: A Proposal. Keith Whitfield is Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Malcolm Yarnell is Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This is the only concrete proposal I have seen from any in the SBC that goes beyond providing resources and educating SBC pastors and churches.
For some time now, SBC seminaries have been requiring students to take some level of training in the area of sex abuse and state conventions have been sponsoring training seminars and other events in order to educate pastors and church leaders on the issue.
To my knowledge all SBC entities and institutions have child protection policies and require background checks and other measure for employees, seasonal workers, and others. Notably, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission created and promoted the CaringWell materials, used by thousands of SBC pastors and churches.
This proposal by the two theology professors goes beyond these education and resourcing efforts. They offer a four point plan:
1) We must leverage our autonomy to call our churches into a covenant of protecting the vulnerable.
One may read their complete explanation of this but it calls for a registry of participating church, a sub-group of SBC churches that have voluntarily completed relevant training and have accessed resources. The idea of a registry is no small thing. The idea is a registry of a positive nature.
Those who participate in the covenant of protecting the vulnerable will be listed on a registry of participating churches, convention entities and ministers who have voluntarily fulfilled the proper training, who faithfully follow strict standards and policies, and who continually remain accountable to this covenant. In addition to the registry, those who are fulfilling this covenant would be provided a compliance certification, with an official seal to place on their website, promotional materials and campus signage.
2) We must remove churches from our fellowship who have knowingly hired someone who has been convicted of, has admitted to, or has been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
The current Credentials Committee process is an attempt to do this.
A church should be removed immediately from fellowship if it hires a registered sex offender or if it allows someone to remain in their ministry position after a credible allegation of abuse has been made. Each case should be duly investigated by an empowered committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the appropriate state convention and/or the appropriate local association for immediate investigation. Responses must be given to the reporting individual(s) or entity in a timely manner.
The CC process is imperfect and, while it can work to disfellowship churches, it hasn’t been a smooth process. One needs no reminder that any disfellowshipping involves only SBC churches. There is no process for removing or disqualifying individual clergy. Our autonomy puts all things relevant to clergy in the hands of and under the power of a local church, not any denominational entity.
Not included in the four point proposal but offered for future consideration is “the responsibility of our seminaries to revoke degrees when one of our alumni has been either formally convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse.” I am unaware of this ever having been done. Concomitantly, local churches may and should revoke ordinations for abusers. This is rare but has been done.
3) We must employ victim-survivor advocacy.
The professors explain,
One of the clear lessons learned from the Houston Chronicle articles and other previously known accounts of abuse in our churches is that survivors of abuse need a trustworthy advocate upon whom they may call.
This advocate must not be in a position of power over the victim and must seek to advise and provide care to the survivor(s) of abuse. This advocate must be able and ready to report acts of abuse to state authorities as well as to various authorities within the local church and appropriate offices within the local association, as well as the state and national conventions. This advocate must not be professionally or relationally connected to the minister or the church nor be subject to financial or reputational pressure from the minister or church. Advocates should be professionally trained and carry sufficient “standing” within our cooperative structure in order to help reduce further harm.
The mechanics and details of this are not specified.
4) We must establish a foundation to help survivors with legal fees and counseling expenses.
Many of those who were abused in SBC churches have called for funding for victim counseling and other things. It is unrealistic in my view to expect the SBC Executive Committee to accept responsibility for any member or staffer of every church affiliated with the SBC. The “SBC” doesn’t ordain, call, assign, supervise, or fire church ministers or staff nor do they have the slightest ability to exercise any supervision of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers in SBC churches. The professors offer an alternative,
Local churches and state conventions should be strongly encouraged, and Southern Baptist entities should be required to have measures in place to cover legal fees and counseling expenses for anyone abused by a leader or a volunteer in their ministry.
In addition to these funds, the Southern Baptist Convention, through the Executive Committee, should develop a fund to help when the resources of a church are not sufficient or when a church fails to provide reasonable support to a survivor.
Obviously, a deliberate policy construction and vetting process is needed to decide when, why, and who should receive assistance. However, we believe it would be very wise for churches, entities, state conventions and the national convention to contribute to and invite contributions to a fund through which survivors may gain access to proper care.
The creation of such a fund (or multiple funds at various SBC levels) may face some difficulties but similar things have been and are being done.
In the light of recent discussions here, I though that this proposal, now over two years old, might be helpful. I cannot say that I found much response to this proposal although the high profile of the two distinguished profs certainly ensured that SBC leadership would have been exposed to it. I thought the proposals were commendable two years ago and should be considered now.