There has been a lot of discussion over the last few days about whether JD Greear was right to call the names of specific churches during his recent address to the Executive Committee. The manuscript for Greear’s entire speech has been published here at SBC Voices.
Here’s the relevant portion of the speech:
In media reports over the last week, churches who are currently in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention were alleged to have displayed a wanton disregard for the seriousness of abuse.
In some cases, they were alleged to have directly acted in a manner that was negligent at best and malicious at worst.
Either way, if the alleged reports are correct, we’ve had churches that operated out of alignment with gospel practices articulated by our BF&M.
In the interest of being above reproach, we should perform due diligence to verify whether or not these churches are indeed operating with a faith and practice that upholds the Baptist Faith and Message, specifically Article XV, which says that we should seek to provide for the abused.
I urge the bylaws workgroup of the administrative committee to take the necessary steps to determine whether the churches named recently in the news meet the standards of having a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith as outlined in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution. And the entity heads agree with me and stand with me.
Now, I want to step aside and say something as President–not speaking on behalf of the entities, or anybody but me. I say this as a member of the EC, based on my reading, our inquiry should start with:
- Arapaho Baptist Church, Garland, Texas
- Bolivar Baptist Church, Sanger, Texas
- Brentwood Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
- Cathedral of Faith, Houston, Texas
- Eastside Baptist Church, Marietta, Georgia
- First Baptist Church, Bedford, Texas
- Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
- Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, Kentucky
- Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, Georgia
- Turner Street Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas
And any other churches that receive similar allegations. Again, please note, I am not calling for disfellowshipping any of these churches at this point but these churches must be called upon to give assurance to the SBC that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures (if applicable) with regards to abuse and care for survivors.
It is my position that Dr. Greear was right to call the names of specific churches to be looked into by the Executive Committee bylaws work group. That has not, however, been my position all along. My thinking on this particular subject has shifted some since Dr. Greear first delivered his speech.
My first reaction was that it would have been better for Dr. Greear not to name specific churches. We definitely do not want to establish a precedent for SBC Presidents calling out specific churches whenever they decide to do so. That could become a problem very quickly. The SBC president is not the pope. He doesn’t have any authority over the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. SBC churches are fully autonomous, and convention leaders should not seek to interfere with that autonomy.
However, the fact that the Houston Chronicle had already published the names of these churches caused me to become a bit more ambivalent concerning Greear’s naming names. If pressed, it was probably still my position that it would have been best had Greear not named the churches, but he wasn’t exactly calling them out. The churches had already been named. He was just repeating the list. What’s the big deal?
Upon further reflection though, I think Greear was right to call the names of specific churches for the bylaws work group to look into. I think this was right for at least four reasons:
1) It was a sign to victims and victim advocates that things may actually be changing in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Without the naming of specific churches, Greear’s speech would have largely been viewed as empty platitudes. That’s not a reflection on Greear or the rest of the speech. It is a reflection on how the Southern Baptist Convention has dealt with this issue in the past. We talk a good game. And I believe that our talk is normally well-intentioned. But victims and victim advocates have been waiting for action. Naming names was a signal that Greear is serious about taking action rather than just talking.
2) The Houston Chronicle had already named these churches.
There was no putting the genie back in the bottle. The churches Greear named had already been called by name in a major newspaper. The Chronicle’s report had been picked up by various other news outlets. The names were already out there, and Southern Baptists need assurances that these churches have not “displayed a wanton disregard for the seriousness of abuse.”
Without Greear naming the churches that need to be looked into, how could anyone aside from a select few leaders have any assurance that due diligence was being done. Greear needed to name the specific churches. The bylaw work group needed to look into these specific churches. And they needed to issue a report about the specific churches named so that we would all know that the churches named in the Houston Chronicle story were actually examined as to whether they have a faith and practice that aligns with the BF&M2K with regard to abuse.
That leads to my third reason that it was right for Greear to name the churches.
3) The default in Southern Baptist life is to handle things behind closed doors.
One of the things often bemoaned in Southern Baptist life is that major matters are quietly handled behind closed doors without any measure of transparency. Most people realize that there are some things that must be dealt with in confidence. But when it is possible to tell the people, our leaders should tell the people.
That is what JD Greear did. If Dr. Greear had merely presented a list of churches to the bylaw work group without naming them in his speech, is there really any doubt whether we would have ever heard a word about it? The work group would have taken the list. They may or may not have looked into the churches. And if they did, they surely wouldn’t have presented any kind of report. Dr. Greear forced their hand, and really that’s why they rebuked him when they issued their report.
4) Naming specific churches gives those churches an opportunity to tell their story.
The bylaws work group still made a mess of the situation even after Dr. Greear named the churches. The case of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, GA is clear evidence of that. They have an admitted child molester leading the music at their church and the bylaws work group reported that “no further inquiry is warranted.” The pastor has expressed his dismay that his church was named. I’m dismayed that he’s dismayed.
However, other churches named have had the opportunity to publicly demonstrate the steps they have taken to proactively protect children and report abuse if it happens. That is a good thing. Dr. Greear was clear in his speech that he was not accusing the churches named of anything. He was certainly not calling for them to be immediately disfellowshipped. He was calling for the bylaws work group to have each church “give assurance to the SBC that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures (if applicable) with regards to abuse and care for survivors.” That is not an unreasonable request of any of our churches. We should all be able and willing to give such assurance. I am glad that it seems some of the churches named have done just that.
JD Greear is to be commended for his leadership during this difficult time. Sure he will make mistakes. He is human. But I am convinced that naming specific churches in his speech to the Executive Committee was not a mistake. It was a necessary step in the right direction.