Good intentions may go awry and it’s tough to label the past week as much other than a debacle in spite of good men doing what they thought was prudent and appropriate. (Yes, part of the problem is likely the heavily male-dominated makeup of the Executive Committee but more on that later).
But it may be helpful to review some of the things that are positive, particularly in comparison with a year ago:
- The question of sex abuse in churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention is receiving serious attention and that not just from abuse victims and their advocates. Our current president, J. D. Greear, asked for the matter to be examined. It has been and is being scrutinized by various experts and others inside and outside of the SBC. Considerable funding was approved for the matter.
- Autonomy, both a core characteristic of Southern Baptists and also the main source of criticism, is being discussed as I’ve never seen it. While some are calling for churches to voluntarily relinquish some of their autonomy, more prudent and realistic voices are calling for autonomy to be leveraged in ways that helps everyone.
- Greear’s appointments are more diverse and not just racially. The average age is 43, much younger than the average age of pastors, and about a quarter of them come from churches under 100 in attendance. Good. Average church Cooperative Program giving for the appointees is about 1.5 times the average. Good.
- In Greear’s call for repentance on sex abuse, note that he includes “a distorted view of complementarianism” in it.
- He calls for repentance from SBC churches giving abusers a “second chance to prey on the vulnerable.”
- And repentance from “failing to cooperate with the laws of the land.”
- And from being more concerned about our reputation than the safety of victims.
- The abuse workgroup has produced a child protection training product for churches. It will be offered for free starting in June.
- “All 41 Baptist state conventions (which represent all 50 states) and the officers of the SBC Associational Leaders have committed to integrating training on how to care for survivors into their ministries, employee practices, and church resourcing.” SBCers are an unruly bunch in many things. Getting agreement on this is good.
- The six seminaries “have committed to integrating training on how to care for survivors into their mandatory curriculum” (emphasis mine).
- Our state conventions, associations, and entities have already been active in the area of abuse education and training but this has been raised to an entirely new level.
- Ordination, a scandal in SBC life, has been called out.
- The annual meeting in Birmingham will have the issue front and center. I suspect it will be the dominant issue.
- The matter of the abuse registry is being carefully evaluated, as it should be. Greear said, “The subject of a database is complicated and will take time to evaluate.”
- Inquiries into some churches are being made, not the least of which is Sovereign Grace Church. There was a day when it was untouchable. No more. Good.
- SBC leaders at every level understand that this is a matter that is taken seriously. Reactions to missteps are almost instantaneous. It has been positive to see rapid clarifications from some leaders. Perhaps greater openness and transparence will be seen as a solution to some of these problems.
While I am a committed follower of Christ, Baptist, and settled Southern Baptist, I doubt anyone would call me a cheerleader for SBC stuff. We’ve had too many of those. But here’s a list of things I observe to be positive and new for the SBC. It’s not an exhaustive list nor is it the end of any positive developments.