Essentially, this is a response to the question: How can the Southern Baptist Convention, at the national level, be more efficient in excluding churches that do not respond properly in regard to sex abuse?
We are only a few months removed from what many called a mess, the SBC Executive Committee’s handling of the ten churches named by president JD Greear as needing some examination about their handling of sex abuse cases. SBC leaders have spent the time giving more thought and examination to the problem. The resulting proposal is a marked change in procedure for handling churches that may not be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the SBC.
Baptist Press has an article explaining the proposed changes and giving reaction and support from various SBC leaders:
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee’s staffer Phillip Bethancourt has the most extensive explanation of the business:
I think it is a fair and comprehensive treatment of the matter in a Q & A format. Let’s be honest: this can’t be understood properly in short snips.
This is fairly complicated and arcane stuff. I don’t claim to know all the answers nor where this will be going in the future but here are a few observations and questions. If there are things I read incorrectly or don’t understand, please inform me:
- The thrust here is so that the national SBC can react quickly to offending churches by excluding them and thus not wait until June each year for the messengers to do it. In the process formal, corrective conversations may be had with the church on the matter.
- Note that the only power “the SBC” has over individual churches is to exclude them, not seat their messengers at the annual meeting. It is unclear to me if when the new process ends with a vote, either by the full convention in annual session or by the full Executive Committee, to exclude if that action removes a church from being an SBC church. Seems like if the church had a relationship with a state convention and/or local association they would still be an SBC church until those two bodies excluded them.
- Note also that the Credentials Committee is not limited to the issue of sex abuse. Any other matter that might render a church to be found not in friendly cooperation is available to the committee as well. Possibilities include homosexual approval or affirmation, female pastors, non-congregational polity, and ordinances not in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message and any other reason. The total Executive Committee may, by majority vote, exclude any church for any reason legitimate or contrived although I wouldn’t expect them to act inappropriately. The church may appeal the decision to the messengers.
- This would be new ground in that a church may be excluded by a body other than the messengers of the SBC in annual session. The explanation says that many state conventions already have this procedure in place. Whether this is good or bad depends, I suppose, on who makes up the Executive Committee. It may be a necessary measure that recognizes the pace of things in the 21st century.
- The new Credentials Committee would do “inquiries” not investigations. The standard response to complaints about “SBC” clergy and abuse has been that the EC is not an investigatory body and that churches are autonomous. It is unclear to me what the distinction is but I suppose lawyers have read all this.
- Can it be noted here that one of the primary goals of the abuse survivors and advocates is for the creation of an independent review board, funded by the SBC EC, composed of independent professionals which board would receive and review complaints against SBC churches and clergy and maintain records of the same? The Credentials Committee proposal is a step in that direction. There are substantial differences, of course, but this is a new group under the EC focused on sex abuse.
- From whom will the new Credentials Committee receive complaints? SBC churches or individuals? The public at large? Who decides that? Survivors and advocates have long complained that there is no SBC individual or entity, other than the local church, who has any responsibility to receive their reports.
- The Committee will not “clear” any church. It may only conclude that they are “not in friendly cooperation.” OK, explain this to me. A church is accused and not found to be “not in friendly cooperation.” That’s not clearing? Sounds rather Muellerish.
- The proposal notes that “meetings and reports may be private or public…” The Committee doesn’t have to disclose anything. It’s up to them in each case “for the best interests of the Convention.” One might be certain that some cases referred will be highly public.
- The proposal is careful not to create linkage between the local church and the EC. I hope they are successful in this. For example, a church that has a pastor with a ‘credible report’ of abuse is not found to be ‘not in friendly cooperation.’ Later, he is convicted. Does any liability accrue to the EC for their decision? Lawyers. Don’t leave the convention without one.
Phillip Bethancourt’s lengthy explanation is required reading on this. I don’t see how anyone could have an intelligent conversation without reading it. I’m certain that some improvement could be made in my questions and observations. It’s complex.
Thus far JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd (in his new job exactly 10 days yesterday), Russell Moore, EC Chair Mike Stone, Rachel Denhollander have supporting statements in the Baptist Press article. The ForSuchATimeAsThisRally calls it a “possible step in the right direction.”
Absent something catastrophic, I expect the passage of this is assured.
Tell me something I need to know brethren and sistren. I’ll be around Birmingham and not for the bbq.