A little more than a day after receiving information from J.D. Greear on the 10 churches named in the Houston Chronicle’s series of articles, the Bylaws Committee of the Executive Committee issued a wholly inadequate response that called for further inquiry into three of the churches, absolved six of them by saying that no further inquiry was needed, and pointed out that one of the churches was not SBC-affiliated. (The offender in the non-SBC church moved from an SBC church after committing the offense, so it is easy to see how the Chronicle did not figure that out.)
This report cannot stand and must be disavowed by the Executive Committee. It is an embarrassingly inadequate response to the situation. J.D. Greear stood before the EC and set a course for a new day in our response to this sexual abuse scandal that has been exposed in recent years and brought to the fore by the HC article. The timing was providential. President Greear and the Abuse workgroup have been working on a response for months and were planning to bring a report at the EC meeting. The Chronicle articles appearing a few days before the meeting can only be seen as the hand of God.
No one in the SBC supports or promotes the abuse of women and children, but there are some who resist taking the transparent, difficult, radical steps that J.D. Greear and the Abuse workgroup have recommended. Our president has signaled that it will not be business as usual, that the days of sweeping things under the rug, of making excuses for evil, of coverup, delay, and distraction is over. He is determined to lead with transparency, to deal with issues forthrightly. When the Chronicle named churches, he named them in his report. The Bylaws committee took this information and spent a day or two engaged in some conference calls and issued a report.
They were clearly out of their depth. They are not investigators and should not have attempted to engage in this. A genuine investigation would have taken weeks or months, not hours. Because they were overmatched they issued a report that is fundamentally flawed, has caused embarrassment, and must not be allowed to stand.
Case in point – they cleared Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, GA and recommended “no further investigation” of that church.
David Pittman claims he was molested by a youth pastor in his church many years ago. Because of Georgia’s “generous” (to the pedophile) statute of limitation, the pedophile could not be brought to justice. In his devastating article, “Pedophiles are Like Serial Killers,” written October 1, 2012, he names his abuser and tells his story. He contacted two churches who had hired the abuser, and those churches dealt properly with the situation (thank God) and dismissed the man. But he found out that Trinity Baptist in Ashburn had this man on staff (first as an employee, then as a volunteer). When he contacted Rodney Brown, the pastor, and people in the church, they refused to remove the pedophile from his position. It seems he may have gone from paid staff to volunteer, but retained his leadership role. The pastor was very angry, not with the pedophile, but with David Pittman. He reports that the pastor told him that he was a “bad person” and confronted him for “destroyed my church.” I watched a message the pastor preached after his church was named by Greear. He never mentioned the Chronicle article or the fact that their music leader was a pedophile. He cast the church and himself as victims of an unwarranted attack. He relayed that employees of the EC, the Georgia convention, and his association expressed apologies and their support for him against Greear’s attacks. He admitted to Baptist Press that the music leader had confessed long ago to molesting ONE child but said he had repented and should be forgiven. Pittman claims to know the names of at least eight others who have been molested by this man. Again, because of the statute of limitations, this man cannot be charged.
The facts, with some variation in details, do not seem to be in dispute. A Georgia church uses a known pedophile as a music minister/music leader and the Bylaws Committee said, NO FURTHER INVESTIGATION IS WARRANTED. If the pastor is to be believed (he left a lot of facts out of his “sermon” and shaded things to suit his story, so I have questions), he received apologies from an EC representative and support from the Georgia convention and his association.
The Bylaws Committee cleared this church though they have a KNOWN pedophile in leadership. Read that last sentence again! One more time. You read it correctly.
Here is what I think:
1. The Executive Committee must officially repudiate the Bylaws Committee report. They cannot accept a report that exonerates a church that uses a known pedophile in leadership.
2. The Bylaws Committee of the EC is unqualified to do such investigations. They may be adept at rewriting passages of our governing documents but they are not qualified to investigate allegations of abuse. They set up inadequate standards for the investigation and failed to conduct a genuine investigation. They are simply not set up to do such an investigation.
3. The EC must form or employ an outside investigation of these nine allegations and any that come in the future. Willow Creek church denied the allegations against Bill Hybels for a long time, then as pressure mounted they formed an outside group that did a thorough investigation. That group finally brought back a report this week that confirmed the allegations of the accusers.
We need a group that understands Baptist polity but is not subject to political pressure, one that will investigate Second Baptist of Houston as thoroughly as it will Trinity Baptist of Ashburn.
4. We must remember that we are a people of grace. There are some of these churches that have failed in the past and have done the right thing since. These churches should not be punished but honored for correcting past errors. Isn’t that what we are about? Sin. Repentance. Renewal?
I am old enough to remember when many genuinely thought it was best for everyone if we swept this stuff under the rug. That was wrong and it hurt people, but it was thought to be best for all. If people made mistakes 20 years ago (or 40 years ago, or 4 months ago) they should admit them, correct them, repent to the victims, and then enact policies that will help to prevent such mistakes in the future. Some of these churches seemed to welcome Greear’s attention as an opportunity to clear their name and explain that they had established proper policies and guidelines. In the BP article linked to above, the Arapaho Road Baptist Church of Garland, TX stands out as one that has taken intentional and definitive steps to correct past errors. They even thanked Greear for his leadership in this!
Churches that are doing right now should have no fear from the Greear recommendation.
5. The Abuse workgroup is doing great work. The EC needs to act to make it clear that it will put its full weight behind President Greear and the Abuse workgroup and that it will seek to implement recommendations as best it can. We must be faithful to our doctrinal traditions as Baptists, but in this area, we must make a clean break and begin a whole new day. J.D. Greear is leading us to do that, along with the Abuse workgroup, and we should take their recommendations seriously.
President Greear reminded us that ministering to victims is more important than defending the reputation of the SBC. Every action we take must flow from the heart of Jesus Christ, reflect his love and character, and seek to live out the demands of the gospel in this world. Literally, the world is watching us. We need to get this one right. The Bylaws Committee did not and we simply cannot let that stand.