Baptist Press reported yesterday about the SBC Credentials Committee’s establishment of an “online submission portal for reports of a church’s alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice.”
I want to be optimistic and supportive of the effort. It’s a difficult task. Good people are involved with the best motives and highest concern for these things. My observations are not criticisms. I’m reading the stuff for the first time and relaying what strikes me about it.
A few observations:
- It should be remembered that this is about CHURCHES, not INDIVIDUALS. The Credentials Committee may receive names of abusers, volunteers or clergy in an SBC church but the committee’s work involves ONLY CHURCHES. No minister can be defrocked, disapproved, blackballed, removed from their post, censured, reprimanded or anything else. Because…
- The only action the Credentials Committee can take is to REMOVE THE CHURCH FROM BEING CONSIDERED A COOPERATING CHURCH. The committee may refer individuals to law enforcement. They may inform a church about a complaint. They cannot take action against a church or individual other than exclusion.
- While the Credentials Committee may meet more often to consider submissions, the ultimate action of excluding a church can only be made by the whole Executive Committee of the SBC which meets only three times annually – February, June, and September.
- No submission will be received that is anonymous. This has raised concern of abuse survivors and advocates.
- The Credentials Committee flatly states that they “have no investigative authority or power.” However, the Committee will “review any information available,” will “inquire of the church under question,” may “garner the information necessary to fully vet the concern.” Lawyers, surely, have pored over every word used here. I suppose “not having investigative authority or power” simply means the committee cannot compel any church or individual to cooperate with them.
- We’re in the high weeds right out of the starting blocks. The phrase “alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice” is greek to most SBC members, not to mention most outsiders. “Polity?” What’s that most folks say.
- The submission forms require a “yes” or “no” box to be checked about reporting to law enforcement.
- The process requires a submitter to check “yes” or “no” to receiving a phone call from “an individual trained to assist victims of sexual or other forms of abuse.” It’s good to offer this. It should be noticed that the “individual” is not called a “counselor.” The BP report adds that the phone call will include “information about the abuse recovery process and identificaiton of resources in the individual’s local area.” The Credentials Committee is not taking on the job of counseling victims.
- Names of submitters “may” be disclosed to the church accused or named. It is unclear if the Committee will commit to respecting an submitter’s request to be kept anonymous.
- The Committee will “seek to protect the identity of individuals who make a submission, or a church submitted for inquiry status” until the church is voted to be excluded. This means there will be secret lists of accused churches kept by the committee (and the use of “secret” is indendiary here; I’m predicting that the phrase will be used early and often by others). I don’t disagree with the policy of keeping the name of the church confidential until found to have acted in such a way to be considered not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC but I’d expect push back on this. The Committee may meet frequently but the total Executive Committee only meets those three times annually with months of tight lips on accused churches. This one is problematic. Already, bloggers claim to have inside sources that name a specific number of accused churches. The Credentials Committee is composed of nine individuals, five men and four women. Presumably, they will have staff help. The SBC isn’t known for keeping secrets.
A few questions:
- Will third party submissions be accepted? Those that name churches and give information about suspected or actual abuse but not made by the alleged victim or a member of the church involved?
- The question about reporting to law enforcement doesn’t cover the necessary information about reporting. If the Credentials Committee person or staff person who reviews an online submission has reason to believe that abuse has been or is occurring and it isn’t clear if law enforcement has been contacted will they make the required report to the appropriate authorities? This needs some explanation.
- What and when will we hear from the Credentials Committee? Just the three times annually? I can see an entire series from the Houston and San Antonio newspapers being published before the Credentials Committee gets to one of their three scheduled meetings.
- Will any SBC leader attempt to explain this process? Ronnie Floyd (Executive Committee CEO), Mike Stone (pastor and current chairman of the SBC Executive Committee), J. D. Greear (current SBC president), Russell Moore (CEO of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or Phillip Bethancourt, point man on Caring Well)?
- Will the process serve to disincentivize churches from cooperating with the Credentials Committee? If there’s an allegation, it is the church that should handle it. Would getting involved with Nashville only complicate things?
- Does this mean the SBC president or other leader will not offer a list of possible offending churches of his own compilation?
- Will survivors and victims feel that this is helpful or impenetrable and a waste of time.
- Will the committee maintain a permanent record of all submissions, even those not to have been found actionable?
I’m guessing we are in new territory on all this and no one knows where this will go, how effective or ineffective it will be. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the national SBC either in annual session or through the workings of the Executive Committee can be effective in sanitizing our convention of almost fifty thousand churches from those that don’t handle abuse, race, or other things well.
I’m not a lawyer but that hasn’t slowed me down from thinking about legal stuff. Someone else can probably do a lot better with this.