I confess to giving this some thought but without much in the way of an answer. The call is often heard that “the SBC” should relinquish some of its cherished autonomy in order to keep kids safe at church. Here’s how the most recent case was explained.
“The SBC views itself as a network of Baptist congregations, each of which is independent and self-governing. Abuse survivors and advocates say that this doctrine of autonomy has thwarted their attempts to fight sexual abuse in SBC churches, such as through the creation of a denomination wide sex offender database.”
“This clearly paints a picture for necessity of a stronger structure…”.
Any time the general label “the SBC” is used, one immediately senses difficulty. What part of the SBC? What SBC body? What SBC institution or entity? There is no SBC except, as SBC geeks always note, from gavel to gavel at any given annual meeting. The Southern Baptist Convention has to do with convening. Purists will even disavow the label denomination.
If Huffpo says that “The SBC views itself as a network of Baptist congregations” I wouldn’t much argue, though network is fairly new as a descriptive term for our churches. How could any informed person NOT see what we call Southern Baptists as a network, or convention, of independent and self-governing congregations? We are thus, not because we view it as such but because it is and always has been the reality of our cooperative arrangement.
How could churches be persuaded to relinquish some of their autonomy?
Would a denomination wide sex offender database be a diminution of autonomy? I don’t see how it would given that (a) no church would have to pay the least bit of attention to it, (b) no church could be required to submit names to it, and (c) the body that administers it would have no power over any church or, indeed, any minister.
Could the seminaries and other SBC entities agree among themselves to require certain credentials and standing for those whom they hire? They already do, these bodies being themselves autonomous and able to set whatever standards they wish.
Could churches choose to hand over to a state or national body the ability to choose their ministers? I suppose that any church could do so if they wished. What supra-church group would be willing to do this? None that I know of.
Could the Executive Committee in conjunction with the seminaries maintain a registry of all ordained ministers? I don’t know how they could, seeing that no church can be required to inform any SBC body that they have ordained someone. If a cooperating SBC church formally severs ties with our beloved, uh, denomination does that make all whom that church ordained over the years no longer Southern Baptist ministers? Churches ordain. Churches may call ministers with any type of ordination, or no ordination.
Could the EC and seminaries require certain things of all individuals who want to be ordained by a Southern Baptist church? No.
The only concrete proposal I have heard from the sex abuse survivors and advocates is for the SBC Executive Committee to create and fund an independent review body that would be staffed by experts in the field and would receive reports of abuse in SBC churches, review them, and make some determination about them, and maintain a permanent record of all reports. No church would have to submit any names to this group. No church would have to cooperate with any “review” by this group. No church would have to check with this group.
To use the Huffpo wording, every church I pastored viewed itself as an autonomous, independent congregation. They hired their own pastors and staff, whomever they wished for whatever reasons they wished. They supervised their staff. They disciplined or fired their staff. They had their own bank accounts. They owned their own property. They paid their own utilities.
If autonomy is a problem that needs fixing, I have no idea how it could be done. Maybe someone else has better ideas than I do.