Citing local church autonomy, SBC Executive Committee says no to sex offender database

INDIANAPOLIS—Recognizing Southern Baptists’ “belief in the autonomy of each local church,” Morris Chapman announced that the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee would not support the creation of a database of sexual offenders in SBC churches.

“Southern Baptists believe that the local church in New Testament times was autonomous, and thus our local churches are autonomous,” the president of the SBC Executive Committee said in his address to messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The matter of a sex offender database was referred to the committee at last year’s SBC annual meeting in San Antonio. Oklahoma pastor and former International Mission Board trustee Wade Burleson requested a feasibility study for such a registry “in order to assist in preventing any further sexual abuse or harassment” in Southern Baptist churches, as stated in the motion.

However, in its report to messengers, the Executive Committee noted, “it would be impossible to assure that all convicted sexual predators who ever had a connection with a Baptist church would be discoverable for inclusion on such a list.” The report also stated that a Baptist-only database would likely omit sexual offenders coming to SBC churches from other denominations.

The committee recommended SBC churches access the U.S. Department of Justice’s national sex offender database, calling it the best resource for protecting congregations against employing known sex offenders.

By and large, the Executive Committee stood on the position that the autonomy of the local church superseded any jurisdictional authority the convention may have to create a sex offender database, explaining that there are numerous SBC entities and resources already in place to assist churches in thwarting sexual predators.

“The convention’s role is to encourage, empower and educate local churches as to how to best do their local work to protect our precious children,” Chapman said.

The committee’s action comes nearly a month after  Joe Barron, a minister to married adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church near Dallas, was arrested and forced to resign over his alleged involvement in an online underage sex sting. Chapman referred to the Prestonwood incident and applauded Pastor Jack Graham’s swift action on the matter.

Likewise responding to critics who suggest that the Executive Committee’s action on the sex offender database is insufficient, Chapman cited SBC resolutions passed in 2002 and 2007 supporting thorough punishment of sexual predators.

“Never let it be said … that we are anemic in the fight against sexual abuse,” Chapman noted. “To say so is a false accusation.”

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