NASHVILLE—The Southern Baptist Convention should withdraw fellowship from churches that show “wanton disregard” for sexual abuse and lack of concern for victims, President J.D. Greear told the SBC Executive Committee.
“This is not a fabricated story made up by people with a secular agenda,” Greear said. “We’ve not taken reports of abuse in our churches as seriously as our gospel demands, and sometimes even worse, outright ignored or silenced victims.”
In his report to the committee Feb. 18, Greear presented a series of proposals based on initial recommendations from the sexual abuse advisory study he initiated last year—including a call to amend SBC governing documents to include blatant mishandling of abuse as grounds for disfellowshipping a church.
“We must take bold and decisive steps to send an unequivocal message: Churches that have a wanton disregard for sexual abuse and for caring for the survivors are not in good fellowship with this convention,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.
Examine 10 churches
He went on to ask the necessary administrative group to “perform due diligence” to determine if 10 churches—six of them in Texas—meet the standard to be considered as cooperating churches, based on their policies and procedures regarding abuse and survivor-care. He cited Article 15 of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, which names “the abused” as among the vulnerable groups Christians have a responsibility to provide for and protect.
“We need to be honest with ourselves,” he said. “If news stories had listed a number of our churches who were alleged to have changed their position on homosexuality, we would rightly begin to ask questions and potentially take steps to cease cooperation, because our position on this issue is clear. We must take seriously that our position on abuse is clear, too.”
The Texas churches he singled out for scrutiny are Arapaho Road Baptist in Garland, Bolivar Baptist in Sanger, Brentwood Baptist in Houston, Cathedral of Faith in Houston, First Baptist in Bedford, and Second Baptist in Houston. All are affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, as well as the SBC, according to information on Texas Baptists’ website.
Other churches Greear mentioned are Eastside Baptist in Marietta, Ga.; Sovereign Grace in Louisville, Ky.; Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga.; and Turner Street Baptist in Springdale, Ark.
“I am not calling for disfellowshipping any of these churches at this point, but these churches must be called upon to give assurance to the SBC that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures with regards to abuse and care for survivors,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Read responses from the churches here.)
‘Shining a light’ on sin
Greear spoke to the SBC Executive Committee one week after an investigative report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed about 380 ministers and volunteers in Southern Baptist churches sexually abused more than 700 people in the last 20 years. He told the committee he wanted “to thank the media for shining a light on the magnitude of this horrific sin.”
“We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves publicly,” Greear said. “Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse. Our job is not to protect our reputation.”
The study group is “putting every option on the table when it comes to addressing abuse”—including the creation of a database of offenders in Southern Baptist life, he noted.
“We have already been evaluating possibilities related to a database and listening to a wide range of survivors, advocates and experts on the options,” he said.
Greear announced the six SBC-affiliated seminaries had agreed to a statement of principles committing themselves to protecting their campus communities from abuse and pledging to prepare ministers to prevent abuse and care for survivors.
He also noted a 10-member team of survivors, advocates, attorneys, ministers and trauma experts developed a 12-lesson educational video series, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well on Abuse,” he reported.
“We recognize that education is not the answer, because ignorance is not the problem. But we must eliminate ignorance as an excuse,” Greear said.
Greear identified additional recommendations from the study group:
- Repent for decades of inaction.
“I’m calling for a season of lament, sorrow and repentance,” he said. “Certainly, those who have aided or abetted in abuse need to repent of that. But as a convention, we need to repent of a culture that has made abuse, cover-ups and evading responsibility far too easy.”
Southern Baptists should repent of blaming victims for their abuse, lack of vigilence in responding to reports, failure to cooperate with legal authority, accepting “a frankly unbiblical approach to grace” that included covering up sin and giving abusers a second chance to hurt other people, and “appealing to autonomy as a cover-up for lack of accountability.”
Southern Baptists also need to repent of “trying to avoid embarrassment by keeping it out of the public eye,” he asserted. “The safety of victims is more important than the reputation of Southern Baptists.”
- Ask churches, associations, conventions and Baptist entities to review their policies and procedures regarding abuse.
- Ask the SBC Executive Committee to consider requiring background checks for all SBC standing committees and trustee appointments.
- Reexamine ordination processes for pastors and deacons.
- Add questions to the Annual Church Profile related to prevention policies, as well as providing churches an opportunity to report if an abuse allegation occurred in the past year.