SBC sex abuse statements draw varied responses

  |  Source: Baptist Press

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NASHVILLE (BP)—A Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee workgroup’s statement on sexual abuse—and the public request by SBC President J.D. Greear that prompted it—drew varied reactions.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. (SBC Newsroom Photo / Matt Miller)

At the SBC Executive Committee meeting, Greear named 10 churches he said should be asked to assure the convention they are working to correct their policies and procedures related to abuse—or risk being considered out of cooperation with the SBC.

Of the 10 churches named, three warrant “further inquiry,” the bylaws workgroup stated in its Feb. 23 release, issued after meetings Friday and Saturday via conference call. One of the churches is not Southern Baptist.

Reaction following the release ranged from allegations the Executive Committee did not go far enough in combatting abuse to allegations Greear should have contacted the churches before naming them publicly.

Amid the discussion, Greear released a statement saying past “mistakes” by Southern Baptist churches “ should be humbly and transparently addressed, and these churches should assure the convention that their current policies are not only up to date, but have been implemented in ways that ensure the maximum safety of all who attend.”

“While we do not presume the guilt of any,” he added, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study team led by Greear and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission believes “the public nature” of some accusations made against churches in the media warrants “a public response.”

Executive Committee Chair Mike Stone likewise issued a statement: “While the bylaws workgroup intended to convey the strongest sense of the convention’s revulsion toward sexual abuse, we are also keenly aware that the convention has not given to us investigative authority.”

Criticized from multiple fronts

The bylaws workgroup’s release was criticized in both social and traditional media.

Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and abuse survivor who has worked with Greear on the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study; Megan Lively, a victim advocate; and Virginia pastor Brent Hobbs all either tweeted or blogged various criticisms of the report.

Nonetheless, Stone said: “For the first time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, the bylaws workgroup of the SBC Executive Committee has deemed three churches as worthy of inquiry regarding the issue of sexual abuse. That fact alone should indicate that we are not hesitant to recommend action where provided information is sufficient.”

After Greear named the 10 churches in his Feb. 18 report to the Executive Committee, the bylaws workgroup adopted a motion asking him “to provide to the workgroup … any information which he wishes to provide tending to demonstrate that a particular church is worthy of consideration as to whether or not it is currently in cooperation with the convention.”

Greear responded to that request with a 1,500-word memo sent to the workgroup Feb. 22. In that memo, he devoted one paragraph each to expressing his concerns about the nine Southern Baptist churches listed in his report. The tenth—Turner Street Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark. —mistakenly was identified as Southern Baptist, Greear stated.

“I am not calling for disfellowshipping any of these churches at this point,” Greear wrote. But the 10 congregations were “referenced in recent media reports” and “must be called upon to give assurance to the SBC Executive Committee that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures (if applicable) with regards to abuse and care for survivors. Our goal here is never disfellowship, but correction.”

Named churches respond

After the bylaws workgroup’s release was issued, Baptist Press attempted to contact all nine Southern Baptist churches referenced by Greear.

Two churches Greear named—Brentwood Baptist in Houston and Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in Houston—did not respond to Baptist Press’ request for comment. The workgroup concluded “no further inquiry is warranted” concerning Brentwood. However, the workgroup said “further inquiry is warranted” regarding Cathedral of Faith, citing Greear’s allegation a registered sex offender leads the church.

Other churches Greear named offered their responses:

Arapaho Road Baptist Church in Garland said via a statement by spokesperson Carolyn Alvey: “The church appreciates the leadership from Pastor J.D. Greear and the steps he outlined for change among churches within the Southern Baptist Convention. Arapaho Road welcomes conversation with Pastor Greear and the SBC to share what the church has learned and implemented.”

Among initiatives implemented following allegations two Arapaho Road youth workers had inappropriate contact with teens: the church created a paid director of safety and security position, retained sexual abuse awareness and prevention experts from the MinistrySafe organization, began conducting weekly staff training on abuse prevention and began conducting in-house seminars on how to spot sexual predators, Alvey said in an email.

“From the moment leaders learned of the 2013 allegations, the church has been and remains committed to pushing everything into the light and being transparent,” Alvey said. “That is the only way for true healing to happen for everyone involved and we continue to pray for and be available for pastoral care for those impacted.”

The bylaws workgroup said “no further inquiry is warranted” concerning Arapaho Road.

First Baptist Church in Bedford hired Charles Adcock for a staff position, not knowing he was under indictment on 29 counts of rape and sodomy. Adcock now is “a registered sex offender living in Arkansas,” the bylaws workgroup report stated, based on information provided by Greear. When Adcock’s background came to light in 2015, “the church membership was shocked, disgusted and angered,” according to a statement on First Baptist’s website. Adcock left the church at that time, “and those responsible for allowing Adcock to serve … (at First Baptist Church in Bedford) were removed from their positions shortly after his departure.”

First Baptist has “worked diligently to review and update our policies and procedures” since then, according to the statement.

Billy Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bedford, told Baptist Press he was “astonished” and “surprised” when Greear listed the church in his report without first contacting it.

Taylor said the church unanimously adopted a resolution Feb. 24 stating: “Today we renew our commitment of providing a safe environment for our members, families, guests and our community as our highest priority” and “resolve to make sure the problems of the past are never repeated. We welcome and look forward to working with the Southern Baptist Convention toward making our church, and other Baptist churches the safe place God intends them to be.”

The bylaws workgroup stated “no further inquiry is warranted” based on the information Greear provided, and First Baptist in Bedford “appears to be an example of a church, affected by the actions of a few individuals, that has taken decisive steps as a congregation.”

Second Baptist Church in Houston “has had, and continues to have, significant, detailed procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse and properly respond to charges of abuse,” the bylaws workgroup stated. “We believe no further inquiry is warranted based on that information.”

Second Baptist emailed a statement to Greear the morning after he listed the church in his report to the Executive Committee. Included with the statement were five pages outlining Second Baptist’s policies and procedures aimed at “ensuring a safe environment” and “ministering to those affected by sexual abuse.”

Second invited Greear, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin to visit Houston at the church’s expense to “walk through all of our current systems, policies and procedures,” according to an email forwarded to Baptist Press by the church.

According to the church’s statement: “Second Baptist Church wants to assure the Southern Baptist Convention and our community that we have long adhered to strict policies and guidelines dealing with sexual conduct and abuse.

“First and foremost, we grieve with each and every child, individual, their families and everyone affected by sexual abuse. Period. We pray and will continue to pray for anyone, and everyone affected by the gutless and heart wrenching actions of sex abusers and predators.  We are thankful for all law enforcement agencies that put their lives on the line each day to bring sexual abuse offenders and predators to justice.

“Second Baptist constantly strives to utilize the resources God has given our church family to implement and maintain effective systems, policies and procedures to prevent sexual abuse, to minister to anyone affected by sexual abuse, and to provide a safe environment for children, youth and their families.”

Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger warrants “further inquiry,” the workgroup concluded, particularly regarding whether the church continued to “employ a person who unlawfully concealed” information about sexual abuse from law enforcement and whether the church willfully disregarded “compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.” Pastor Dickie Amyx and his wife Melinda told Baptist Press the church has not taken either of those actions that would reflect sexual abuse.

Dickie Amyx said he had a sexual relationship in the mid-1970s with a 17-year-old girl at a non-Southern Baptist church he was then serving as an associate pastor. At the time, Amyx was around 30 years old. The girl became pregnant and had a child. Bolivar Baptist didn’t know about that relationship when it called him as pastor, Amyx said. The congregation learned of the sexual relationship in 2006 during the course of a lawsuit.

The church “knew the truth” about her husband, Melinda Amyx said. “They knew that he wasn’t a sexual predator. Our church is not hiding anything,” she said.

Dickie Amyx said he “will talk with anybody” at the Executive Committee “if they want to talk.”

The woman with whom Amyx had an affair when she was a teen—identified by the Amyxes and the Houston Chronicle as Debbie Vasquez—told the Chronicle she was 14 when she first had sexual contact with “her pastor in Sanger.”

The Chronicle did not state explicitly the identity of the pastor who allegedly molested Vasquez at 14, but it said Amyx admitted fathering the child she bore at age 18. Amyx told Baptist Press their affair occurred at Calvary Baptist Church in Lewisville.

Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has dealt with sexual abuse by a contractor, employee or volunteer minister three times since 2000, with all cases ending in criminal convictions, Baptist Press reported Feb. 15.

All three instances of abuse occurred before John Hull arrived as pastor. The Baptist Press news report and a Feb. 22 report by Georgia Baptists Christian Index newsjournal identified security improvements the church has reported.

“We have made it known here that we have done many things to improve what happened here,” Hull said, adding he “fully cooperated with the Houston Chronicle” as it prepared a report about sexual abuse and Southern Baptists.

“I support President Greear’s efforts to stop this horrible thing of sexual abuse, and especially child abuse, in our churches,” Hull said. “We’ve been grieving, and we’ve been sorrowing,” and “we’ve made great strides.”

Hull said he was “shocked” and found it “profoundly upsetting” when Greear listed Eastside in his report to the Executive Committee without first having a conversation with the church.

Hull expressed appreciation for a phone call with Greear Feb. 23. They had a “spirited and strong conversation with each other, and I think he is extremely aware of our dissatisfaction with how he as a leader managed this matter,” Hull said.

The bylaws workgroup said “no further inquiry is warranted” concerning Eastside.

Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., “may have evidenced indifference to sexual abuse,” the bylaws workgroup stated, concluding that “further inquiry is warranted.”

Baptist Press was unable to reach the church by phone or email. However, Sovereign Grace posted a statement on its website Feb. 25 expressing support for an amendment to the SBC Constitution recommended by the Executive Committee.

“The amendment proposes four criteria in response to ‘indifference in addressing sexual abuse’ in churches. We support this amendment, these criteria, and the godly impulses behind them,” the statement reads. “We believe just as strongly that Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville and its leadership are in full compliance with this proposed amendment. We are also aware of the statement by the SBC bylaws workgroup. Although we do not believe we should have been included on the list of churches submitted to the bylaws workgroup, we look forward to answering any questions the workgroup has for us.”

Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., learned about a staff member’s previous sexual misconduct several years ago. Pastor Rodney Brown told Baptist Press the church’s minister of music confessed in 2013 or 2014 he had molested a “young teen” decades earlier and had repented.

In response, Brown “fired him right there on the spot.” The man continued to attend the church, Brown said, but he never was allowed to be alone with children.

“Church leaders came back to me and said: ‘Rodney, the man says he’s repented. We’re not his judge. We’ve not seen anything to indicate any of this at our church,’” Brown said, adding the church felt the man was gifted for ministry and reinstated him as minister of music, a position in which he continues to serve.

When Greear listed Trinity in his report without contacting the church first, Brown felt “shock” then “discouragement,” he said.

“I thought the Southern Baptist Convention was there to support the churches that were a part of it. I kind of felt betrayed because no one had bothered to reach out to anybody in the church, me in particular as pastor, to allow us to verify or deny any allegations,” he said.

Trinity performs background checks on volunteers and staff and is “doing everything we can” to protect children, Brown said.

The bylaws workgroup stated that based on the information Greear provided, “no further inquiry is warranted” regarding Trinity.

Reactions from SBC  leaders

At least two SBC entity leaders reacted to the bylaws workgroup’s release. Executive Committee Interim President August Boto said the full SBC Executive Committee appears “overwhelmingly supportive” of the action points Greear has proposed to combat sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup’s Feb. 23 release “is a preliminary report only,” Boto noted, and may be amended if “additional information comes to light.”

Russell Moore 150
Russell Moore

ERLC President Russell Moore said he stands “squarely behind” Greear.

“I was not present for this bylaws workgroup meeting. I know this, though, the ultimate arbiter of our common witness and our mission together is that of the churches themselves,” Moore said.

“I sense that there is a great urgency among the churches to deal with these questions definitively, for the sake of vulnerable people and for the sake of the holiness of the name of Christ. These churches will send messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, where they will hear from the Advisory Group. This group has labored with gravity and expertise for months, and I’m confident Southern Baptists will respond with clarity and action.”

Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, said in his Feb. 26 statement he and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study “will bring forward more recommendations in the weeks to come.”

“In most situations in which a church’s handling of an abuse case has been challenged, we believe prudence demands dialogue not only with the churches themselves, but also victims, victim advocates, and other authorities directly involved in the documented reports to ensure that the churches have acted, and are acting, in ways consistent with the Southern Baptist Convention’s stated commitments to preventing abuse,” Greear said.

“As I have said, faithfulness to Christ demands that we take this issue with the utmost seriousness. We serve a God who gave his life to protect the vulnerable. We dare not minimize, casually dismiss or take lightly allegations of abuse. We must never foster environments that discourage the abused from coming forward or that enables abusers to evade accountability.

“Wrong must never be swept under the rug. We must be committed to doing whatever it takes to prohibit predators from second chances to victimize the vulnerable. Local church autonomy should never be used as an excuse for a failure of accountability. Anything less belies the very gospel we are committed to proclaim.”

Compiled from Baptist Press reports.

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