SBC to consider amendment on sex abuse prevention

In response to a report by convention president J.D. Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will recommend an amendment to the SBC constitution aimed at preventing and responding to sexual abuse.

The proposed amendment, which was adopted by the Executive Committee without opposition, would declare the churches are not “in friendly cooperation with the Convention” if they “have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse” that targets minors and other vulnerable persons. 

“Indifference,” according to the amendment, “can be evidenced by, among other things, (a) employing a convicted sex offender, (b) allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors, (c) continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or (d) willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”

To take effect, the amendment would need two-thirds approval by SBC messengers at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings.

EC chairman Mike Stone said adopting the amendment would make “explicit what has been implicit already in our government documents — that is, churches who do not deal decisively and biblically on issues of sexual abuse are not in good fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Survivors of sexual abuse “are loved, and we commit to seek to care for them,” said Stone, a pastor in Blackshear, Ga.

As the proposed amendment was discussed in the EC’s bylaws workgroup and administrative committee, EC leaders clarified that abuse committed by one member of a church would not in itself trigger disfellowshipping, but only action of the church body as a whole that evidenced indifference to the abuse. Additionally, if a church evidenced repentance for its indifference, the disfellowshipping process would likely stop.

In his EC report, Greear named 10 churches, based on media reports, that he said should be asked to assure the convention they are working to correct their policies and procedures related to abuse. 

Of those churches, three warrant further inquiry, the EC bylaws workgroup determined after two days of discussions with Greear. The 10 churches originally listed were from Texas, Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas.

In a 1,500-word memo to the workgroup, Greear wrote, “I am not calling for disfellowshipping any of these churches at this point.” But, he said, 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.”

Greear’s report addressed a plan to battle sex abuse and its enablers among Southern Baptist churches, noting the gospel’s call to protect the vulnerable.

Greear offered a wide-ranging plan to combat sex abuse, including education, proven sincerity, accountability and possibly a sex-abuse database and congregational disfellowshipping. The recommendations stem from the work of the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, funded by the EC and initiated in response to an SBC messenger’s motion.

South Carolina Baptist Convention leaders have also taken steps to address the issue. On March 12, nearly 600 leaders from more than 200 SCBC churches attended a “Sexual Misconduct Summit” sponsored by the SCBC and held at Lexington Baptist Church.

“It is my belief that most pastors and churches want to do the right thing but are not always sure what to do or how to do it,” said Gary Hollingsworth, SCBC executive director-treasurer. He said those who attended the March 12 event were provided with legal and practical information and resources “to help every church leader, regardless of size or context, to have the necessary tools to be equipped to stop abuse before it begins and then know how to better care for and minister to those who have been victimized.” 

— With reporting from Baptist Press.