The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will consider in June revising its proposed constitutional amendment on sex abuse and racism, and may recommend a new standing committee to assess claims of misconduct against churches.
In a cooperative effort, the SBC Bylaws Workgroup drafted the revisions, EC officers provided input and various leaders reviewed them, expressly SBC President J.D. Greear, EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, and Sexual Abuse Advisory Study participant Rachael Denhollander.
Bylaw changes would entail renaming and repurposing the current Credentials Committee into a Registration Committee, and naming a new standing Credentials Committee to assess claims of church misconduct brought at annual meetings and at other times during the year for alleged departures from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice, and make recommendations to the EC.
“Over the last year,” Greear said, “it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.
“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction,” Greear told Baptist Press. “This committee would be charged with handling any issues that may arise as to whether a church is in cooperation with the SBC, including (but not limited to) complaints of sexual abuse.
“This committee should inquire whether a church has cooperated fully with civil authorities as prescribed in Romans 13and that it has fulfilled its Matthew 18 pastoral responsibilities,” Greear continued. “We must ensure that this committee contain qualified individual(s) who have experience in responding to abuse and caring for survivors.”
At its June 10 meeting in Birmingham preceding the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting, the EC will consider revising a proposed constitutional amendment the group unanimously adopted in February to define a cooperating church.
To establish a new standing Credentials Committee to assess misconduct claims, the EC would recommend to messengers revisions to SBC Bylaw 8 regarding Messenger Credentials and Registration, SBC Bylaw 15 governing the Committee on Nominations, and SBC Bylaw 29 on Participation in Convention Affairs.
Floyd has been working with other SBC leaders to build unity in addressing sexual abuse since before his April 2 election as EC president, he told BP.
“The Southern Baptist Convention must get this right,” Floyd told BP. “Unquestionably, we must make a clear, compassionate, convictional, and compelling statement about this issue in every way we can. Every church must be a safe zone for our children. I am grateful President J. D. Greear, joined by Russell Moore and the ERLC staff and the individuals who have advised them, has made this a defining issue of his presidency.”
Under the new constitutional revision before the EC in June to be recommended to messengers at the annual meeting, according to documents provided to BP, “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a ‘cooperating’ church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which: … — (4) Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse,” and “(5) Does not act to affirm, approve or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
Establishing the new committee would be an “excellent step in addressing issues related to church sexual abuse,” Moore told BP.
“No one policy in a church or in a denomination is enough, but this is a monumental advance, as part of a larger, concerted effort at education, equipping, and response. As Baptists, we cooperate together on the basis of shared doctrine and a shared mission,” Moore said. “Having a better process for helping us to know when a church is or is not in friendly cooperation is positive and healthy. That’s especially true when it comes to churches that are negligent, or complicit, in the abuse of vulnerable people.
“This is not a one-year issue, but an ongoing project requiring constant vigilance and reform,” Moore said, expressing gratitude in working with Greear, Floyd and others. “I am thankful for this great move in such a direction, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
Any constitutional amendment the EC proposes would require a two-thirds approval of messengers at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings. But the creation of the new Credentials Committee would only require messenger approval in 2019. Both proposed recommendations were emailed to the full EC today (May 30).
“The Executive Committee’s role,” Floyd said, “is to craft the language of our governing documents for the convention’s consideration, which is only part of a comprehensive approach of defining who we are and where we stand on the horrible evil of sexual abuse.
“I applaud the tireless efforts of our EC officers, staff, and bylaws workgroup for everything they have done to get us to this moment of consensus,” Floyd said. “I gladly stand with J. D. Greear, Russell Moore, and EC Chairman Mike Stone in affirming these changes to our constitution and bylaws.”
Stone also affirmed progress made to date in addressing sexual abuse.
“On March 4, I wrote in Baptist Press that the issue of sexual abuse presented an ‘all hands-on-deck’ and ‘all family members on their knees’ moment for the Southern Baptist Convention. In the last 3½ months, we have worked diligently to help lead Southern Baptists on a clear and unified path forward. Like Dr. Floyd, I am especially grateful for the tireless efforts of the staff, officers, and bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee.
“My prayer is that Southern Baptists will gather in Birmingham with an unshakable spirit of unity, resolve, and humility,” Stone said. “As we take decisive action to help protect children, resource churches and keep the Gospel above all, I am confident these proposals are ones around which virtually all Southern Baptists can unite to the glory of God.”
Denhollander, an attorney and advocate, expressed encouragement in response to the proposals the EC will consider in Birmingham.
“I am encouraged by this action as an important first step for Southern Baptists to begin creating a transparent process for responding to issues of sexual abuse,” said Denhollander, an abuse survivor who was the first gymnast to go public with charges against Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor convicted of serial abuse. “The test of conviction and commitment will be, of course, not just establishing an accountable process but the carrying out of that process in protecting people and standing clearly on abuse. I urge Southern Baptists to ensure a good process is carried out by qualified individuals.”
Floyd expressed gratitude for Denhollander’s work.
“I am pleased that Rachael Denhollander, who has provided such leadership and input to the presidential sexual abuse study initiative, sees this as an important part of the convention’s continuing work to address this matter,” Floyd told BP.
The proposed constitutional amendment stems from Greear’s release in February of the findings and recommendations of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study he initiated in 2018. Greear announced 10 calls to action, including amending SBC governing documents to define the mishandling of abuse as a basis for disfellowshiping a church, and conducting background checks on all SBC trustees and standing committee members.
As approved in February, the original proposed constitutional amendment would have defined a cooperating church as one that, “has not been determined by the Executive Committee to have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse that targets minors and other vulnerable persons and in caring for persons who have suffered because of sexual abuse.”
“Indifference,” according to the February proposal, “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.”
Regarding a constitutional amendment on racism, the proposal the EC adopted in February would only deem a church in friendly cooperation that “has not acted to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
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Source: Baptist Press