A MESSAGE ABOUT OUR DENOMINATIONAL CRISIS
Our denomination has made the news recently regarding the release of a sexual abuse task force investigation. This investigation was authorized by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and was tasked to investigate allegations that it has mishandled reports of sexual abuse in the past.
I served as a member of the SBC Executive Committee from 2008-2016. I served as an officer for 6 of those years (Chairman of the Business & Finance Committee, Vice-Chairman, and Chairman). So, I was involved with meetings with the Executive Committee President and CEO, as well as EC vice-presidents. I will add comments later.
Responding to allegations that it has mishandled allegations of abuse in the past, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee announced Friday, June 11, 2021 that it had retained a firm to “conduct an independent review of its processes.”
On Friday, June 11, 2021, the Executive Committee contracted with Guidepost Solutions to conduct the investigation. According to one source, “Guidepost Solutions is a global leader in monitoring, compliance, sensitive investigations, and risk management solutions and has deep experience providing advice and counsel to faith communities.”
The investigation lasted approximately one year. It was backed by a group of sexual abuse survivors and advocates. The investigation covered 20 years of allegations of abuse claims mishandled by the Executive Committee.
The release of the investigation on Sunday, May 22, brought a disturbing, heart-breaking, and devastating report detailing the “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the SBC toward survivors of sexual abuse and others who were concerned.”
The investigation also discovered that “survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy - even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.” The report also accused SBC leaders of taking concrete and intentional steps to hide information about sexual abuse from trustees in the SBC’s Executive Committee, which oversees the ministries of the denomination.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports to abuse. They closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits, which were not shared with EC trustees, and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations.”
In my tenure as a member of the Executive Committee, I wholeheartedly affirm the findings of Guidestone. All sexual abuse allegations, as well as communication with sexual abuse survivors, was not shared with the officers or members of the Executive Committee. One senior vice-president (who was a lawyer), and the EC’s outside legal counsel, controlled all information, and shared minimal information with the EC officers.
I understand that lawyers are hired to “protect” the corporation. That was part of the problem. Others should have been “in the loop.” Perhaps the outcome would have been different.
But the bottom line is this: the lawyers were more interested in protecting the “brand” (the denomination from potential lawsuits) than they were interested in protecting survivors of sexual abuse, as well as protecting other children and young women from sexual predators masquerading as ministers of the gospel. It was a disastrous scenario. It is the cause of so much hurt and devastation in our denomination right now.
I am so grateful for the report of Guidepost Solutions. Although it was very painful to read, I believe it is a huge step forward for bringing positive change in our denomination. Here are a few of the recommendations brought by Guidepost for our denomination:
1. We recommend that an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force be appointed by the next SBC president to assist with the implementation of reform initiatives in our convention for a period of three years. This Task Force will evaluate all recommendations by Guidepost and bring a report at next year’s convention on recommended reforms. This Task Force will also work with the Executive Committee to create and maintain a process that will work within our Baptist polity for alerting the community to the presence and activity of credibly accused offenders, including the establishment of a “ministry check” website. Additionally, this Task Force will work with and resource the Credentials Committee to help them function more effectively, including formalizing and improving their processes, procedures, and standard principles of cooperation. The Task Force and Executive Committee will take steps to establish a relationship with an independent firm to assist the Credentials Committee in their work.
2. We recommend that the Executive Committee hire a subject matter expert(s) to receive calls, provide initial guidance for reports of sexual abuse, and work with state conventions for training and educational opportunities.
3. We recommend that all entity boards and standing committees have training regarding sexual abuse prevention and survivor care, as well as background checks as part of their orientation and selection.
4. We recommend that IMB, NAMB, and our 6 SBC seminaries require formal preparation for their denominational workers and students in regard to prevention, training, and survivor care.
5. We recommend that the Executive Committee set aside a budget and hire a salaried staff person for the Credentials Committee. (The Credentials Committee has the authority to recommend to the SBC the removal of any church from membership in the denomination which hires or has employed a convicted abuser).
I believe these recommendations address our failures as a denomination and will result in a transformative change in our denominational culture. These reforms must be implemented.
I totally endorse the statement released by current EC chairman, Rolland Slade, and Willie McLaurin, EC interim president/CEO, upon the release of the Guidepost report and recommendations:
“We are committed to doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse in churches, to improve our response and our care, to remove reporting roadblocks…. This is the beginning of a season of listening, lamenting, and learning how to address sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.”