Sex Abuse Prevention, Presidential Search, and Disaster Relief Mark the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee Meeting

An initiative by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear to address sexual abuse in the church will be funded by the first $250,000 in Cooperative Program overage for 2017-2018, by a vote of the SBC Executive Committee.

Other highlights of the Executive Committee’s Sept. 17-18 meeting in Nashville included a report from the EC presidential search committee and a report on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief following Hurricane Florence. Two retiring leaders of Baptist state conventions were honored with resolutions of appreciation.

In appropriating money for Greear’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Study, an initiative in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the EC acted on behalf of the SBC “to provide two years of funding … to study ways to address sexual abuse and related issues in a church or ministry context,” according to a recommendation approved by the EC. The funding will be drawn from an anticipated $5 million overage from the 2017-2018 CP Allocation Budget.

The remainder of the overage will be distributed among SBC entities according to the convention’s formula for overage distribution. At the conclusion of Greear’s initiative, any unused funds also will be distributed according to the 2017-2018 overage distribution formula, which designates 53.4 percent to the International Mission Board.

The EC’s officers were authorized to approve additional funding for the sexual abuse study up to $50,000 if necessary. The study’s proposed reports, recommendations and resources must be presented to the EC no later than Feb. 1, 2020, according to the recommendation.

EC chairman Mike Stone said the study is “the next step in a trajectory we’ve been on for a while” to address sexual abuse.

“There’s never, in my estimation, been a hesitancy about addressing these issues” in the SBC, Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., told Baptist Press. “We see in the culture and in the media an increased emphasis on this issue of sexual abuse. So I think it’s time for us to take that next strategic step.”

A budget proposal submitted to the EC by the ERLC projected the study will include three phases:

— Assessment of what facets of sexual misconduct need to be addressed. This phase will include a survey by LifeWay Research on Protestant churchgoers’ views of sexual misconduct and abuse;

— Development of partnerships with seminaries, state conventions and churches; and

— Implementation of the study’s recommendations.

The EC’s Business and Finance Committee urged the ERLC to work closely with Baptist associations to ensure all churches have ready access to resources developed.

Three SBC seminaries — Gateway Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — reported to the EC they are strengthening efforts to train students, faculty and staff to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.

Abuse prevention training

Gateway last year began a partnership with the Ministry Safe sex abuse prevention organization, president Jeff Iorg said, to add sexual abuse and harassment prevention training to the seminary’s curricula.

Training will begin this year and be fully operational by the 2019-2020 seminary calendar, Iorg said, as a required course in all master’s degree programs.

Southwestern will initiate a new Ministry Safe program in the spring of 2019, interim president Jeff Bingham told the EC.

“All students at Southwestern will take the Ministry Safe program,” Bingham said, “which will increase the safety of our campus in terms of sexual abuse. We, because of the audit that we ran in our (human resources) department, will also increase and improve the harassment training that all of our employees must take.”

Southeastern is revamping an orientation course already in place to insure “a designated time of training … on the legal, moral and biblical responsibilities” in preventing and reporting sexual harassment, president Danny Akin said.

An attorney is helping the seminary implement curricula changes that will inform students during orientation and in classes on “dealing properly with this particular issue,” Akin said.

Faculty and staff are already “required to go through training on what sexual harassment is and how to prevent it,” Akin said, “as well as how to respond when they are made aware of a victim of sexual abuse and sexual assault.”

Presidential search

The EC’s presidential search committee has been narrowing the field of candidates and will conduct interviews and background checks in the coming months, search committee chairman Steve Swofford reported.

While seeking to be “expeditious” in its search for a successor to Frank S. Page, who resigned in March, Swofford said the committee feels no pressure to rush to completion.

“Anything you hear about who [the presidential nominee is] that does not come from us through Baptist Press is rumor,” said Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas. “So we hope you will not believe” rumors.

The committee has prayed, developed a position profile and received resumes, Swofford said.

Trustee training

The EC declined a 2018 Annual Meeting messenger’s request to appoint an ad hoc committee to develop and provide more comprehensive trustee training across SBC entities.

Instead, the EC will recommend to 2019 messengers that trustee training guidelines be expanded to remind trustees of their responsibility to the entire SBC.

“Entity administrators should reinforce with their trustees the principle that entity trustees are to represent the interests of the entire Convention as well as those of the entity,” the guidelines would be amended to include, as recommended.

The EC postponed indefinitely, with a request to reconsider in February 2019, a separate messenger recommendation to strengthen trustee training.

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Source: Baptist Press