Southern Baptists hope to take steps at their upcoming annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., to address continuing reports of sexual abuse in their denomination.
Leaders of the nation’s largest — but declining — Protestant denomination will consider an amendment that would allow the Southern Baptist Convention to remove from its ranks a church that covers up abuse. The SBC may also set up an official “Credentials Committee” to review complaints about how abuse allegations are handled at member churches.
If the new committee — announced last week — is approved by both the Executive Committee of the SBC and messengers, or delegates, top officials say it will provide a new and more coordinated way for the denomination to monitor abuse claims.
“We recognized that our current structures were insufficient in responding to reports of abuse, and we needed a better system to address allegations of sexual abuse,” SBC President J.D. Greear told Religion News Service. “This new standing committee will work with many state conventions and local associations in an effort to have all of the various spheres speaking a more similar language. There are many important steps in front of us, so this isn’t a panacea, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.”
Greear, SBC ethicist Russell Moore and new Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd were among those who had input into the proposals, which included experts with personal experience with abuse.
“The new Credentials Committee would be a standing committee, which means that it will be able to operate at any point during the year to help to determine what churches are in or out of cooperation with the SBC,” said Moore, president of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We think this is going to be a hugely beneficial move in terms of empowering Southern Baptists to act with accountability and transparency on these matters.”
Abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander, who offered advice in her role on Greear’s sexual abuse study group, called the proposed action a “vital step.”
If the Executive Committee of the SBC passes the proposals, they will be considered during the Baptists’ June 11-12 meeting. During the meeting, Baptists will also review a proposed amendment to remove churches that exhibit “discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
Baptists will also discuss their declining membership and baptisms and will likely discuss a debate over the appropriate roles for women in churches as well as calls for greater diversity in SBC leadership.
The potential policy changes are part of multi-faceted efforts to address the issue of abuse that has riven the denomination in recent years.
As the Baptists prepared to gather for their meeting last year, they were shaken by reports of misconduct by some of their most prominent leaders, including the termination of seminary president Paige Patterson, one of the leaders of its 1980s so-called “conservative resurgence,” who was found to have mishandled students’ reports of abuse.
In recent months, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News have published a joint investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against about 380 current and former Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers. Last week the Chronicle detailed allegations of cover-ups of abuse by five male missionaries.
The new Houston report includes comments by and a video featuring Anne Marie Miller, who first made claims in 2007 to the SBC’s International Mission Board about former missionary Mark Aderholt’s abusive relationship with her. Aderholt was charged last year with sexual assault of a child under 17.
In the same week that the Chronicle reported on allegations of her and others’ abuse, Miller met with International Mission Board leaders about their plans to change policies following an independent investigation.
She called the meeting “an opportunity for healing and reconciliation.”
Ashley Easter, spokeswoman for a group of abuse victim advocates that plans a second annual protest outside the SBC meeting this year, said the latest news reports require a swift response to “the egregious crimes of their evangelists.”
But the proposed changes to the constitution cannot go into effect until two consecutive votes at annual meetings.
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Source: Religion News Service