Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle published a devastating three-part series detailing years of sexual abuse within Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches. According to the report, over 700 victims spread out over 20 years suffered abuse at the hands of pastors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and church volunteers in SBC churches. Making a terrible situation even worse, some of those convicted of sex crimes still work in SBC churches (at least they did prior to the Houston Chronicle‘s expose). The articles make it impossible to deny that churches across the SBC have failed to adequately protect members from predators. Current SBC president J.D. Greear agrees, and strongly denounced abuse of any kind during an interview with CNN.
The interview opened with CNN host John Berman asking Greear what his response was upon first hearing of the Houston Chronicle‘s reports. Not mincing words, Greear replied, “It was one of absolute horror to think that this was happening in churches around the country.” He went on to acknowledge that the problem wasn’t unknown, but reminded CNN that “this past summer the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution condemning abuse and calling churches to take this very seriously and to take the precautions.”
Not long into the interview, Berman pressed Greear on what he was doing to combat the problem. To his credit, Greear didn’t equivocate at all, flatly declaring that just because churches voluntarily participate in the SBC with the Convention holding very little authority, “that cannot be used as a cover for lack of accountability. Churches that show a wanton disregard… that allows abuse, that allows it to happen, that protects the abuser, they have no place in our Convention.”
Demonstrating solid actions behind his strong words, Geear appointed a commission this past July to study the problem, analyze strengths and weaknesses, and formulate a plan to ensure that the SBC takes abuse seriously and is working to root it out while protecting the vulnerable. The SBC president admitted that the Chronicle‘s articles upped the ante and made the SBC’s commission on abuse’s report even more urgent.
While on CNN, Greear made sure to point out “that our churches, because of the God that we believe in and that we worship, ought to be safe places for the vulnerable, and predators ought to have no place in our midst.” In fact, doubling down on his promise to disassociate with churches that don’t take the problem of abuse seriously, he promised, “Our goal is not simply to meet the minimum requirements of what ethics and the law require. Our goal here is to put on display what we believe about God. That our God is a God who gave His life to protect the vulnerable, to save them. Certainly not to put them in a place where they could go into harm’s way.”
Churches within the Southern Baptist Convention need to do some soul searching as well as take some practical steps to investigate possible abuse (past and present) while implementing policies and procedures that help protect the vulnerable. Abuse of any kind is a serious issue and Greear is correct that allowing it to happen while failing to protect the vulnerable is a failure to communicate truths about who God is.