The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the U.S., and in its annual meetings this week in Alabama, a membership decline of more than one million since early this century will be discussed.
So will diversity and minority issues.
Probably the role of women in church leadership.
And sex abuse.
According to a Fox interview, J.D. Greear, the SBC president, explained the “pressing need of the hour is for our convention to address the issue of sexual abuse.”
The Roman Catholic Church has been dealing with allegations of sexual abuse for multiple years already.
But the SBC is different in that while churches associate together, they are not bound by the hierarchy of a Vatican. There is no pope for them. Just their beliefs that the Bible has no error and that personal acceptance of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Greear said the “failures” of Southern Baptists trouble him.
“We have not cared well for survivors of abuse, nor have we taken their disclosures seriously enough. But I also believe we are on the cusp of a long-overdue change. With God’s help, we are confronting our convention’s failures head-on and providing new training, new resources, and new screening processes,” he told Fox.
The association recently released a report on allegations of sex abuse, and a training curriculum is being developed to improve responses.
A special commission set up to investigate and recommend also is considering new requirements for background checks.
A panel, including Greear, is scheduled later this week that will give Bible teacher Beth Moore and Susan Condone, senior associate dean of academic affairs of Mercer University School of Medicine, a voice.
Moore said her end zone is an effective plan of action against sexual abuse in churches.
Fox had reported only weeks earlier that those in the SBC churches facing allegations of misconduct number in the “hundreds.”
“A bombshell investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found that over the last 20 years, about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct. Of those, roughly 220 were convicted of sex crimes or received plea deals, in cases involving more than 700 victims in all, the report found. Many accusers were young men and women, who allegedly experienced everything from exposure to pornography to rape and impregnation at the hands of church members,” Fox reported then.
One of the victims profiled was Debbie Vasquez, who said she was 14 when her pastor in a Texas church first molested her. That continued, she said, for years.
She sued the pastor in 2006, but the pastor claimed the relationship was consensual and he was not charged.
She went to the convention two years later to ask church officials to make changes at their more than 47,000 churches that would prevent such events, but they didn’t, the report said.
There is no controlling board that could force a church to make changes, because one of the core beliefs is local church autonomy, which means they believe each church is accountable directly to God for its behavior. As such, they are self-governing – individually.
Greear, at the time of the earlier report, said, “The Bible calls for pastors to be people of integrity, known for their self-control and kindness. A convicted sex offender would certainly not meet those qualifications. Churches that ignore that are out of line with both Scripture and Baptist principles of cooperation.”
As of last year, there were 47,456 Southern Baptist churches spread across 41 state conventions, according to the denomination.