SBC president calls on churches to unite against sexual abuse

Elected by acclamation to a second one-year term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear pledged June 12 to continue efforts to curtail sexual abuse in the nation’s second largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.

“The problem of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention did not begin in February with the publication of an article in the newspaper,” the pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, said during the closing session of the 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.

J.D. Greear issues Caring Well Challenge. (Photo by Bob Allen)

“Survivors and advocates have been calling our attention to this for years,” he said. “Many have showed great courage in doing so, honestly courage that they should not have needed to show.”

“We are horrified at the reports of this happening, and we are horrified at the complacency of some of those who knew that it was happening and did not do what it took to cause it to cease,” he added.

Because of that, Greear said, one of his first actions after his election as SBC president last year was to appoint an ad hoc advisory group to recommend best practices for making more than 47,000 autonomous churches and multiple subsidiary organizations safer places both for those vulnerable to and already victimized by sexual abuse.

“Little did we know when we formed this group in July that our Southern Baptist world would be rocked in February this year by the in-depth reporting by the Houston Chronicle, which documented decades of abuse involving more than 200 abusers and 700 victims,” Greear said.

“More recently the Chronicle captured the stories of several survivors who were victimized even by some of our own international missionaries,” he added. “Furthermore, LifeWay’s recent research survey on abuse uncovered that one in 10 churchgoers under the age of 35 have left a church because they felt abuse was not being taken seriously.”

“As Southern Baptists we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that we have failed in a number of ways,” Greear said.

Greear pledged to ask the SBC Executive Committee, a leadership group entrusted with day-to-day convention business between annual meetings, “to review and strengthen guidelines for our ordination processes so that we are only ordaining into ministry those who are above reproach in this area.”

He urged the Committee on Nominations “to incorporate screening and background checks for all trustee nominees.”

“Furthermore, I am urging our sexual abuse leaders’ advisory group to continue to do its work in exploring possibilities in a range of areas from databases to additional resources to legislative solutions to ensure that we are doing all that we can to confront and prevent abuse and to keep predators from moving from church to church with impunity in our convention,” he said.

Greear’s comments came during a presentation introducing the Caring Well Challenge, an eight-step project to bring churches up to speed in awareness prevention and care practices between now and next year’s convention in Orlando, Florida.

“We are at a place where bold resolutions and sweeping statements are not sufficient,” Greear said. “Victims do not want to hear us making bold declarations against abuse. They want to see that we care enough about this issue to do whatever it takes to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”

He acknowledged that some pastors might think it is too late to add such a major emphasis to their church calendar on short notice.

“I would very candidly say to you, you don’t have room not to include this in your calendar,” Greear said. “The impact of this moment on our gospel witness is too critical for you to minimize, to postpone or to ignore this, so I would encourage you, humbly but forcefully, to respond to what we believe the Spirit of God is saying to us as a convention of churches in this moment.”

“Only a fool would look at the numbers and say this can’t happen at our church,” Greear said. “Victims have told us that words without follow up actions are worse than no words at all.”

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