Autonomy is still in the driver’s seat re: SBC clergy/church abuse

The preferred solution to any problem in the SBC, our 174 year-old convention of churches, is to create a high-profile national conference, program, or plan. In a way, that is the best solution available, since of the 47,456 SBC churches counted in the latest statistical report, every single one of them is an autonomous, independent actor, free from the least directive from Nashville. Add to that another 3,759 “church-type missions” and we’re over fifty thousand.

Every single one of these churches hires their own clergy, supervises their staff, fires their staff, decides what to pay their staff. Each of these uses lay volunteers as they see fit, supervises, trains, and dismisses their volunteers.

Churches ordain whom they wish. No one screens these at a higher level than the local church.

Churches can revoke ordinations. No one else other than the one church that ordained a minister can revoke that ordination.

There isn’t a single decision about these things that is made in Stone Mountain, Georgia (my church’s associational office) or Duluth, Georgia (my state convention HQ), or Nashville, TN where the Executive Committee of the SBC is located. Seminaries don’t dictate anything to churches. LifeWay Christian Resources doesn’t make a single church use their materials. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee doesn’t force any ethical standards on churches. Autonomy. Autonomy. Autonomy.

In regard to the SBC and the problem of sex abuse a lot that can be done has been done. I don’t know of an entity – state convention, seminary, mission board, ERLC or others – which doesn’t require sex abuse training for their employees or those whom they fund to plant churches. Staff for state or associational run camps have been required to undergo background training for many years even though many, sometimes most, of the workers are already part of the clergy or volunteer staff in an individual church.

No one maintains that what is in place now is all that can be done about church-based abuse or clergy criminal conduct but some of the options for action at higher levels has or is being done, The most notable exception to this is the creation of a nationally-maintained database of SBC clergy or volunteers which would include those who aren’t already in some criminal sex abuse database. There is no process or place for a credibly accused SBC minister or volunteer to be examined and blacklisted. Indications from national leaders are that such things are being examined. Nothing has been done.

The most newsworthy item from the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham was the “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention” event attended by thousands.

The future event that is gaining the most notice in the SBC is the ERLC’s national conference in Dallas on October 3-5, 2019. It is called Caring Well: Equipping Churches to Confront the Abuse Crisis. At least one of the SBC Voices team will be present as will several others whom I know. I don’t plan to attend but will follow things as I can.

There are, count -em, twenty-nine speakers listed for the conference. Included are notables like Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris whose MinistrySafe abuse training and awareness programs are the most used in SBC churches. Rachel Denhollander, Susan Codone, and Beth Moore, all panelists who spoke in June at the Annual Meeting, will be there, as will Boz Tchividjian who has an organization G.R.A.C.E. which deals with sex abuse. Several are abuse survivors. Some of the others are convention leaders. I expect some cold reality about the SBC and abuse to be aired at the meeting.

All this to say that if SBC churches are going to do a better job with all the aspects of sexual abuse in their churches and involving their clergy, then the churches have to be persuaded to do it.

This looks like the best approach to me. We will see.


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