The Southern Baptist Convention voted by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday to create a way to track down pastors and other church employees who are credibly accused of sexual abuse, and to launch a new task force to oversee further reforms in the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
The vote came three weeks after the release of aby an outside consultant about the long-slumbering scandal, which revealed Southern Baptist leaders have spent years taking advantage of abuse and antagonizing victims. Thousands of Southern Baptists are here in Anaheim for their great national gathering.
The vote fell short of what some abuse survivors in Southern Baptist churches wanted, such as a victims compensation fund and a more robust and independent commission to oversee the treatment — and mistreatment — of abuse by their churches. And it was also opposed by some who argued that the crisis was exaggerated and affected the independence of Baptist churches.
But Bruce Frank, who led the task force recommending the reforms, made an emotional plea for Church representatives to accept them when they gathered here at the start of their two-day annual meeting. He called the stairs the “absolute minimum.”
“It will take a few years to change the culture and direction,” he said. “But without action to act otherwise, there is no repentance.”
He challenged those who would say these steps hinder the Baptists’ focus on missions, saying that “protecting the sheep from the wolves” is essential to mission.
“How are you going to tell a watching world that Jesus died for them…when his church won’t even go out of its way to protect them?” asked Frank.
He acknowledged that implementing these recommendations would cost “a lot of money”.
“But it’s not going to cost nearly as much as the survivors paid,” he added.
During the debate, some Baptists criticized the consultancy that prepared the report, Guidepost Solutions, for its recent tweet in support of Pride Month, which goes against the SBC’s view that homosexuality is sinful.
“I didn’t like their tweet either,” said Frank, adding that it’s important to recognize that the company’s perspective on sexuality and gender is simply different from the views of a Christian denomination. “The issue is not, what does Guidepost think of LGBT? The issue is what Southern Baptists think about sexual abuse.”
The report, focused on how the denomination’s executive committee handled cases of abuse, also revealed that it had secretly maintained a list of clergy and other church workers accused of abuse, even after long alleging that it could not do so without violating the autonomy of the municipalities. The committee later apologized andwhich had hundreds of accused workers.
Frank also reiterated the need for a database of abusers, which he says has been discussed by the SBC for over a decade. He said a database is crucial to ensure abusers don’t go from church to church and hurt more vulnerable people.
Brad Eubank, senior pastor of Petal First Baptist Church in Petal, Mississippi, urged messengers to approve the recommendations. Eubank was sexually assaulted as a child by a minister of music at a Southern Baptist Church in Mississippi. He said these recommendations should serve as a “starting point.”
“As a pastor, I have spoken to countless survivors and victims,” he said. “The world is watching. This isn’t all that needs to be done, but it’s a starting point. Please let’s start the healing process today.”