Sex abuse: SBC called to action
Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff
March 01, 2019

Sex abuse: SBC called to action

Sex abuse: SBC called to action
Baptist Press & Biblical Recorder Staff
March 01, 2019

Photo by Morris Abernathy

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear detailed a prescription to battle sex abuse and its enablers at the SBC Executive Committee meeting Feb. 18 in Nashville.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., gave an address to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) Feb. 18 that outlined initial recommendations and resources from the presidential advisory group on sexual abuse.

The Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group was launched in July 2018 through partnerships with the EC and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

Greear’s address came two weeks after a three-part investigative report was published by the Houston Chronicle on sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The report outlined roughly 700 cases of sexual assault or abuse over two decades by 380 offenders who were convicted, credibly accused or confessed to their crimes.

Greear’s address focused on 10 key areas:

  1. A call to “repent for decades of inaction;”

  2. The announcement of a series of 12 training videos called, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused;”

  3. The announcement that all six Southern Baptist seminaries, officers of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders and all Baptist state conventions have adopted three respective “Statement of Principles on Abuse” documents;

  4. A call for Southern Baptist churches, associations, conventions and entities to take immediate action to review policies and procedures relating to abuse;

  5. A call for the EC to make background checks a minimum requirement for Southern Baptist committees and trustee boards;

  6. A call for Southern Baptists to review local church ordination practices to ensure proper vetting;

  7. A call for state conventions and LifeWay to identify questions related to abuse that can be added to the Annual Church Profile;

  8. The announcement of programming at the SBC annual meeting that will address abuse among Southern Baptists, including a time of lament and an event hosted by the ERLC;

  9. The announcement that the advisory group is evaluating the possibility of creating a database of offenders, but Greear acknowledged the development of such a resource is “complicated” and “will take time to evaluate;”

  10. A statement that the study group “strongly believes” the governing documents of the SBC should be reviewed and amended regarding the definition of a cooperating church, so that churches demonstrating “wanton disregard for sexual abuse … are not in good fellowship with this convention.”

Greear said the EC had affirmed a proposed constitutional amendment and would exercise existing authority to review churches that “may well have already demonstrated a lack of good standing on this issue.”

He called the bylaws workgroup of the administrative committee to do due diligence in reviewing the standing of the following churches mentioned in recent media reports on sexual abuse to determine whether they have a “faith and practice which closely identifies” with the Baptist Faith & Message:

  • Arapaho Baptist Church, Garland, Texas

  • Bolivar Baptist Church, Sanger, Texas

  • Brentwood Baptist Church, Houston, Texas

  • Cathedral of Faith, Houston, Texas

  • Eastside Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.

  • First Baptist Church, Bedford, Texas

  • Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas

  • Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, Ky.

  • Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, Ga.

  • Turner Street Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.

Greear emphasized the initial goal of such action is “never disfellowship, but correction.” He also expressed gratitude for the Chronicle’s investigative report for “shining a light on the magnitude of this horrific sin.”

He said to Southern Baptists, “We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly. Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse. Our job is not to protect our reputation.”

Bylaws workgroup responds

Following a called meeting via extended conference calls Feb. 22 and 23, members of the bylaws workgroup released a statement to the full EC in response to Greear’s call to action.

The group said they asked for a “dossier” of information about the 10 churches that were “singled out” by Greear, which Greear provided Feb. 22. Upon their immediate review, they said only three churches warranted “further inquiry:”

  • Bolivar Baptist Church, Sanger, Texas

  • Cathedral of Faith, Houston, Texas

  • Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, Ky.

“We must … be careful that our righteous anger does not prevent a deliberate and thoughtful response,” the statement said.

The proposed SBC constitutional amendment that was approved by the EC said the criteria for triggering a review of a church’s standing is, “among other things,” the following four activities:

  • “employing a convicted sex offender,

  • “allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors,

  • “continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or

  • “willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”

In “virtually all” reported cases, they said, only a few individuals covered up misdeeds and the “church body rarely knew” the truth. On that basis, they said the EC should not “disrupt” churches with inquiries until there are indications the congregation “acted wrongfully.”


Reactions to the bylaws workgroup’s statement have been varied, including allegations the EC did not go far enough in combatting abuse to allegations Greear should have contacted the churches before listing them in an address to the EC.

Amid the discussion, Greear released a statement to Baptist Press Feb. 26 noting “mistakes” “made by Southern Baptist churches in the past … should be humbly and transparently addressed, and these churches should assure the Convention that their current policies are not only up to date, but have been implemented in ways that ensure the maximum safety of all who attend.”

Greear added, “While we do not presume the guilt of any,” the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group led by Greear and the ERLC believes “the public nature” of some accusations made against churches in the media warrants “a public response.”

EC Chairman Mike Stone told Baptist Press in written comments, “While the [bylaws] workgroup intended to convey the strongest sense of the Convention’s revulsion toward sexual abuse, we are also keenly aware that the Convention has not given to us investigative authority.”

The bylaws workgroup’s release was criticized in both social and traditional media.

Among others, Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and abuse survivor who has worked with Greear in the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study; Megan Lively, a victim advocate; and Virginia pastor Brent Hobbs all either tweeted or blogged various criticisms of the report.

ERLC President Russell Moore told the Chronicle he stands “squarely behind J.D. Greear and the Advisory Group to do whatever it takes to battle this satanic scourge of the sexual abuse of children and other vulnerable people.

“I was not present for this bylaws workgroup meeting. I know this, though, the ultimate arbiter of our common witness and our mission together is that of the churches themselves. I sense that there is great urgency among the churches to deal with these issues definitively, for the sake of vulnerable people and for the sake of the holiness of the name of Christ.”

Baptist Press contacted churches listed in the Chronicle’s report after Greear’s address.

Among the six responses received, Arapaho Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, said via a statement by spokesperson Carolyn Alvey, “The church appreciates the leadership from Pastor J.D. Greear and the steps he outlined for change among churches within the Southern Baptist Convention. Arapaho Road welcomes conversation with Pastor Greear and the SBC to share what the church has learned and implemented.”

Rodney Brown, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., said the church’s minister of music confessed in 2013 or 2014 he had molested a “young teen” decades earlier and had repented. In response, Brown “fired him right there on the spot.” The man continued to attend the church, Brown said, though he was never allowed to be alone with children.

“Church leaders came back to me and said, ‘Rodney, the man says he’s repented. We’re not his judge. We’ve not seen anything to indicate any of this at our church,’” Brown said, adding the church felt the man was gifted for ministry and reinstated him as minister of music, a position in which he continues to serve.

When Greear listed Trinity in his report without contacting the church first, Brown felt “shock” then “discouragement,” he said. “I thought the Southern Baptist Convention was there to support the churches that were a part of it. I kind of felt betrayed because no one had bothered to reach out to anybody in the church, me in particular as pastor, to allow us to verify or deny any allegations.”

The bylaws workgroup stated that based on the information Greear provided, “no further inquiry is warranted” regarding Trinity.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was compiled from previous news reports by Baptist Press and Biblical Recorder staff.)