The Southern Baptist Convention took another step towards addressing sexual abuse in its churches Tuesday by greenlighting the creation of a website to keep track of pastors who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. Messengers approved the website’s creation in response to the work of a Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was formed after last year’s Annual Meeting.
The Task Force partnered with Guidepost Solutions to investigate how the SBC’s Executive Committee handled allegations of sexual abuse against pastors and Convention leaders. One of the biggest bombshells in the report was the revelation that the SBC had a list of over 700 pastors who had been accused of sexual abuse. Survivors of clergy abuse in the SBC advocated for the creation of a database to track abusers for almost two decades but had been turned away. The existence of the list proved that what they had been asking for already existed.
“I’m feeling acknowledged, validated, and encouraged,” Jules Woodson, a survivor of clergy abuse who has worked tirelessly as an advocate for reform, said, according to the New York Times. She continued, “This is a step in the right direction, and for the first time in 24 years, I feel like true action to stop this systemic crisis has been set in motion.”
North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank presented the Task Force’s recommendations to the messengers and framed their decision as a choice “between doing the best for the glory of God and the good of the people” or “business as usual.” He also acknowledged there would be more work to do as the first two recommendations are “the bare minimum of what could be called reform.”
The new website will be maintained by a third party who will evaluate whether a “credible accusation” has been made against a “pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer.” The SBC’s definition of “credibly accused” is someone who “confessed to sexual abuse in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them.” In cases where these criteria have not been met, but an accusation has been leveled, an “Independent third party commissioned by a local church or other Baptist body may determine, by preponderance of the evidence following an inquiry, that a person is credibly accused.”
In addition to the website, messengers approved a second recommendation to create a group to study the Guidepost Report and make further recommendations for changes the SBC needs to adopt. Newly elected SBC President Bart Barber will appoint this new group over the Summer, Christianity Today reports.
While only an estimated ten percent of messengers voted against the recommendations from the Task Force, many objected to the SBC continuing to work with Guidepost after the company tweeted in celebration of Pride Month. Frank drew a line between what Guidepost supported as a company and the decision facing Southern Baptists. He said, “The issue is not what does Guidepost think about LGBT; it’s what do Southern Baptists think about sexual abuse.”
Rachel Denhollander, an attorney and abuse advocate who advised the Sexual Abuse Task Force, told theNew York Times, “This was women being believed.” Acknowledging the work of survivors who had gone ignored for years, she said, “Because they didn’t give up, those ballots went up today.”
The Convention also approved a resolution acknowledging their failure to act on abuse cases previously and pledging to “prayerfully endeavor to eliminate all instances of sexual abuse among our churches.” They further repented of their resistance to the work of survivors mentioned in the Guidepost report and apologized for not listening to them sooner.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”