ANAHEIM, California. – The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to create a way to track down pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sex abuse and create a new task force to seek further reform in the country’s largest Protestant denomination to monitor.
The vote came three weeks after the release of a Blockbuster Report from an outside consultant on the long-simmering scandal that exposed Southern Baptist leaders mishandling abuse cases and shutting down victims for years.
Thousands of Southern Baptists are here in Anaheim to their big country meeting.
Also on Tuesday, delegates debated but didn’t vote on whether to support one of its largest and most well-known churches — Saddleback Church, the California megachurch led by Rick Warren, author of blockbuster best-selling The Purpose Driven Life – they should throw out ordained female pastors, the denomination’s creed says that the ministry of pastor is reserved for men only.
Warren himself spoke briefly late in the day, indirectly alluding to the controversy by saying that Baptists should unite in ambitious missionary goals.
“Are we going to keep arguing about secondary things, or are we going to make the main thing the main thing?” he said.
The vote on sex abuse reforms fell short of what some abuse survivors in Southern Baptist churches were calling for, such as a compensation fund for victims and a more robust and independent commission to oversee the churches’ handling — and mishandling — of abuse . And it also met with opposition from some who claimed the crisis was excessive and was affecting the independence of Baptist churches.
But Bruce Frank, who led the task force that recommended the reforms, emotionally asked church officials to accept them as their two-day annual meeting began. He called the steps the “minimum necessary,” adding that it will take time to change the culture of the SBC.
He challenged those who would say that these steps compromised the Baptist missionary focus, 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 isn’t even doing their best to protect them?” asked Frank.
He acknowledged the high cost of implementing these recommendations. “But it won’t cost anywhere near what the survivors paid,” he added.
Abuse survivors Tiffany Thigpen and Jules Woodson tearfully said they were overwhelmed to see the messengers supporting the task force’s recommendations. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a small step and a healthy, healing step in the right direction,” Woodson said.
But Christa Brown, who has campaigned for other abuse survivors in Southern Baptist areas for more than a decade, called the reforms disappointing. She and other survivors had requested a permanent commission to monitor compliance, while Tuesday’s vote called for a one-year term for a task force, with an option to extend. She also called for a more “survival-centric” approach to the list of indicted clergy.
“I know people like happy endings but I don’t feel it,” Brown tweeted afterwards. “…I feel sadness. It’s better than nothing, but that’s such a low bar.”
During the debate, some members even opposed the proposed reforms. They noted that the consulting firm that produced the report, Guidepost Solutions, tweeted in support of Pride Month, which contradicts the SBC’s view that homosexuality is a sin.
“We have a group that celebrates sexual sin and counsels us on how to deal with sexual abuse sin,” said Pastor Tim Overton of Indiana. “That’s a problem.”
Frank replied that he didn’t like the Guidepost tweet either: “The question isn’t what does Guidepost think of LGBT? The question is what the Southern Baptists think about sexual abuse.”
The Guidepost report, which focused on how the Denomination’s Executive Committee handled abuse cases, also revealed that it had secretly maintained a list of ministers and other church workers accused of abuse, even after long allegations that it could not be without violating the autonomy of the communities. The committee later apologized and published the listwhere hundreds of accused workers were present.
Frank said a database had been discussed by the SBC for more than a decade, adding it was crucial to ensure abusers didn’t go from church to church hurting more vulnerable people.
Brad Eubank, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Petal, Mississippi, urged the messengers to endorse the recommendations. Eubank, included in the Guidepost report, was sexually abused as a child by a music minister at a Southern Baptist church in Mississippi.
“As a pastor, I have spoken to countless survivors and victims,” he said. “That’s not all that needs to be done, but it’s a start.”
The Saddleback debate, which has been smoldering for a year, follows the ordination of three women pastors in 2021 and the recent announcement that retiring Warren would be replaced as senior pastor by Andy Wood later this year. His wife, Stacie Wood, became a teaching pastor.
“Saddleback ordained women, they celebrated it,” said Pastor Tom Ascol of Florida.
The SBC’s Credentials Committee first recommended that another body study how to interpret the denomination’s doctrine of who may serve as a pastor. After a pushback, the committee finally decided on Tuesday to investigate the matter further itself. Most Southern Baptists agree senior pastors must be men but disagree when the ban applies to other ministry roles, it said.
Saddleback has long been considered a model for Southern Baptists’ ideals of church growth and evangelism, which have grown from a small start-up in 1980 to more than 24,000 a week across multiple locations by 2019, according to Baptist Press.
Warren delivered an emotional speech later in the day. He will retire after more than four decades at the helm of Saddleback Church.
“It is customary for a man about to be hanged to say his last words,” he said, as the large gathering erupted in laughter. But Warren insisted he wasn’t there to defend himself, but to point out that “the gift of pastoring is different from the office of pastoring.”
He thanked SBC profusely for giving him the opportunity to build a church that includes multiple locations and thousands of home Bible studies throughout Southern California.
“The Southern Baptists taught me how to honor and love the local church,” he said, his voice cracking. “I owe you all so much.”
Smith reported from Pittsburgh.
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/15/southern-baptists-agree-to-keep-list-of-accused-sex-abusers/ Southern Baptists Agree to Keep Register of Accused Sex Molesters