News

Southern Baptists to launch sexual abuse advisory panel

J.D. Greear speaks during the Pastor's Conference on June 11, 2018, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. Photo by Marc Ira Hooks via Baptist Press

(RNS) — After months of mounting pressure and new charges of ignoring sexual abuse claims, the Southern Baptist Convention is lining up experts and church leaders in a bid to help the denomination confront the problem.

J. D. Greear, the newly elected president of the SBC, announced Thursday (July 26) the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group. The working group will “consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse,” according to a press release. It will also make recommendations for creating safe environments in churches and institutions.

“Over the next year, I look forward to hearing from this group and partnering with our churches, state conventions, local associations, seminaries and national entities to determine what we can do to equip churches to minister effectively and stand guard against any who would seek to prey on the vulnerable,” Greear said in a statement Thursday.

The new advisory panel marks an early concrete step as the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. aims to root out sexual abuse and coverups. At the SBC’s annual meeting in Dallas in June, delegates passed a resolution condemning “all forms of abuse” and affirming that pastors must report allegations to civil authorities.

The new panel comes as scandals related to sexual misconduct and sexual abuse continue to roil the denomination. Allegations have led to resignations or firings of several leading figures in the denomination in recent months, including former president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, Frank Page. Other scandals involved Andy Savage and Paul Pressler, Baptist leaders who had both allegedly abused individuals and didn’t face repercussions for their actions until long after the abuse had been committed. Pressler denies the allegations.

This month (July), the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the SBC International Mission Board had known for more than a decade about a sexual abuse claim against former missionary Mark Aderholt but had not reported it to civil authorities. Aderholt was charged in July 2018 with sexual assault of a child under 17.

On Wednesday (July 25), IMB President David Platt announced that an outside organization would begin an independent examination of IMB’s policies and practices “to ensure that our current commitment to zero tolerance for child abuse, sexual abuse and sexual harassment is completely and consistently enforced across IMB.” He also apologized to Anne Marie Miller, who came forward with the abuse allegation against Aderholt, and “others who have walked through similar experiences.”

“I want to apologize for various ways we in the IMB have contributed to such hurt and pain through our response to this point,” said Platt in a statement.

Activists who lobbied at the June annual meeting for a tougher stance on abuse welcomed the creation of the new panel. Wade Burleson, Oklahoma pastor and longtime advocate against sexual abuse in the SBC, called the initiative “airtight.”

“This study group, this task force composed of outside experts — I think that’s key,” Burleson said.

Advocate Ashley Easter said the group could likely be effective as long as it is “listening to the right people’s advice.” The composition, she said, should be “at least 50 percent women, a large percentage of survivors (male and female) and SBC abuse victim experts and non-SBC advocate experts.”

Liam is an independent journalist with a reporting emphasis on religion. 

About the author

Liam Adams

16 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • “The new advisory panel marks an early concrete step”

    The whole point of an advisory panel is to avoid concrete steps. It is to make it look like something is being done although nothing is actually being done. This is a strategy that the Roman Catholic oligarchy has developed to perfection.

  • Study groups are good, I guess, but that name is a doozie. The Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group? That sounds about as silly as the United States of America forming such a “Presidential” thing in the current environment with our current president. They needed that word “Presidential” to convey what exactly? That President Greer is in charge of this concern and the churches or the study group need to report to HIM? One would think a church would want such a study group more attached to the Holy Spirit and as independent of the formal hierarchy as it could be. Oh, well. I’m nitpicking perhaps. Or maybe I just don’t think much of the formal mechanics of organizations.

  • Hey, didn’t the Roman Catholic Church create a panel like this, a few years ago? And didn’t it already implode under the weight of institutional lethargy and antipathy toward its members, some of whom were victims? Who really thinks panels of this kind are a good idea, anyway? The best way to ensure something never gets fixed, is to appoint a “blue ribbon commission” to “study” it. 

  • The first paragraph is key:

    “After months of mounting pressure and new charges of ignoring sexual abuse claims, the Southern Baptist Convention is lining up experts and church leaders in a bid to help the denomination confront the problem.”

    While these statements from SBC leaders are encouraging, we cannot pretend they came to this place on their own. This only came as the result of pressure – both from the rank and file within the church and the media. They need to be held accountable for following through on their promises.

  • It’s not complicated. Turn in the offender to law enforcement, make sure the victim has a safe place to live, and encourage the victim to cooperate in prosecuting the abuser.

    Ideally, people can forgive their abusers, but that does not involve shielding the abusers from legal consequences. Cemetaries are full of victims who dropped charges, only to have the abuser end up killing them.

    Obviously, in no way blame the victim.

  • The real people who hate clerical sexual abuse and institutional coverups, or the imaginary people who only imaginarily hate religion?

  • Now, here I thought that religion makes you moral, and that southern baptists are the Most moral people of all. After all, they have reached such perfection in morality that a whole forest of logs is practically transparent as a mote, and they can lecture everyone else, especially that scarlet harlot, all about it.

    And yet, now we find that they have a sex abuse problem, which they have— finally? Belatedly? Under pressurely?— decided to confront. Would they have done so from the top down on their own, or did this take more #metoo pressure from the bottom up? And will they actually do anything about it, apart from empaneling a panel, given the example of the scarlet harlot and what THEY did about it?

  • No, religion does not MAKE anyone moral.

    Religion offers a guide to morality, unlike say … atheism.

  • Or in your case who use clerical sexual abuse and possible cover-ups to groove on their hate for religion.

  • So, do you know what “rapture” means, or do you just like the sound of it the way Spuddie likes “Nazi”?

  • Meanwhile, police officers have been charged with rape over 400 times in the past decade (more than doubling the rate of all accusations against Baptists). Over a thousand kids were molested by Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania alone, and MILLIONS of kids have been molested in public schools. If anyone is abused anywhere, it is unacceptable, but pretending that Southern Baptist Churches are the problem is a farce. Kids are literally more likely to be abused by their own parents than they are by a Baptist pastor. Emotional stories aside, when we look at the statistics, the fact is that, as a general rule, there’s nowhere safer for a child than in a Baptist Church.

ADVERTISEMENTs