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Southern Baptist executive group urges caution before investigating church abuse

Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 18, 2019. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

(RNS) — A Southern Baptist working group urged a cautious approach in investigating churches linked to allegations of sex abuse but has agreed that three of 10 churches named by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a report about sex abuse last week should be investigated.

In the seven other cases, the group said no inquiry into the alleged abuse was required.

The working group said the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, in general, “should not disrupt the ministries of its churches by launching an inquiry until it has received credible information that the church has knowingly acted wrongfully” in specific ways.

Those ways, that Executive Committee work group announced over the weekend (Feb. 23), include employing a convicted sex offender, permitting such an offender to do volunteer work with minors, employing someone who illegally concealed from law enforcement sex abuse by a church employee or volunteer, and “willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”

In his remarks to the Executive Committee in mid-February, Greear cited 10 churches that he believes should be investigated by the SBC’s Executive Committee.

But the work group took a different tack. It encouraged all Southern Baptists to “avoid publicly calling the names of churches without having documentation of criminal convictions and giving prior notice to the church.”

It added: “No individual possesses the authority to declare a church to be under a Convention inquiry of any kind.”

Greear pushed back with his own statement, saying Tuesday that churches should be willing to show they are above reproach and that a public approach to abuse allegations is appropriate in light of public media accusations. He added that victims and authorities need to be included in discussions when a church has been challenged about its handling of abuse.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear addresses the denomination’s Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., on February 18, 2019. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

“If mistakes were made by Southern Baptist churches in the past, they should be humbly and transparently addressed,” Greear said, “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.”

The work group said it requested and received from Greear a “dossier” that contained information about the churches he had named and it spent two days deliberating how to respond to the material.

“The Executive Committee is recommending to the Convention’s messengers this June an amendment to the Convention’s Constitution affirming that the Convention does not, and will not, cooperate with a church that clearly evidences indifference to addressing the crime of sexual abuse, a crime virtually all Southern Baptists and all Christians believe to be monumentally destructive and worthy of the harshest punishment,” it stated.

Using the test of “evidencing indifference” and the four ways the working group has denoted a church has acted improperly regarding abuse claims, the group reviewed Greear’s recommended list of churches.

Greear cited the 10 congregations a week after the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published a joint investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against about 380 current and former Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers.

The work group determined that six on Greear’s list require “no further inquiry,” three should be investigated and one is not a Southern Baptist congregation, and thus falls outside its purview.

One of the congregations noted by Greear, First Baptist Church of Bedford, Texas, was reported in a Houston Chronicle story as a place where a youth minister who had been charged with sodomy and rape involving a teen was permitted to volunteer as a music minister even though his arrest record was known.

The work group noted in its announcement that the church has published a statement from its current pastor saying staff at the church at the time who were responsible for allowing that man to serve were removed. The work group also said the church said it revised its procedures to help prevent such a hire from occurring again.

“We believe no further inquiry is warranted based on that information,” the work group said. “We further believe this church appears to be an example of a church, affected by the actions of a few individuals, that has taken decisive steps as a congregation.”

David Pittman, one of the abuse survivors quoted in the Houston Chronicle, said his alleged abuser was a youth minister who first molested him at age 12. The newspaper reported that the minister continues to work at an SBC church. In a 2012 blog post, Pittman named Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., as a church where his alleged abuser had had a staff role. He also said his alleged abuser had roles at other Baptist churches. No criminal investigation was conducted into Pittman’s allegations since the statute of limitations had expired, he said.

Still, the work group said no inquiry of Trinity Baptist was needed. Church officials did not immediately respond to requests from Religion News Service for an interview. In an hourlong Facebook video of the church’s worship service on Sunday, its pastor, Rodney Brown, made no mention of whether an alleged abuser still was involved with his church.

A video screenshot from the Trinity Baptist Church Facebook page cites the SBC Executive Committee workgroup that no further inquiry related to sex abuse allegations is needed at the church in Ashburn, Ga. Video screenshot

But Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service, reported that Brown told it that his church’s music minister confessed several years ago to molesting a “young teen” decades before. Brown said he fired him immediately and the man repented and continued to attend the church but is not permitted 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, according to Baptist Press. He said the church reinstated the man as its music minister and he remains in the position.

In the video, Brown strongly defended his church and himself, saying, “Your pastor has never overlooked proven abuse in this church.”

He asked Greear to publicly apologize to his church and the others “cleared for no further inquiry” by the work group.

“Trinity has been doing background checks for our workers that deal with minors since 2008 but we are going to strengthen the policies pertaining to our minors and now make it mandatory that a clean background check be required,” he said.

“I have already as pastor reported an incident that happened outside the church and the gentleman is now doing 20 years in, with 20 years’ probation coming up,” Brown added. “Our children are precious to me and their protection is vital to the church.”

The working group said it would send letters of inquiry to three churches: Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas; Cathedral of Faith in Houston; and Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that is working with Greear to determine how the SBC can address sex abuse, said Monday that he stood by the SBC president.

“I stand 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,” Moore said in a statement. “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 a great urgency among the churches to deal with these questions definitively, for the sake of vulnerable people and for the sake of the holiness of the name of Christ.”


RELATED: Southern Baptists should investigate churches that cover up abuse, says SBC president


Moore added that the messengers, or delegates, to the SBC’s annual meeting will hear from the group that has advised Greear when they gather in June.

“This group has labored with gravity and expertise for months, and I’m confident Southern Baptists will respond with clarity and action,” Moore added.

Advocates for survivors of abuse, including one who has served on Greear’s sex abuse study group, criticized the determination by the Executive Committee work group.

“JD Greear and some leaders have been seeking expert/survivor help and moving forward with firm first steps to change,” tweeted Rachael Denhollander, a study group team member who testified against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a convicted serial child molester. “The EC has undermined and destroyed that effort. I hope these mistakes are due to lack of learning and that they will withdraw, seek help and remedy these errors.”

A spokeswoman for the “Such a Time As This Rally,” which has advocated for greater awareness in the denomination of sexual abuse, said the work group’s findings show the need for non-Southern Baptists to investigate questionable churches.

“The culture of abuse and cover-up runs deep in the SBC and for the Executive Committee to so cavalierly discount the serious allegations of abuse is both devastating and reckless but not surprising,” said Ashley Easter. “The 10 churches listed (and let’s be honest, many more SBC churches) require a thorough independent investigation by a credible group outside of the SBC so no bias gets in the way.”

In making the announcement, work group chair Ken Alford said the Executive Committee remains committed to act on behalf of individuals and churches affected by abuse.

“We understand it is difficult, if not impossible, to issue a report on sexual abuse that will be met with satisfaction by everyone,” Alford, chairman of the bylaws work group, said in a message to the Executive Committee. “That is the reality of addressing an issue which has brought such pain, tragedy, and hurt.”

(This story has been updated.)

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

29 Comments

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  • “We understand it is difficult, if not impossible, to issue a report on sexual abuse that will be met with satisfaction by everyone,” Alford, chairman of the bylaws work group, said in a message to the Executive Committee. “That is the reality of addressing an issue which has brought such pain, tragedy, and hurt.”

    When we were told to move along there’s nothing to look at here, in those cases we did, and that is our report. I have a feeling this will end up being the proper prefix for this statement.

  • I know Democrats compulsively lie about everything. I know Democrats praise each other for lying, and they help each other lie. I know Democrats hate Jesus Christ, His Word, His church, and the real Christians.
    We know how the Democrats lied about Alabama Judge Moore. We know Judge Moore’s words and actions are in keeping with scripture. I know, I do not believe any allegations made by any Democrat; moreover, it is folly to even pretend, in their present state, they have the capacity to be honest. I have no reason to take any of their allegations seriously. We have a duty to protect our own from them.
    That said, Democrats universally promote the sexual corruption of kids. I do know sexual abuse occurs. I am a man who was sexually abused by three homosexual pedophiles, who did not know each other and in three different locals, durning the my years between six and thirteen years of age.

  • It would be more productive for Southern Baptists to investigate each other for their Trump support.

  • I am sorry that you were sexually abused, but that does not mean that an entire political party is corrupt. It makes as much sense as saying this:

    I know Republicans compulsively lie about everything. I know Republicans praise each other for lying, and they help each other lie. I know Republicans hate Jesus Christ, His Word, His church, and the real Christians.

    …. I do not believe any allegations made by any Republican; moreover, it is folly to even pretend, in their present state, they have the capacity to be honest. I have no reason to take any of their allegations seriously. We have a duty to protect our own from them.

    There are good and bad in every organisation. Even the Republicans and even the Democrats.

  • You should hide your past comments, you’re a real nut case.

    The majority of what you say are lies. How would anyone ever know if you are even telling the truth about being abused in the past? Your comments contain so little that could be considered truth.

    I don’t believe anything that you say at this point.

  • In other words “slow everything down so we can work on a cover-up and hopefully many of the victims will die”.

  • Nah, they just want to make sure some common-sense ‘precautions’ are in place before anyone starts investigating. You know, like blinders and handcuffs so they don’t accidentally find any evidence.

  • You can’t get away with that with me. You express yourself like Satan. We know all the Democrats are genocidal murders who kill for greed and ambition. These are the two true motives for 99% of the abortions in the USA. Those that encourage murder are as guilty as those that do murder. God says that.
    The Democrats promote the sexual corruption of every kid in this world evidenced by their tyrannical thrust of LGBT pand generalized perversity upon Western all kids; moreover, they endeavor to sexually corrupt every kid in the world.
    You are a dangerous and devilish monster. I did not write this post for you. It is useless to discuss anything with your kind. I wrote this post for the others who read this thread. It is my intent they know what you are, and like Satan, you are a beguiler and a destroyer.

  • As I read the comments of the pervert and genocidal baby killers on this thread, it is evident they are as monstrous, dangerous, and tyrannical enemies as members of ISIS.
    I believe it is evident, by defination, domestic enemies cannot be our fellow Americans.

  • Seven, I think ideas like these are profoundly wrong:

    “Democrats are domestic enemies. They are not our fellow Americans.’
    ‘We need to put down our domestic enemies. I believe a civil war is the only way to re-establish security, virtue, justice, and real liberty’
    ‘I believe it is immoral to tolerate them. I believe a civil war is necessary. I believe we cannot safely co-exist with them.’
    ‘I believe it is time for a civil war to abolish abortion. That said, I know that in the meantime, if people want justice, their only options are either vigilantes or bounty hunters. This is a consequence of tolerating the criminal and enemy Democrats for too long.’

    A world of civil war, vigilantes and bounty hunters would be worse than the excesses of the French or Iranian Revolutions. It would be worse than Pol Pot or Boko Haram. It would be worse than the Nazis. It would be a world of hatred, madness and slaughter.

  • Your thinking is wrong. If a civil war to abolish slavery was a worthy war, then a civil war to abolish abortion is equally worthy. There are many things I can write, but there is no point in discussing anything with you.
    I write primarily for conservatives. I do not write for the apologists of Satan.

  • Liar. Roy Moore was framed by the devilish domestic enemies; moreover, what was done to Moore remains an apt small illustration of exactly why a war to the finish against Democrats is reasonable, just, and necessary.
    You are monsters and enemies

  • It was there in the video. You do not believe your own eyes.

    There it is. 😀

    Poor thing is languishing at the FEMA camp. One of the last Pizzagate and Bowling Green Massacre victims alive today.

  • I made it a point a long time ago to not look pay attention to what Democrats, RINO Democrats, Libertarian and Independent Democrats produce. Everything you produce are lies. You praise each other for lying. You help each other lie. You believe your own lies and then tell others your lies. You want to be lied to, because you fundamentally hate truth, hate decency, and continuously plot to destroy truth, virture, and the people of truth.
    I’ve watched your kind sink into the state you’re. Frankly, your kind would rape molest and kid your own family members than approach truth.
    Moore was framed by your kind. My people know the truth: you are monsters and enemies. Discussions with your kind are futile. It is literally impossible to have honest and reasonable discussions with your kind. We cannot safely coexist with you. An inevitable war to the finish is approaching.

  • We have nothing in common. You and all with you are compulsive liars. I am convinced you are either born psychopaths or become sociopaths by young adulthood. You love sexually corrupting kids and mass murdering babies. You are monsterously and murderously greedy. Greed and ambition are the two motives that cause 99% of the baby genocide in America.

  • You are thoroughly monstrous, perverted, brutal, bloodthirsty and murderous tyrants. You compusively lie. You praise each other for these qualities while you simultaneously deny this is your character content.

  • You make much ado over nothing; meanwhile, you are unabashed when it comes to your devotion to sexually corrupting kids and your genocidal murders. You prove I’m write about you when you speak and when you write.

  • Seven, why are you so hostile and full of hatred? Why do you promote war? How could you claim to be a Christian, when Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

    Why do you think that all who disagree with you are apologists of Satan? Have you considered that what you see in others may reflect the darkness in your own heart?

    You say that you write primarily for conservatives. A true conservative like Winston Churchill said “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Don’t believe that promoting violence is a virtue. It isn’t.

  • Obviously, you don not believe the tax funded and institutionalized sexual corruption of kids is as monstrous as Sodom. Likewise, you do not believe the genocide of kids for greed and ambitions is significant. There is no reason to talk with your kind. War is the only remaining reasonable and just option.
    Frankly, you are not worth talking with.

  • Seven,

    What do you mean by “the tax funded and institutionalized sexual corruption of kids”? I don’t know whether you’re referring to child sexual abuse in institutions or sex education.

    Is “the tax funded and institutionalized sexual corruption of kids” code for abortion?

    I haven’t discussed my attitude to abortion, yet you arrogantly assume that you know what I think.

    That’s the trouble with you. You want to kill people without even finding out what they think. Your mind is closed. You see disagreement, and all you can see is someone who must be killed.

    This violent bigotry is dangerous. However, it’s so extreme that it’s unlikely to appeal to fair-minded people.

  • Unless you can write “LGBT is sin, and the unrepentant LGBT and their allies are 2olves in sheep’s clothing at war against Christ and the children of God” there is no reason for us to talk further. Unless you can write, “99% of the abortion in the USA is the murder of kids for their mothers greed and ambition” we have nothing else to discuss. Unless you can write, “”the devilish LGBT love the genocide of abortion because they are so depraved they love the destruction of the innocent” we have nothing else to discuss. If you can’t understand the simple and the obvious, what is the point of pretending conversations can do any good?

  • Seven,

    I think it’s mad that you think I have to agree with everything that you believe before you are willing to talk to me. People can agree or disagree and still exchange views, as we have done.

    I also believe that if you want to make contentious claims you have to produce the evidence. Please note these points:

    * Same sex relationships don’t result in abortion because they are non-reproductive!

    * If you want to claim that women resort to abortion for any reason, produce the evidence.

    * If you want to make claims about gays, produce the evidence.

    I’m totally unimpressed by wild and unsupported statements about people you oppose.

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