Funding for an SBC presidential initiative to address sexual abuse in the church was approved by the SBC Executive Committee during its September 17–18 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
In a July 26 press release announcing the sexual abuse study, SBC President J. D. Greear said the purpose of the study is ”to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.”
Those involved in the initiative will examine how Southern Baptists are currently engaging these issues and likely “develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on strategies and resources for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, said.
Funding for the Initiative
Acting on behalf of the SBC ad interim, the Executive Committee allocated up to $250,000 “to provide two years of funding . . . to study ways to address sexual abuse and related issues in a church or ministry context,” according to the recommendation approved by the EC. The funding was drawn from the overage in budgeted CP Allocation Budget gifts for the 2017–2018 SBC fiscal year which ended September 30.
EC chairman Mike Stone said the study is “the next step in a trajectory we’ve been on for a while” to address sexual abuse.
“There’s never, in my estimation, been a hesitancy about addressing these issues” in the SBC, Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, told Baptist Press when the allocation was approved. “We see in the culture and in the media an increased emphasis on this issue of sexual abuse. So I think it’s time for us to take that next strategic step.”
After the $250,000 appropriation was set aside for the study, the remainder of the $5.044 million overage was distributed among SBC entities according to the convention’s formula for overage distribution. At the conclusion of the presidential study, any unused funds also will be distributed according to the 2017–2018 overage distribution formula.
Expenditures up to $200,000 for the study will be administered by the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a partner with Greear in the initiative, and reimbursed by the EC on a quarterly basis. The EC’s officers were authorized to approve additional funding for the sexual abuse study up to $50,000 if necessary. The initiative’s report and any proposed recommendations and resources must be presented to the EC no later than February 1, 2020, according to the recommendation.
Greear said, “How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed.
“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.”
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press after the EC vote in September, “I am deeply thankful that the SBC Executive Committee showed their commitment to the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study by providing these resources. Southern Baptists have made it clear that we must address this crisis with the Gospel and for the sake of the Gospel.”
Structure of the Study
Unlike other appointed or elected task forces in SBC life, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study will not be limited to a representative group of members, Greear noted in his July press release.
Contributors to the study will be “fluid,” he said, and will include local church pastors, denominational leaders, and outside experts.
In a September 19 update on the ERLC website, Phillip Bethancourt expanded on the fluid nature of the study’s participants. The study will comprise “a constellation of various work groups specializing in particular areas like orbits in a solar system,” the ERLC executive vice president wrote.
“As the study group progresses, various orbits will be identified and addressed such as resources, church-based strategies, seminary and higher education, state convention and association initiatives, and more.”
One “orbit” in the study will involve “a collaborative effort among the [six SBC] seminaries in order to identify common principles and outcomes that can be appropriately implemented in each unique seminary context,” he wrote.
Context of the Initiative
The presidential initiative follows actions of messengers to this year’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
Messengers adopted a resolution “On Abuse” which stated they “condemn all forms of abuse”; “urge abuse victims to contact civil authorities, separate from their abusers, and seek protection”; and “encourage leaders in our churches and Southern Baptist Convention entities to be faithful examples, through their words and actions, and to speak against the sin of all forms of abuse.”
A motion by Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson that the ERLC study resources to help churches protect themselves from sexual predators also was referred to the ERLC.
ERLC President Russell Moore affirmed the need for the sexual abuse study initiative.
“Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core, and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators,” Moore said. “Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues. We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis. That’s exactly what an advisory council like this is able to do, and I am eager to work alongside this group in any way possible to serve our churches and minister to those in our pews who have suffered abuse.”
Phases of the Study
A budget proposal submitted to the EC by the ERLC projected the study will include three phases. Bethancourt expanded on the description of the three phases in a September 19 update on the ERLC website.
- Assessment of “existing organizations, strategies, experts, and resources,” including a proposed LifeWay Research survey on Protestant churchgoers’ views of sexual misconduct and abuse, in order “to better understand the landscape of needs and opportunities when it comes to sexual abuse”;
- Development of “recommendations, resources, strategies, and partnerships” with seminaries, Baptist state conventions, and churches that will “address the needs and opportunities that were identified” through the survey and input from a variety of leaders and experts in the field; and
- An implementation phase that will propose a “wide-scale, comprehensive effort to educate, saturate, and motivate Southern Baptist churches, entities, and leaders to embrace and incorporate the recommendations and findings of the study.”
EC interim president D. August Boto thanked CP-funded Convention entities for sacrificing funds for the study and non-CP-funded entities for “offering to contribute needed support and resources.”
“Of course, behind the national ministry demonstration of willingness is the fact that the funding originates at the local church level where believers contribute their tithes and offerings, and then vote to support ministry through the Cooperative Program,” Boto said in written comments to Baptist Press in September. “In other words, this effort is truly one supported by all Southern Baptists.
“Joining together sacrificially, collaboratively, and voluntarily to address evil, human failure, and the consequences of sin is a Southern Baptist characteristic,” Boto said. “More importantly, it is biblical (as passages such as Matthew 22:36–40 and John 4:23–24 indicate) and as ‘people of the Book,’ Southern Baptists can do no less.”
Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding the study can be emailed to StudyGroup@erlc.com.
Compiled by SBC LIFE from numerous Baptist Press articles in July, August, and September 2018.