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Southern Baptist leader lays out plans for reform amid sexual abuse crisis

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An investigation found more than 380 allegations of sexual misconduct by Southern Baptist church leaders over two decades.
USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear unveiled Monday plans to reform how churches in his denomination address sexual abuse. 

The proposed changes range from providing free training for ministry leaders and encouraging churches to review their policies on abuse to calling for a reexamination of the ordination process and ensuring that Southern Baptist churches cannot have a “wanton disregard for sexual abuse” and still be in good fellowship with the network of churches.

“If we don’t get this right, our churches will not be a safe place for the lost,” said Greear, according to a copy of his prepared remarks released ahead of his address. “That’s not something I’m okay with, and I know it’s not something you’re okay with.”

Greear, who leads The Summit Church in North Carolina, laid out the plans Monday night in a room full of Southern Baptist leaders in Nashville. He addressed the regularly scheduled meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. 

The proposed reforms come as Southern Baptists grapple with their own sexual abuse crisis.

More: Investigation finds decades of abuse in Southern Baptist Convention

More: What can Southern Baptists do after sex-crime reports? Here are some ideas

The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News recently published a startling report showing that 380 Southern Baptists with formal church roles have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the last 20 years. Many were convicted of sex crimes and some are still in prison, but others continue to work in churches, the news organizations found. 

“We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly. Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse,” Greear said. “Our job is not to protect our reputation.”

In the wake of that report, several Southern Baptist leaders, including Greear, called for change within the network of churches that make up the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

That call continued Monday night.

“This is not a fabricated story made up by people with a secular agenda. We’ve not taken reports of abuse in our churches as seriously as our gospel demands, and sometimes even worse, outright ignored or silenced victims,” Greear said. “And it’s time we backup our words with actions that demonstrate our commitment to this.

The Texas newspapers’ report came as work on how Southern Baptists can better respond to abuse in their churches was already underway. The address by Greear, who was elected to his presidential post in June, also served as an update for the work.

More: Vatican defrocks ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after finding him guilty of sexual crimes

More: Were U.S. nuns abused by priests? Catholic women respond to Pope Francis’ remarks on abuse

 

One of Greear’s first acts in his new role was to launch a sexual abuse presidential study. Its purpose is to figure out how Southern Baptists can better respond to incidents and prevent abuse from happening. Last fall, the convention’s Executive Committee allocated $250,000 for the study. 

“The reason I formed this group last summer was we have known there was a problem and whatever had been done in the past, clearly was not enough,” Greear said. 

Greear outlined the initial recommendations from the study group and called fellow Southern Baptists to action in 10 key areas, including a call to repent for decades of inaction and to make sure abuse is a part of the discussion at the denomination’s upcoming annual meeting. 

The study came in the midst of Southern Baptist’s own #MeToo moment. In the run-up to the denomination’s annual meeting in June where Greear was elected, Southern Baptists were embroiled in months of controversy over a prominent church leader’s treatment of women and how he handled years-old allegations of sexual misconduct.

During the same denominational meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention condemned all forms of abuse.

More: Catholic dioceses in Texas name 286 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse

More: Pope tells sex-abuse priests: ‘Turn yourselves in’

Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/18/southern-baptist-convention-reform-plan-sexual-abuse-crisis/2911753002/


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