By Lonnie Wilkey
Baptist and Reflector
Southern Baptist Convention messengers took a “good first step” in dealing with sexual abuse issues within the denomination, said Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, and chairman of the Sexual Abuse Task Force.
During the June 14 session of the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, messengers overwhelmingly approved the two recommendations (read full text here) proposed by SATF to appoint an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force and develop a Ministry Check database of the “credibly accused.” The approval came after lengthy discussion and one amendment to tweak the wording to change “Guidepost recommendations” to “best practices.”
“The first step is the hardest,” Frank acknowledged during a press conference following the vote. “This was an opportunity for messengers to take a step down the right road. I am proud of them for doing it,” he said.
Responding to a question on how history will view what happened, Frank said, “You could sense in the room [messengers] wanted to do the right thing. It was not even close.”
Rachel Denhollander of North Carolina, a consultant for SATF and a sexual abuse survivor, said she hopes history will “show that ballots raised showed survivors that they were believed.”
What ‘credibly accused’ entails
The two recommendations proposed by SATF were voted on as one recommendation. A motion to divide the question was ruled out of order because each recommendation was dependent upon the other.
Concerns about the “credibly accused” description of who would be included in the database were addressed by Frank during the report.
“A mere accusation does not put anyone on any list,” he said, noting the standards will be the same as those used “with a civil judgment … only when evidence proves that more likely than not sexual abuse took place.”
The online database will provide a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees and volunteers who at any time have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity, the recommendation states.
Frank said the new task force will determine the details and timing of the database. The task force will be appointed by newly elected SBC President Bart Barber.
“We hope it can begin as quick as we can … but it has to be done right,” Frank cautioned. “It will take time.”
Responding to a question about whether what SATF learned could have helped pastors 15 to 20 years ago, Marshall Blalock, vice chair and pastor of First Baptist Church Charleston, South Carolina, responded in the affirmative.
“It would have made a significant difference,” he said.
Need to ‘humble ourselves’
Noting that his church dealt with an abuse issue in its school several years ago, he said the first thing they did was to notify authorities, but the next thing he did was call the church’s attorney to see what to do next. “It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I didn’t know.”
Blalock said he would now focus on providing the best kind of care he could for the abused person.
Prior to the vote Frank acknowledged the need for Southern Baptists as a whole “to humble ourselves.”
“Make no mistake, we are in a kairos moment … a seminal moment right now,” he said. “Today, we will choose between humility or hubris … genuine repentance or continually being passive in our approach — glory of God and good of people — or choose again business as usual.
“All of that [in the report] happened on our watch,” he said. “We are a people of the Book, we should know better than this. James 4:6 says, ‘God opposes the proud but pours out grace to the humble.’ When it says He will give grace, it means to humble ourselves. It doesn’t say pray for humility. It says humble yourself before God … either we humble ourselves or God will humble us and the way he does that is by humiliating us or putting us in humiliating situations.” (Jennifer Davis Rash contributed)
View photos from this business session of the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting here.
To view other photos from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim, click here.
For more stories from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, visit thebaptistpaper.org/sbc2022.