The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is in the books, and I wanted to give a recap of some of the highlights. We were glad to represent Putman among more than 8,000 messengers in the beautiful city of Anaheim, California.
Most notably, the SBC dedicated serious time to the issue of sexual abuse within the convention. One year ago messengers asked for the creation of a Sex Abuse Task Force (SATF) that would report back 30 days prior to this year’s meeting. The report was horrific (to quote outgoing SBC President Ed Litton, it was “a gut punch”). In response, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted to adopt both recommendations from the task force.
First, the convention approved a continuing task force, called the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF), that will work for as many years as is needed to continue the effort begun by the SATF, which was only given one year to work.
More importantly, the convention adopted the creation of a database at the SBC office. The report found that many pastors and staff members guilty of abuse were able to easily move on to other congregations and continue their abuse. The database will allow churches to run the names of potential hires to see if they have been credibly accused at other churches. The convention first suggested this back in 2006, but only now adopted it.
There are safeguards built in. In order to be considered as “credibly accused,” the offender will have had to have confessed in a non-privileged setting, and have been found guilty in either a criminal or civil suit. This means that pastors cannot be blacklisted just on the words of a single accuser; they will be afforded due process (see Johnny Depp and Amber Herd).
Additionally, messengers adopted two resolutions submitted by individual messengers. Resolution 6, titled “On Lament and Repentance for Sexual Abuse,” offers a formal acknowledgment and apology for the convention’s sins. Resolution 5, titled “On Support for Consistent Laws Regarding Pastoral Sexual Abuse,” calls on state legislatures to enact consistent laws making abuse between a pastor and a member of his congregation as a greater crime, similar to laws that hold teachers, doctors, therapists, and others in positions of authority to a higher standard. The imbalance of power makes the abuse worse because it violates trust. Many of the survivors in the SATF report stated that they felt they had no choice but to submit to the advances of their pastor. The resolution also calls for safeguards for pastors who report abuse from other churches, shielding them from retaliation.
These four items of business were overwhelming adopted. They are not an end-all, but a vital first step in the right direction. The ARITF will continue the work to make future recommendations, beginning next year at the meeting in New Orleans.
Another important vote was in regards to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). A motion from the floor called for the defunding and abolition of the commission. Speaking for his motion, the messenger said there are times when the leaders of the ERLC speak on an issue, they presumably speak for the SBC, but they do not always represent the positions of every pastor. Obviously this is true. But there will never be 100% agreement on every issue. There are 14 million Southern Baptists. How can we each agree on everything?
Abolishing the ERLC is not the answer. The SBC president will make many statements, and we do not all agree with each of those statements, but we do not abolish the office of the president. Similarly, the ERLC has been given latitude to speak on current issues, and sometimes we will disagree. I proudly voted to keep the ERLC, and I was glad the motion to defund it was defeated.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said His disciples should be witnesses both at home and around the world, and the ERLC is an arm of the convention designed to carry the Gospel into the public square. They provide resources in apologetics that pastors and congregations can use, touching on topics such as homosexuality, gender issues, and abortion. With the Supreme Court likely to reverse Roe v Wade at any moment, it seems foolish to abolish the very commission that has been fighting to end Roe for decades. Once Roe is reversed, all fifty states will have to make decisions on abortion, and the ERLC is primed and ready to leap into action.
The SBC is not perfect. It never has been, and it never will be. Ours is a history of both mistakes and struggles to get things right. We have been on the wrong side of slavery and evolution, but eventually got it right. We have wrestled internally with inerrancy. We are currently seeing a rise among some who want to ordain women pastors (with Saddleback Church currently on the SBC chopping block). With as many churches and members as we have, we are always going to have some contentious conversations. As soon as we settle an issue, there will be another problem lurking in the shadows. That doesn’t mean we are in trouble. It doesn’t mean “there is drama in the SBC,” or that conservatives need to jump ship and become independent.
The whole point of the SBC is to cooperate together so that we can accomplish more. We strive for unity, not uniformity. We agree on what is nonnegotiable, and recognize that we have differences in doctrines such as soteriology (Calvinists and free will), eschatology (is the rapture before the Tribulation or after?), and ecclesiology (church government, for example). But we join hands at the cross of Calvary and rally around our risen Savior. I am proud to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I believe our future is bright.