How will Southern Baptists address sexual abuse?

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Ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention’s strong vote to approve what supporters called the ‘minimum’ sexual abuse reforms – with victims in the crowd crying with relief – there was a strategic amendment to the recommendations.

Rather than sticking with independent organization Guidepost Solutions, the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force would seek to use “best practices consistent with Southern Baptist Church policy,” while A “Ministry Check” website tracking “credible defendants” of abuse would be “established and maintained by an independent contractor.”

Ahead of the vote, Rachael Denhollander, activist, lawyer and survivor of #ChurchToo abuse, pleaded, “Institutions must be held accountable. No matter who they are. Justice and truth are always what we must strive for.”

Afterward, she posted another challenge on Twitter: “This is the first, most basic step. But it’s a testament to the survivors who fought so long and so hard. I’m grateful. Now let’s move on. to work.”

Terry Mattingly, News Sentinel columnist

This work will depend on the cooperation of pastors and church leaders in the SBC’s 47,000 local churches, as well as trustees and administrators of state and national agencies, boards, seminaries and other institutions.

More from Terry Mattingly:Are Southern Baptists Facing Another 1979 Civil War?

Previously:It is ‘inexcusable’ for churches to ignore sexual abuse, activist says | Terry Mattingly

The Bottom Line: In Southern Baptist “politics”—with sprawling structures of self-governing congregations that, to varying degrees, fund state, national, and world ministries—there are no leadership structures resembling from local Presbyterian presbyteries, to regional annual conferences among United Methodists, or to powerful diocesan structures of Catholics, Episcopalians and others. Local churches ordain, hire and fire clergy.

Outsiders often struggle to understand the theological and practical implications of Baptist politics, said Thomas Kidd, who teaches church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University.

“A lot of people still think that the SBC can compel its churches to do this or that or the other, and that’s just not true,” he said.

Southern Baptists have regional associations that help build and support missions and churches, he noted, but these “associations do not ordain Southern Baptist clergy — churches do. Associations do not don’t own property or don’t have money to manage – churches do. Our local churches will have to choose to be part of the effort to solve these painful problems.”

In other #ChurchToo abuse scandals, including decades of Catholic controversy, survivors have sued regional and national structures with large budgets, trusts, property and insurance policies. With Southern Baptists, the focus will be on claims against local churches, many of which are small, and SBC institutions.

So far, most of the attention has focused on the actions of the SBC’s 86-member executive committee, which conducts business on behalf of the national convention when it’s not in session, such as the this year’s gathering of “messengers” from the local church in Anaheim. , California.

Many observers, even longtime Southern Baptists, continue to ask a straightforward question, “Who runs this place?”

“Who really has the power in the SBC? You could say the 567 Directors, 12 Agency Chairs/CEOs, 1 SBC Chair, 130 Nominations Committee and Committees Committee members. And that’s it. D ‘after my rough count (and I could be a little) it’s 710 people in total,’ argued Reverend Jimmy Scroggins of the Family Church network based in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But the reality is more complex, he noted in a long series of tweets to anyone trying to make sense of SBC news last week.

“You want to impact the direction of the SBC? He asked. “Want better oversight or responses or attitudes or tone? Unless you’re an agency Prez, committee appointee, or administrator, there’s really only one way to do it: become an accredited messenger for your SBC church, make the trip to the SBC Annual Meeting and vote for your favorite presidential candidate. Rinse. Repeat. Every year.”

The ultimate question, Kidd concluded, is whether church structures can persuade shepherds in the pulpits and pews to confront the sins and crimes within their own flocks.

“It’s up to people in authority – whether it’s in denominations or in local churches. … It’s true for Catholic leaders, Southern Baptist leaders, or anybody else,” he said. he declared. Southern Baptists will have to “confront this simple fact – that there is a long history of some of our leaders failing to deal with sexual abuse cases. honesty and strong leadership.”

Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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