The Houston Chronicle's report, released on Sunday, found over 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers since 1998. 220 have been convicted, while 100 are still in prison.
Many of the victims called out other Southern Baptist leaders, including past presidents, of conspiring to cover up abuse cases, creating a culture in which many accused of sexual abuse were able to simply leave their congregations and find jobs in other SBC churches, not totally unlike the means by which abusive Roman Catholic priests were able to simply relocate to different parishes. A disturbing amount of the victims were children as young as 3 years old at the time of each incident.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, any church in the denomination is self-governing, and a recurring theme in the report was the tendency of leaders within the Convention itself to cite their autonomous system of church polity in their refusal to make sweeping reforms to prevent and handle sexual abuse.
Greear, however, declared an end to that excuse.
The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse. Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing—to obey Christ—in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse. 8/9— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 10, 2019
"The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse. Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing — to obey Christ — in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse," he wrote.
Moore concurred, noting that "church autonomy is no excuse for a lack of accountability. Yes, in a Baptist ecclesiology each congregation governs its own affairs, and is not accountable to anyone 'higher up' in a church system. And yet, the decisions a church makes autonomously determine whether that church is in good fellowship with others. A church that excuses, say, sexual immorality or that opposes missions is deemed out of fellowship with other churches. The same must be true of churches that cover up rape or sexual abuse."
Bart Barber, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Famersville, Texas, tweeted supportive suggestions for moving forward with bylaw change in the SBC:
Any church the @HoustonChron has identified as employing a pastor with a history of sexual misconduct, if still employing that pastor in June and haven’t already left the SBC by then, should be disfellowshipped at that meeting. I’m willing to stand up and make that motion.— Bart Barber (@bartbarber) February 10, 2019
"No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it," Moore added. "The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden."
As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to “do better” and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem. 9/9— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 10, 2019
"As a denomination," Greear concluded, "now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to 'do better' and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem."