J.D. Greear (Photo: YouTube)

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Feb 11, 2019 by Alyssa Duvall

Southern Baptist Leaders Mourn Shocking Sexual Abuse Report, Promise Big Changes

After a shocking report by the Houston Chronicle brought to light hundreds of sexual abuse cases within churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination's top leaders are mourning with victims and gearing up for big changes.

"The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent," SBC President and Summit Church pastor J.D. Greear wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread responding to the report.

Russell Moore, president of the denom's Ethics And Religious Liberty Commission, spoke gravely of the report and the burden on the SBC to fix the clear issues. "This is a scandal crying out to heaven," Moore wrote. "The church’s message to survivors should be a clear communication that they are those who have been sinned against, not those who have sinned, that they are not troublemakers in the church but those who are helping the real 'trouble' to come to light." 

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," 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:

"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," 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."



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