Southern Baptists vote to form website of sexual abuse offenders

Attendees arrive at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Combined ShapeCaption
Attendees arrive at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Called a “seminal moment” in history of largest Protestant denomination

The Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday took first steps toward addressing sexual abuse that includes the formation of a database of those credibly accused of misconduct.

Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Church in Asheville, N.C., and chairman of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force, called it a “seminal moment” in the history of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which is holding its annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif. through Friday.

The meeting has been closely watched by advocates for victims of sexual abuse as well as those in the pulpits and pews. It comes as the denomination is reeling from a blistering third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions released in May that documented hundreds of instances of sexual abuse. Some SBC leaders mishandled or concealed complaints and mistreated or ignored victims. The 288-page report spanned two decades.

The two formal recommendations, which passed overwhelmingly, were:

  • Creation of a “Ministry Check” website and process for maintaining a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity. The website will be established and maintained through an independent, qualified firm.
  • The creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force to study the Guidepost recommendations and bring a report to the 2023 annual meeting on which reforms could be adopted and how they should be implemented. The reforms include Guidepost’s recommendations for a survivor care fund and a memorial, auditing the Caring Well curriculum, and the possible creation of a permanent committee or entity.

Many within the denomination had pushed for the investigation and warned that it was failing its members by not addressing abuse allegations as accused serial abusers moved from church to church.

According to the investigation, a secret list was kept by some in leadership.

“Today we will choose between humility or hubris,” Frank said. “We will choose between genuine repentance or continually being passive in our approach to sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. We will choose between doing the best for the glory of God and for the good of people or we will choose, again, business as usual.”

Frank thanked survivors of sexual abuse who were in the audience for their persistence, patience, grace and resolve.

“You are the heroes in this hall,” he said to widespread applause from messengers during the annual meeting.

Nearly 40 Georgia pastors, staffers and volunteers were included in the Guidepost report.

For some the recommendations did not go far enough.

Survivor Christa Brown, a retired attorney who lives in Colorado, called it a “very, very small step and I’m disappointed.”

Brown, who did not attend the conference, said she was sexually assaulted by her church’s youth and education minister, beginning when she was 16. That accused minister later moved to a Southern Baptist church in the Atlanta area.

She said the recommendations were very limited and that the structure of the database is “not at all survivor friendly. It’s very church-centric...It will make it more unsafe for survivors and this is not what survivors proposed. ”

It’s an issue, said Frank, that has been brewing in the SBC for at least 15 years. In 2019, a Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News investigation found hundreds of SBC church leaders and volunteers had been credibly accused of sex abuse, many involving minors.

Alpharetta-based Send Relief, global ministry, has committed a total of $4 million to the effort, which breaks down to $3 million to fund what the SBC Executive Committee estimates it will need to carry out reforms on addressing sexual abuse and another $1 million for a survivor care fund, providing trauma counseling for survivors and training for pastors, churches, local association and state conventions.

The funds would come from Send Relief’s undesignated funds.

“Southern Baptists are grieving for survivors of abuse and are seeking ways to better safeguard children and families. Send Relief wants to be part of the solutions outlined by the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force,” according to a statement signed by the Rev. Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief; Kevin Ezell , president North American Mission Board; and Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board

Send Relief is led by Wright, a former SBC president and retired senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta and is a collaboration between the NAMB and the IMB,

Johnny Hunt, until his resignation last month, served as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the NAMB and once led First Baptist Church in Woodstock. Hunt was cited in the Guidepost Solution’s report for allegedly sexually assaulting the wife of a fellow pastor, which he has denied, calling it consensual.

Frank said the abuse accounts that have surfaced are just the tip of the iceberg, according to the Baptist Press.

“You will get the phone call,” he told messengers. “That’s not a word of prophecy. That’s just math.”

Another big order for messengers was the election of a new president.

The winner was Texas pastor Bart Barber, who received 61% of the vote. Barber succeeds Ed Litton, who did not seek a second one-year time, the first time a president has not run again in decades.

Barber’s win over the more conservative Tom Ascol of Florida was seen as a positive step for the denomination to move forward on address abuse. Ascol, who is also had complained to too much wokeness in the denomination and has spoken out against Critical Race Theory, acceptance of the LGBTQ community and women as pastors.

A late entry for the presidential spot was Georgia pastor, the Rev. Frank Cox of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville.

ExploreJohnny Hunt responds to allegations in SBC sexual abuse report