By Diana Chandler
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — “Bold resolutions and sweeping statements are not sufficient” to tackle the crisis of sex abuse, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said today (June 12) at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“Victims have told us, words without follow-up actions are worse than no words at all,” Greear said in what is his latest update on the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study he and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission initiated in 2018. Victims “want to see … that we care enough about this issue to do whatever it takes to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”
Greear offered eight updated action steps for churches after messengers approved an SBC bylaw amendment and a constitutional amendment addressing sexual abuse, although the constitutional amendment can only become effective if two-thirds of messengers in 2020 also approve. Greear’s recommendations also follow 10 calls to action against sex abuse Greear issued at the February SBC Executive Committee meeting in Nashville.
In a press conference Greear hosted at the close of the annual meeting, he affirmed progress made in Birmingham not only in dealing with sexual abuse, but in race relations and in clarifying the Gospel roles of women.
“It was a defining moment in regards to what kind of witnesses we are going to be,” he said. “I believe the right tone was set in some of these discussions.”
Addressing sexual abuse in particular is an ongoing commitment, he said at the press conference.
“We’ve tried to be very clear that this is not something to put on a list and check off and say, OK, we dealt with that in 2019,” Greear said. “This is a milestone in something that will go on for the rest of our lives. It is the inculcation of certain values, and the inculcation of an awareness in a way of approaching things that will not just shape 2019, but will shape future generations.
“And I believe it was done in pursuit of our mission. This is the way that God teaches us to be,” Greear said, “because the Gospel teaches us to not only protect the vulnerable, but to lay down our lives for the vulnerable like God did. And we believe that the reflection of that is that we are doing everything we can do to make our churches safe places for the vulnerable and to make them safe from abuse.”
Churches should be willing to do the necessary work to make churches safe, said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in his report preceding the press conference.
“Is not the integrity of our Gospel witness worth this price?” Greear posed. “And yes if some churches have to go the extra mile to demonstrate they are above reproach in this area, that should be a price that they are eager and willing to pay.
“So Southern Baptists at this moment we have to ask ourselves, and I ask you • are you ready to do all that you can to confront this Southern Baptist abuse crisis for the sake of the people that God gave into our care, and for the sake of the Gospel witness and its integrity?”
Greear and others bathed his report in prayers of lament, repentance, sorrow and guidance, including a prayer offered by Mary DeMuth, a survivor, author and advocate. DeMuth is featured in the “Caring Well” report the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study issued June 8. Greear invited abuse survivors, and friends of survivors, to stand on the convention floor as prayers were offered.
“Our majestic, sovereign, empathetic, beautiful Father in heaven, we repent of how we have failed to love those who struggle in our midst,” DeMuth prayed, “and we recognize Your holy rumblings in the midst of the sexual abuse crisis. We have not always wept with those who weep. We have not always crossed the street with the Good Samaritan, inconveniencing ourselves for those who bleed.
“We have sometimes preferred our institutions and systems to the cries of the wounded in our midst,” she confessed to God. “We have failed to acknowledge the very real grief and trauma of survivors, abandoning them to feel alone, bereft and untouchable…. We have not rightly understood the nature of wolves in our midst, and there have been times when we jumped to believe their howls of innocence over the cries of those they have devoured,” she prayed in part.
Greear encouraged churches not to hide behind autonomy, which has never precluded accountability. Action is critical, Greear said, but success will only come by God’s hand.
In his eight updated action steps, Greear urged churches to unite together with:
• The right heart, grievously lamenting the presence of abuse in our churches and taking responsibility for getting rid of it.
• The right public statements. “Let me be clear, statements are not enough, but our statements can signal our intentions and our resolve.”
• The right partnerships. What must continue, Greear said, are partnerships already initiated among Southern Baptist seminaries and other entities, state conventions and associations addressing the issue.
• The right training. The ERLC is unprecedented, Greear said, in scrapping plans already made for its national conference and redesigning it to address abuse prevention, awareness and care Oct. 3-5 in Dallas.
• The right resources. Also available is the new multimedia resource, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused,” developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, ERLC and the advisory group. The SBC distributed the free resource to messengers.
• The right governing documents.
• The right ministry screening process for ordination.
• The right unified call to action. Initiating the recommended steps and using available resources across the SBC family is important to successfully tackling the issue, Greear said.