By David Roach
DURHAM, N.C. — Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear has announced he will form a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
A release from Greear’s office stated, “This presidential study group will consist of outside experts and Southern Baptist leaders who will advise Greear on issues related to sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and related subjects.”
Greear’s office told Baptist Press the study group’s members will be announced at a later date. It will be a “working study group” with “fluid” membership, including outside experts, denominational leaders and local church pastors, Greear’s office stated.
“The group’s purpose,” according to the release, “will be to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions. This group will study both how Southern Baptists are currently engaging these issues and develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on strategies and resources for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators.”
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said, “How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed.
“Over the next year, I look forward to hearing from this group and partnering with our churches, state conventions, local associations, seminaries and national entities to determine what we can do to equip churches to minister effectively and stand guard against any who would seek to prey on the vulnerable.”
The study group stems from actions of messengers to this year’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas, according to the release.
Messengers adopted a resolution “On Abuse” which stated they “condemn all forms of abuse”; “urge abuse victims to contact civil authorities, separate from their abusers, and seek protection”; and “encourage leaders in our churches and Southern Baptist Convention entities to be faithful examples, through their words and actions, and to speak against the sin of all forms of abuse.”
In addition, ERLC executive vice president Phillip Bethancourt made a motion “that a task force be appointed by the newly elected SBC president that will (1) assess issues related to sexual assault, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and connected subjects, (2) develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on best practices for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators, and (3) report its findings to the messengers of the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.” The motion was referred to the ERLC.
A motion by Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson that the ERLC study resources to help churches protect themselves from sexual predators also was referred to the ERLC.
ERLC President Russell Moore affirmed the need for a sexual abuse study group.
“Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core, and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators,” Moore said. “Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues. We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis. That’s exactly what an advisory council like this is able to do, and I am eager to work alongside this group in any way possible to serve our churches and minister to those in our pews who have suffered abuse.”
International Mission Board President David Platt, referenced in a July 25 statement to BP that conversations among entity and church leaders on sexual abuse already have begun.
“I am presently in conversations with leaders of other churches and ministries, particularly within the SBC, to establish practical ways we can and must prevent situations like this in the future,” Platt said. His statement also announced two investigations initiated by the IMB, one into the board’s handling of any past sexual abuse allegations and another into its zero-tolerance policies on abuse.