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'If We Don't Get This Right, Our Churches Will Not Be a Safe Place for the Lost': Southern Baptists at Crossroads over Abuse

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The head of the Southern Baptist Convention is calling for a season of lament for what he describes as decades of inaction on the issue of sexual abuse. He's also calling for no-tolerance for churches that try to cover it up.

Monday night, President J.D. Greear called for the denomination to scrutinize and possibly remove 10 churches, including Houston's 60,000-member Second Baptist and Louisville's Sovereign Grace, for their handling of sexual abuse allegations.

He noted that Baptists have historically been quick to confront churches that change their position on homosexuality or the ordination of women and must do the same on the issue of abuse.

In his annual address Greear told Baptist leaders, "This is a gospel moment. If we don't get this right, our churches will not be a safe place for the lost."

Greear acknowledged that Baptists have failed to act for years on the issue. Most notably, in 2008 at its annual meeting the executive committee rejected a call by abuse victims for a database that would track abusers.  At the time, leaders cited local church autonomy as the obstacle.

But in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, Southern Baptists moved last year to create a study group on the issue. Then last week, an investigative report by the Houston Chronicle identified Baptist pastors and lay leaders who've abused hundreds of victims in the last two decades.

Greear told Baptist leaders Monday night that he welcomed the media's reporting on the issue. "You have done us a great gift by shining light on this evil that so many have been posting about and speaking out about for decades."

He also chastised Baptists for ignoring reports of abuse and for silencing victims.

Greear is calling for greater education around the issue of abuse including training at the seminary and state convention levels.  He wants churches to engage in more vigorous background checks and screenings for those they ordain and for church profiles to include abuse protection policies and allegations of abuse involving the church.

Greear also rejected the idea that the denomination has no leverage over local churches. He noted, "If news stories had listed a number of our churches who were alleged to have changed their position on homosexuality we would rightly begin to ask questions and potentially take steps to cease cooperation because our position on this issue is clear. We must take seriously that our position on abuse is clear too."

CBN News has reached out to Second Baptist and Sovereign Grace for comment on Greear's remarks.

Second Baptist provided the Chronicle with a statement in regards to its handling of allegations of abuse in two case. The church says it takes allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse seriously and that it no longer employs the two individuals in question.


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About The Author


Heather Sells covers wide-ranging stories for CBN News that include religious liberty, ministry trends, immigration, and education. She’s known for telling personal stories that capture the issues of the day, from the border sheriff who rescues migrants in the desert to the parents struggling with a child that identifies as transgender. In the last year, she has reported on immigration at the Texas border, from Washington, D.C., in advance of the Dobbs abortion case, at crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts, and on sexual abuse reform at the annual Southern Baptist meeting in Anaheim