SBC official says increasing scope of sex abuse investigation would be ‘horrific’

Nearly 9,000 Southern Baptist messengers at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11, 2019, vote to pass an amendment regarding churches and sexual abuse.
Nearly 9,000 Southern Baptist messengers at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11, 2019, vote to pass an amendment regarding churches and sexual abuse. | Van Payne

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee shot down a motion Monday that sought to expand the scope of a recently commissioned independent investigation into allegations SBC leaders mishandled a “crisis of sexual abuse” in the denomination with one official declaring the move would be “horrific.”

On Monday, the SBC's Executive Committee rejected the motion filed by Texas pastor Jared Wellman to create a task force independent of the committee to oversee the Guidepost Solutions' investigation commissioned last week by the Executive Committee.

The investigation aims to examine how the committee's leaders handled allegations of sex abuse within the denomination.   

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“No one in the Southern Baptist Convention is in anyway in favor of any sort of child abuse or anything like that. It’s hideous to even contemplate that," Executive Committee Secretary Joe Knott of North Carolina, a lawyer, said in response to Wellman, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Robert Downen.

"But … to hire a third party professional investigatory organization who does this for profit and give them essentially unlimited power to interview anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention is, uh, just a horrific thing."

The SBC Executive Committee announced on June 11 that Guidepost Solutions would review recent allegations made by the former leader of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, that SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence of sexual abuse victims.

Guidepost Solutions was also commissioned to "review and enhance training provided to SBC Executive Committee staff and its board of trustees" as it relates to sex abuse and the organization’s "communications to cooperating churches and congregants in cooperating churches."

“The SBC Executive Committee commits to providing full support and transparency to Guidepost Solutions, including making individuals available for interviews and providing relevant documents," the committee wrote.

"Guidepost Solutions will assist the SBC Executive Committee in its commitment to Christ-like behavior and develop policies and systems to better equip the SBC Executive Committee staff and Board of Trustees to serve the best interests of Southern Baptists with integrity and excellence."

In his motion Monday, Wellman, lead pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Texas and a Ph.D. student at Southwestern Theological Seminary studying apologetics, called for the expansion of the scope of the Guidepost Solutions review “to include all paid, appointed, or elected leaders or staff, previous or current, of the Executive Committee, Convention, and Convention entities in this commission."

"[T]here should be no limit to who can be interviewed," the motion reads.

Wellman also urged the waiving of privilege “so that Guidepost Solutions has access to all data and information” and advocated for a public report “on all the findings and recommendations that is not vetted or edited first by the Executive Committee leadership.”

Knott argued, however, that such a move would be unwise and destructive to the denomination.

“That would destroy … the whole concept of we are a voluntary association of independent churches. If we begin to say, ‘you must answer questions that come from our designated agent,’ then we are no longer independent churches. And if churches do not cooperate, I can see in the future they might be excluded or the Credentials Committee might do, uh bad things,” Knott was quoted as saying.

“I do not think this is unity. I do not think it will help anything. Our churches are, in most cases, most of our churches are 100, 150 people. The children’s Sunday Schools are run by mothers of the children and their grandmothers. There’s no safe place on earth than most Southern Baptist churches for children. We have, if there is a problem, we can address it without hiring a third party and giving them unlimited access to our people."

As part of his motion, Wellman also called for the newly elected president of the 2021 SBC or a person appointed by him to set up a task force independent of the Executive Committee.

“This Task Force is to be appointed by and should consist of individuals not directly involved in the investigation as it concerns a third-party investigation regarding the allegations made against the Executive Committee, including but not limited to allegations of mishandling sexual abuse cases, mistreatment of sexual abuse victims, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives,” he argued.

The decision to reject Wellman's motion comes as an SBC church in Georgia reportedly found 10 victims of abuse by a minister who was only briefly investigated by denomination leaders — including SBC presidential hopeful Mike Stone — in 2019 before the inquiry was ended.

The decision not to expand the scope of the Guidepost Solutions investigation drew strong reactions from Southern Baptists online.

“The SBC Executive Committee just refused to expand the Guidepost investigation to a task force, & refused to offer full transparency from EC staff and officers," Georgia Pastor Griffin Gulledge wrote on Twitter.

"Those opposed called doing so ‘horrific.’ To do the right thing, the messengers of the Convention will have to do it."

In a statement on Twitter, sexual abuse survivor and co-founder of Saddleback Church in California, Kay Warren, called the Executive Committee’s response: “Disgusting and utter nonsense.”

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