Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting overwhelmingly approved a series of abuse reform recommendations in the wake of a report detailing how some SBC leaders mishandled allegations of abuse and mistreated abuse victims.
On Tuesday, over 8,000 Southern Baptists gathered in Anaheim, California, where messengers approved two sets of recommendations, both of which contained subsections, proposed by the SBC sexual abuse task force.
The first main recommendation is to create an abuse implementation task force, while the second is to create a “ministry check” database to keep track of church leaders accused of sexual abuse.
Both recommendations came after a May 22 report from Guidepost Solutions detailing the results of an investigation into allegations that SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence of sexual abuse victims.
At a press conference following the session, attorney and sexual abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander said the passing of the recommendations is the result of the “tireless efforts of the survivors” who “didn’t give up.”
“We really hope history shows is that survivors look back on this moment, and they see every single ballot raised in the air, and they know that was me being believed; that was the impact that I made because I didn't give up, and that the survivors who come after them look at those ballots and they say, ‘I have a place to speak up now. My voice can now be heard because of what the generation before me did.’ And I think that is the biggest takeaway today is the tireless effort of the survivors."
“Because they didn't give up, those ballots went up today,” she said. ‘Today is the tireless effort of the survivors. … [I hope] every survivor looks back and goes, ‘That's me being believed and that's the impact my voice can have.’”
The messengers voted after 40 minutes of deliberation, with a few opposing the measures due to concerns the recommendations would contradict the Southern Baptist "belief in church autonomy.” Others criticized Guidepost Solutions for its recent tweet in support of Pride month.
Ahead of the votes, Bruce Frank, chair of the SBC sexual abuse task force, told messengers, “We are in a kairos moment.”
“We are in a seminal moment, right now,” he said. “Today, we will choose between humility or hubris. We will choose between genuine repentance or continually being passive and 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.”
The SBC Executive Committee had announced in June 2021 that Guidepost Solutions would review 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.
The investigation, funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program, covered the period from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021, and included a review of “actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee.”
The report released last month found that, among other misdeeds, for the last 20 years, the SBC sought to protect the interests of the denomination above alleged sexual abuse victims even as they fielded credible claims of abuse.
In his message, Frank lamented to SBC leaders gathered at the meeting that the incidents of sexual abuse “happened on our watch.”
“This is our denomination that closed our eyes and our hearts to survivors; closed our eyes and hearts to sexual abuse reform initiatives, and in some cases, allowing serial predators to quietly move from church to church. Loved ones, we are a people of the Book. We should know better than this,” he said.
Frank urged messengers to pass the recommendations, calling them the "bare minimum.”
“It will take a few years to change the culture and direction,” he said. “But without action to act differently, there is no repentance."
He acknowledged that carrying out the recommendations would cost “a lot of money,” adding: “But it’s not going to cost nearly as much as survivors have paid.”
Following the votes, Frank praised messengers for passing the recommendations: “You could sense the room wanted to do the right thing,” he said. “‘Kairos’ just means ‘opportunity,’ and this was an opportunity for us to take a step down the right road, and proud of the messengers that did.”
He said that as “important” as the day was, the coming days will be even “more important” as the SBC seeks to implement the recommendations.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org