WRAP-UP: Sex abuse prevention tops SBC Exec. Comm. agenda

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NASHVILLE (BP) — Preventing and responding to sexual abuse was a major focus during meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 18-19 in Nashville. Among the EC’s actions was recommending an amendment to the SBC Constitution stating churches are not “in friendly cooperation with the Convention” if they “have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse.”

Amy Whitfield (at podium) of Southeastern Seminary voiced a prayer for victims of sexual abuse at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee meeting in Nashville Feb. 18. MORRIS ABERNATHY/BAPTIST PRESS

The EC also:

—  proposed an SBC constitutional amendment specifying racial discrimination as a basis to disfellowship a church;

—  heard a report that the EC presidential search committee believes it has found “God’s candidate”; and

—  responded to two SBC messenger motions seeking to disallow addresses by elected officials at SBC annual meetings.

Sexual abuse

The proposed amendment on sexual abuse —  adopted without opposition — would add a section to Article III of the SBC Constitution defining a “cooperating church” as one that “has not been determined by the Executive Committee to have evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse that targets minors and other vulnerable persons and in caring for persons who have suffered because of sexual abuse.”

“Indifference,” according to the amendment, “can be evidenced by, among other things, (a) employing a convicted sex offender, (b) allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors, (c) continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or (d) willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear passed out cards to all SBC Executive Committee members at the group’s meeting Feb. 18. Members used the cards, part of Greear’s Who’s Your One? evangelism initiative, to write down the name of someone with whom they will share the gospel in the near future. MORRIS ABERNATHY/BAPTIST PRESS

To take effect, the amendment would need two-thirds approval at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings.

EC chairman Mike Stone said adopting the amendment would make “explicit what has been implicit already in our government documents. That is, churches who do not deal decisively and biblically on issues of sexual abuse are not in good fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Survivors of sexual abuse “are loved, and we commit to seek to care for them,” said Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia.

As the proposed amendment was discussed in the EC’s Bylaws Workgroup and Administrative Committee, EC leaders clarified that abuse committed by one member of a church would not in itself trigger disfellowshipping, but only action of the church body as a whole that evidenced indifference to the abuse. Additionally, if a church evidenced repentance for its indifference, the disfellowshipping process likely would stop, according to committee and workgroup discussion.

SBC President J.D. Greear named several specific churches Feb. 18 as he reported to the EC on sexual abuse and asked the Bylaws Workgroup to determine whether they meet the SBC’s standards for cooperating churches.

After meeting with Greear Feb. 19 in executive session, the Bylaws Workgroup reported their adoption of a motion requesting that Greear “provide to the workgroup through its staff liaison any information which he wishes to provide tending to demonstrate that a particular church is worthy of consideration as to whether or not it is currently in cooperation with the Convention.”

Amid the two-day discussion of sexual abuse, at least five EC members shared their personal experiences with abuse, ranging from being abused and being pursued by a sexual abuser to prosecuting child abusers and dealing with abuse in churches.

“I was moved,” Stone said, “by the number of Executive Committee members who expressed personal stories of connection to child abuse.” Personal experience “did not drive our deliberations,” but it “gave a personal backdrop to the necessity of our action.”

Greear’s report to the EC addressed a plan to battle sex abuse and its enablers among Southern Baptist churches, noting the Gospel’s call to protect the vulnerable.

“We serve a God who laid down His life to protect the vulnerable,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. “How dare we proclaim that Gospel with our mouths and then turn a blind eye when the vulnerable in our midst cry out for help?”

Executive Committee chairman Mike Stone asked EC members to “do all you can” to protect children from abuse. MORRIS ABERNATHY/BAPTIST PRESS

Greear offered a wide-ranging plan to combat sex abuse including education, proven sincerity, accountability, and possibly a sex abuse database and congregational disfellowshipping. The recommendations stem from the work of the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study to date. Funded by the EC and initiated in response to an SBC messenger motion, the study includes male and female security, legal, medical, and religious professionals.

Racism amendment

The proposed amendment on racial discrimination would add a section to Article III of the SBC Constitution specifying a cooperating church as one that “has not acted to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”

If adopted by SBC messengers, Stone said, the amendment would alter “our governing documents” but not “our position.”

“Southern Baptists have already taken strong stands on the issues of racial discrimination,” Stone said. “… But I felt, as we were amending our Constitution, that it was very important that we send a message of love, compassion, and partnership to people of all ethnicities.”

In 2018, the EC, acting for the convention ad interim, disfellowshipped a Georgia church accused of racial discrimination.

Presidential search

EC presidential search committee vice chair Adron Robinson reported the committee has “identified God’s candidate for such a time as this” and will announce the nominee “very soon.”

Stone, an ex officio member of the committee, added that “every” candidate submitted “has been seriously considered, for every submission is a sacred trust from Southern Baptists.” The committee “has been both unanimous and unified at every single turn.”

Elected officials at the SBC

The EC declined two requests made by SBC messengers in 2018 seeking to bar elected officials from speaking at SBC annual meetings. The requests were made as motions amid discussion of Vice President Mike Pence’s speaking appearance at the Dallas annual meeting.

In declining to take up the messenger motions, the EC noted it “has updated the Committee on Order of Business’s orientation manual to highlight that SBC Bylaw 2 requires the authority of the officers … in conference with the Committee on Order of Business when considering inclusion [on the annual meeting agenda] of causes other than those provided for in the regular work of the Convention.”

EC ambassador Jimmy Draper told Baptist Press he recounted to the Bylaws Workgroup how he declined a 1982 request by then-President Ronald Reagan to speak at the SBC annual meeting when Draper was SBC president. Current and future SBC officers are free to do the same, Draper said, if an elected official requests to speak and the officers feel it would be inappropriate.

Children’s Ministry Day

In a brief speech to the EC, 10-year-old Zak McCullar of Jasper, Alabama, advanced his call for the addition of a Children’s Ministry Day to the SBC calendar.

“I think children’s ministry workers should be thanked by this day,” McCullar said during a rare opportunity to address the full EC from the stage. “And I want children to be recognized for the work we do to share Christ, even though we are young.”

The EC voted to recommend to 2019 SBC messengers in Birmingham the addition of Children’s Ministry Day to the SBC calendar as the third Sunday in July, expressly July 21 this year. In forthcoming years, the day would be celebrated July 19, 2020; July 21, 2021; July 24, 2022, and July 23, 2023.

Louisiana’s Hankins honored

The EC honored David E. Hankins, who will retire June 30 after more than 14 years as executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, crediting his leadership in numerous initiatives among the LBC’s 1,650 churches.

In a resolution of appreciation, the EC noted that in 2005 during his first year with the convention, Hankins played a key role after the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in working with churches, Baptist associations, state conventions, and the North American Mission Board in disaster relief and recovery.

Before leading Louisiana Baptists, Hankins had served as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee during two of his eight years as a member. He subsequently served as the EC’s vice president for convention policy from 1996-1998 and vice president for Cooperative Program from 1998-2005. He is the coauthor with Chad Brand of “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists.”

As a pastor for nearly 25 years, Hankins led three churches in Texas followed by Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana from 1985-1995. The resolution stated that the churches he led were marked by “strong Cooperative Program support and promotion,” evangelistic outreach and involvement in their local Baptist associations, their state conventions and the SBC.

While Hankins led Louisiana Baptists, the convention recorded more than 140,000 baptisms, 200 church plants, and $300 million in gifts through the Cooperative Program. Hankins led an array of statewide campaigns, with such emphases as “80-20 church” calling Louisiana Baptists to send 20 percent of their gifts to ministries beyond the local church; the “Peace of Jesus” evangelistic appeal; “Kairos” (Key Acts In Reaching Our State); “The Pledge” for churches to advance their CP giving; and a “Harvest” initiative to pray for every home and share Christ with every person across the state.

Hankins and his wife Patty celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Jan. 4 of this year. They have three sons, 11 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

In other action, the EC:

approved a 2019-2020 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $196,500,000 for recommendation to messengers at the SBC annual meeting in June, up from the SBC’s current $194,000,000 budget.

The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the IMB and 22.79 percent to NAMB, for a total of 73.20 percent for world missions ministries.

The convention’s six seminaries will receive 22.16 percent. An adjusted seminary enrollment funding formula will provide: Gateway Seminary, 1.95 percent; Midwestern Seminary, 3.52 percent; New Orleans Seminary, 3.58 percent; Southeastern Seminary, 3.81 percent; Southern Seminary, 5.29 percent; Southwestern Seminary, 3.77 percent; and .24 percent to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, a ministry overseen by the seminary presidents. (Cumulative numbers may not match the sum of individual seminary percentages due to rounding.)

The budget proposal maintains a 1.65 percent allocation to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The SBC Operating Budget, the only CP-funded facilitating ministry, encompassing SBC annual meeting costs and the work of the Executive Committee, would continue to receive 2.99 percent of the budget.

Under the formula for distributing any overage in the CP Allocation Budget, 53.4 percent would be allocated to the IMB and 0 percent to the Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget, with the balance distributed to the other entities according to the CP Allocation Budget.

The CP allocation budget recommendation does not include the $250,000 set aside by the EC last September for the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study. The EC set aside the funding, to be administered by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, by a one-time adjustment to last year’s overage distribution.

recommended a 2019-2020 Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $5,874,350.

updated the Seminary Funding Formula for the convention’s six seminaries, to take effect Oct. 1, 2019, with the adoption of the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget at this June’s annual meeting. The new formula will “continue through 2029-30 reviewable at the discretion of the Executive Committee upon its determination of a justifiable need for reexamination or adjustment.”

In one of the changes, Gateway Seminary’s main campus in Ontario, Calif., will become its primary basis for funding. Since 2007, the funding formula had counted two of the former Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s campuses, in the San Francisco area and in Southern California, as one campus for funding purposes. Gateway relocated to its new Ontario campus in Southern California in 2016.

In three other changes to the funding calculation:

  • The maximum allowable off-campus enrollment in extension centers will be raised from a factor of 14 percent to 21 percent of total qualified main campus enrollment, which is based on a “full time equivalent,” or FTE, student calculation.
  • A minimum of 400 FTEs will be used for each seminary for the three-year rolling average funding calculation.
  • Online and interactive video courses will not count in the FTE formula for baccalaureate or master’s programs but will count for doctoral programs.

requested that the SBC Pastors’ Conference reimburse the EC $100,000 for use of convention facilities in advance of the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

reelected for another three-year term Darren Elrod and Robyn Hari, both of Nashville, as Southern Baptist Foundation trustees. Elrod is executive VP/chief operating officer for Provident Music Group/Sony Music Entertainment. Hari is the director and managing principal of Diversified Trust.

authorized a 1.9 percent increase in the Executive Committee salary structure for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

voted, among a series of calendar recommendations, to ask 2019 SBC messengers to add a Southern Baptist Media Day to the SBC calendar, to be celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday in July through the 2022-2023 calendar year. The EC recommended the addition of Baptism Day on various days in September, including Sept. 8, 2019; Sept. 20, 2020; Sept. 12, 2021; Sept. 25, 2022; and Sept. 10, 2023.

declined a referred motion by Tennessee messenger Brent Lay to add an SBC ministry assignment for church revitalization to an existing SBC entity. Instead, the EC maintained its support and encouragement of ministry revitalization efforts already undertaken by SBC entities, partners and supporters. The North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources and Southern Baptist state conventions and associations already work to revitalize churches, the EC stated.

declined a referred motion by Arkansas messenger Steven Bailey to require officer nominations to include the percentage of undesignated receipts the nominees’ churches give through the Cooperative Program. CP giving and relevant statistics of nominees’ churches will continue to be reported by BP and made available on annual meeting apps and other resources already provided, the EC said.

declined a request that the EC recommend amending SBC Bylaws to strengthen trustee training. The EC noted it “acted on a similar motion in the September 2018 meeting.”

declined a request to appoint a committee to amend The Baptist Faith and Message to explain the relationship between the Old Testament Law and the Gospel.

approved a request by the International Mission Board to amend its articles of incorporation to include board representation from each state or defined territory within the SBC.

responded to a messenger motion requesting a study of Committee on Nominations processes and standards by stating the EC “strives to produce accurate reports on all Convention matters” and “has updated the Committee on Nominations’ orientation manual to include additional information regarding disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.”

Also during the meeting:

Warren Peek, president of the Southern Baptist Foundation, presented a $118,924.22 check to the Executive Committee for the SBC’s Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, continuing the Foundation’s practice of giving 10 percent of its net income each year to CP. Another 10 percent of net income pays for missionaries to receive free estate plans.

The EC was notified that interim EC president D. August Boto will contract with C. Barry McCarty to serve again as chief parliamentarian for this year’s annual meeting in Birmingham.

The next scheduled EC meeting will be June 10 in Birmingham, but Stone said a special called meeting is likely before then to vote on an EC presidential nominee.


Compiled by Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach, BP senior editor Art Toalston, and BP general assignment writer/editor Diana Chandler. 

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