Back in December, Baptist Press reported that the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention had created an online portal for submitting “reports of a church’s alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice.”
Several things are clear:
1. This action was taken in response to last year’s SBC sex abuse crisis that surfaced through the Houston Chronicle’s reporting.
2. Churches are MOST responsible for reporting allegations of abuse to law enforcement. And churches are MOST responsible for knowing what to do when abuse is alleged.
3. Churches are reticent to take action when the consequences affect leaders they have trusted. Their emotional attachments make it difficult for them to think clearly in the moment about what needs to be done. And sometimes unbiblical sentimentality causes churches to gloss over offenses in the name of forgiveness. But we must understand that criminal (or other) consequences and forgiveness are two separate matters.
4. Since the above is true, the importance of having worked through appropriate action steps before a crisis hits is the wisest course of action.
5. The mishandling of sexual abuse claims at the local church level has frequently occurred in the past in SBC churches. When this occurs, victims are violated a second time and the likelihood that violators will become repeat offenders increases. Failure to create accountability around abusive behavior all but ensures that perpetrators will repeat their behaviors elsewhere.
6. If mishandling of sexual abuse occurs at the local church level, that is one of the “practices” the credentialing committee would be concerned to respond to (though apparently not through investigating ‘the crime,’ which seems circular and unhelpful). This part of the BP story should cause some concern. I have no doubt that the Credentials Committee is acting in good faith, but SBC polity (the autonomy of local churches and each SBC entity) can easily become a cloak for inaction. In reality, many of these allegations were common knowledge in the blogosphere long before the Houston Chronicle forced a response from SBC leaders.
7. Churches should feel very heavily the responsibility of protecting children under their care (Luke 17:2). As a friend pointed out, “The average weight of a millstone is 3,300 pounds.”
8. Churches MUST develop policies, protocols, and practices that eliminate, to the extent that it is possible, the likelihood that any child should be harmed while on their property and under their care.
9. No one can do this FOR a local church, but your local association (or adjudicatory body if non-SBC) and state mission board are partners to help do this WITH the local church.
10. If you are aware of the mishandling of a child sex abuse case (or other abuse) at the local church level, report it to your association, state mission board, and use the credentialing portal.
Here is a link to a helpful educational resource.
Bobby Braswell serves as associational missionary for Middle Baptist Association, based in Sylvania.