By Tom Strode
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — Sexual abuse will be in the spotlight for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama.
On the eve of the SBC meeting, the ERLC will co-host with the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study a public conversation at 9 p.m. regarding the problem of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches. SBC President J.D. Greear initiated the advisory study last year and is collaborating with the ERLC to help churches prevent sex abuse and minister to survivors of such abuse.
As a result of the partnership, a new curriculum – “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused” – will be unveiled at the SBC meeting. The material is designed to prepare pastors and other leaders to respond properly to initial abuse reports.
The ERLC’s work with the advisory study “is right at the heart of our assignment to assist churches in applying the moral and ethical teachings of Scripture,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “Southern Baptists are determined for our churches to lead the way in protecting the vulnerable from predators.
“Much of our focus at this summer’s meeting in Birmingham follows up the charge the messengers entrusted to us last year in Dallas,” Moore said. “It is critical for all of us in this moment of SBC life to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis in our communities.”
The June 10 conversation at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex – “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention” – will include Greear and Moore as panelists, as well as:
– Rachael Denhollander, an attorney, advocate, and abuse survivor who was the first gymnast to go public with charges against USA Gymnastics team doctor and serial abuser Larry Nassar, who is serving life in prison.
-– Beth Moore, a popular Bible teacher and survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Registration for the panel discussion is available here.
The free, video-based curriculum to be released at the SBC meeting will consist of four hours of training divided into 12 sessions. The 10-member team that is producing the curriculum includes Denhollander; Diane Langberg, a psychologist who is widely recognized for her 45 years of work with trauma and abuse victims; Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Andrea Munford, a lieutenant with the Michigan State University Police Department who was the lead investigator in the Nassar case; and Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, area. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church.
The website for the curriculum is here.
Sexual abuse and assault were significant issues before and during last June’s SBC meeting in Dallas. Two motions from messengers to address the problem were referred to the ERLC. In July, Greear announced the formation of the advisory study and the partnership with the ERLC in its work. Abuse survivors and their advocates, lawyers, pastors, law enforcement officials, counselors, and denominational leaders – a majority of whom are women – are among those who have provided input in the study.
A report on the study to date is planned for this year’s SBC meeting.
In February, an investigative series by the Houston Chronicle, joined by the San Antonio Express-News, revealed some of the extent of the problem in the SBC. The investigation found 220 pastors and other leaders in Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of or taken plea deals in sex crimes involving more than 700 victims.
In other ERLC-related developments at June’s SBC meeting:
– Updates on Psalm 139 Project placements will be provided at the ERLC’s exhibit and in Moore’s report to the convention. Psalm 139 is the ERLC’s ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
– The new issue of Light magazine, which will focus on international religious liberty, will be available.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.