NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LBM) — J.D. Greear has asked the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to undertake the “necessary steps to determine whether the following churches meet the standards of having a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.”
Greear, SBC president and pastor of The Summit in North Carolina, targeted six Texas congregations, two churches in Georgia and one each in Kentucky and Arkansas that were identified with cover-up behavior in an exposé by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News relating to convictions, confessions and credible accusations of sex abuse involving 380 Southern Baptists pastors, deacons, staff, ministry leaders and volunteers and 700 victims during a period of two decades. About 220 of the perpetrators were convicted or made plea deals.
Greear made his case during the Feb. 18-19 meeting of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville.
The SBC fellowship of churches included about 47,500 congregations with a membership of about 15 million in 41 state conventions as of 2017, the most recent data collected. In 1998, there were about 40,870 churches with more than 15.7 million members.
Despite general records of attendance, etc., calculating an incident rate is not possible as there is no database with an accurate count of the ebb and flow of people in SBC congregations or the movement of pastors, members and ministry leaders from 1998-2018. Likewise, the actual number of those harmed by sexual abuse is not known because not all incidents are reported to outside authorities by churches or victims.
August (Augie) Boto, the interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, told reporters who were part of the investigative news series that the exposure of this sin within churches was “good” because “it is going to heighten awareness” among churches that too often are “soft targets” for sexual predators.
In his SBC EC remarks, Greear also welcomed the news coverage about sexual abuse for “shining a light on the magnitude of this horrific sin.”
“We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly,” he added.
MOHLER, AKIN APOLOGIZE
Greear did not address what steps might be taken regarding the admission by two SBC entity leaders that they had wrongly sup-ported a pastor accused of concealing sexual abuse in his ministry.
Responding in an inter-view published Feb. 14 in the Houston Chronicle, R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said he “erred in being part of a statement supportive” of C.J. Mahaney, who was a defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging in part “a conspiracy to permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purpose of predation,” involving children as young as three years old, and obstruction of justice
Mohler signed a statement of support after the lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 — because of the statute of limitations and not its merits — vouching for Mahaney’s “personal integrity, according to the Baptist Press. About the time of the lawsuits, Mahaney moved his ministry, Sovereign Grace Ministries, now known as Sovereign Grace Churches, from Maryland to Louisville.
Mohler told the Chronicle he regretted his “rather dismissive” actions and his lack of “due regard to the claims made by the victims and survivors.”
Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also was contacted by the
Chronicle, and responded similarly.
Akin told the Chronicle he did not think Sovereign Grace handled the accusations well.
“I think they could have been far more transparent,” he said. “I think they could have been far more forthcoming.
Even to this day there’s still a lack of clarity,” adding that transparency would have “saved a lot of people a lot of grief.”
Mahaney spoke at SEBTS in 2013 during the turmoil of the lawsuit and about the time of the public statement of support by Mohler.
EZELL’S CLERGY-PENITENT CLAIM REVISITED
Meanwhile, an alleged cover-up involving Kevin Ezell, president of the SBC North American Mission Board, continues to linger.
Joni Hannigan, a veteran Southern Baptist reporter, brought up the issue in an article about the sexual abuse resolution passed by messengers to the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas.
Hannigan noted that the consensus statement omitted any reference to “clergy-penitent privilege,” a claim Ezell made in 2004 as pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville with regard to not testifying against a sexual predator who was a member of the congregation and reportedly a Sunday school teacher and choir volunteer.
The man also had been employed at one time by the school operated by the church.
Eventually the predator pled guilty to sexually abusing seven boys who were his students when he was a public school teacher in the 1970s and 1980s.
Hannigan posted the article on her website, The Truth Is In Crisis, and although her article largely quoted what had been published by the Louisville Courier Journal article at the time of the controversy, she received strong push back from NAMB to remove the post, and was even warned she had put herself “into a potentially libelous situation.”
SEXUAL PREDATORS IN LOUISIANA
The Houston Chronicle database included information about four men who previously served as Louisiana Baptist pastors, youth ministers and volunteers and were convicted of or pled guilty to sexual abuse crimes:
— Holland Farrell McMorris, former pastor of Paradise Baptist Church, Ball, was convicted in 2010 in a Rapides Parish court and is serving a 25-year sentence in a Louisiana state prison for sex crimes.
— Angelo “Doogie” Golatt, former youth volunteer at Donahue Family Church, Pineville (now named Journey Church), was arrested in 2006 in Jerome County, Idaho, where he was charged with two counts of sexual abuse/exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and later pleaded guilty to a reduced battery charge. He was sentenced to four counts of forcible rape in 2012 in a Rapides Parish court and is serving a 40-year sentence in Louisiana.
— James Robert Griffin, former volunteer associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church, Slidell, was convicted in 2009 in St. Tammany Parish of aggravated incest and pornography involving juveniles.
— Jonathan Bailey, former youth minister at the First Baptist Church, New Orleans, was convicted in 2016 in Orleans Parish with 12 felonies, including molestation of a juvenile, indecent behavior with a juvenile and obstruction. He is serving a 10-year sentence in Louisiana.
FRIENDLY COOPERATION CHANGES
Greear also asked the SBC Executive Committee to amend SBC documents to disqualify any church for membership that shows “a wanton disregard for sexual abuse and for caring for the survivors.”
Comparing the sins of sexual abuse and cover up with the issue of a church affirming homosexuality, which is a basis for disfellowship in the SBC, Greear said “our position on this issue is clear.”
“We must take seriously that our position on abuse is clear too,” he underscored.
The change would add tolerance of sexual abuse to the items that identify a church as not “in friendly cooperation” with “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the convention’s adopted statement of faith.”
Greear made a number repentance”; “evaluating” the possibility of a database listing known predators; adding questions to the Annual Church Profile “to verify” prevention policies are in place; support for resources that are being developed as a “training standard” for Southern Baptists; agreement on three “Statement of Principles on Abuse” (seminaries, state conventions, associations); immediate review at every level of “policies and procedures relating to abuse”; “background checks, at a minimum, for all SBC standing committees and trustee appointments”; and, reexamination of “our ordination processes.”
Greear closed his remarks to the SBC Executive Committee by reflecting on the future of the SBC.
“I believe the Holy Spirit has great days ahead,” he said. “If we keep the Gospel above all, heed the voice of the Holy Spirit, commit ourselves to His mission, and cast ourselves upon His mercy, the gates of Hell will not stand a chance.”