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Candidates’ views on handling sexual abuse will be factor, Nominations Committee chair says

Michael Criner, lead pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church, gives a motion for the formation of a sexual abuse advisory committee at the 2021 meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

NASHVILLE (BP) — The chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Nominations wants his group to do its part to ensure board members of Southern Baptist entities reflect the Convention’s stance on addressing sexual abuse.

“The last three conventions (annual meetings) have spoken clearly about our desire to root out any type of hiding or concealing in regards of abuse,” Michael Criner, committee chair and lead pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in East Brownsboro, Texas, told Baptist Press this morning. “I felt like, as chairman, that we need to be very intentional in regard to those we propose to be elected to these trustee boards that they be just as consistent with how the Convention has spoken.”

Criner reminded Committee on Nominations members of that recent history in an Aug. 30 email.

“I dare say that the stakes before us are higher than ever, and our churches expect that our Committee will conform to the present convention’s determination to root this out and deal definitively with this matter,” he wrote. “… We will countenance no exception, and we will implement a rigorous vetting process to ensure eligible nominees are aligned with our convention’s resolve.”

The Committee on Nominations is tasked each year with identifying two nominees – one a layperson – from each qualifying state or regional Baptist convention to fill vacancies on Southern Baptist boards, institutions, standing committees and the Executive Committee. Those names are then presented at the next SBC annual meeting.

Taking a long-term perspective is necessary in order “to help the SBC become more transparent and healthy in regards to [addressing] sexual abuse,” Criner told BP. That includes all levels of involvement among Southern Baptists both in local and national leadership.

“The local church has to take ownership of what they’re doing,” he said. “For our part, we want people who are supportive of our efforts to ensure we’re caring for survivors and protecting our church members. There’s a theological piece to all that.

“We don’t want antagonistic mentalities towards addressing the value of the individual, the human life.”

That reflects what he has heard as a pastor.

“People don’t want to be associated with a network of churches that are known or accused of being known to cover sexual abuse up. My church members are saying, ‘Whatever we have to do to do the right thing, let’s do that.’”

Criner, who previously served as a member of the 2019 SBC Committee on Committees, added that evaluating candidates will have many facets, including anything that may be reported by the newly-formed Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.

At the 2021 Southern Baptists of Texas annual meeting, Criner presented a motion for the formation of a sexual abuse advisory committee in that state. The motion passed, with Criner becoming a member of that committee.

That group will present its report at the SBTC gathering in November.