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Guidepost report contains audit of Credentials Committee, recommendations for reform

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NASHVILLE (BP) – The Guidepost Solutions report released Sunday (May 22) regarding allegations of mishandling sexual abuse claims by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee included a detailed audit of “procedures and actions taken by the Credentials Committee.”

The investigation as well as the audit was in compliance with a motion adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville directing the new SBC president to establish a task force to carry them out.

The audit examines the activities of the Credentials Committee (CC) since its reformation three years ago, including the committee’s makeup, its training of members, the process for submitting a claim against a church’s handling of abuse, the timeliness of responses to submissions and the protocols for communicating with survivors and/or Southern Baptist churches.

In response to its analysis, Guidepost says, “although the concept of the CC is a good one, we have identified several issues in how it was formed and executed, and we have made recommendations for improvements.” The report then lists 16 specific recommendations for reform for the CC.

The committee has always been a part of Southern Baptist polity, but was repurposed in 2019.

The origins of a Credentials Committee date back to 1845 when a process was needed to seat delegates, as they were called then, to the triennial SBC meeting. It was first called the Delegation Committee in 1846; the name was change to Credentials Committee in 1855.

From 1855-2018, the Credentials Committee served only during the days of the annual meeting. Its main purpose was to make sure affiliated churches were in compliance with the terms of “friendly cooperation” found in Article Three of the SBC Constitution and thus permitted to seat messengers at the meeting.

In early 2019, based on increased awareness of sexual abuse in the SBC and the findings of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study he initiated early in his presidency, then-SBC President J.D. Greear, presented 10 calls to action to deal with sexual abuse, including possible changes to the SBC’s governing documents.

A change to SBC bylaw 8 came in June of that year as a result of revisions drafted by the SBC Executive Committee’s Bylaws Workgroup. The revisions proposed changing the makeup and responsibilities of the CC. It would became a standing committee tasked with handling inquiries regarding claims of sexual abuse, racism or issues of faith and practice that call into question a church’s relationship with the SBC as well as with recommending action be taken by the Executive Committee.

At its meeting prior to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, the full SBC EC adopted the proposed changes and presented them to SBC messengers, who approved them.

By December of that year, the newly reworked Credentials Committee had established an online submissions portal to receive reports of a church’s alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice.

“The Credentials Committee was under pressure almost immediately after its formation to begin reviewing sexual abuse submissions,” the Guidepost report says. “Consequently, the Credentials Committee began operating without adopting any written policies and procedures, such as set timelines/deadlines, protocols for correspondence with submitters and churches, and standards for review.”

The report also says that the CC’s “limited authority and lack of investigative power was not adequately explained to submitters, the SBC community, or the public.”

In all, the report lists eight problems with the way the CC was established and the way it operated, including a lack of training for members, a lack of funding, unclear protocols for dealing with survivors and the difficulty of navigating the online submission portal.

In its report, Guidepost lays out a number of ways the committee could be improved, saying: “Among other things, we are recommending enhanced training and onboarding for CC members, improvements to the CC’s processes and procedures, better communication of the CC’s mission, increased staff support, a more user-friendly and functional Reporting Portal, transparent decision protocols, and adequate funding to support the CC’s work.”

The full Guidepost report can be found here. The audit of the Credentials Committee begins on page 193. The list of Guidepost’s recommendations for the committee begins on page 277.

If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.