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SBC DIGEST: IMB revises COVID policy; Guidepost removes out-of-context quote from report

IMB revises COVID-19 vaccine policy in response to improved global access

By Julie McGowan/IMB

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – Vaccination against COVID-19 is no longer a board-wide policy for missionary personnel or for stateside-based staff, International Mission Board leaders announced Wednesday (June 8). The announcement comes in response to senior leaders’ continual evaluation of the pandemic’s impact on IMB’s work around the world since the beginning of 2020.

Effective immediately, the COVID-19 vaccine is no longer required for IMB overseas personnel except in countries only accessible to fully vaccinated workers. Moreover, a vaccine requirement will no longer exist for any stateside personnel nor for visitors to the IMB’s learning center in the Richmond area. IMB leaders noted they will continue to monitor the situation but hope no further updates will be necessary.

Desiring to help its team members maintain access to unreached peoples and places and remain healthy as they seek to take the Gospel to all nations, the IMB previously announced an updated policy last September for field personnel and staff members related to COVID-19 vaccinations. The policy addressed the challenges of overseas life and travel requirements for IMB missionary personnel and IMB staff members who travel overseas.

“As I noted last summer, our considerations regarding extremely difficult constraints caused by the pandemic were founded strongly in our assigned mission to serve Southern Baptists in carrying out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood. “And like other global companies and organizations, the IMB faced the daunting task of determining how we press forward with our task — to share the Gospel — even in the midst of the shifting parameters of the ongoing global pandemic. At one point, vaccine requirements for entry into various countries would have left more than 2 billion souls inaccessible to our missionaries.”

Chitwood said leaders have continually evaluated the status of COVID-related impacts on entry to and travel through countries around the world, while they also have tracked the status of the impacts on missionaries’ health and overall wellness. IMB risk analysts consistently track detailed information about every area of the globe and the impacts of that information on the more than 3,500 global missionaries and their families — including weekly changes to individual countries’ own shifting policies on COVID-19 mandates regarding vaccinations, testing, quarantines and isolation. Those factors have been constantly shifting since the first COVID-19 cases caught the world’s attention in early 2020.

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Guidepost removes paragraph that included out-of-context Jim Richards quote

By Jayson Larson/Southern Baptist TEXAN

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) – Guidepost Solutions recently removed a paragraph from its report on how the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee handled sexual abuse issues after repeated requests for clarification were made by Jim Richards, executive director emeritus of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

On page 105 of the original report, a Nov. 16, 2018, conversation between Richards and Phillip Bethancourt is referenced. Bethancourt, who pastors Central Church in College Station, Texas, at the time served as executive vice president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. During that conversation, which focused on a conflict between the SBTC and ERLC’s scheduling of events, Richards is quoted as saying, “If you want a war, we’ll give you a war.”

In comments to the Texan on Tuesday, Richards admitted his remarks to Bethancourt were out of character for him, but said he had been frustrated that the ERLC had not been considerate of the state convention and scheduled an event at the same time of the SBTC’s annual meeting. However, when the remark was included in the Guidepost report, Richards felt that many construed it as being made in opposition to efforts within the SBC to create structures of accountability regarding sexual abuse practices and prevention – something he said is false.

“I would just like to get the truth out there that my name should have never been included in that report,” Richards told the Texan, “and that my conversation with Phillip had nothing to do with sexual abuse.”

Richards pointed out SBTC’s track record under his leadership in 2019 regarding sexual abuse issues, which included committing $250,000 in funding for MinistrySafe to assist affiliated churches with sexual abuse awareness, training, and prevention; providing $3,700 for church leaders to be trained at ERLC’s Caring Well Conference; and a decision by its Credentials Committee to adopt guidelines that would provide a process to disaffiliate any church that was considered being “indifferent to sexual abuse.”

Since his name was included in the 288-page report, which was released to the public on May 22, Richards said he has made multiple attempts to protest its inclusion and seek clarification so that his remark could be understood in its proper context. Part of that effort included contacting Bethancourt, who in turn communicated to Guidepost that Richards’ comment “was not related to sexual abuse at all” and that he was “grateful for the work that Jim and the SBTC did on matters related to sexual abuse.”

Read the full story here.

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