CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP) — “This conversation is very complex,” SBC President J.D. Greear said regarding instances of sexual abuse that have occurred in Southern Baptist churches.
“But I also understand this is a time for us to lament and to grieve,” Greear told members of the Association of State Baptist Publications regarding a series of reports by the Houston Chronicle.
“I do not believe you can in any way push this aside as an agenda-driven thing put out by the secular media to try to destroy us,” Greear said Feb. 12 during the ASBP annual meeting in Charleston, S.C.
And even if that were the case, Greear said it doesn’t allow Southern Baptists to ignore the damage.
“There’s a problem. And we want to respond to this with humility … [and] by owning a wrong. If there is a time and a place to defend ourselves, maybe that will come later, but it is not now. We’ll trust God to defend us; we’ll trust God to bring truth to light.”
Greear acknowledged that it’s likely churches inadvertently create environments for predators through situations such as lack of training — environments that become “safer for abusers than they are for victims.”
In cases of malicious intent to protect an abuser, Greear said Southern Baptists need to be unified on how to handle those situations.
Steps to address sexual abuse are being developed by a diverse study group made up mostly of women, Greear said, which he will report during the SBC Executive Committee’s Monday night meeting on Feb. 18. He noted this will reflect meetings begun last July to address sexual abuse in the SBC.
“Nobody timed this,” Greear said. “The Houston Chronicle article was totally outside of our control. I am grateful that in the providence of God it’s coming around at the same time that we had already originally planned to say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing’ [regarding sexual abuse].”
Now, he stressed, is a time to hear others out.
“We’ve got a lot more to learn. So let’s learn and listen to victims and advocates … so that we can be a Gospel witness in this time and reflect the Gospel so our churches can be the safest places on the planet for somebody that’s vulnerable.”
Responding to a question from Georgia’s Christian Index, Greear urged Southern Baptists to refrain from finding ways to explain away the Chronicle report’s findings. “This is not a time for sermonizing, virtue-signaling, posturing or trying to point out where else it happens,” he said.
“The safety of victims is more important than the reputation of Southern Baptists,” he stated.
A ‘Gospel people’
Greear began his 40-minute session with the editors underscoring his desire for Southern Baptists to be known as a “Gospel people.”
“When people think and talk about us, they ought to think and talk about the Gospel. That means there has to be some discipline and restraint at what we do because there are a lot of good and important things that can eat up [attention] and we aren’t talking about the thing [the Gospel] we’re supposed to be talking about.”
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., also reasserted his desire for the SBC to celebrate diversity “without causing it.”
“By God’s grace we’re one of the more diverse groups of churches in the nation. [Around] 20 percent of our membership is non-Anglo,” Greear said, noting that North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell told him that 62 percent of the churches NAMB planted last year were non-Anglo. “I know in North Carolina that number is 65 percent. That’s amazing,” Greear said.
Greear, however, expressed regret that SBC leadership hasn’t reflected that diversity. The Committee on Committees — to which the SBC president appoints members as part of the process for nominating trustees to SBC entities — consists of highly-qualified candidates regardless of ethnicity.
“When you first look for someone to recommend for a job, you tend to go with people you know. I don’t think that has been done with malicious intent.” Instead, Greear said, “We decided to ask people who aren’t in the normal networks but fully-participating, cooperating Southern Baptists. Let’s get membership that reflects who Southern Baptists really are, where we want to go, and who we want to be.”
Leadership input from previously untapped areas, he stated, will make the SBC a stronger messenger for the Gospel. His appointments for the Committee on Committees, announced Feb. 11, consist of 45 men and 23 women. The average age is 43 with the youngest being 22 and oldest 73. Half are non-Anglo.
“We need the wisdom and leadership going forward of people who don’t look and think just like us,” Greear said. “We need different voices at the table.”