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SBC resolution calls for action on clergy sexual abuse

ST. LOUIS (BP)–Messengers called for churches and civil authorities to hold accountable clergy members guilty of sexual abuse in a resolution adopted at the 2002 Southern Baptist Convention.

The resolution addressing sexual integrity among spiritual leaders was one of 10 approved at the annual meeting. Messengers passed each of the 10 either unanimously or with only a few votes in opposition.

The approved resolutions included:

— One refusing to commend the Today’s New International Version of the Bible and instead describing it as an “inaccurate translation.”

— A resolution defending the existence of Israel and calling for religious freedom and peace in the Middle East.

— Another supporting the United States’ anti-terrorism campaign and affirming salvation through Jesus as the “only ultimate answer to all forms of terrorism.”

— A call for President Bush to make enactment of a ban on partial-birth abortion a “high priority.”

— A resolution urging the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the president’s judicial nominees in a timely way.

— Another affirming Christian counseling that depends upon Scripture amid a “therapeutic culture.”

— One expressing grief for the killing of missionary Martin Burnham in the Philippines and sympathy for his widow, Gracia, and their children.

The resolution on sexual integrity in the clergy was presented in the context of the unfolding sexual abuse scandal among Roman Catholics, but it primarily called for actions by Southern Baptists and their leaders.

The messengers called for SBC churches to discipline those guilty of sexual abuse according to the pattern provided by Jesus in Matthew 18 and to work with government officials in prosecuting offenders. The resolution not only encouraged lives of “integrity and fidelity” among Southern Baptists, but it urged accountability by spiritual leaders to the “highest standards of Christian moral practice.” Messengers called on the SBC’s seminaries to focus on ministerial integrity in their training process.

The measure also urged religious organizations to “rid their ranks of predatory ministers.” It called on civil authorities to punish guilty clergy and counselors “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Resolutions Committee chairman Frank Harber told reporters there “was no intent in any way to be negative toward the Catholic Church.”

The resolution is a “message to ourselves among our own ranks to have the highest standards of integrity, accountability,” Harber said. The committee and messengers wanted Southern Baptist clergy to know they are expected “to hold to these standards,” said Harber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Colleyville, Texas.

William A. “Bill” Merrell, SBC Executive Committee vice president and liaison to the Resolutions Committee, said among Southern Baptists “the very idea of pedophilia in the life of a minister is a virtual professional death penalty.”

Messengers asked Southern Baptist entities not to use the TNIV in the resolution addressing the controversial new translation. They overwhelmingly approved an amendment brought from the floor by Gary Richardson of Texas that called on Lifeway Christian Resources not to sell the translation in its stores. Lifeway President James T. Draper Jr. had said earlier in the week the TNIV would not be sold in the stores.

The resolution said the TNIV had gone beyond “acceptable translation standards,” especially in its elimination of various gender-specific references. In 1997, the SBC adopted a resolution that urged translators to resist “gender-neutral” versions.

The resolution also expressed “profound disappointment” in the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House for their roles in the translation.

“For people who take biblical authority seriously, the matter of Bible translation is of the utmost importance,” committee member Russell Moore of Kentucky told reporters. “What we have here is an inaccurate and misleading translation of God’s Scripture.”

Moore teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

In a resolution pledging prayer for peace in the Middle East, the messengers voiced support for Israel’s existence but said it should be “held accountable to the same standards of national righteousness as any other nation.” It called for Palestinians to reform their government in order to “repudiate terrorism and tyranny.” The resolution urged both the Israelis and Palestinians to seek to advance religious liberty and peace. It also affirmed prayer for the “true peace of our Lord” to rule in the lives of both groups of people.

The resolution calling for a federal ban on partial-birth abortion was the only one approved by messengers that was not offered by the Resolutions Committee. Rick Reeder, a messenger from Kentucky, presented it from the floor, and messengers easily approved it. The SBC approved a resolution condemning partial-birth abortion in 1996. The method involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

Messengers rejected an attempt to bring to the floor for a vote a resolution describing Freemasonry as incompatible with Christianity.

Other resolutions adopted were ones of appreciation for the security personnel who served at the meeting and for the host city and its churches.

In addition to Harber and Moore, the 10-member Resolutions Committee consisted of Melissa Gay of Tennessee, Maynard Green of Texas, Michael Hamlet of South Carolina, David Kitchens of Georgia, Ben Mitchell of Illinois, Marty Odom of Oklahoma, Roberto Santos of Michigan and Sam Williams of North Carolina.

Next year’s resolution process will differ. Messengers approved changes at this meeting that included a requirement that no resolution may be submitted later than 15 days before the convention. That means no resolution may be offered during the meeting.