For Such A Time As This
Déjà vu? Remembering the Alamo and the 2007 SBC Annual Meeting
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
By Cheryl Summers, Rally Founder
Recently, we received a private message from someone within the SBC reprimanding the rally for not being more grateful for the progress being made in the against abuse. The insinuation was that change takes time, and it would be reasonable to be patient as we allow change to occur.
Is this fair criticism?
Wouldn't reasonable people allow time for the ship to be slowly turned? These questions took me back to the first time I attended an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was 2007 in the heart of San Antonio, TX. Standing at the corner of Alamo St. and Market St. in front of the convention center, you could almost see the Alamo from the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. Not quite, but almost.
What do I remember from the annual meeting in 2007? I remember the elderly woman who touched my baby bump and predicted a boy. (We had a baby girl later than summer.) I remember being back under the bright umbrellas at Casa Rio, one of my favorite spots on the Riverwalk.
And I remember realizing for the first time that the depths of the SBC's problem with sexual abuse were deep, and hoping that change was on the way. Earlier that year, ABC's 20/20 had completed a months-long investigation and aired a report called "Predator Pastors" featuring long-time advocate and survivor of SBC clergy abuse, Christa Brown who urged the SBC to take immediate action.
As I read coverage of the annual meeting back in 2007, the Executive Committee had spent the year since the 2006 annual meeting working on a report addressing abuse with SBC churches.
At the 2007 annual meeting, a resolution "On Protecting Children From Abuse" was passed - unanimously. The SBC Executive Committee was one year into a two year study on sexual abuse.
Pastor Wade Burleson proposed a database to track predators. This seemed like positive progress.
Then, in 2008, at the annual meeting in Indianapolis, the database concept was dismissed.
The convention cited the national sex offender database as the only database needed, and cited concerns over the Baptist concept of church autonomy, saying that this concept "precludes the Convention from having any authority to require local churches to report instances of alleged sexual abuse to their local association, their state Baptist convention, or the national Convention." The two-year Executive Committee study was published.
Both in 2007 and 2008, there were loud cries and declarative statements made about the evils of sexual abuse. The Executive Committee statement said that it is "strongly persuaded that no church or Baptist entity should employ a known sex offender."
A year later at the 2008 annual meeting, SBC Executive Committee president, Morris Chapman said, " "At the same time, sexual abuse is a growing crisis in this nation and we must continue to do everything within our power to stop this horrendous crime. Even though the number of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators may seem to be relatively small, we must be on watch and take immediate action against those who prey on the most innocent among us."
Doesn't this sound familiar?
Let's recap. At the 2007 Annual Meeting:
1. The SBC was one year into a two year process of studying how to address sexual abuse in SBC churches.
The same is true today.
2. SBC leadership was making sweeping statements about how "immediate action" would be taken to address the predators - the wolves in sheep's clothing - that exist within Southern Baptist churches.
The same is true today.
3. Some Southern Baptists concerned about abuse wanted a database to track predator clergy, but were being told that the Baptist theological distinctive of "church autonomy" would was incompatible with a database.
The same is true today.
4. There was a focus on abusers who were criminally convicted rather than an acknowledgement that tremendous abuse can and does occur without any criminal record being established.
The same is true today.
Stay laser-focused, friends. Do not become distracted by the discussions and words. Look for ACTION. Do I acknowledge that there are positive signs that maybe...just maybe...the Southern Baptist Convention will act? Yes, there are some signs, but there were signs in 2007.
I'm heartened by the creation of the Church Cares curriculum. Led by SBC President J.D. Greear and featuring trusted authorities on abuse like Diane Langberg, Leslie Vernick and others, this training curriculum has the ability to transform the way that local church leadership interacts with abuse survivors - both sexual abuse survivors and domestic abuse survivors. I pray that it does.
I'm grateful to see that J.D. Greear was willing to name names of churches who have failed to address abuse appropriately. Greear suggested that these churches be considered for disfellowshipping, a process by which they would no longer be considered part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Of course, only days later, many of us were heartbroken to hear the SBC Executive Committee publicly chastise Greear and, without due diligence, state that they'd cleared 7 of the 10 churches named by Greear.
Do not forget that the Bylaws Workgroup of Executive Committee cleared Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, GA, a church that had a confessed pedophile serving as "worship leader" right up until March 2019. The only reason this individual was not charged and convicted is because the criminal statue of limitations ran out before his numerous victims could come forward. Over nine individuals have come forward with abuse stories about this individual, and the abuser confessed the abuse to church leadership. Yet, the Executive Committee was seemingly unconcerned about these facts. In fact, then-interim President of the Executive Committee, Augie Boto, reportedly called the pastor of Trinity Baptist, a church harboring a confessed abuser, and apologized to the church.
[Note: This was reported by the Twitter account, SBC Explainer whose tweets on the subject have been deleted. Trinity Baptist also posted a video on their Facebook page in which their pastor, Rodney Brown, appeared to read from an email from Augie Boto apologizing about J.D. Greear's statements. This video has also been deleted.]
So very much of what is happening today - and what will happen in Birmingham - sounds ever so much like what was happening in 2007.
Remember the Alamo! Remember the 2007 SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio.
We cannot allow another decade or more to pass without action.
Words and resolutions do not protect children. Good intentions do not protect real people from abuse. Actions do.
If Southern Baptists walked into their sanctuaries on a Sunday morning to see a child being molested by a volunteer who passed the criminal background check or to see a young girl being raped by her trusted youth pastor or to see a woman being abused by her husband, what would be done? I would like to think that decisive action would be taken. No one would stop to consider church autonomy or the two-year process required for a constitutional amendment. Reasonable people would take dramatic action to protect the abused.
The abuse that takes place at the hands of SBC clergy is no less real. The abuse that is disclosed to SBC clergy is no less real. Abuse is personal when it happens to you. The SBC must resist the urge to lie to itself. A sanitized 15-minute lament session at the annual meeting is not action. A unanimous resolution condemning abuse is not action. Blog posts and press releases about abuse is not action.
Action is messy. Action is difficult. Action is needed.
Words matter. Actions matter more.
In 2019, we must remember that we've been here before. The Southern Baptist Convention must stop taking about abuse and must do better.
"Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it." We must learn from the mistakes of the past. We cannot have a repeat of 2007 and 2008.