Southern Baptist Pastors Push For Broader Sexual Abuse Investigation

Photo: Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee

Photo Credit: Music City Center & The Southern Baptist Convention

Published June 15, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Sexual abuse in the church is one of the hotly contested topics that is up for discussion at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention as thousands of church members gather in Nashville.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Nashville is expecting over 17,000 Southern Baptists to converge on the city at the first large scale meeting held since the start of the pandemic. Those members will vote to determine who will serve as the next president of the organization.

The convention was off to a rocky start as the sexual abuse issue within the church took center stage when the executive committee met on Monday at Nashville’s Music City Center.

The executive committee is set up to act on behalf of the convention when it is not in session. On Monday, the group nixed a proposal to expand the reach of an external review being done regarding sexual abuse allegations made against several members of the committee.

Executive committee member Joe Knott did not want the discussion added to Monday’s agenda, stating that he did not feel it would accomplish anything.

“No one in the Southern Baptist Convention is in any way in favor of any sort of child abuse or anything like that. It’s hideous to even contemplate that,” Knott stated. “To hire a third party, professional investigatory organization who does this for profit, and give them essentially unlimited power to interview anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention is just a horrific thing.”

The talk comes in the wake of two letters and some audio clips that were released by Russell Moore, former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. 

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Several members of the executive committee face numerous accusations of mishandling claims of sexual abuse and mistreating and intimidating victims, among other things.

Current president and CEO of the committee Ronnie Floyd and convention president nominee Mike Stone are among those named in the recordings and letters. Stone has denied all of the allegations against him, and Floyd has said that the events involving him did not happen as described.

After the release of the leaked information, a group of pastors, abuse victims, and supporters requested that a third party investigate the committee. An announcement was made on Friday that the committee had hired Guidepost Solutions to review the allegations.

A joint statement was released by several sexual abuse survivors asking that an audit be done within the SBC. That statement detailed a list of action steps that they were requesting be taken immediately.

“We come now collectively, as SBC sexual abuse survivors, to make our wishes known in regard to the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention,” the statement read.

A virtual rally, called the “For Such a Time as This” rally, was also held Sunday to show solidarity with those victims. Supporters implored the convention to take action, specifically to provide more training for church leaders and to create a database of abusers within the church.

Floyd addressed the Guideposts review during the Monday meeting.

He also brought up the fact that the executive committee had already allotted $200,000 in 2018 to fund an initiative to address sexual abuse and that they had recommended a change to the convention’s constitution to note that addressing sexual abuse was a part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist church.

“We believe we have handled a series of very complicated questions appropriately, but we are not asking anyone to take our word for it so we have asked an independent, third party, Guidepost Solutions, to do a fully objective inquiry to help us learn from it all. We will cooperate with their work and be transparent with them,” Floyd stated.

Not everyone believes this is enough. Advocates have not expressed concern over the audit being done by Guidepost Solutions. Instead, their concern is with the fact that the Executive Committee has complete control over the hiring of the auditors and will also have control over what is reported to the public.

Jared Wellman, a Texas pastor and member of the executive committee, made a motion Monday to create a task force to help oversee that investigation. He recommended that members of that task force be appointed by the new Southern Baptist Convention president.

According to Wellman’s proposal, the investigation would be expanded to include all paid, appointed, and elected leaders or staff of the executive committee, the convention, and other church establishments. It would cover both current and former leaders and staff.

“There should be no limit to who can be interviewed,” the proposal said.

That motion failed.

Wellman also proposed that all findings of the investigation be reported publicly without being edited or approved by the executive committee first.

“The Executive Committee just voted down the opportunity to even discuss this motion. Lord, have mercy,” Wellman tweeted Monday.

J.D. Greear, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated that he voted in favor of adding the proposal to the agenda. He said that convention messengers, the representatives who vote on church business, want and deserve to be assured that “justice is being given and that the best possible protection is being given for sexual abuse survivors.”

The failed effort on Monday does not mean that issue is dead altogether. Some pastors are prepared to push the efforts before the full convention beginning on Tuesday.

Ronnie Parrott, lead pastor at Christ Community in North Carolina, says he plans to request that the convention take over the investigation, instead of leaving it in the hand of the committee. 

Parrott previously served on staff with Floyd at a church in Arkansas.

Executive committee members previously referred to the sexual abuse claims as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play.”

Those comments, along with the recent actions taken by the committee, have fueled the controversy and have led to more vocal calls for action by the Convention as a whole.

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