ANAHEIM, Calif. — Attendees at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday passed a resolution encouraging state lawmakers to criminalize pastors who sexually abuse their parishioners.
Baptists also passed a resolution publicly apologizing to survivors of sexual abuse and another urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court opinion classifying abortion as a constitutional right.
An attempt to abolish the agency that lobbies on behalf of Southern Baptists in Washington failed.
The resolutions dealing with sexual abuse were passed a day after the convention overwhelmingly approved recommendations made by the denomination’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, which called for the creation of a database containing the names of church leaders and volunteers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Noting that many states and their licensing boards already prohibit sexual relationships between clients and their physicians, psychiatrists, or attorneys, the Baptists called on “legislators in each state to pass laws that would provide definitions and classification consistent cases of sexual abuse by pastors, such as sexual abuse”. committed by pastors constitutes a manifest abuse of authority and trust.”
Delegates, known as messengers, voted overwhelmingly for the resolution, which noted that Arkansas is among states that already have laws on the subject.
Under Arkansas Code § 5-14-126 (2020), a person commits third-degree sexual assault if the person:
“Engages in sexual intercourse or departs from sexual activity with another person who is not the actor’s spouse, and the actor is … a member of the clergy and is in a position of trust or authority over the victim and uses the position of trust or authority to engage in sexual intercourse or to deviate from sexual activity”.
At the 2021 Southern Baptist annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, messengers said pastors who commit sexual abuse should be permanently disqualified from holding leadership positions in a church.
Pastoral standards should be as high as those set for lay professionals, Wednesday’s resolution said.
Griffin Gulledge, a pastor at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia, urged messengers to support the measure.
“We have spent a lot of time this week and in the history of our convention discussing the need to resist, reprimand and expel wolves from our midst,” he said, adding, “There is no ‘There are no wolves more destructive than those who destroy the faith by abusing sex.’
Too often, “sexually aggressive or sexually predatory pastors can move from church to church, with a trail of victims left behind and we just say, ‘He’s fallen into sin,'” Gulledge said.
“It is illegal in many states for a teacher to have sex with a student of legal age and it should be illegal for pastors to attack their own congregations and that congregation should have no problem saying so” , he added.
The resolution also called on lawmakers to pass laws protecting churches from civil liability “when they share information about alleged abuses with other organizations or institutions.”
In 2019, the Texas Legislature unanimously passed such a shield law which had been championed by Bart Barber, a pastor from Farmersville, Texas, and the new convention president.
At a news conference after voting on the resolutions ended, Barber said the Texas legislation had been endorsed by other organizations, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“This is not just a church problem, it is an issue that affects many parts of our society, so we would love to see not only Southern Baptist churches, but also people of goodwill across the country to work with us to help these kinds of laws get passed,” he said.
During this year’s annual meeting, the messengers passed nine resolutions and discussed a number of other proposals.
Southern Baptists on Wednesday strongly rejected efforts to abolish the denomination’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Supporters had warned the move would undermine anti-abortion lobbying efforts at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Critics have described the agency as divisive and politically motivated.
Joshua Scruggs, a courier from North Carolina, introduced the motion, accusing the commission of “causing unnecessary division among Baptists” and taking a stand on issues “on which Southern Baptists significantly disagree.”
Richard Land, who served as the commission’s chairman from 1988 to 2013, spoke out against the measure, noting that the Supreme Court, any day now, is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the ban. 15-week abortion in Mississippi.
A draft copy of the decision, leaked last month, showed that a majority of the court appeared ready to overrule Roe and send the matter back to the states.
Such a move, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler told the messengers moments earlier, would spark a state-by-state battle, with some states rushing to ban abortion and others trying to bolster the right to abortion.
Given decades of convention pressure to ban abortion, Scruggs’ motion was ill-timed, Land suggested.
“I can’t imagine a more damaging time for the Southern Baptist Convention to pull funding from the ERLC,” he said, saying the agency would be “fully prepared” to help anti-abortion forces. to prevail.
The agency, with offices in Washington, DC, and Nashville, Tennessee, became a lightning rod for controversy after its then-president, Russell Moore, became the most visible critic of the then candidate. President Donald Trump.
Moore’s criticisms of the convention’s handling of sex abuse allegations further upset some of his fellow Baptists, including Ronnie Floyd, who at the time was chief executive and chairman of the executive committee tasked with addressing the issue.
Floyd, the former pastor of Cross Church Northwest Arkansas, had also served on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council in 2016, as had Land and several other Southern Baptists.
On Wednesday, Land told the Messengers that he disagreed with some of the agency’s decisions in recent years, but nevertheless insisted that the agency was too important to reject.
“I have given 25 years of my life to the ERLC. I know the good it has done. I know the religious freedom it stands for. I know the unborn babies it stands for, and I implore you not to defund [it],” he said.
Wednesday marked the last day of the annual Baptist meeting.
During the rally this week, the messengers also passed resolutions condemning Russian aggression and calling for peace in Ukraine, stressing the importance of ministry in rural areas and denouncing the prosperity gospel, which teaches that Christ’s death on the cross enables believers to obtain health and wealth without suffering, sickness and poverty.
The ‘Sexual Abuse Complaint and Repentance’ resolution apologized, by name, to ten sexual abuse survivors ‘for failing to heed their collective warnings and taking swift action to fight more early against clergy sexual abuse”.
Each of the survivors had given permission for their name to be included in the resolution, the drafters said.
In another resolution, the messengers also condemned past efforts to forcibly assimilate Native American children by forcing them to enroll in federal boarding schools, and said efforts to forcibly convert Native Americans to Christianity had been “reprehensible.” and contrary to biblical teachings.
Mike Keahbone, a Native American and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Lawton-Fort Sill in Oklahoma, had urged fellow Baptists to adopt the resolution.