SBC pres­i­dent apol­o­gizes to abuse vic­tims

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Duane W. Gang

NASHVILLE — The South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion’s pres­i­dent called sex­ual abuse by church lead­ers and vol­un­teers “pure evil,” apol­o­gized to vic­tims and vowed to be­gin mak­ing re­forms to the na­tion’s largest Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion. h Pas­tor J.D. Greear, the pres­i­dent of the Nashville-based net­work of churches, said he was “bro­ken” over what the Hous­ton Chronicle and San An­to­nio Ex­press-news found in a sweep­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished Sun­day de­tail­ing more than 700 vic­tims of sex­ual mis­con­duct by church lead­ers or vol­un­teers. h In to­tal, the news or­ga­ni­za­tions com­piled more than 380 cases where church lead­ers and vol­un­teers have been charged with sex crimes. Most are now in prison or are reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers. h “We are pro­foundly sorry,” Greear, along with fel­low Pas­tor Brad Ham­brick, wrote in a ar­ti­cle posted on Greear’s web­site on Mon­day. “It is an un­just tragedy that you ex­pe­ri­enced abuse in the past. And it is un­just and tragic that you feel fear in the present. h “We, the church, have failed you.” Bowen also founded Mem­phis Sou­venirs in 1993, ac­cord­ing to the bi­og­ra­phy on his com­pany web­site.

He was a life­time mem­ber of the Uni­ver­sity of Mem­phis Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion and an ac­tive mem­ber of the Tiger Schol­ar­ship Fund. He was also a mem­ber of the Mem­phis Con­ven­tion Bureau, Mem­phis Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Beale Street Mer­chant’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

Bowen was also a grad­u­ate of Lead­er­ship Mem­phis and was serv­ing on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s board of direc­tors for the 2018-2019 class.

Greear and Ham­brick told vic­tims that they did noth­ing wrong and it is un­der­stand­able to be afraid. To church lead­ers, they wrote that it would be easy to be­come “self-cen­tered and self-pro­tec­tive when news of churches’ fail­ures come to light.”

“But it would be an­other tragedy and a re­in­force­ment of the prob­lem if we al­low that to hap­pen,” they wrote.

“Peo­ple in our churches and com­mu­nity need to know that we are con­cerned about their safety, not about our rep­u­ta­tion. Un­til that con­fi­dence is re­stored, no one who has been abused will feel safe in our churches.“

Greear, who leads The Sum­mit Church in Durham, North Carolina where Ham­brick serves as the coun­sel­ing pas­tor, be­came the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion’s pres­i­dent last year, mark­ing what was widely seen as a gen­er­a­tional shift in lead­er­ship. He suc­ceeded Pas­tor Steve Gaines, who leads Belle­vue Bap­tist Church in Mem­phis.

But un­like other hi­er­ar­chi­cal Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions, the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion is a net­work of thou­sands of con­gre­ga­tions, each of which has its own au­ton­omy.

Greear said that level of lo­cal church con­trol is a fac­tor.

“The Bap­tist doc­trine of church au­ton­omy should never be a re­li­gious cover for pas­siv­ity to­wards abuse,” he wrote in a se­ries of Twit­ter posts. “Church au­ton­omy is about free­ing the church to do the right thing — to obey Christ — in every sit­u­a­tion. It is a heinous er­ror to ap­ply au­ton­omy in a way that en­ables abuse.

“As a de­nom­i­na­tion, now is a time to mourn and re­pent. Changes are com­ing. They must. We can­not just prom­ise to ‘do bet­ter’ and ex­pect that to be enough. But to­day, change be­gins with feel­ing the full weight of the prob­lem.”

In his Twit­ter posts, Greear said South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers should have lis­tened to warn­ings.

“I am com­mit­ted to do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to en­sure we never make these mis­takes again,” he said.

WAL­LACE THE BRAVE

“It’s time for per­va­sive change,” he said. “God de­mands it. Sur­vivors de­serve it.”

Greear said there can be “no am­bi­gu­ity about the church’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the abused and be a safe place for the vul­ner­a­ble.”

“The safety of the vic­tims mat­ters more than the rep­u­ta­tion of South­ern Bap­tists,” he said.

In the wake of the news or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­port­ing, other South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers also called for change.

16 church lead­ers, vol­un­teers in Tenn. charged with sex crimes

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the news or­ga­ni­za­tions was spurred on by South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion lead­ers un­will­ing­ness for more than a decade to cre­ate a list of sex­ual preda­tors from af­fil­i­ated churches. To­gether, the news out­lets cre­ated their own.

In Tennessee, ac­cord­ing to the data­base, 16 church lead­ers or vol­un­teers have been charged with sex crimes.

Rus­sell Moore, the Ethics and Re­li­gious Lib­erty Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, com­mended the work by the pub­li­ca­tions.

In a Sun­day blog post, Moore said changes are needed.

“Our ap­proach is seek­ing to en­cour­age poli­cies and prac­tices that pro­tect chil­dren and the vul­ner­a­ble from sex­ual abuse in au­ton­o­mous but co­op­er­at­ing churches, all the while pro­mot­ing com­pli­ance with laws and pro­vid­ing com­pas­sion­ate care for those who have sur­vived trauma,” Moore said.

“True, we have no bish­ops. But we have a priest­hood of be­liev­ers. And a key task of that priest­hood is main­tain­ing the wit­ness of Christ in the ho­li­ness and safety of his church. That means train­ing churches to rec­og­nize sex­ual pre­da­tion and how to deal with charges or sus­pi­cions when they emerge, and equip­ping churches to stop the pat­tern, in their church or from their church to oth­ers.”

“No church should be frus­trated by the Hous­ton Chronicle’s re­port­ing, but should thank God for it,” Moore said.

Ja­son Gon­za­les con­trib­uted to this re­port.

USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TENNESSEE South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion pres­i­dent GETTY IMAGES

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