This post is part of a two part series. I intend to explain the issue of Sexual Abuse in the SBC, which recently ended with the SBC Task Force report on Sexual Abuse through Guidepost Solutions. This post explains the structural part of the SBC that has has a unique affect on the sexual abuse issue, and spends time explaining what the “Secret List” of abusers is.
The next post will explain the Guidepost Report and how it is rather strange in light of the underlying problem for the SBC.
But first, let’s explain the SBC structure, because it has a big effect on the Sexual Abuse issue in the SBC and the “Secret List” that has become so controversial.
The Governing Structure of the Southern Baptist Convention
I want you to imagine three buildings next to one another. One of them is a building with residential rental units. Another is a building with commercial rental spaces. The third building is a building that is owned by a single company, full of workers for that single company. Got it?
Now, each of these three buildings has someone who owns the building and exercises authority over the building. But this governance is very different for each building. That is because residential, commercial, and private buildings have extremely different governance structures:
- The Corporate Headquarters is a building owned by a single person. There are no “leases” and there is no independence. The people in the Corporate headquarters do not pay rent. They are there at the pleasure of the company. If the company likes the people, they stay. If the company doesn’t like the people, they leave. The company is in complete control of who gets to stay in the building and who doesn’t get to stay in the building.
- The Office Space is different that the Corporate Headquarters, because the tenants pay rent, but the Office Space is also governed more strictly than a residential building. There are no one-year leases. The leases come int he decades. Further, it is easier to evict a commercial tenant than a residential tenant. If the office space has retail space, this often comes with more strings attached. There are trash fees, utility fees, cleaning fees, and common area fees. On the other hand, there are ways in which an office space is governed strictly. Sometimes there are cost sharing agreements, and other complex processes. In other words, the Office Space is much more strict that the Residential Building.
- The Residential Building will have tenants that pay rent, but other than that, the tenants are quite autonomous in what they are able to do. Leases can be year to year, or month to month. There are some strict rules regarding the pool in the building and the workout room, but other than that, there is a great deal of independence. So long as a tenant pays rent, they stay. For a small extra fee, they can park in the garage, rather than on the street. There may be some minor things like a pet fee or rules about smoking, but that’s about it. In other words, so long as the tenant pays rent, then the tenant is allowed to stay in the building.
In this analogy, the Southern Baptist Convention is like the Residential Building. Every church in the Southern Baptist Convention is “independent.” The Southern Baptist Convention collects money from churches to do things like evangelism, missions, and church planting that the individual churches can’t do on their own. This is analogous to the pool and workout room. For a small fee, they can send their members to SBC seminaries, which is analogous to the garage. Importantly, there are LITERALLY NO REQUIREMENTS to be a Southern Baptist minister. If you are a church leader or employee and your church is part of the SBC, then you are an SBC minister.
According to the Guidepost Report, there are only five requirements for a church to be a part of the SBC, the fourth of which was only added in 2021:
- have a faith and practice which closely identifies with the SBC’s adopted statement of faith,
- formally approve its intention to cooperate with the SBC,
- make financial contributions through the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, or any other Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding,
- not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse; and
- not act to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.
This is rather unique, especially since the SBC’s statement of faith is quite loose on some things. In other words, so long as you believe scripture is authoritative and inerrant, so long as you baptize people by dunking them all the way under water AFTER they make a statement of faith, and so long as you believe a church is an “autonomous local organization,” then you are good on Baptist doctrine.
Moving on in the analogy, the Office Building is like an organized and authoritative denomination, like the Presbyterian church, the Episcopal Church, or any number of other church organizations. The SBC is not like these organizations. There is a wide variety in the amount of control that these other organizations have over their churches. However, one thing that always happens is that they carefully control the limits of the doctrine of the church. They also almost always control the “ordination” of the ministers. Often (but not always) the larger organization is responsible for paying the salaries of the ministers. Other times, they only contribute to retirement accounts and health insurance, while local bodies cover salaries. Sometimes they own the land of the churches, sometimes they don’t. There is too much variety to precisely define what can and can’t happen, except that as opposed to the Southern Baptist Church, these types of organizations have control over who can “be a minister.”
Finally in this analogy, the Corporate Headquarters is like the Catholic Church or an extremely top-down church organization. The Southern Baptist Convention absolutely hates these types of church structures and sees them as terrible. But in these centralized church governance structures, the central organization owns the land of the churches, pays the salaries of the pastors, determines who can and cannot be a “minister,” and strictly controls their doctrine. In theory, the central organization exercises authority over every aspect of every single church, even though certain local leaders and institutions can have their own quirks. The point is, however, is that there is no independence except for what the organization itself grants to the local bodies. This is quite the opposite of what the Southern Baptist Convention is.
The Effect of the De-Centralized Flexibility of the Southern Baptist Convention
The flexibility and independence of the Southern Baptist Convention has been both its strength and its weakness, all at the same time. According to this SBC document using 2020 information, the Southern Baptist Convention has more than 47,000 churches with more than 14,000,000 members of those churches, who gave more than $9,000,000,000 in 2020 and who gave more than $455,000,000 to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program between 2019-2020. Using this money, the SBC supports more than 3,000 overseas missionaries and more than 2,000 domestic missionaries. They plant hundreds of churches. That is the “rent” that the tenants of the residential building pay, and that is a darn lot of money.
This is a very “American” organization, as you should be able to tell by the complicated corporate structure of the SBC. People from Texas might hate the people and culture of New York City, but when both of these groups join the military, they are doing something that is on a different than their individual local culture, and there is a shift in attitude.
The same structure is at work the Southern Baptist Convention. Some people might really dislike Robert Jeffress or Rick Warren, but when you give to the SBC, you are not giving TO these individuals or their local churches. Instead, you are giving to “spreading the gospel” at a larger level. That’s the strength of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The negative part about it is also its flexibility. That will be explored in the next section.
The Southern Baptist Convention and Sexual Abuse Allegations
Now, let’s return to our three buildings. Let’s say there is an allegation of sexual abuse in each of them. In the Corporate Headquarters, an executive is sexually abusing colleagues and secretaries. In the Office Building, a business owner is sexually abusing both customers. In the Residential Building, a tenant is sexually abusing members of his own home and individuals in neighboring units.
Obviously, the different governance structures change what can be done in each of them:
- In the Corporate Headquarters, the Human Resources department can and should investigate, and it has the power to fix the situation. Once they find the truth (which, in this example, is that it is actually happening), to expel that person from the building is the right thing to do. To prevent that from happening or to cover it up is an indictment of the entire company. This is quite analogous to the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.
- In the Office Building, the landlord has an interest in making sure that its tenants are not using the facility to take criminal actions. If they receive a complaint, they would probably not have much power over the sexual abuse of the supervisor and employees, but the sexual abuse of customers creates an issue of liability that would most likely break one of the terms of the commercial lease agreement. So long as the allegations are truthful (and, in this example, they are), the landlord is able to act to expel that tenant for breaking the lease. This is quite analogous to other church denominations where there is greater control over pastors and local churches.
- However, in the Residential Building, the landlord does not have much power to do anything. Residential leases do not allow tenants to be evicted for alleged crimes (even if a private investigation reveals that the crimes are true, which in this example, they are). The only recouse of the landlord is to tell an individual making this claim to “call the police.” If the sexual abuse is happening in one of the common areas, like the pool or the garage, the landlord has some power over the action, but once that person returns to his rental unit, that power is gone. This is quite analogous to the Southern Baptist Convention’s power over allegations of sexual abuse in SBC churches and seminaries.
This is the problem that was uncovered in the Houston Chronicle’s 2018 reporting. Because there was no oversight of supervision of churches (and especially in a time before the internet), Southern Baptist preachers who were also child molesters could hop from one church to the other until they were caught. If someone called the SBC to report something that happened in an SBC church, the only thing the SBC could tell them to do was “call the police.”
What can the Southern Baptist Convention do if an adult is having a sexual relationship with another adult at a SBC church? Well, if it is happening at an SBC seminary, in an SBC-funded church-plant, or if it is being done by an SBC-supported missionary, then there is some power. The SBC can cut off funding, kick them out of a seminary, or send them back home. However, once they get back home, if they are able to be accepted by an SBC church, the power to do anything stops.
That’s the weakness of the Southern Baptist Convention structure.
Any change to this arrangement will change the “polity” of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is a big deal to SBC churches.
What’s the Big Deal About “Polity” in the Southern Baptist Convention?
Since Southern Baptist Convention churches are independent, any change to what can be done by the Southern Baptist Convention is met with a question with the “polity” of SBC Churches. But what’s the big deal about this? You may think that changing the polity of the SBC will merely change the residential building into an office building. But that’s not necessarily the case.
Remember, office buildings have pre-existing relationships where the overarching organization ordains the ministers, keeps close watch over doctrine, and often pays the salaries of the pastors in the local churches. In exchange for all of that “give,” the overarching organization has the “take” of exercizing authority over the pastors and congregations. In contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention does not have that give and take.
To institute an overarching SBC organization, this will be less like turning the residential space into an office space, and more like turning the residential space into a hotel.
That’s not a good thing for SBC churches, and the SBC churches know it. In the executive summary of the Guidepost Report, which you can read below, there is a persistent refrain about the inaction of the SBC to allegations of sexual abuse:
In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation. (Guidepost Report, p. 3)
That’s “polity” and “church autonomy” is the word that is used for the “residential building” that I have outlined above. Things that would be TOTALLY NORMAL in an office-building (ordinary denomination) or in a corporate headquarters (Catholic Church) are NOT AT ALL NORMAL in the residential building (Southern Baptist Convention). Even though everyone can agree that sexual abuse is bad, the ability to stop it by the landlord (the Southern Baptist Convention) requires that landlord being able to investigate and have authority over what happens in your own home (the local church).
That ability to “investigate and have authority over what happens in your own home” makes ordinary Southern Baptists quite uneasy, for reasons that have very little to do with sexual abuse. Southern Baptists have traditionally prided themselves on being the last ones to slide into theological compromise precisely because their independent structure does not allow an “ivory tower” group of church officials from dictating faith and practice to more traditional churches and congregations. When certain aspects of the Southern Baptist Convention started to change the accepted theology of the denomination (specifically around the inerrancy of scripture and women pastors), this is what sparked the “conservative resurgence” where ordinary churches flooded the yearly meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and took back their seminaries and other organizations.
This is the source of the strife and allegations of “hypocrisy” in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Alleged Hypocrisy and Inaction of the Southern Baptist Convention
Let’s return to our Residential Building in which there is a true allegation of sexual abuse. Let’s say that the abuse victim goes to the landlord and asks the landlord to evict the abuser, and the landlord says he can’t evict him for that. Then, let’s say another person in the building doesn’t pay rent or smokes in their non-smoking rental unit, and the landlord evicts that person for that, while allowing the sexual abuser to stay. Can you see the cry of hypocrisy:
You will evict someone for not paying rent and for smoking, but you won’t evict someone for engaging in sexual abuse? That is SO HYPOCRITICAL!
And on a gut level, that seems to be true. But when you remember that there isn’t a “sexual abuse” clause in the residential lease, but there is a clause about smoking and paying rent, this “hypocrisy” is not what it seems at first. After all, not many people would sign a lease that allows a landlord to police sexual activity in a person’s private home.
But this appearance of hypocrisy is also involved in the Southern Baptist Convention. Remember the requirements to be a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Church? Remember that to be a Southern Baptist, you must: “have a faith and practice which closely identifies with the SBC’s adopted statement of faith”?
Well, when you look at the SBC’s adopted statement of faith, you see the following under Section VI, for “The Church”:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
This creates a strange situation. This means that having someone who is accused (even credibly accused) of sexual abuse on staff at your church is NOT an explicit and easily identifiable violation of the SBC’s Statement of Faith. However, having a female pastor IS such a violation.
So, female pastor bad, sexual abusing pastor okay? Seems hypocritical, doesn’t it? But is it ACTUALLY hypocritical, or just an odd quirk of the SBC? At least after 2021, this is no longer hypocritical. That is because after the Houston Chronicle released its report, the Southern Baptist Convention added a clause to what is required to be a Southern Baptist Church:
4. not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse;
The standards of practice are those which were created in the “Caring Well Initiative,” which you can find here. It creates certain standards for churches considering hiring individuals, including background checks and ordinary reference checks. The point was to prevent precisely the type of behavior the Houston Chronicle uncovered, where serial sexual abusers went from church to church, capitalizing on the “trust” of their previous SBC credentials, and continuing their abuse over a period of decades.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing to do. You can pretend that each individual church in the SBC is “totally independent,” but in reality, this is not the case. The credentials of graduating from an SBC seminary or preaching at a previous SBC church is REAL, even if unofficial. Therefore, the SBC should recognize that its name and reputation is cover and clout to people who do not deserve cover or clout.
But that’s not the end of the “sexual abuse” scandal. We now need to talk about the “secret list.”
What is the Secret List that the Guidepost Report Revealed?
On May 22, 2022, Christianity Today reported that thanks to the Guidepost Report, a “Secret List” of abusers in the SBC was released. The allegations sound astonishing:
Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from further abuse.
Survivors, advocates, and some Southern Baptists themselves spent more than 15 years calling for ways to keep sexual predators from moving quietly from one flock to another. The men who controlled the Executive Committee (EC)—which runs day-to-day operations of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform.
There’s a problem with this reporting, which is that the details are far more complicated. You can see the list here:
I haven’t completely reviewed each and every one of these items, but I’ve reviewed several of them. Something to remember when reading, however, is that the FACT that someone is a sexual abuser and KNOWING that someone is a sexual abuser are two different things. In the same way a SUSPICION that someone is a sexual abuser is not the same thing as KNOWLEDGE that the person is a sexual abuser. Anything other than first-hand or authoritative knowledge creates a risk of getting sued when you release the information to the public. That is why some of the line items are STILL REDACTED in this list, even though it has been “made public.”
However, the main thing I noticed when reviewing this list is that I saw an important pattern:
THE REPORTS MADE TO THE SBC ONLY OCCUR AFTER THE INDIVIDUALS HAVE ALREADY BEEN EXPOSED.
That’s important. The reports come to the SBC only AFTER the individual has been pegged as a sexual abuser. Here is a good representative example of the types of records being held by the SBC Executive Committee:
FIRST REPORT TO SBC: 1988
INFO: In 1988, Thomas McGowan, 46, pastor, New Grace Baptist Church, Powder Springs, GA, was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 17 years probation for sexually abusing 2 girls. He worked at Morning View Baptist, Rockmart (1981-87), Marietta, GA. Gowan reportedly left 2 prior churches amid allegations.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/11/89, 8/2/88
This means that the SBC is only “hiding” things that are not very well hidden. Other times, there is genuine confusion. For example, a “Freedom From Religion Foundation” (a definitely anti-Christian organization) is accusing a man named “George Baker” of being a child molester. A man named George Baker was convicted in 1990 of sexually molesting children in Illinois. But the notes indicate that there are multiple entries for “George Baker” in the national sex-offender registry list, and it seems that there just wasn’t enough information to know which George Baker was the bad Baker of which the Baptist organization should beware. So….. ….what do you do there?
The majority of cases, however, are ones like the following line item, first reported to the SBC in 2012:
FIRST REPORT TO SBC: 2012
INFO: In 2012, Daniel Montague Acker, Jr. a school teacher and school bus driver, who retired in 2009, admitted to sexually abusing 20 girls during his 25-yr tenure. He was sentenced to serve 17 years in prison for 8 counts of child sexual abuse. Release date is scheduled for January 1, 2029. In 1992, Acker was accused of touching a minor for sexual gratification; however, the grand jury did not indict him. In 2016, he admitted to the 1992 abuse. In 1992, Acker was also serving as youth pastor at Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster, AL. He was also music and youth minister at Mayberry Baptist Church, Montevallo, AL, and served as a camp counselor at the Alabama Baptist Boys Camp.
Listed on Houston Chronicle Database
Former Shelby County teacher, convicted of child sex abuse, to pay $1.5 million to 7 victims, AL.com, 4/5/17
Former youth pastor, teacher charged with molestation, Baptist News Global, 1/9/2012,
Child Sex Abuse Continues: Alabama Teacher Admits to 21 Incident, Christian Post, 1/9/12,
Twenty years later and at least twenty more kids, March 6, 2012
While we see that the person was doing this horrible stuff over 25 years, this was not public at all until 2012, when he was caught and charged and put in prison IN 2012. In other words, the SBC only learned about this guy after he was caught and put in prison, NOT BEFORE.
This means that when it comes to this man, the SBC is only “‘hiding” a compilation of information that is available to anyone who can Google the man’s name. The issue in 1992 was before a grand jury which did not indict, meaning that it is kept secret by law. Yes, he was a music minister and camp counselor at the Alabama Baptist Boys Camp, but only during a time when NOBODY (INCLUDING THE SBC EXECUTIVE COMMITTE) knew that he was a sexual predator.
In fairness, does that even count as “hiding” something?
And sometimes, the allegations get really sticky. It is not so clear as conviction of a child molester that we have above. Note another example of the type of information that was being “withheld” by the SBC Executive Committee:
FIRST REPORTED TO THE SBC: 2008
INFO: Crime against Adult Female
In 2008, Andre Allen, pastor, Second Baptist Church, Wheaton, IL, was arrested on battery and disorderly
conduct against an adult female.
Arrested. Was he convicted?
http://prev.dailyherald.com/story/?id=222152 – Wheaton’s Second Baptist Church votes to oust Rev. Allen, Daily Hearld, 7/19/08, (Wheaton , IL) (Andre Allen)
Wheaton’s Second Baptist Church votes to oust Rev. Allen, Daily Herald, 7/19/08 (Andre Allen)
Wheaton congregation to decide pastor’s fate after improper-touching allegations, Chicago Tribune, 7/18/08
Note the news stories connected to that entry. Note also that there was a note in the table saying “Arrested. Was he convicted?” which was input by the SBC. The SBC received this “tip” in 2008, which is AFTER the time the person was arrested for criminal activity and DURING the time he was being removed as a leader of the church. Any other church receiving an application from “Andre Allen” only needs to Google his name to find the Chicago Tribute and the Daily Herald reporting on his arrest.
We should also note that when you go to the news story, it is difficult to know what REALLY went on. Look at the facts we get from this news story about what happened in 2009 (that I had to pay to see). Realize that since the SBC had no investigatory powers, this is all that was available to the SBC Executive Committee, too:
After three hours of heated debate, Second Baptist Church in Wheaton voted Saturday to oust the Rev. Andre Allen as its pastor.
The decision was sparked by news that Allen, who has been at the helm for 23 years, was arrested late last year on battery and disorderly conduct charges.
“This is a very difficult and emotional time,” Deacon Frank Jarrett said after a special church meeting Saturday. “But this evening the people have spoken and made a choice to move on without Pastor Allen. The majority of parishioners wanted him dismissed. We are praying for Pastor Allen. We love Pastor Allen.”
Church leaders only learned of Allen’s Nov. 2 arrest last month and asked Allen to resign two weeks ago but he refused.
His arrest stemmed from an incident in which two women say he groped them while pretending to be a self-defense instructor at a Lifetime Fitness in Schaumburg.
As part of a plea deal, Allen pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Jan. 18 for impersonating a health club employee and prosecutors dropped the battery charge. He received one year of court supervision and 80 hours of community service.
Allen has said he was trying to stir up interest in self-defense hoping the health club would hire him. He denies telling the women he was an employee and that there was any contact of a sexual nature.
In order to dismiss him, the church’s bylaws stipulate that the full congregation – roughly 275 members – must take a secret-ballot vote.
. . .
Jarrett said the vote was close but he would not go into detail about the exact numbers or what took place during the meeting.
He said Allen will remain part of the church, just not as its leader.
“He has done a lot of good work in this community and this church and we will not forget that,” Jarrett said.
Allen’s Nov. 2 arrest was not his first. He was also arrested more than a decade ago for similar charges of touching two women in a provoking or insulting manner at a fitness center in a Holiday Inn in Lisle. He was found guilty of one misdemeanor and placed on court supervision. The conviction was later expunged from his record but three law enforcement officials close to the case have confirmed the details.
Friday, another woman filed a police report saying Allen had touched her inappropriately during a meeting in a church office. But the alleged incident took place in 2001, making it too late to pursue prosecution.https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20080720/wheatons-second-baptist-church-votes-to-oust-rev-allen
So…. here’s the question. LEGALLY, what can the SBC Executive Committee do with that?
That’s a good question. You’ll notice that there are expunged records, extremely delayed accusations, and plea deals that keep this matter out of being a “sexual” problem. Even though things SMELL strange about this situation (and I certainly wouldn’t want this guy as a pastor), a plea-deal was reached between him and the police on the charge in 2007, which hints that it would have been difficult to prove the sexual aspect of the charges. And he’s no longer a pastor. The congregation itself also wants to keep him around, just not as their leader.
So, here’s the issue. You are one of the higher-ups at the SBC. You get this report in 2008. You have no ability to make the pastor answer any questions. You don’t have the ability to do much more than Google the situation. The man is no longer a minister at an SBC church, and the SBC church already removed him from leadership. Anyone with an internet connection can find the story. So:
IF YOU ARE A PART OF THE SBC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, WHAT DO YOU DO?
REMOVE HIM? FROM WHERE?
REPORT HIM? TO WHOM?
ACCUSE HIM? OF WHAT?
Keep in mind, there was no conviction of any sexual wrongdoing in a court of law. There were only accusations that did not find their way to the plea. The accusations were so contentious that it even started an ACTUAL FIGHT among the congregants after the church meeting. If you did issue a press release, what would this actually do? Newspapers are already reporting on this. Keep in mind that this happened in 2007 and 2008 in an African-American church in Chicago area. You don’t think it would be a little bit politically touchy for a traditionally white denomination to single out a historically black church for being led by a sexual deviant? Because there was no power to do anything regarding churches naming pastors in the SBC until 2021, there was no power to do anything here. As such, there is very little upside and a great deal of downside in doing anything more on this situation.
THIS IS THE DOWNSIDE OF THE FLEXIBILITY OF THE SBC STRUCTURE IN ACTION.
And that is the substance and content of the “secret list” that the SBC Executive Committee was keeping.
Why did the SBC Executive Committee Keep a Secret List of Accused and Convicted Sex Abusers?
But what SHOULD be done when the SBC receives information on the malfeasance of pastors in SBC churches. Think back to the analogy of the Residential Building.
- You are a landlord of a residential building. You get a credible allegation that one of your tenants had groped a woman in a health-club, but he denies part of it, and only pled to a much more minor “assault” and “disorderly conduct” charge. So, what do you do?
- Would you evict that man’s household from the church building (expel the church from the SBC)?
- Would you post signs in the stairwells and hallways to beware of the man who gropes women in health-clubs (give a press release accusing him of sexual misconduct)? If you get a detail wrong or if you do get the details right but can’t prove it in court, then there is a real danger that the man could sue the landlord (that is, the SBC) for defamation.
- Further, there is no obligation of the landlord (or the SBC) to do anything in this situation pursuant to the lease agreements (or the SBC constitution).
So what would actually happen in this analogy of the Residential Building (as it relates to the SBC)? I think the most likely outcome is that the landlord would keep this guy’s name and photo on a private list in the office, so that if he ever made his way to the common pool area (North American Mission Board) or workout room (International Mission Board), they could keep an eye on him. If he ever did any funny business in the garage (the SBC seminaries), they could be on guard. The goal of this list would be to make sure that the building wouldn’t get sued for negligence in failing to protect children (congregants connected to SBC-funded church plants, not random independent SBC churches) or innocent bystanders (individuals seen by SBC missionaries) from a resident that they know could be a problem.
AND THAT WAS EXACTLY THE PURPOSE OF THE “SECRET LIST” OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION’S EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
But that is not how it is being reported in news stories. Instead, the reporting seems to think that this is a situation with a Corporate Headquarters that has an HR department that is protecting an executive from liability from its secretaries with sexual harassment claims. In other words, there is a belief that the SBC is like the Catholic Church, which is simply not true.
Even worse, the claim is that the SBC Executive Committee is using this list to “protect” the SBC from liability for things that HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED. But that is not the case, because the things that have “already occurred” are not things that occurred “in the SBC.” Instead, they occurred in independent churches that the SBC doesn’t oversee, and which the SBC never claimed to oversee, and for which the SBC has no liability.
Instead, the only conceivable reason for the “secret list” is to protect the SBC from liability if one of these people were hired BY THE SBC in one of its seminaries, church plants, or overseas missions organizations. It is “secret” in the same way that any organization’s personnel files are secret. However, the list is not to protect the SBC from its own past wrongdoing.
INSTEAD, THE ONLY CONCEIVABLE PURPOSE OF THE SECRET LIST WAS TO PROTECT THE SBC FROM UNKNOWINGLY DOING SOMETHING WRONG IN THE FUTURE BY NEGLIGENTLY HIRING OR PARTNERING WITH ONE OF THESE PEOPLE ON THE LIST.
The big question on the “secret list” was not a question of bringing the perpetrators to justice, because on an overwhelming number of times, the perpetrators had already been brought to justice. Instead, the question was whether questionable reports could be made public in any way. And, the legal answer seemed to be no.
A final thing we should note is that this “Secret List” is not a list of sexual abusers who are CURRENTLY serving in SBC churches. Instead, it is a list of people who have already been credibly accused, or it is a list of people who have been accused, but not credibly enough to do anything about it.
If that bothers you, look back and the list that Guidepost Solutions released in their investigation, and note that EVEN NOW, CERTAIN ENTRIES ARE COMPLETELY REDACTED, showing that they are not well-founded enough to be released publicly. That’s not the SBC Executive Committee that did that, that was Guidepost Solutions that did that.
The Response From the SBC Explained
If the SBC were like the Catholic Church, then the calls for the SBC to investigate and “do something” about sexual abuse in SBC churches would be very different. However, because the SBC is NOT like the Catholic Church, the SBC leaders have a point when they get frustrated by all of these calls to “do something.”
Imagine a situation where you are the landlord of that residential building, and rather than call the police when criminal activity occurs in your building, your tenants call the maintenance room or the leasing office or the customer service line. Imagine if after that maintenance room or leasing office or customer service line didn’t do anything, your tenants then complained about your “inaction” on sexual abuse allegations. That would be pretty frustrating. But regardless, there would still be a problem that needs to be addressed. And that is why, despite how messy and weird the response to this issue is, at least we can celebrate the fact that there are some steps being taken.
However, regardless of how frustrating this would be, frustration is not an excuse for inaction. That’s why the right question is WHAT STEPS should be taken?
That’s a very good question. One of the main objections that certain people in the SBC have about supervising 47,000 churches regarding sexual abuse is that the SBC just simply does not have the infrastructure, expertise, or governing power to do anything of substance.
It is one thing for the SBC to be able to share with other SBC churches the identities of people who have been credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse, it is a different thing entirely to be the body that decides what “credibly accused” or “convicted” means.
In other words, how do you supervise a loose network of independent churches comprising more than 14 million people? Surely the Guidepost Report can help us with that, right?
Conclusion and Next Post
Clearly, this is a sticky situation that is getting somewhat better, because at least now there is SOME mechanism for SBC churches to talk to one another so that people cannot jump from SBC church to SBC church when shady things go down. There is now a mechanism to report individuals who may previously have been able to move from church to church while sexually abusing parishioners and children. Unfortunately, the actual mechanism is hard to fine-tune, and there are still loose ends that need to be tied. In other words, there is still a long way to go.
In light of the clear problem and difficult choices in how to get out of it, you’d think there is a clear way forward. You’d think that that Guidepost Report would offer some help on untangling this sticky mess.
However, the sad part is that this $2 million expense did not deliver. Instead, it is quite… …strange. The substance of the Guidepost Report is the subject of the next post.