In an interview Monday morning, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said the bombshell reports of sexual abuse at the hands of denominational leaders “should make us wonder why we weren’t paying more attention.”
Greear called on Southern Baptists to examine why “we allowed things to happen that created — intentionally or unintentionally — safe spaces for abusers.”
Churches "ought to be safe places for the vulnerable and predators ought to have no place in our midst," says the Southern Baptist Convention President on recent reports of sexual abuse.
— New Day (@NewDay) February 18, 2019
The SBC president’s comments on CNN’s “New Day” came days after two Texas-based newspapers, the Houston Chronicle, and the San Antonio Express-News, published a sweeping report alleging more than 700 victims have been abused by Southern Baptist leaders over the past 20 years.
In total, the investigation yielded credible allegations against 380 leaders within SBC churches, including pastors, deacons, volunteers and Sunday school instructors.
The heartbreaking study found roughly 220 church officials had been convicted of various sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions as a result of plea deals. Of those, 90 remain behind bars and 100 are registered sex offenders.
Details about abuse within the SBC comes as the Catholic Church is coming to terms with its own troubled history with sexual abuse. Over the weekend, Pope Francis defrocked disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over his alleged extensive history of sexual misconduct.
Greear said the reports about SBC ministers should remind Southern Baptists no one is immune to the problem of sin, urging those within his denomination to remain vigilant to protect their churches from the evils of sexual abuse.
“That’s how Southern Baptists got a little bit into this problem,” Greear explained. “We said, ‘This is a Roman Catholic problem,’ or, ‘This is a Harvey Weinstein problem. It’s not something that could happen to us.’ Predators count on that sense of invulnerability to assume that it can’t happen.”
“It can happen anywhere there are people,” he continued. “This is a people problem — whether we’re talking Zen Buddhists or fundamentalist Christians. Anywhere there are people, this can be an issue and we have to be vigilant to say, ‘We will not allow it to take place. This will not be a safe place for predators to be able to move and to act with impunity.’”
How will the SBC handle the report?
Greear explained during his CNN interview that, unlike the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations, the SBC does not have a top-down authority structure.
Member churches associate with one another voluntarily. However, Greear said, congregations that “show a wanton disregard” for human dignity and seek to protect abusers “have no place in our convention.”
While there is not yet a concrete plan in place for how to deal with the allegations revealed by this scathing report, Greear said SBC leadership is looking at possible courses of action.
“Our churches, because of the God that we believe in and that we worship, ought to be safe places for the vulnerable and predators ought to have no place in our midst,” he explained. “If that means that we are going to disfellowship churches that show this wanton disregard or that show a criminal negligence when it comes to these issues, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Seeking to clarify his own understanding of the gravity of the situation, Greear referenced Luke 17:2, in which Jesus said, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
“What would make them stumble more than the ones that they’re hearing about God from to be people that also are allowing them to be in situations where they can experience some of the worst kinds of abuse ever known to mankind?” he asked.
For years, Christian leaders have dealt with sexual sin. According to data collected last year, 57 percent of pastors admitted they struggled — currently or in the past — with an addiction to pornography.
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