In Crisis, Southern Baptists Agree to Track Alleged Abusers

Texas pastor Bart Barber also elected SBC president at national meeting
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 15, 2022 1:58 PM CDT
In Crisis, Southern Baptists Agree to Track Alleged Abusers
Attendees hold up their ballots during a session at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, June 14, 2022.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to create a way to track pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sex abuse and launch a new task force to oversee further reforms in the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The vote came three weeks after the release of a blockbuster report on the long-simmering scandal, revealing that leaders mishandled abuse cases and stonewalled victims for years, per the AP. Thousands of Southern Baptists had convened in Anaheim for a two-day national meeting. They elected a new SBC president, Texas pastor Bart Barber, who is a staunch proponent of Southern Baptists' conservative views but who says he has a track record of dialogue with those who disagree.

He has called for an "army of peacemakers" amid bitter political battles in the denomination. He defeated three other candidates and ultimately prevailed in a run-off vote. His closest rival, Tom Ascol, had complained of too much "wokeness" in the denomination and sought to move it further to the right. Also Tuesday, the delegates debated but didn't vote on whether to kick out one of its biggest and best-known churches—Saddleback Church, the California megachurch headed by Rick Warren, author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, who is set to retire after more than four decades leading the church—because it ordained women pastors. The denomination's statement of faith says the office of pastor is for men only.

The vote on sex-abuse reforms fell short of what some survivors of abuse in Southern Baptist churches sought, such as a compensation fund for victims and a more robust and independent commission to monitor its churches' handling—and mishandling—of abuse. And it also met opposition from some who contended the crisis was overhyped and that it interfered with Baptist churches' independence. But Bruce Frank, who led the task force that recommended the reforms, made an emotional plea for church representatives to accept them. He called the steps the "bare minimum," adding it will take time to change the SBC's culture. "How are you going to tell a watching world that Jesus died for them ... when his church won't even do its very best to protect them?" he asked. (Read more Southern Baptist Convention stories.)

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