Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sex Abuse in the SBC and Taking Steps To Stop It

Sexual abuse survivors in a meeting after Tuesdays SBC
This 2019 Southern Baptist Convention, which is the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Houston SBC which began what some call the Conservative Resurgence, will go down in history as the Stop Sexual Abuse Convention.

In 2005, my first year as a trustee of the International Mission Board, I discovered that the SBC had a patriarchal power problem. Men in denominational leadership were doing everything they could to exclude women from leadership,  from teaching others Gospel truth, and from doing anything that "imitated the authority of a male." I won't take time to recount the issues, but you can read about them in Hard Ball Religion.

It didn't long for me to see there was a massive sexual abuse problem in the SBC. Power trips typically end in twisted trysts of sexual submission.

Sadly, rather than approving my recommendation to create a sexual abuse database in 2007 to track the patriarchal power problem in the SBC, it took the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio News-Express in 2019 to jolt the SBC into action.

At least things are now moving.

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, under the leadership of Russell Moore, has zoomed to the forefront of the fight to stop sexual abuse. The ELRC has published some superb materials called Becoming a Church that Cares Well the Abused. Every Southern Baptist Church should take advantage of them.

That said, the International Mission Board did not mention the problem of sexual abuse on the SBC mission field in their report to the Convention. To be fair, on May 29, 2019, the IMB published on their website the preliminary sexual abuse report that the law firm Gray Plant Mooty released. The preliminary sexual abuse report contained specific recommendations for the IMB to prevent any further sexual abuse cases on the mission field.

We had a wonderful IMB commissioning service at the Convention, but the Southern Baptist Convention has a moral obligation to put in the official record what is needed to reverse the curse of sexual abuse within our respective agencies.

The IMB made a wise choice  by using outside counsel to investigate past history of the IMB’s handling of sexual abuse cases and to recommend specific steps the IMB can implement to prevent sexual abuse on the mission field.

I made a motion to put into the Southern Baptist Convention's Offical Annual the specific steps the law firm Gray Plant Moody recommended that the IMB take.

According to the platform, SBC "legal counsel" advised them against such an action. After the session, I had a cordial but heated exchange with the Southern Baptist Convention’s legal counsel. They said the International Mission Board decides what they wish to report out to the SBC, and we can't make them report anything.

That’s wrong.

It's our (the SBC's) report, and we can do anything we desire with it because WE (the SBC) place it in our Convention Annual three months from now. The SBC needs in “the official record" what the IMB must do (according to Gray Plant Moody). The SBC legal counsel gave the Convention bad legal counsel, mostly because they don’t understand parliamentarian rules, the SBC annual and archives, and they didn’t take the time to understand the motion I made (a simple phone call would suffice because they had my cell).

We (the SBC) has every right to put into the official record the following sixteen recommended steps for the IMB:
1. Create a new full-time position to oversee prevention and response efforts. This new senior staff member would have a broad range of responsibilities, including overseeing training, receiving reports of child abuse or sexual harassment (including sexual assault), and overseeing the investigation process;
2. When IMB receives a report of child abuse or sexual harassment (including sexual assault), involve outside legal counsel with expertise in this area to provide advice throughout the process;
3. Continue the current practice of using a forensic psychologist with expertise in interviewing children to conduct investigation interviews of children.
4. Adopt protocols for consistently reporting allegations of child abuse committed by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB to U.S. government authorities, even when there is not a legal duty to do so.
5. Adopt protocols for reporting allegations of child abuse to foreign government authorities;
6. Revise policies and trainings to make clear that in addition to personnel’s obligations to report suspected child abuse internally to IMB, personnel also have the option, and sometimes the obligation, to report directly to government authorities;
7. Report every known incident of alleged child abuse by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB that has not previously been reported.
8. Revise the screening process for employees to more thoroughly screen for concerns related to child abuse or sexual harassment (including sexual assault);
9. Provide increased training, incorporating additional content, for expanded audiences, and with greater frequency. Topics should include child safety, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence, as well as more frequent age-appropriate education for children of IMB personnel to help children recognize and report abuse;
10. Implement a consistent, centralized process for screening volunteers including effective oversight from IMB personnel;
11. Modify the investigation process to use trauma-informed interview techniques and a trauma-informed approach to weighing evidence;
12. Adopt additional policies to enhance the resources and support available to victims during and after the investigation;
13. Publicize IMB’s current reference policy to encourage employers considering working or partnering with former IMB personnel to contact IMB to receive accurate information;
14. Encourage reporting to IMB leadership when individuals are aware that perpetrators are working in a position that would provide access to children following the end of their affiliation with IMB;
15. Adopt a clear process by which IMB will provide affirmative safety warnings when individuals report to IMB leadership that perpetrators are working in a position that would provide access to children following the end of their affiliation with IMB;
16. Implement overall changes to policy and practice aimed at eliminating or reducing barriers to reporting and strengthening IMB’s prevention and response efforts.
These actionable steps to prevent sexual abuse within the International Mission Board should have been reported out and placed into the official record of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Legal counsel said "No."

We live in a crazy day when the SBC legal counsel says "no" to our Convention placing into the official record of the Southern Baptist Convention sixteen steps of action recommended by a legal firm (Gray Plant Mooty), an action plan paid for by the International Mission Board, and made public on the IMB website.

Talk is cheap.

The Southern Baptist Convention messengers are charged to hold accountable the independent agencies of our Convention. I will be back next year to make sure we have a report from the IMB that tells us if they have actually taken the steps Gray Plant Mooty recommended.

Now, off to the Convention to see if we're going to continue to promote patriarchal power plays by limiting the "functions" of a pastor to males only.


RB Kuter said...

Wade wrote in reference to the response from the SBC legal counsel: "They said the International Mission Board decides what they wish to report out to the SBC, and we can't make them report anything."

This is a big problem with our SBC structure. Lack of accountability of the Trustee Boards. Institution administration is meant to be accountable to the Boards but the Boards do not acknowledge accountability to anyone. What arrogance. To imply that any SBC Board is autonomous and has no accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention is a very disturbing, but accurate, portrayal of the psyche that exists within the Boards of our SBC institutions.

The pressure should be applied more to those Boards of Trustees of all SBC institutions than the administration of the institutions themselves who are generally the source for reports given at the annual Convention meetings. The Boards of Trustees function freely, without a sense of being accountable to anyone. They are in the position of giving the administration of the institutions a "pass" on any and all decisions made. There are apparently no mandates requiring these Boards to answer to anyone, including the Southern Baptist Convention itself. It is all maintained "internally", hence, the susceptibility to abuse of authority. To propose changes upon the institutions without insisting that the Boards of Trustees acknowledge their accountability to give detailed reports to the Convention will fail in its desired effect.

The problem may lie in the structure of the Southern Baptist Convention itself. There may be no means in place to monitor and have ultimate authority over our Boards of Trustees. This may well be how we get into the messes we seem to always find ourselves.

There IS "cover-up" for decisions that have been made by IMB's administration to avoid embarrassment and shame for abuses, not only to children but to women who have been assaulted. All SBC institutions, but the IMB, in particular, are desperate to maintain a "pure, clean, holy" image and aggressively defend against scrutiny. Records regarding misbehavioral incidents are protected at a high level, often citing the institution's obligation to maintain legal confidentiality.

Insisting that a report be made to the SBC is a good beginning, but by who? How will those Boards be held accountable?

Debbie Kaufman said...

And as Jacob Denhollander pointed out the victims are not out for anything other than for the abuse to stop.

Doug Martin said...

Sounds to me like something right out of the middle ages with multiple fiefdoms ruled by feudal lords, funded by serfs and accountable to no one.....nothing like a hermetically sealed system to insure decline, decay and morbidity....sigh....sigh....sigh.....(triple sigh).

Christiane said...

the 'secret keeping' meant to preserve 'reputation' is truly the worst possible solution to such a hideous malignancy as sexual abuse . . .

if the lessons learned by the Catholic Church have helped other to realize that 'secret-keeping' is so destructive of innocent persons;
then we ought to see other denominations wake up to alerting the proper authorities as soon as abuse is reported so that they can investigate properly

there is no way out of calling the authorities, there is no 'keeping silent' in the face of this terrible form of authoritative corruption, that perpetrators are 'protected' at the expense of innocent victims

there has been too much suffering, people need to do what is right and no excuses for avoiding responsibility for the protection of the innocent as priority

Anonymous said...

We have to ask WHY? Why wouldn't the IMB be transparent? We know there are issues. If they are wanting to repent/relaunch with accountability from this major examination, to not diclose is to prevent accountability. The SBC would not tolerate this from a church and would kick them out in a heartbeat, especially with the past abuses, perpetrating abuse, moving abusers on and allowing them to continue in roles of authority.

What skeletons are in their closet that they are so afraid of getting out? If they confess with humility, there is only grace and accountability for future righteous acting.

Wade Burleson said...

I had a good conversation with a very high level official with the IMB.

He was for my motion.

It was “legal counsel” for the SBC who threw the IMB under the bus. Unless Mr. Gunther (attorney-at-law) is volunteering his services, he should be fired by the Southern Baptist Convention.

He gave horrible counsel.

The IMB official told me they were for my motion, and I know enough about the law and parliamentary procedures to know that our SBC counsel was in complete error.