Southern Baptist Convention officials have reacted to former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore's leaked second letter, with some belying his claims, but he was defended by a whistleblower. This prompted a call for an independent probe to be launched.
In his second letter to SBC President J.D Greear, Moore has accused different SBC officials, both directly and indirectly, of "stonewall[ing]" demands to confront sexual abuse in the organization.
Kentucky Today (KT) reports that the letter, which is dated May 31, 2021, was made public on Friday afternoon (June 4). Greear and Ronnie Floyd, the President and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, who was named in the letter, both released their statements soon after.
Floyd issued his statement on Saturday saying that although he takes the claims seriously, he does not remember any of the incidents described by Moore.
"I have received a copy of the letter from former ERLC president Russell Moore to our current SBC president J.D. Greear, "he said. "Some of the matters referenced occurred prior to my coming here in this role. For those matters of which I was present, I do not have the same recollection of these occurrences as stated."
"I do take seriously allegations in this letter which may raise concern for Southern Baptists," he clarified. "I have been very committed to always operate with the highest integrity and skillful hands. I am right now considering ways in which we can develop the best path forward for the sake of Southern Baptists and our God-called commitment to our unified Great Commission vision,"
Greear, also the pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., confirmed in a statement Monday (June 7) that he received Moore's letter on May 31.
"It came to me as private correspondence and I have treated it as such," said Greear. "I was aware of some things contained in the letter, but not everything, although my own struggles with the Executive Committee related to some of these initiatives are well documented. I know churches in our convention both want and deserve the truth on these matters and I expect these things to come up at our annual meeting next week."
Saturday (June 5) also saw the release of a roughly 14-minute video from former SBC Executive Committee Chair Mike Stone, which was uploaded to the YouTube account of his church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., reports KT. Moore's claims, he said, were "ungodly," "slanderous," and "a second back-door press release this week."
Days after Moore's statements in his two letters were called into doubt by SBC officials, a Texas preacher pitched in and said that Moore's accusations were supported, the Christian Post reported.
According to a letter to Stone and Floyd that was also made public on Thursday, Phillip Bethancourt, the head pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas, who was then an ERLC worker, felt "compelled" to "become a Southern Baptist whistleblower."
"I cannot remain quiet in light of your responses, so I am compelled to do something no one would want to do--become a Southern Baptist whistleblower, " he wrote
In his letter, Bethancourt implied that the leaders of the SBC were not telling the truth.
"Wouldn't the best way to get to the truth be to hear the two of you in your own words?" he pointed out. "Your own words actually corroborate the claims in Russell Moore's letters--the same claims you now suggest are false. I believe that when Southern Baptists hear you in your own words, they will be wise enough to recognize the truth."
He then attached links to three audio snippets from the debrief meeting at the Nashville Caring Well Conference on October 8, 2019. He said that Floyd had used pressure tactics disguised as "I'm just asking questions."
In Clip 1, Floyd raises concerns about the lack of limits placed on speakers at the Caring Well Conference. In Clip 2, Floyd expresses dissatisfaction with Rachael Denhollander on behalf of the Executive Committee, and in Clip 3, Floyd hints that his main interest is to "preserve the base" at the expense of the survivors.
Also given were audio excerpts from a May 2019 Atlanta conference on sexual assault that featured Stone and Floyd, in which Bethancourt argues that "their resistance to the immediate formation of a standing credentials committee became a primary point of disagreement."
Clip 1 reveals that the Bylaws Workgroup had abandoned their quest of a Credentials Committee and that they considered themselves to be victims. In Clip 2, Bethancourt observes that Stone is using the precise terminology that Russell Moore used in his letter which he previously called "unseemly."
"It is a difficult decision to become a Southern Baptist whistleblower," confessed Bethancourt. "But Southern Baptists deserve to hear you in your own words so they can know the truth. That's why I believe it is necessary to not only give the courtesy of first sharing this information with you directly but also make it available publicly soon."
For anyone who may have concerns regarding the credibility of the audio clip, Bethancourt explained that they were properly obtained by him in Tennessee and Georgia, which are one-party consent states. He said that it was recorded properly in a way consistent with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group's approach at important meetings and planning sessions.
"This audio captures relevant clips, attempting to ensure that nothing is taken out of context," he explained. "The full audio is not available because it would publicly mention the names or stories of abuse survivors without their consent. However, when a credible third party investigation is launched, I would be willing to cooperate to provide the full audio along with other relevant information."