When the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee meets next week in Nashville, Tennessee, the committee's chairman intends to ask for an independent investigation of the committee's sexual assault complaints.
According to Religion News (RNS), Pastor Rolland Slade of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, has said that he would accept a request for a probe put up by two Southern Baptist pastors. The proposal is expected to be discussed at the denomination's annual convention on June 15-16.
"It's never the wrong time to do the right thing," said Slade.
According to Kentucky Today, Southern Baptists will convene for the SBC Annual Meeting, which will take place next week in Nashville. It is projected to be the biggest in 25 years, with more than 16,000 preregistered delegates.
Following the posting of Moore's second letter, calls for an independent investigation started to mount. Russell Moore's first, and particularly his second letter to SBC President J.D. Greear sparked outrage from those he accused of "stonewalling" [efforts to address sexual assault in the SBC].
The pressure intensified with the revelation on Thursday (June 10) of audio snippets from two 2019 meetings with Southern Baptist officials on how to confront sexual assault in the convention by Phillip Bethancourt, a Texas pastor and former executive vice president of the ERLC.
According to Baptist Press, SBC EC President Ronnie Floyd has joined EC Chairman Rolland Slade in calling for an "independent, third-party investigation."
In a statement made on Thursday after audio-clips were posted, Floyd stated that since last weekend, the leadership of the EC staff is working on "securing a highly credible outside firm with the intent of conducting an independent third-party review of the accusations recently levied at the SBC Executive Committee."
Also in his statement, Floyd defined the conversations as "leaders engaging in a scriptural process of coming together with others who have differing opinions on complicated issues and ... discussing those differences honestly with a goal of how to best move forward."
He also apologized "for any harm" caused by his words but said Bethancourt's posting of the recorded conversations was "an attempt to mischaracterize" the meetings.
What others perceive
Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, is concerned about the way Baptist leaders have addressed allegations of sexual misconduct. He claims that Baptist officials have neglected to listen to abuse survivors, and he wants an impartial inquiry to be carried out into the matter.
"I think it is time for an outside investigation," he told RNS. "I think messengers from SBC churches deserve that - to help regain trust back in our Executive Committee."
Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and domestic violence advocate who has previously counseled SBC officials, believes that an independent investigation is consistent with Southern Baptist doctrine on truth and repentance.
"No one should have any fear of an investigation," she said. "No one should fear the truth being brought into the light."
She recommends that Southern Baptist leaders engage with experts in the field of abuse before launching a third-party probe. She believes this will assist in ensuring that the third party performs a comprehensive job.
Additionally, WFMJ noted that Denhollander said that the recently released audio clips confirm her own experiences fighting for victims of abuse inside the SBC, and that she has volunteered to assist several times but has been turned down.
"Hopefully over the last two weeks, Southern Baptist messengers (voting representatives) have begun to ask very important questions," she said. One of those is how church authorities may "misreport a case of violent abuse as an affair and nobody would care? ... Because they had done it in the past."
When asked about the impending gathering, Denhollander said that there would be two resolutions addressing abuse, and that they are being meticulously drafted to take into consideration "Southern Baptist theology and polity," noted WFMJ. In addition, she refuted Stone's claim that the SBC's organizational structure made it impossible to take specific steps against sexual exploitation.
In Denhollander's opinion, "it's actually very easy to do in a way that is legally sound and respects Southern Baptist autonomy."
Jennifer Lyell tweeted that Floyd "was not a poor middleman" trying to get answers to others' questions, but rather "one of THEM" on the Executive Committee. Lyell's case was cited in Denhollander's criticism of the Executive Committee.
"They weren't attacked," she wrote. "They were exposed."
However, D. August "Augie" Boto, a long-time executive committee worker and now-retired executive committee vice president and general counsel, stands as the devil's advocate. He accused Denhollander and another activist of inflating the extent of abuse inside the SBC and being duped by the devil's "misdirection play."
"This whole thing should be seen for what it is," he stated in a 2019 email obtained by a Southern Baptist blogger.
"It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism," Boto continued.
A spokesperson for the "For Such a Time As This" rallies calling for improvements in the Southern Baptist Convention's abuse policies, the Rev. Ashley Easter stated that church members and church leaders are often present in an abuse trial courtroom to support the accused abuser.
"It's horrific to hear that money changed hands in support, and that there was support of the predator," said Easter, who has helped run protests calling for a database of sex offenders within the denomination. "But that's kind of par for the course in these situations. Sadly, I'm not surprised but I am sickened."
According to WFMJ, a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News discovered that around 380 Southern Baptist church officials and volunteers had been accused of sexual assault, with charges involving several hundred victims. These and later reports detailed instances of perpetrators returning to ministry, as well as instances in which victims were held responsible.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said during its annual conference in 2019 that congregations might be removed for mishandling abuse complaints and established the credentials committee to investigate such instances.