Southern Baptist Convention Approves Resolution ‘Permanently’ Disqualifying Pastors Who Commit Sexual Abuse

empty pews inside church building Bethlehem Baptist Church

In a bid to purge the churches from issues of sexual abuse and restore credibility on "the entire office of pastor," the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) approved a resolution that disqualifies assailants from serving in pastoral ministry.

James Meritt, former SBC president and chairman of the resolutions committee, revealed that the convention has recommended a nonbinding resolution, encouraging the permanent disqualification of individuals who committed sexual abuse "from holding the office of pastor" in SBC churches, The Christian Post reported.

In a statement to the media, Meritt shared about the Cross Pointe Church pastor in Georgia who resigned from his post following the revelation of the sexual abuse he committed four decades ago.

"This will be hard for the outside world to understand, but the Scripture is very plain that a pastor has to be above reproach. Good, bad or indifferent, when someone commits sexual abuse, whether it's 20, 30 or 40 years ago, if it comes up, it's just going to be damaging. It's going to put a lot of doubt and a lot of people's minds," he further said.

In addition, the committee chairman "firm[ly]" believes that a pastor who is unfaithful to his wife should also be "permanently disqualified" from church leadership.

"I honestly believe that. It's not an issue of forgiveness. If a Christian gets drunk and drives his car into a tree and loses his left arm, God will forgive him. But he still won't have a left arm," Meritt explained.

But he clarified that pastors who committed such may return through other ministries but not as a lead minister.

"We've got a big job ahead of us as pastors, I believe, to rebuild credibility and trust in the community," he added.

 Meritt's vice chair, Nathan Finn, agreed with his statement. Finn said that reinstating pastors who committed sexual abuse "weakens the credibility of the entire office of pastor."

"So I believe it's very important for Southern Baptists to speak unequivocally and in a way that everyone can understand us that we believe that sexual abuse is a disqualifying factor for anyone who would serve in church leadership where they were commended to vulnerable populations in the church," the vice chair continued.

Further, Finn stated that the resolution conveys their "first instinct needs to be to care for those who have been abused more than protecting [their] own reputation."

Some disagreed with the resolution, arguing that it disallows a person who committed sexual sin as a child from being a pastor. Others also held that forgiveness should be considered, citing Paul who was a former Pharisee but turned into an apostle.

However, Bart Barber, a resolutions committee member, contended that the Bible provides qualifications for being a pastor which excludes sin. He also affirmed Meritt and Finn's declarations that the reinstatement of ministers who committed sexual abuse "weakens the credibility of the entire office of pastor."

During the 2019 annual meeting in Birmingham, the SBC already adopted a constitutional amendment that expels churches over sexual abuse. But a pastor disclosed on Monday that the actions of the executive committee and other stakeholders were not enough to stop the abuse in a Georgia church.