The Southern Baptist Convention is proposing changes it hopes will allow it to better prevent child sexual abuse in its churches – but a Christian theologian and apologist is warning that the crisis could be used to change the priorities of the denomination.
The Houston Chronicle investigation brought the problem to the public's attention almost two weeks ago, but SBC leadership has been working through the issue for some time now, as the denomination's president J.D. Greear (pictured) explained to CNN recently:
Greear: "I'd appointed a study group back in July of last year that was really going to study this issue from top to bottom to try to analyze [the places where] we are we missing the mark."
The solution, according to recommendations from the SBC Executive Committee, is to ask churches to voluntarily take strict measures on vetting staff and volunteers:
Greear: "Churches that will not go along with what we believe on this have to be removed as a part of who we are – and that's what I'll be calling for."
That kind of top-down mandate is new for Southern Baptists, whose churches to this point have been autonomous, according to theologian Dr. Alex McFarland. He contends some in SBC leadership are looking to make the denomination more attuned to "social justice" causes.
"... The more [the SBC] becomes hierarchical and leftist – as there's an attempt being made to lead it that way – the less that people are going to see the need to be a part of a local church," he argues.
McFarland considers it a new and dangerous direction for America's largest Protestant denomination. "[They're saying] we'll tell you what the agenda is; we'll give you the marching orders. It's kind of an internal suicide, really," he laments.
Earlier this month, Greear said Southern Baptists need to own up to the reports of child sexual abuse in their churches – not try to explain it away or blame the media for the reports.