Churches have long been a sanctuary from the troubles of the world. They are places of learning, spiritual growth and worship.
But they are also not immune from one of society’s enraging issues — sexual abuse.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), representing the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, opened its national meeting Tuesday in Birmingham with sexual abuse issues at the top of the agenda. Delegates were expected to adopt new abuse prevention measures and consider a proposal making it easier to expel churches that mishandle abuse cases.
The Rev. J.D. Greear, president of the denomination, said the SBC faced a “defining moment” that would shape the church for generations to come.
Sex abuse already was a high-profile issue at the 2018 national meeting in Dallas, after which Greear formed an advisory group to draft recommendations on how to confront the problem. Pressure on the SBC has intensified in recent months, however, due in part to articles by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News asserting that hundreds of Southern Baptist clergy and staff have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, while leaving more than 700 victims with little in the way of justice or apologies.
Southern Baptist delegates have come to this year’s meeting with the intent of ensuring greater protection for members, which will be challenging. But hopefully, the leaders of the church will be successful.
Sexual abuse allegations have impacted the country in all types of businesses as well as schools. The charges have been a huge embarrassment for many institutions, leading to lawsuits, criminal investigations and damaged reputations.
All places of employment need to have safeguards protecting workers, just as school administrations have an obligation to ensure children are safe.
The church is a tremendous refuge and a source of renewal for millions. Acting firmly and swiftly to eradicate predatory behavior among ministers and staff deserves to be at the top of the agenda as the SBC is doing.