NASHVILLE – Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told CNN he is calling the convention to disfellowship churches "that show a wanton disregard that allows abuse."
Appearing Feb. 18 on CNN's "New Day," Greear also said he will call tonight at an SBC Executive Committee meeting in Nashville for "enhanced language" in SBC documents to underscore the convention's longstanding belief abuse "is out of step with" The Baptist Faith and Message.
"Churches that show a wanton disregard that allows abuse, that allows it to happen, that protects the abuser – they have no place in our convention," said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Southern Baptist churches, "because of the God that we believe in and that we worship, ought to be safe places for the vulnerable, and predators ought to have no place in our midst.
"If that means that we are going to disfellowship churches that show this wanton disregard or show a criminal negligence when it comes to these issues, then that's what we're going to do," Greear said.
Greear's appearance on CNN was his first live interview, according to CNN, since the Houston Chronicle published a three-part series of articles on sexual abuse among Southern Baptists. The Chronicle claimed approximately 380 instances among Southern Baptists since 1998 – including more than 250 since 2008 – of "those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned." The crimes have left more than 700 victims, the newspaper stated.
"Absolute horror" at such instances of abuse was Greear's first response when he read the Chronicle's reporting, he said.
The SBC already had condemned abuse in a 2018 resolution among other statements, and Greear launched a Sexual Abuse Advisory Study in July. But the Chronicle's articles "made the urgency" of a report about the study to the EC "all the more pressing," he said.
Greear is scheduled to deliver such a report the evening of Feb. 18.
Participants in the study, Greear said, have included Andrea Munford, the lead detective on the sexual abuse investigation of former U.S.A. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, and Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and former gymnast who accused Nassar of abuse.
Greear turned to Scripture to support his stance against abuse and churches that fail to act against abusers. He cited Jesus' statement recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke that it would be better for someone to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned than to cause a child to "stumble."
"What would make them stumble more than [for] the ones that they're hearing about God from to be people that also are allowing them to be in situations where they can experience some of the worst kind of abuse ever known to mankind?" Greear asked.
When pressed by CNN anchor John Berman about taking more action against abuse than past SBC presidents, Greear noted the president lacks power to disfellowship churches. Only messengers to the SBC annual meeting, or the EC acting on their behalf between annual meetings, have that power. Yet Greear said he is confident Southern Baptists possess "a readiness to deal with this issue."
Southern Baptists must be vigilant about preventing abuse, Greear said, and take care not to create, "intentionally or unintentionally, safe spaces for abusers."
Some Southern Baptists, Greear said, seem to have assumed abuse is "not something that can happen to us." However, abuse can occur "anywhere there are people."
The Baptist Press is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.