The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is paying heed to a major sexual abuse crisis engulfing its estranged sibling, the Southern Baptist Convention, an official said June 20 during a report of the CBF Governing Board.
“Like last year, our General Assembly coincides with the Southern Baptist Convention, who were here in this very space this time last week,” past moderator Shauw Chin Capps said during a business session of the 2019 CBF General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama.
“In light of what has transpired in the SBC as they find themselves in the spotlight dealing with the aftermath of decades of sexual abuse and coverup involving 700 victims and over 200 sexual abusers, I would be remiss not to say a few words about this.”
Capps, former CEO of a non-profit organization serving victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, said there are two lessons the 1,800-church group that separated from the SBC in the 1990s over issues including women’s equality can learn from recent newspaper reports documenting widespread sexual abuse in the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
“Number one, we are not immune to the problem of sexual abuse in our churches and organizations,” said Capps, now a consultant for an executive search firm. “I know this firsthand, so we do not gloat and pretend that this is not happening within CBF life. We acknowledge our brokenness and the need for repentance and for increased efforts at all levels to prevent sexual abuse of children and adults.”
“We also stand in solidarity with all victims and advocates working toward healing and justice,” said Capps, who led the CBF as moderator in 2017-2018.
Secondly, Capps said, “While sexual abuse knows no theological labels or denominations, we do know that as a Fellowship we do not carry the heavy, toxic burden of a patriarchal theology that can paralyze efforts towards victim-centered prevention and intervention.”
“We have a diverse Fellowship, which often means we don’t see eye to eye on many things, but we are united under a God who calls women and men to be equal partners in ministry,” she said.
Capps said CBF was studying the problem of clergy sexual misconduct even before last year’s #MeToo movement pushed the mistreatment of women by powerful men into the public sphere.
Last fall CBF joined Baptist Women in Ministry to release two new resources to help churches, seminaries and partnering organizations respond to clergy sexual abuse.
“There is so much more to be done,” Capps said, adding that the Fellowship hopes to partner with other Baptists and non-Baptist bodies in a centralized database system to hinder predators from moving from church to church.
Victim advocates have pushed for record keeping as a proactive first step to address the challenge of weeding out repeat offenders in the Southern Baptist tradition known as autonomy of the local church. Congregations choose their own pastors without the denomination’s approval, and SBC leaders have said any convention-wide tracking system would be voluntary and therefore incomplete.
Capps said the CBF will be updating its online reference and referral system so that search committees and clergy will have to acknowledge their commitment to a safe church in order to participate. She said more resources are forthcoming on prevention and response to clergy sexual misconduct and recovery services for abuse survivors.
“In fact, we have a small but growing list of CBF-endorsed pastoral counselors who are qualified and willing to take calls for help from victims,” Capps said. “The voices of survivors have led us in this first phase of work, and their voices will continue to lead us in the work ahead.”