Southern Baptist Convention officials on Tuesday announced a reboot of a major conference five months away to focus on the problem of sexual abuse in churches.
The Oct. 3-5 conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, is now titled “Caring Well: Equipping Churches to Confront the Abuse Crisis.”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the moral concerns agency has never before scrapped a fully planned conference to focus on a different theme.
“In planning our conference around the theme of gospel courage, we came to a realization,” Moore said in a press release April 30. “That is, the scourge of sexual abuse in churches is the very embodiment of the need for gospel courage.”
The announcement follows a February investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News finding that more than 700 people were sexually abused by about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders or volunteers since 1998.
SBC President J.D. Greear proposed reforms in February including investigating congregations for “wanton disregard” that allows sexual abuse to happen. An ad hoc presidential advisory group convened by Greear in partnership with the ERLC plans to introduce a new curriculum title “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused” at the upcoming SBC annual meeting June 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Moore said in an interview on Facebook Live that one goal of the conference is to explore “what it takes to be a church that will stand up and say: ‘We’re not worried about public relations. We’re not worried about the image of the church. We’re worried about being faithful to Christ.’”
“One thing that is encouraging to me is over the years sometimes when we would raise these issues of sexual abuse and assault, what I would find is at least some people, a lot of people, within the Christian community would say ‘Well that’s something that happens somewhere else’ or ‘It is something that wouldn’t really happen in our church, because we know each other. We just don’t have those things going on,’” Moore said.
“Now, because of many of the revelations that have happened over the past year, two years, so on, I’m getting a lot of people who are saying ‘What should we be doing in our church?’ or ‘How do we know if we’ve had something that has gone badly in our church?’”
“That’s an encouraging thing to me, which means we need to have focused time of concentration not just to say ‘Here are all the things that have been done wrong in places,’ but ‘Here are some places that have really done this well that we ought to imitate and implement in our own churches.’”
Scheduled speakers include Rachael Denhollander, a key witness in the trial that sent former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to prison as a serial abuser, and Beth Moore, a popular women’s Bible teacher who has spoken out recently against sexual abuse.
Lesser-known personalities listed on a promotional event website include Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who in 2018 told the Washington Post that in 2003 the seminary president encouraged her not to report an alleged sexual assault to the police. Along with other missteps in dealing with women, the bombshell report contributed to the firing of Conservative Resurgence co-founder Paige Patterson as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last May.
Brent Detwiler, a non-Baptist who in the past chastised certain Southern Baptist leaders for not taking seriously allegations of a culture of abuse fostered by a ministry colleague named C.J. Mahaney, said he hopes the SBC will take steps to remove Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville from membership in the denomination.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, apologized in February for his past support of Mahaney, a former friend who frequently appeared alongside him at conferences popular with the neo-Calvinist crowd.
Mahaney, accused of concealing abuse in a lawsuit thrown out of court due to a legal technicality in 2013, wrote the foreword to Russell Moore’s 2009 book, Adopted for Life. A revised and expanded edition released in 2015 omits the foreword.
The first ERLC national conference in 2014 focused on human sexuality. In 2015 ERLC leaders moved a theme of the gospel and racial reconciliation up one year ahead of schedule in response to police killings of African-American men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
The 2017 conference on parenting included release of the Nashville Statement, endorsed by numerous Southern Baptist leaders, denouncing churches that tolerate homosexuality.