Backlash to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News about widespread sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention has prompted the resignation of at least one convention leader.
Ken Alford, pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Valdosta, Georgia, resigned Friday as a member of the SBC Executive Committee amid criticism after a work group he led called off an investigation of seven of 10 churches requested by SBC President J.D. Greear.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, urged the bylaws work group to take steps to determine whether 10 churches “evidenced indifference” in addressing sexual abuse after their names appeared in a series of stories finding more than 700 people had reported being sexually abused by Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers in the last two decades.
Chaired by Alford, the work group responded quickly that it would send letters to three of the churches but the majority on the list – including Houston’s Second Baptist Church led by former SBC President Ed Young – warranted “no further inquiry.”
Critics saw it as “a superficial process that exonerated churches that had been ‘exposed’ in secular media reports,” Alford said in his resignation e-mail obtained and quoted by the Houston Chronicle.
“The bylaws work group actually conducted no investigation, because we were not authorized to do so,” Alford claimed. “And we did not ‘clear’ any churches, because that determination was not part of our responsibility.”
A Feb. 23 statement from the bylaws group said it reviewed a “dossier” supplied by Greear containing information he used as basis to name the churches before deciding it would not require churches to disprove every allegation of indifference toward abuse. That, they said, would be “in effect, a presumption of guilt which the Executive Committee should view as untenable and unscriptural.”
The work group admonished other Southern Baptists “to avoid publicly calling the names of churches without having documentation of criminal convictions and giving prior notice to the church.”
Alford said he could understand why people reading that report as the first “official” response to initiatives addressing sexual abuse across the convention “were disappointed, disillusioned and even angry.”
He also referenced something from his past that raised questions about his ability to lead the group. In 2002 Alford resigned as pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida, citing marital problems and a “one-time moral indiscretion.”
At the time he was trustee chairman of the SBC North American Mission Board, a member of the Florida Baptist Convention’s state board of missions and had recently completed two years as president of the Florida Baptist Convention.
He became senior pastor of his current church in 2005.
Christa Brown, a long-time advocate for reform, said the “bogus too-hasty effort” of Alford’s bylaws work group “is a good illustration of why Southern Baptists need an independent professionally-staffed review panel to assess clergy abuse reports.”
Brown said the 10 churches identified by Greear “was always the tip of the iceberg.”
“There are countless more abuse survivors waiting in the wings for a safe place to report — or often to re-report — clergy-perpetrators, and all of their allegations merit responsible inquiry,” she said in an e-mail March 3.
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