The president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Monday urged officials to investigate whether 10 churches identified in a Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News series of articles about child sex abuse remain “in friendly cooperation” with the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
The 10 churches include the 60,000-member Second Baptist Church in Houston, pastored by former SBC president Ed Young, and a small church planted in the shadow of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, as its pastor tried to rebuild his ministry after a after a highly publicized lawsuit accused him of fostering a culture of abuse at his former church.
“I am not calling for disfellowshipping any of these churches at this point, but these churches must be called upon to give assurance to the SBC that they have taken the necessary steps to correct their policies and procedures with regards to abuse and care for survivors,” SBC President J.D. Greear said in a report to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee.
The investigation is one of a series of steps proposed by a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group formed last year after a number of high-profile SBC leaders left jobs under suspicion of misconduct fueled by the secular #MeToo movement protesting the mistreatment of women in the workplace.
The stakes grew higher Feb. 10, when journalists in two newsrooms rolled out the first of a series of articles written after a six-month investigation counting 700 abuse victims and roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers that faced allegations of sexual misconduct during the last 20 years.
Woman claims former SBC president Ed Young hung up on her
One alleged victim said she was 14 when she was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church in 1994 by a contract worker hired to coordinate church pageants.
The girl’s mother told the newspapers it took months and the threat of criminal charges before the alleged perpetrator left his church position. He eventually received probation after pleading no contest to two counts of indecency with a child by contact.
At one point, the story says, the mother received a call from Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist since 1978 who was elected as SBC president in 1992 and 1993. She said Young initially offered to do whatever he could to help her daughter. When she told him they had already called police, she said he hung up and “we never heard from him again.”
In 2011 a 33-year-old former youth pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston was arrested on charges of sending inappropriate text messages to a 14-year-old girl a year before. Minister Chad Foster pleaded guilty to online solicitation with the adolescent and to sexual assault of another 16-year-old girl he met at a different church. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013.
Embattled pastor seeks shelter in shadow of SBC seminary
Another church on Greear’s list publicly identified its SBC affiliation after its founding pastor left a flagship church in Maryland where he stood accused of handling criminal abuse allegations as congregational discipline instead of matters to be turned over to police.
C.J. Mahaney, a founder of the Sovereign Grace Churches, moved the 80-church network of churches described as “evangelical, Reformed and charismatic” in 2012 from Maryland to Louisville, Kentucky. A stated reason for the move was to strengthen existing ties between Sovereign Grace Churches and Southern Seminary.
Those ties came largely through cooperation in a biennial preaching conference called Together for the Gospel founded by Mahaney, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler, and two other friends in 2004.
“No one outside SGC has defended C.J. Mahaney more than Al Mohler, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan,” Mahaney critic Brent Detwiler said of the T4G combo in a blog last May. “They have defended him against all charges of a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse of children and also defended him against all charges concerning his character and leadership in general.”
Mohler said last week he now regrets his past support for Mahaney and has not had any professional or personal ties with his former colleague for about a year.
In 2012 Sovereign Grace Churches announced a program allowing alumni of its Pastors College to transfer up to 35 credit hours toward the 94 hours required for a master-of-divinity degree in Christian ministry at Southern Seminary.
Mahaney left his Sovereign Grace Churches post in 2013 to focus full-time on his ministry at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, the first SGC church to be planted in Kentucky or Indiana.
Southern Seminary unilaterally ended its formal relationship with Sovereign Grace Churches in 2014, described at the time as one of a number of such “articulation agreements” with schools both in the United States and abroad that do not qualify for traditional accreditation.
In 2016 Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville added a sentence to its “about us” webpage noting that in addition to association with Sovereign Grace Ministries the congregation “also partners with the Southern Baptist Convention for the purposes of training and gospel mission.”
The church’s listing on the SBC’s membership database describes Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville as “a new church of ordinary people who have been transformed by an extraordinary gospel — Jesus Christ died and was raised so that sinners would be reconciled to God.”
Tweaking Article III
Other possible reforms mentioned by Greear include amending SBC governing documents to make clear that churches with “a wanton disregard” for sexual abuse are not in friendly cooperation with the denomination.
Current language on membership in the SBC constitution’s defines cooperating churches as those with “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the convention’s adopted statement of faith,” the Baptist Faith and Message.
The article does not define the criteria for what “closely identifies” with Southern Baptist dogma but “by way of example” it says “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation.”