Southern Baptists quash expanded sex abuse probe, for now

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee on Monday quashed a push for an independent committee to lead a probe of its handling of sex abuse cases, but the proposal is almost certain to resurface when the nation’s largest denomination holds its biggest and most contentious annual meeting in decades.

The push for accountability came after leaked letters accused current and former Executive Committee officials of slow-walking efforts to address sexual abuse and trying to intimidate those who advocated for change.

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Amid calls for a third-party investigation, Executive Committee president Ronnie Floyd announced Friday that the panel had retained a firm to conduct it. But some pastors demanded an independent task force, saying they don’t trust the committee to oversee an investigation of itself.

The committee voted down a proposal for such a task force that was presented Monday by member Jared Wellman during a meeting of the governing body. Wellman also was seeking to expand the scope of the probe to all paid, appointed and elected leaders, past or present.

Speaking against the motion, member Jim Gregory said Floyd’s original proposal is comprehensive enough. Otherwise, he said, “This will never end. Monetarily, where does it end?”

Still, the issue is likely to come up again Tuesday at the meeting in Nashville, which more than 17,000 voting delegates are pre-registered to attend.

“It is hard to imagine that a body of believers of the Lord Jesus would vote to limit in any way an investigation to find the truth when there are serious allegations related to sexual abuse,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin tweeted after Monday’s committee meeting. “Praying our Convention charts the right course tomorrow.”

The Executive Committee takes care of SBC business between annual meetings, but during the gatherings themselves it is voting delegates from the denomination’s churches that are in charge. Several people have promised to make motions similar to the one rejected by the committee, and a group of abuse survivors released a joint statement in support of the effort.

Also looming over the meeting is an effort by a group of ultraconservatives to wrest control of the denomination, calling some of its leaders too liberal on issues such as race and the role of women in ministry. Formed last year, the Conservative Baptist Network is backing one of it own as a candidate for SBC president at this year’s meeting: Mike Stone, a white pastor from Georgia.

At least one prominent Black pastor has announced that he will leave the denomination if Stone is elected. Several other Black pastors have already left the SBC over what they said was racial insensitivity from the denomination’s overwhelmingly white leadership.

Stone is also the immediate past chairman of the Executive Committee, where he worked to place other members of the Conservative Baptist Network in key leadership positions on his way out the door. On Monday current chairman Rolland Slade, a Black pastor from California, pushed back and was able to elect his own candidate to lead a commission on strategic planning.

Floyd alluded to the infighting and controversy surrounding this year’s meeting in his address to the Executive Committee.

“We do have challenges in many areas that have led to confusion and division among some of our SBC family,” he said. “It really grieves me. At the same time, I have to realize that it’s expected in a community of our size and breadth.”

Despite claiming 14 million members, the denomination has been shrinking for the past 14 years. Some see the need to appeal to non-white pastors and congregations as a matter of survival. The number of Black, Latino and Asian American congregations has been increasing despite the overall decline, and they now make up about 22% of congregations, Floyd said.

Kelly Miller Smith Jr., a Black pastor who spent 25 years at SBC churches and now leads a Baptist church not affiliated with the denomination, said some in leadership want Black churches but don’t want to make room for other cultures.

“They really want to make Black and brown churches accommodate to their way of thinking,” he said.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.