Five key facts from five different news reports on SBC president's call for sex abuse reforms

Pastor J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, made national headlines Monday night with remarks on how his denomination can address its ongoing sexual abuse crisis.

Greear made 10 recommendations, and I found it interesting how various major news organizations reported on them.

Both the Houston Chronicle — which, with the San Antonio Express-News, published a bombshell investigative series on Southern Baptist abuse cases last week — and Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana led with the possibility of 10 churches facing expulsion from the SBC.

The Chronicle’s lede:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of the Southern Baptist Convention on Monday evening called for a "season of lament, sorrow, and repentance" over a sexual abuse crisis, and provided a list of 10 churches, including Second Baptist Church in Houston, that he said should be scrutinized for their handling of sexual abuses and potentially removed from the nation's largest Baptist group.

And that of RNS:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the denomination’s Executive Committee should immediately investigate 10 churches named in a report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, including Second Baptist in Houston — one of the largest churches in the SBC.

If any churches were found to have covered up abuse and refused to mend their ways, Greear told a gathering of Southern Baptist leaders on Monday (Feb. 18), then the convention should consider removing them from the denomination, a process known as “disfellowshipping.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, focused on the likelihood of the SBC creating a database of abusers:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — More than a decade after the Southern Baptist Convention rejected the idea of creating a database of ministers credibly accused of sexual abuse, leaders said on Monday night the possibility is on the table.

The denomination already was looking at how it could better respond to abuse when two Texas newspapers published an investigation last week that detailed hundreds of cases of abuse in its churches.

Those revelations added a sense of urgency to a meeting of the SBC's executive committee on Monday night, where President J.D. Greear reported on the progress of a sexual assault advisory committee.

The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer and the New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias went with “umbrella” ledes highlighting a variety of Greear’s proposals.

From The Tennessean:

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear unveiled Monday plans to reform how churches in his denomination address sexual abuse. 

The proposed changes range from providing free training for ministry leaders and encouraging churches to review their policies on abuse to calling for a reexamination of the ordination process and ensuring that Southern Baptist churches cannot have a "wanton disregard for prevention of sexual abuse" and still be in good fellowship with the denomination.

And the Times:

The largest evangelical denomination in the United States on Monday announced its initial recommendations for addressing revelations of widespread sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches across the country.

“There is a problem,” said the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, according to his prepared remarks to the executive leadership of the denomination. “It’s time we back up our words with actions that demonstrate our concern about this.”

Each of the stories covers some of the same territory. But each, too, contains a unique element worth noting.

Here are five key facts from these five different news reports:

1. Associated Press — Two important numbers are mentioned in almost every story related to this crisis, and rightly so.

Those numbers would be the roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders accused of sex crimes or misconduct involving more than 700 victims since 1998, according to the Texas newspapers’ probe.

But most news reports have ignored two other numbers that are crucial for understanding the size and scope of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Give AP credit for including them along with another piece of relevant context concerning the SBC’s makeup:

With 15 million members and over 47,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination. But the SBC's structure as a voluntary association of autonomous churches has hindered past efforts at fighting sexual abuse.

2. Houston Chronicle: I liked that the Chronicle not only listed all 10 churches facing possible disfellowship, but it also contacted area churches under scrutiny to seek their response.

3. The Tennessean: Kudos to Meyer for including the reaction of the audience to Greear’s comments:

As Greear made his way through the list of recommendations, an occasional murmur of "amens" underscored a point he was trying to make. The end of his speech was met with a standing ovation.

4. New York Times: You don’t see this every day (although it has become something of a theme in SBC leaders’ response to the investigative reports):

In an unusual move, Mr. Greear also thanked the news media for “shining a light on the magnitude of this horrific sin,” and reminded his fellow pastors that journalists are “not our enemy.”

“We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves,” he said. “The safety of victims is more important than the reputation of Southern Baptists.”

5. Religion News Service: Smietana — former award-winning religion writer at The Tennessean and now RNS’ editor-in-chief — gets extra points for including the doctrinal nitty-gritty in his story.

See what I mean:

In some cases, Greear said, churches have “directly acted in a manner that was negligent at best and malicious at worst,” and he called their actions unacceptable. He said the convention should investigate whether those churches have violated the SBC’s “Baptist Faith and Message” statement, which states that churches should care for the abused.

What did I miss?

Did you see any other coverage — good or bad — of Greear’s comments?

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