Ready, set, go! The much-anticipated Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting starts in 3, 2, 1 ...

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Sex abuse. Women’s roles. Abortion.

All could make headlines at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, which starts Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.

But as The Associated Press notes, the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation’s Protestant denomination for months is expected to dominate the yearly gathering.

That scandal started, of course, with a bombshell investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The Texas papers have kept at the investigation and delivered a final piece of their series Sunday. That front-page report focused on “Baptist abuse victims’ battle: silence, survival, speaking out.” It’s certainly a worthy read in advance of the SBC meeting.

Just two years ago, someone (OK, maybe it was me) whined about reporters’ seeming lack of interest in the SBC’s meeting. But in 2019, the gathering is, no doubt, the journalistic place to be.

GetReligion’s own Richard Ostling offered a tip sheet last week for news writers covering the Baptist extravaganza, as he put it. And on Sunday, GR editor Terry Mattingly featured a think piece by the SBC’s Russell Moore.

Already, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer — who is covering the meeting with her Gannett colleague Katherine Burgess of Memphis’ Commercial Appeal — has filed her first story from Birmingham.

Meyer reports from a pre-convention meeting of the denomination’s executive committee:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee took steps Monday to make it clear that it can kick out churches that show a disregard for sexual abuse. 

While the ability to sever ties with such churches already exists, the executive committee voted to enshrine in the convention's constitution that addressing sexual abuse is part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist church

"In the culture, situations and issues arise from time to time where we need to make explicit what has already been implicit," said Pastor Mike Stone, chairman of the executive committee. "These actions are a confirmation of what Southern Baptists have always believed."

The top administrative body, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session, also supported a bylaw change on Monday that would form a special committee to address misconduct allegations, including sexual abuse, against churches. 

The new panel would conduct inquiries — not investigations — into the allegations and make a recommendation to the executive committee about whether the convention should be in fellowship with the church in question. 

In advance of the meeting, Religion News Service’s Adelle Banks (one of the reliable Godbeat pros who has covered the SBC year after year, even when big news hasn’t been expected) reported on an SBC advisory group’s report on sex abuse:

(RNS) — A new Southern Baptist Convention report on sex abuse, filled with the voices of survivors, acknowledges numerous ways the denomination has failed to protect members of its churches.

The “Caring Well” report also summarizes a range of next steps to address the issue, including educating congregations about abuse, preparing them to help survivors and fostering abuse prevention.

“We lament the fact that it took a national movement of reckoning for abuse to force us to take this issue seriously in our own convention,” reads the 52-page report, which followed an investigation published May 31 in the Houston Chronicle detailing accusations involving dozens of Southern Baptists.

“It should now be obvious that the problem has been and still is more widespread than anyone has realized,” the SBC report said, “affecting our congregations all over the country, from the smallest church pastored by a bivocational minister to the megachurch with hundreds on staff.”

The issue has also affected seminaries, agencies and missions boards, the report said, adding, “all too often, it has not been handled justly.”

The report, to be presented during the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting this week, is the result of almost a year’s work by a sexual abuse advisory group commissioned by SBC President J.D. Greear. It is based on an inquiry involving “hundreds” of sex abuse survivors, church leaders and national experts.

Also headed to Birmingham is Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a former GetReligion contributor). The Post over the weekend published Bailey’s advance on a key side issue that has emerged in the SBC: women’s roles. (Key name here: Beth Moore.)

The click-bait headline, which is the Post style in the internet age, characterizes the issue this way:

Southern Baptists are supposed to talk about sexual abuse. But right now they’re discussing whether one woman can preach.

Bailey does a nice job summarizing the issue — for example, defining the difference between complementarian and egalitarians viewpoints in Southern Baptist churches — and explaining why some Baptists are upset that the women’s issue is coming up now, when they believe attention should be focused on the sex abuse scandal.

Burgess’ piece on the same issue is also worth a read. For more background on issues that could come up in Birmingham, Meyer and Burgess worked together on “five things to watch.” If listicles are your thing, Facts & Trends (a publication of SBC’s Lifeway) has “four things to watch.” And Pew Research offers “seven facts about Southern Baptists.”

Suddenly, I’m wishing I had kept track of the number of links in this post and gained a nice title from it.

But seriously, folks: Expect the SBC meeting this year to generate a bunch of headlines. Maybe too many to count.

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

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