SBC Monday updates: Seminary leader condemns Trump verdict, voices opposition to IVF (2024)

Liam Adams,Savannah KucharNashville Tennessean

SBC Monday updates: Seminary leader condemns Trump verdict, voices opposition to IVF (1)

SBC Monday updates: Seminary leader condemns Trump verdict, voices opposition to IVF (2)

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INDIANAPOLIS —Southern Baptists are descending on the Midwest to make decisions that will ripple throughout Christianity nationwide.

The Southern Baptist Convention is gathering in Indianapolis for its two-day annual meeting starting Tuesday to take up key legislation for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Some of the highest profile items include a measure to enshrine a ban on women pastors, the long-term future of abuse reform, and a resolution opposing in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

Southern Baptist voting delegates, called messengers, will elect a new SBC president out of six candidates, and former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will make an appearance. But before those events, the SBC Executive Committee is set to meet on Monday, which typically sets the tone for the business that follows in the subsequent days.

Follow along for live updates.

‘In these intervening 16 years’: Abuse survivor puts Indianapolis meeting in context

The last time the SBC gathered in Indianapolis for its annual meeting was a devastating moment for abuse survivors when convention leadership rejected a major proposal.

Sixteen years later, the SBC has returned and is revisiting a conversation with little material progress to show, survivors and advocates say.

“In these intervening 16 years, countless more kids and congregants have had their lives decimated,” said survivor and author Christa Brown during an event in Indianapolis on Monday afternoon.

The event was partly organized as part of Brown’s new memoir about her decades of advocacy in the convention. The event also featured journalist Sarah Stankorb, who recently authored a book about survivors advocating for reform in the church.

Brown, who began advocating for abuse reform in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination 20 years ago, was an early proponent of a database of Southern Baptist ministers credibly accused of abuse. Back at the 2008 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, SBC leaders rejected a legislative proposal that could have led to an early version of that database.

Today, former and current members of the soon-expiring SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force are leading a new nonprofit to help launch a similar database, called Ministry Check. That nonprofit, the Abuse Response Commission, is part of a patchwork of initiatives the abuse reform task force has said the convention should consider for taking up in the long-term.

A group of abuse survivors who traveled to Indianapolis this week for the SBC annual meeting have expressed uncertainty ahead of the legislative summit and its impact on the future of abuse reform. Despite a comprehensive analysis within the abuse reform task force’s report about the convention’s long-term needs, it’s unclear how many of the group’s recommendations will materialize. This specific task force will dissolve after presenting its report to the full convention on Tuesday.

Recent Q&A with Christa Brown: How a SBC abuse survivor's advocacy for reform has evolved over 20 years

Days numbered for third-party firm’s work with SBC on abuse response

The SBC’s administrative agency will work toward ceasing all formal relationships with a third-party firm known for leading the historic investigation into Southern Baptist leaders’ handling of an abuse crisis.

The third-party firm, Guidepost Solutions, was at the center of some discussion among the SBC Executive Committee during a meeting on Monday morning.

“We will need to address the financial crisis that has been created by the indemnification agreement with Guidepost,” said SBC Executive Committee chief executive Jeff Iorg in a brief address to executive committee on Monday morning. Iorg’s address to the committee was his first since his appointment as the new permanent president/CEO, or the highest-ranking staff member, after 2.5 years of interim leadership.

Comprised of about 20 staff and an 86-member board of elected representatives, the Nashville-based SBC Executive Committee manages the denomination’s administration. The agency has been recent navigating financial upheaval, partly due to overspending and declining revenues. But it’s also been paying greater legal fees since Guidepost published the findings of its investigation in May 2022.

Among those legal fees are two civil cases alleging the SBC Executive Committee and Guidepost defamed former SBC president Johnny Hunt and David Sills, a former Southern seminary professor. Iorg said on Monday the executive committee has spent about $2 million to cover Guidepost’s legal expenses in those cases due to an indemnification agreement between the two parties.

The executive committee also continues to work with Guidepost to manage a hotline for survivors and others to report abuse at Southern Baptist churches. Due to those two items, the executive committee rejected on Monday a legislative proposal from the 2023 SBC annual meeting requesting the denomination fully ceases its relationship with Guidepost.

Despite the committee’s opposition to the request, executive committee member Mollie Duddleston said the committee is working toward that outcome. Additional controversy over a tweet that Guidepost posted in June 2022 celebrating Pride Month fueled backlash that ultimately led an SBC abuse reform task force to reverse its decision to hire a division of Guidepost to help launch a database of ministers accused of abuse.

Al Mohler doubles down against IVF, Trump verdict

A leading contemporary evangelical Christian voice urged a crowd of more than 750 mostly Southern Baptists to oppose in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and condemned Trump’s conviction.

“What we are looking at is the misuse of the American legal system in a way that, quite frankly, will not allow for recovery,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at an event organized by the newly established Danbury Institute.

Many of the event’s organizers and sponsors are affiliated with an opposition conservative faction of the SBC, which has sought to pull the convention further to the right. Mohler often isn’t a leader of specific opposition conservative groups, but his positions often appeal to their far-right political ideas.

Danbury Institute chief executive Scott Colter, a leader among opposition conservative Southern Baptists, said at the luncheon Monday he was inspired to invite Mohler to the event following a column by Mohler in World magazine condemning Trump’s guilty verdict. Mohler, the editor of World and the voice of a popular podcast and blog The Briefing, is often sought after as a commentator on many evangelicals social and political views.

Mohler didn’t outright endorse Trump but said the stakes of the election in November are “two rival understandings of reality facing off.” One of those, specifically that of the GOP, is more aligned with Southern Baptists’ values, Mohler noted.

“We are called together as conservative Christians for a matter of conviction and a political policy and a political principle. And if nothing else, we have to be the last people on earth to know what those principles are,” Mohler said. “Understand that it comes right down to life and liberty and on those two fights, we will not be absent.”

As part of those values, Mohler said opposition to IVF should be one of them. Mohler and Andrew Walker, a Southern seminary professor, submitted a draft resolution to the SBC Resolutions Committee opposing IVF, a version of which the committee is recommending to the full convention for adoption. But messengers are expected to urge Southern Baptists to vote the resolution down or amend it, leaving the proclamation’s success uncertain.

“In our churches, we have compromise on this issue,” Mohler said at the Danbury Institute event on Monday. “But if we believe in the sanctity and dignity of every single human life from the point of fertilization, we need to recognize any intervention by an embryo, any commodification of the embryo, any turn of the embryo into a consumer product is an assault upon human dignity.”

More: Southern Baptists to debate measure opposing IVF following Alabama court ruling

Trump: 'We can't afford to have anyone sit on the sidelines'

Former President Donald Trump is expected to speak to the Danbury Institute's Life and Liberty Forum via a pre-recorded video message. The institute is an association of churches, Christian Americans and organizations that advocates for a total end to abortion.

"These are difficult times for our nation, and your work is so important," Trump will tell the forum, according to a transcript of his video message.

"We can’t afford to have anyone sit on the sidelines — now is the time for us all to pull together and stand up for our values and our freedoms. We have to defend religious liberty, free speech, innocent life, and the heritage and traditions that built America into the greatest nation in the history of the world. I know that each of you is protecting those values every day — and I hope we’ll be defending them side by side for the next four years."

Executive committee rejects nonprofit measure, abuse reform motions

Legislative proposals that sought to elevate certain abuse reform work and to publicize information about Southern Baptist executive pay faced key resistance on Monday morning ahead of the annual meeting’s start on Tuesday.

Comprised of about 20 staff and an 86-member board of elected representatives, the Nashville-based SBC Executive Committee manages the denomination’s administration. Part of that work includes reviewing and deciding on whether to move forward certain proposals for a full convention vote.

At the 2023 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, messengers asked the executive committee to require SBC-affiliated agencies, called entities, to publish certain financial information submitted to the IRS in a Form 990 tax document. Another messenger asked the executive committee and the SBC’s public policy arm, the Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to include in its ministry assignment the work of long-term abuse reform.

Executive committee members on Monday morning rejected all three of those proposals. But it’s possible at the annual meeting this week that a messenger can attempt to reverse the executive committee’s decisions.

Also, the executive committee’s involvement with managing long-term abuse reform is likely due to the recent report from the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.

Many considered the Form 990-related motions, which received supports from Southern Baptists across the ideological spectrum, to be aimed at revealing salaries of chief executives of SBC entities.

More from February committee meeting: Top SBC committee foreshadows 'sobering and difficult decisions' ahead for Southern Baptists

Trump set to speak virtually to anti-abortion group

Former PresidentDonald Trumpwill address an evangelical group on Monday that has called abortion "the greatest atrocity facing our generation" as Republicans have struggled to unify around a stance on abortion restrictions in 2024.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee is set to appear virtually at the Danbury Institute's Life and Liberty Forum in Indianapolis Monday. An association of churches, Christian Americans and organizations, the Danbury Institute has called for a total end to abortion, which they compare to "child sacrifice."

Trump has long touted his role inoverturning Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, after he appointed three pivotal conservative justicesto the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the former president has also tried to dodge a hardline stance on abortion, saying in April he thinks the issue of abortion restrictions should beleft to each individual stateand avoiding talk of a national ban. Trump's position stands in stark contrast from the group hosting Monday's event.

The Danbury Institute is holding its event in Indianapolis, where the Southern Baptist Convention has its annual meeting this year. But the event is not affiliated with the SBC, although a number of high-profile Southern Baptist leaders are set to appear at the event, including Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is pushing a resolution for Southern Baptists to oppose in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

Related: Donald Trump to address Christian group that wants abortion completely 'eradicated'

SBC Executive Committee faces mandate for long-term abuse reform

A nearly expired SBC task force is urging the denomination to work toward a permanent mechanism for preventing and responding to clergy sexual abuse and is hoping the SBC Executive Committee will lead the charge.

Ahead of the executive committee’s meeting on Monday at the start of the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force released a sobering report about the current progress and future needs for abuse reform.

“The process has been more difficult than we could have imagined,” said the abuse reform task force in a report it published last week. “And in truth, we made less progress than we desired due to the myriad obstacles and challenges we encountered in the course of our work”

The SBC Executive Committee, which is the denomination’s administrative arm, might discuss components of the report in its meeting on Monday. The abuse reform task force will then present its report to the full convention on Tuesday, likely determining the parameters of the executive committee’s future actions on long-term abuse reform needs.

The abuse reform task force identified in its report five of those key long-term needs: expert assistance for churches dealing with abuse cases; access to abuse prevention resources for small and medium-sized churches; full-time staff support for the SBC Credentials Committee, which reviews reports of churches accused of mishandling abuse; survivor care; and full-time staff at state Southern Baptist conventions and regional associations to assist churches.

“The single most important step the SBC can take toward reform is establishing one source any pastor or church leader can reach out to for help,” the task force said in its report. The task force was careful not to prescribe a single framework for that long-term mechanism. A few ideas it suggested were a new SBC-affiliated agency, called entities, or a subsidiary of an entity.

This proposal is separate from a newly incorporated nonprofit, called the Abuse Response Commission, to launch a database of ministers accused of abuse. The database, called Ministry Check, is the highest-profile and the most complicated abuse reform measure assigned to the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.

The task force announced in February the new nonprofit, the incorporators of which are former and current members of the abuse reform task force. The task force was more explicit in its report last week about the circ*mstances surrounding the need for the nonprofit.

The group said it learned in January “there was no longera viable pathwayfor robust abuse reform within the SBC due to pressing insurance concerns,” said the report, referencing obstacles to launching Ministry Check. “As a last resort, the task force determined to establish an independent nonprofit rather than halting our efforts.”

By taking the insurance liability off the executive committee, the abuse reform task force said it’s easier to move forward with launching the database. The task force said Ministry Check is poised to publish its first 100 names.

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at ladams@tennessean.com or on social media @liamsadams.

SBC Monday updates: Seminary leader condemns Trump verdict, voices opposition to IVF (2024)

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