“I like bats much better than bureaucrats,” CS Lewis
There is no passion like that of a functionary for his function.”— Georges Clemenceau
I have a problem. This past week, I have been working with two victim situations. Both involve sexual abuse, one of a child and another one of a teenager. Both of these occurred in Southern Baptist Churches. In both cases, I stupidly recommended that, after reporting the problem to law enforcement, etc., they consider submitting their difficult stories to the new Credentials Committee of the SBC. I learned yesterday that this was foolhardy advice and I shall spend the weekend walking back my recommendation. I would never put a victim through this cold, secretive process.
So, what happened?
Jules Woodson: The history of interactions within the SBC
Jules Woodson’s story of abuse by her former youth pastor, Andy Savage, is the most well known story of abuse in the SBC. Not only was her story covered in the Houston Chronicle, but in just about every major media outlet in the US and abroad. Andy Savage and Larry Cotton eventually stepped down from their pastoral positions in the SBC due to her testimony.
However, her former senior pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church (now known as StoneBridge Church Woodlands, Texas). This highly successful church has a senior pastor, Steve Bradley, who refuses to reach out to Jules despite many efforts, on her part, to do so.
Before the SBC convention in June 2019, some thought was given to having a messenger, at the beginning of the convention, approach the microphone and ask if Stonebridge Church had sent messengers to the meeting. If so, then the messenger would make a motion that they not be seated.
Unfortunately, no messenger was found that would do it although one would have been happy to do so but he had already submitted another statement. (Forgive me if I don’t use the correct insider SBC lingo.)
The Executive Committee and Jules Woodson: Transparency promised.
However, during the time, a member of the Executive Committee approached her and explained a plan to develop a new committee to address sex abuse. UPI posted: Southern Baptist leaders plan to remedy ‘insufficient’ approach to abuse claims
Leaders of the nation’s largest — but declining — Protestant denomination will consider an amendment that would allow the Southern Baptist Convention to remove from its ranks a church that covers up abuse. The SBC may also set up an official “Credentials Committee” to review complaints about how abuse allegations are handled at member churches.
“The new Credentials Committee would be a standing committee, which means that it will be able to operate at any point during the year to help to determine what churches are in or out of cooperation with the SBC,” said Moore, president of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We think this is going to be a hugely beneficial move in terms of empowering Southern Baptists to act with accountability and transparency on these matters.”
Ronnie Floyd, the extremely well paid, President and CEO of the Executive Committee, will champion the Credential Committee.
It’s all going to be transparent and victims should submit their stories to the Credentials Committee, right? Hold on to that thought.
The word went out from those who participated in the Caring Well conference and elsewhere, saying that the SBC wants to hear from victims about the abuse they have suffered. in SBC churches. A helpful member of the Executive Committee told Jules that he had submitted her story to the Credentials Committee.
Except, things did not go as. planned. Jules Woodson story is probably the most well known SBC abuse story in the last two years. I think most would be shocked if anyone who serves on this committee had not heard of her story.
So, last week, when I heard from an impeccable source that the Credentials Committee was investigating 16 churches, Jules decided to contact the committee to see if Steve Bradley and Stonebridge Church were on the docket for review. After all, transparency and accountability was to rule the day according to Russell Moore. Well, let’s see what happened.
Email Number 1 from Christy Peters of the Credentials Committee to Jules.
Note that in this email, Peters acknowledges that the Executive Committee member submitted Jules’ story to the committee. This emails occurred befot Jules contacted the committee about Stonebridge Church, See dates.
Carefully look at these words “working to put a formal process into place for receiving submissions..” Does this mean there will be more forms? Who know?
From: Christy Peters
Date: October 17, 2019 at 11:40:00 AM CDT
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Jules)
Cc: XXXXX Helpful Executive committee member
Subject: Re: SBC Credentials Committee
Thank you for contacting XXXXXXXXX (Executive Committee member) regarding your experience. He forwarded that to Stacy Bramlett, chair of the Credentials Committee, who I am assisting with submissions.
She asked that I reach out to you on her behalf.
At this time the committee is still working to put a formal process into place for receiving submissions. Until that time, please feel free to send anything you would like to share with the Credentials Committee to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.
SBC Executive Committee
901 Commerce Street
Nashville, TN 37203
Email Number 2 from Christy Peters to Jules acknowledging sending the first email to the wrong address.
From: Christy Peters
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2019 3:34:42 PM
Subject: Fwd: SBC Credentials Committee
Sorry, I think I accidentally got an extra period in your email address earlier when I sent this. Please see the message below.
Sent from my iPhone
Email Number 3: Jules contacts Peters asking if Stonebridge Church is on the list.
Given all the hoopla of transparency, this seems like a logical request by the victim involved.
From: Jules Woodson
Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2019 10:41 AM
To: Christy Peters <
Cc: Executive Committee member
Subject: RE: SBC Credentials Committee
I recently heard that the Credentials Committee is investigating 16 churches. Is this true? Is StoneBridge Church one of the churches that is being investigated for the mishandling of my abuse? Also, why has the committee not given any public updates as to what it is doing? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Email Number 4: Peters responds and Jules realized that she was being sidelined.
Read the procedure carefully. Peters will not tell Jules, or anyone else for that matter, which church is being considered until the church is dissociated. The response is as cold as ice which is odd coming from a committee that is supposed to be *Caring Well.* (I hate cutesy phrases that appear to mean nothing.) Here is a link to the current members of the committee.
To make matters worse, Peters suggests that Jules submit any church she would like to the committee. She makes no mention of the fact that Jules has already done so and that Jules I interested in one church in particular.
From: Christy Peters <email@example.com>
Date: 11/14/19 9:15 AM (GMT-07:00)
To: Jules Woodson
Subject: RE: SBC Credentials Committee
The Credentials Committee is working very hard to formalize the process by which it will consider churches. Once a process has been formally adopted, a press release is will likely come through Baptist Press. I do need to clarify that the Credentials Committee cannot investigate churches. It is tasked with considering whether a church should be considered not in friendly cooperation with the Convention. If the committee concludes that a church should no longer be viewed in friendly cooperation with the Convention, it will make a recommendation to the SBC Executive Committee that the SBC disassociate with that particular church. The committee has determined that it will not disclose names of the churches submitted for consideration unless or until that church is recommended for disassociation to the Executive Committee.
Once the process is finalized, the committee will be ready to receive submissions. We encourage you to submit any church you feel should not be considered to be in cooperation with the Convention to the committee for consideration.
If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.
SBC Executive Committee
So let’s pause and consider what’s going on here.
- They seem really concerned that the word *investigation* not be used.
- They tell the most visible SBC victim to go ahead and submit any church she believes shouldn’t be in cooperation with the SBC when she has already done so. Does this mean I can send them all a list of SBC churches that should be *considered* for dissociation? I’ve got a bunch.
- The victim will not be told if they plan to do anything with his/her information.
- In fact, the victim will be told to keep submitting more and more stuff. It appears when the *official* process occurs, the victims will be told to fill out more forms.
How many times does the committee expect Jules to repeat the *I got molested by Andy Savage on a dark, dirt road?” Do these bureaucrats have any idea how painful it is for her to constantly recount her story and to keep submitting the same old forms? Jules said to me that every time she tells her story, the pain returns.
This process is not victim-centric. It’s a sign that the committee is not a safe place for victims. I don’t care who’s on the committee. This is how they actually work.
Why is the happening and what did we miss?
It’s time for all of us to read the fine print.Phillip Bethancourt wrote a helpful article: A guide to understanding the Credentials Committee proposal.This document helps me to see where we all went wrong.
This committee will not only look at churches for the mishandling of sexual abuse but will look at a myriad of other issues such as homosexuality and racism.
What this means is victims of sexual abuse will not have a committee that is dedicated to this issue.
his committee would now be responsible for handling issues arising from churches that act in a manner that is inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse. The committee would not just address issues of abuse but other subjects such as homosexuality or racism, in accordance with Article 3 of the SBC Constitution.
This committee will not investigate but will *inquire.”
You will see in Peters response that she chastises (or is it informs?) Jules for using the *investigate* word. I believe that the SBC is attempting to preserve the autonomy of local churches but I think that we are witnessing the dying gasps of that effort.
The Credentials Committee can conduct an inquiry process in which it would “consider the matter and review any information available to it” to assess if a church is in friendly cooperation with the convention, as established in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution.
A church can be disfellowshipped.
The purpose of this proposal is to establish a stand-alone committee that is empowered to assess and address issues such as abuse that could warrant disfellowshipping a church.
This will be a process that is supposed to foster *transparency* and *accountability.*
He reiterates that this committee works within the unique (read:autonomy of local churches) polity of the SBC.
Is this proposal a good idea?
Yes, it is an encouraging next step to address the Southern Baptist abuse crisis. The Executive Committee has sought to establish a process that fosters transparency and accountability while operating within the unique polity of the SBC.
Once again, he mention that this is only about *making inquiries* of autonomous churches.
Even he uses italics to surround this word.
This committee will “make inquiries of a church” and issue recommendations regarding friendly cooperation, in accordance with specific processes.
The proposal respects the autonomy of churches while empowering the committee to conduct an inquiry process.
This committee will not clear churches.
The proposal does not authorize the Credentials Committee to “clear” churches. The purpose of the committee is to assess disputes over a church’s friendly cooperation with the Convention. It is not tasked with certifying or clearing churches to affirm that they are in friendly cooperation.
This committee will not look at state associations.
I wonder if this involves groups like NAMB, etc.?
Other Southern Baptist organizations such as entities, state conventions, etc., have their own trustee boards who are responsible for handling this issue.
Why the secrecy has nothing to do with transparency.
Does the proposal authorize secrecy to minimize transparency? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.1 that states, “Meetings and reports of the committee may be private or public in order to maintain the degree of confidentiality which is appropriate under the circumstances…” The purpose of this provision is not to create a shroud of secrecy to minimize transparency. Instead, it is to protect confidentiality that is fitting for the best interests of the Convention, churches, and others involved in the process, such as survivors in the case of an inquiry related to sexual abuse.
There will be an appeals process but that seems to be addressed to churches, not victims.
Does the proposal create a fair appeals process where people on all sides can speak into the debate?
Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.2 that states, “One representative of the church under consideration and one representative of the Credentials Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question, subject to the normal rules of debate.”
The purpose of this provision is to ensure that messengers will hear from the church and from the committee, but it does not foreclose the possibility of additional messengers speaking for or against the issue in accordance with the normal rules of debate.
This is not an investigative committee.
They seem to be very worried about the word *investigation.* They should be, especially because the word *inquiry* is a synonym for *investigation.* Lawyers will have fund with this one.
This provision does not limit the scope of how the committee can conduct its inquiry process; nor does it prevent or discourage law enforcement investigations from occurring. Instead, it conveys that, by nature, this committee is not an investigative body while also ensuring that the committee will respect local church autonomy while conducting its inquiry process.
Victims are not mentioned in the explanation of what is going on.
This is the real problem and it explains why Jules Woodson got the cold response that she did. Victims are just supposed to keep reporting and reporting and submitting and resubmitting information. The victims have no stated ability to appeal what is decided in the committee but churches sure do.
Given what happened with the churches mentioned in the initial expose by the Houston Chronicle, I wonder if any church would be disfellowshipped…unless they hire a woman as a pastor. The woman thing was carefully not mentioned in this report but I suspect it is floating in the background.
This 9 member committee is supposed to *investigate* (I am using the synonym of inquire) all sorts of things: racism, homosexuality, sex abuse and whatever. Given the scope of this assignment, I have serious doubts that much will be accomplished so errant churches should breathe a sigh of relief.
In the meantime, victims of sexual abuse in the SBC should be aware that they will not be told one thing about the *inquiry*/investigation process.
I would not submit any stories to the SBC Committee until they outline exactly what is going on here. Jules, I get why you were upset. For now, let’s assume we are dealing wit heartless bureaucrats. It’s safer that way.
“They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy – not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.”— The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s entry on Vogons