With controversy over a Louisville pastor in the backdrop, Southern Baptist messengers today voted Wednesday to call on their leaders to use the “highest sense of discernment” in affiliating with anyone with “questionable” practices or policies on sexual abuse.
The vote comes in the wake of statements by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and others on behalf of pastor C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
The resolution does not mention the controversy explicitly, but its sponsor did in an interview.
Mahaney and others were accused in a recent lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries of allegedly conspiring to cover up sexual abuse in congregations in the denomination, which was based in Maryland until it moved to Louisville last year. Mahaney served as its president until recently and was formerly pastor at the Maryland congregation where some of the claims of cover-up are alleged to have occurred.
A Maryland judge recently dismissed much of the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs waited too long to sue. The 11 plaintiffs now have a pending motion for reconsideration.
Peter Lumpkins — the Georgia pastor who proposed the resolution — took issue with the statement, which was also signed by Southern Baptist pastor and author Mark Dever of Washington, D.C.
“It appeared as though they were siding with the accused rather than the victim,” Lumpkins said. While he said pastors should not be sidelined due to hearsay or gossip, “this is serious stuff,” he said.
“If a pastor were involved in a civil suit where there’s 11 plaintiffs and all these kinds of allegations of serious breach of trust, I would support him stepping down or stepping aside until all this is settled.”
Lumpkins’ original resolution had a stronger call for severing ties with the accused, such as canceling speaking engagements. It was deleted by the resolutions committee, but his floor amendment adding the call for discernment was approved. It is non-binding.
Mohler and others who have sponsored preaching conferences with Mahaney through the group Together for the Gospel — which draws thousands of attendees to Louisville every two years — issued a recent statement defending Mahaney and calling the charges baseless.
Mohler was unavailable for comment Wednesday due to the busy annual-meeting schedule, according to J.D. Gunter, his director of communications.
An email query to Sovereign Grace Ministries was not immediately returned.
The resolution also reminds Baptists “of their legal and moral responsibility to report any child abuse to authorities,” to cooperate with law-enforcement investigations and to conduct background checks of prospective staff members and volunteers.
“RESOLVED, That we remind all Southern Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any child abuse to authorities in addition to implementing any appropriate church discipline or internal restoration processes; and be it further
“RESOLVED, That we likewise call upon all Southern Baptists to cooperate fully with law enforcement officials in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators, sexual or otherwise, who criminally harm children placed in our trust; and be it further
“RESOLVED, That we strongly urge Southern Baptist churches to utilize background checks like those provided through LifeWay Christian Resources (www.lifeway.com/backgroundchecks), databases of sexual predators such as the US Department of Justice sex offender database linked at SBC.net(www.SBC.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp), or other relevant resources in screening all potential staff and volunteer workers, particularly those who minister to children and youth….
“RESOLVED: that we encourage all denominational leaders and employees of the Southern Baptist Convention to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and/or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
In the past, advocates for victims of abuse have said that background checks are only part of the solution — that Southern Baptist churches should also create a safe venue for victims to bring allegations.