EC WRAP-UP: Sex abuse prevention, pres. search, DR

NASHVILLE (BP) -- An initiative by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear to address sexual abuse in the church will be funded by the first $250,000 in Cooperative Program overage for 2017-2018, by a vote of the SBC Executive Committee.

Concern over Baptist work in Utah and Idaho, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission were voiced during an Executive Committee open forum Sept. 18.
Photo by Morris Abernathy
Other highlights of the Executive Committee's Sept. 17-18 meeting in Nashville included a report from the EC presidential search committee and a report on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief following Hurricane Florence. Two retiring leaders of Baptist state conventions were honored with resolutions of appreciation.

In appropriating money for Greear's Sexual Abuse Advisory Study, an initiative in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the EC acted on behalf of the SBC "to provide two years of funding ... to study ways to address sexual abuse and related issues in a church or ministry context," according to a recommendation approved by the EC. The funding will be drawn from an anticipated $5 million overage from the 2017-2018 CP Allocation Budget.

The remainder of the overage will be distributed among SBC entities according to the convention's formula for overage distribution. At the conclusion of Greear's initiative, any unused funds also will be distributed according to the 2017-2018 overage distribution formula, which designates 53.4 percent to the International Mission Board.

The EC's officers were authorized to approve additional funding for the sexual abuse study up to $50,000 if necessary. The study's proposed reports, recommendations and resources must be presented to the EC no later than Feb. 1, 2020, according to the recommendation.

EC chairman Mike Stone said the study is "the next step in a trajectory we've been on for a while" to address sexual abuse.

"There's never, in my estimation, been a hesitancy about addressing these issues" in the SBC, Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., told Baptist Press. "We see in the culture and in the media an increased emphasis on this issue of sexual abuse. So I think it's time for us to take that next strategic step."

A budget proposal submitted to the EC by the ERLC projected the study will include three phases:

-- Assessment of what facets of sexual misconduct need to be addressed. This phase will include a survey by LifeWay Research on Protestant churchgoers' views of sexual misconduct and abuse;

-- Development of partnerships with seminaries, state conventions and churches; and

-- Implementation of the study's recommendations.

The EC's Business and Finance Committee urged the ERLC to work closely with Baptist associations to ensure all churches have ready access to resources developed.

Three SBC seminaries -- Gateway Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- reported to the EC they are strengthening efforts to train students, faculty and staff to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.

Abuse prevention training

Gateway last year began a partnership with the Ministry Safe sex abuse prevention organization, president Jeff Iorg said, to add sexual abuse and harassment prevention training to the seminary's curricula.

Training will begin this year and be fully operational by the 2019-2020 seminary calendar, Iorg said, as a required course in all master's degree programs.

Southwestern will initiate a new Ministry Safe program in the spring of 2019, interim president Jeff Bingham told the EC.

"All students at Southwestern will take the Ministry Safe program," Bingham said, "which will increase the safety of our campus in terms of sexual abuse. We, because of the audit that we ran in our (human resources) department, will also increase and improve the harassment training that all of our employees must take."

Southeastern is revamping an orientation course already in place to insure "a designated time of training … on the legal, moral and biblical responsibilities" in preventing and reporting sexual harassment, president Danny Akin said.

An attorney is helping the seminary implement curricula changes that will inform students during orientation and in classes on "dealing properly with this particular issue," Akin said.

Faculty and staff are already "required to go through training on what sexual harassment is and how to prevent it," Akin said, "as well as how to respond when they are made aware of a victim of sexual abuse and sexual assault."

Presidential search

The EC's presidential search committee has been narrowing the field of candidates and will conduct interviews and background checks in the coming months, search committee chairman Steve Swofford reported.

While seeking to be "expeditious" in its search for a successor to Frank S. Page, who resigned in March, Swofford said the committee feels no pressure to rush to completion.

"Anything you hear about who [the presidential nominee is] that does not come from us through Baptist Press is rumor," said Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas. "So we hope you will not believe" rumors.

The committee has prayed, developed a position profile and received resumes, Swofford said.

Trustee training

The EC declined a 2018 Annual Meeting messenger's request to appoint an ad hoc committee to develop and provide more comprehensive trustee training across SBC entities.

Instead, the EC will recommend to 2019 messengers that trustee training guidelines be expanded to remind trustees of their responsibility to the entire SBC.

"Entity administrators should reinforce with their trustees the principle that entity trustees are to represent the interests of the entire Convention as well as those of the entity," the guidelines would be amended to include, as recommended.

The EC postponed indefinitely, with a request to reconsider in February 2019, a separate messenger recommendation to strengthen trustee training.

Resolutions of Appreciation

The EC passed resolutions honoring J. Robert White, retiring Dec. 31 as executive director-treasurer of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and Lynn Nikkel, retiring at year's end after leading the Wyoming Southern Baptist Mission Network.

White "skillfully guided Georgia Baptists for more than a quarter century," the resolution of appreciation stated. White was commended for "demonstrating exemplary leadership, a passion for Jesus Christ, and a heart for lost souls while leading the state convention through numerous crises that threatened the health and unity of the convention."

During his tenure, the number of Georgia Baptist churches and church-type missions increased 8 percent, to 3,585 congregations, which baptized nearly 785,000 people, the resolution stated.

In championing the Cooperative Program, the resolution stated that White had been a recipient of the M.E. Dodd Cooperative Program Award from the EC "in recognition of his exemplary leadership in promoting the Cooperative Program during his years as a pastor and through his leadership in Georgia." Georgia Baptists gave more than $1.1 billion through the Cooperative Program under White, forwarding more than $470 million to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministry.

Prior to leading Georgia Baptists, the resolution recounted that White had been pastor of four churches; president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention; and vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. He was one of two state convention executive directors who served on the SBC's Great Commission Task Force (2009–2010). He served as president of the State Convention Executive Directors Fellowship; received a distinguished alumnus award from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and authored three books.

White and his wife Janice have three grown daughters and nine grandchildren.

Nikkel became the Wyoming network's executive director in May 2005 and is retiring under the newly adopted title of state missionary. He had served as the network's director of religious education the previous five years.

The resolution commends Nikkel for a ministry focused on biblical discipleship, church health, church revitalization and church planting.

Despite the state's declining population, network churches increased by 11 percent during Nikkel's tenure, the resolution notes, leading to 90 churches, 16 ongoing church plants and 4,244 baptisms during his 13 years at the helm.

The EC's resolution commended Nikkel for several "significant administrative changes" advancing the network's effectiveness. Among them, the network restructured from eight associations to three regions, each led by a state strategist; sold its convention building to increase ministry flexibility; assisted network churches with compensation, security training, stewardship training and development; and changed the convention name" to convey more accurately the relationship of the cooperating churches to one another and to strengthen the sense of local ownership of ministries."

Before leading Wyoming Baptists, the resolution notes, Nikkel served in the pastorate from 1982–2000, leading churches in Garber and Fairland, Okla., and in Wheatland, Wyo. Churches under his leadership, the EC noted, progressed in worship attendance, evangelistic outreach, discipleship and stewardship, with each church increasing Cooperative Program giving to 10 percent or more of undesignated receipts.

Nikkel and his wife of 41 years Peggy have two grown sons and two grandchildren.

Other items

-- The EC appointed Carolyn Fountain to fill an unanticipated vacancy on the Committee on Order of Business. Fountain, a member of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was appointed to serve through 2021. The vacancy was created when a previous Committee on Nominations appointee declined to serve.

-- The EC adopted a memorandum of understanding that the body will use the title Associational Mission Strategist when referring to an associational leader cooperating with the SBC, unless otherwise directed on an individual basis. The new name aligns with a title change adopted in June by the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders and recommended for use uniformly across the SBC.

-- The EC added "Baptism Day" to the SBC calendar, requesting that NAMB serve as the sponsoring entity and encourage the calendar addition's effectiveness.

-- The EC declined a request from an SBC messenger to study creation of a new SBC entity for evangelism. A recommendation adopted by the EC stated, "The Executive Committee encourages every Southern Baptist, every Southern Baptist pastor or church leader, and every Southern Baptist Convention entity and organization to fully implement the recommendations presented in the 2018 Evangelism Task Force report adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, June 12-13, 2018, in order to advance the Gospel and win the lost for Christ."

-- The EC declined a request to study the feasibility of participation in SBC annual meetings from remote locations. Among the reasons stated, "the present 'public' method of casting ballots involves some level of 'in-person' and 'eye-witness' assurance that ballots have been received and cast only by qualified messengers."

For blog reports on this week's SBC Executive Committee meeting, click here.

Compiled by Baptist Press general assignment writer/editor Diana Chandler, chief national correspondent David Roach and senior editor Art Toalston.
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