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#MeToo cases in the spotlight as Baptists convene

DALLAS – The Southern Baptist Convention opened its annual national meeting of Tuesday, an anxious mood, such as the name of the all-male leadership struggled with the fall-out of several sexual misconduct cases.

With virtually no opposition, delegates at the meeting adopted resolutions condemning any form of sexual misconduct by SBC ministers for more action to prevent “all forms of abuse,” and encouraging abuse victims to contact civil authorities to seek protection and support.

In a late addition to the program, the SBC announced that Vice-President Mike Pence would address the meeting on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the opening session, a representative from Virginia, Garrett Kell, sought to cancel the Pence address and replace it with a time of prayer, but the motion was rejected.

“Many of our minority brothers and sisters will especially hurt by this invitation,” said Kell, who warned the SBC against associating with a particular management keep the power in Washington.

The agenda in Dallas is not a review of the SBC’s doctrine of “complementarianism,” which aims to be male leadership in the home and in the church and says a woman, “is to get rid of graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”

However, the pastor was elected Tuesday as the SBC’s new president — J. D. Greear — is among many SBC leaders say that the doctrine must be observed in a way that respect for women and encourages them to play an active role in the affairs of the church.

In a recent video posted on Facebook, Greear said the church has hurt itself by the exclusion of women from top managerial positions.

Complementarianism “is a biblical and we should honor that … but at the same time, recognize that God has gifted women with spiritual gifts,” he said. “We must be as committed to raising them in leadership and ministries as we do our sons.”

Greear, 45, a megachurch pastor from North Carolina who sometimes preaches in jeans and shirts with no sport coat, won about 69 percent of the vote in his election victory over former seminary president Ken Hemphill, 70.

Greear narrowly lost the elections for the presidency in 2016 and is seen by many Baptists as the inevitable winner of this time. Hemphill was nominated by experienced SBC leaders who see him as less likely to make potentially disruptive changes.

If the two-day meeting began, about two dozen protesters gathered across the street from the convention center, to draw attention to violence against women.

The protesters called for the establishment of a database for the identification of pastors accused of sexual abuse and misconduct. They also want priests and seminarians to receive training on how to deal with sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“We are not against the Southern Baptist Convention, but we believe it can be better,” said Ashley Easter, a writer and speaker from Raleigh, North Carolina, who is an advocate for victims of abuse and the organizer of the protest.

Paige Patterson, is the central figure in the most prominent of the SBC’s #MeToo cases, had been scheduled to deliver the featured sermon in the national assembly. However, he withdrew from that role Friday, in response to a request from any other SBC leaders.

Patterson was recently fired as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas because his reaction to the two rape accused years by students. He was also accused of making inappropriate comments about a teenage girl’s body and contending that women who in the assault are almost always with their spouses.

SBC leaders say that there are many more cases to add to a humiliating debacle for the 15.2 million-member denomination.

“The avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in the past few weeks is almost too much to bear,” the Ds. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a recent blog post.

In addition to the debates about gender roles, the SBC has struggled to overcome the history as a denomination formed in the defense of slaveholders.

On Monday, SBC leaders announced that they would expel the Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, because of racial discrimination.

According to the Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news service, the Raleigh-White congregation agreed three years ago to share the space with a predominantly black church, but conflicts arose. In March, when some of the black faithful arrived at the church, unexpectedly, a black woman was told to go to the restroom at a nearby supermarket, in place of the toilet in the church.

SBC spokesman Sing Oldham said that he believed that it was the first time that the SBC had sent the church on racism-related grounds.

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Crary reported from New York.

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