(RNS) — Randy Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said that a recent report detailing decades of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Convention churches identified an important issue for the SBC to address. He also believes that members of the LGBTQ+ community “have value and worth.”
But in a statement this week, Davis has called on the SBC to “break all ties” with the investigative firm Guidepost Solutions, which produced the long-awaited sexual abuse report, after the company posted on Twitter its support for LGBTQ+ Pride month. The SBC should not have anything to do, he said, with a firm that “does not share our biblical perspective of human sexuality.”
Davis spoke out as news spread through the SBC community of Guidepost’s tweet Monday reading, “We celebrate our collective progress toward equality for all and are proud to be an ally to our LGBTQ+ community.”
Baptist leaders in Alabama also called on the SBC to cut ties with Guidepost. A Baptist abuse task force in Kentucky announced it will no longer work with the company.
Though a secular company, Guidepost has become a go-to firm for evangelical groups dealing with the issue of sexual abuse and is perhaps best known in Christian circles for a report on the culture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries that found that RZIM board members were blinded by loyalty to Zacharias, a once-beloved author and speaker who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
The firm, headquartered in New York, was hired last year by the SBC’s Executive Committee to review how leaders there have responded to the issue of abuse. Guidepost’s work was expanded by the delegates to SBC’s June 2021 annual meeting, who authorized a more in-depth investigation. That investigation found that SBC leaders had mistreated abuse survivors for decades and had long worked to protect the institution and prevent any reforms to address abuse.
Southern Baptist leaders repeatedly tried to derail the investigation.
As part of its report, Guidepost suggested a series of steps to address abuse. An SBC task force on sexual abuse, which oversaw the investigation, has also suggested reforms, which will be voted on at next week’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California. Guidepost is also running a hotline for reporting abuse, which can be reached at 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com.
The SBC’s North American Mission Board has also announced plans to work with Guidepost on investigating any reported abuse allegations against its staff.
Guidepost’s tweet, which included a rainbow flag, led to an outcry on social media, especially from SBC figures who claim the denomination has become too liberal. Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor running for SBC president, said SBC churches and pastors had been betrayed.
“This is who we gave our tithe dollars to?” he tweeted.
But others, including South Carolina pastor Marshall Blalock, vice-chair of the abuse task force, defended Guidepost in a series of social media posts. He said the task force would have preferred to hire a Christian company but none had the capacity to do the job.
“Guidepost did a professional investigation, they operated with integrity, they respected our faith and values, they even ate a significant amount of the cost because they wanted to help us discover the truth and assist us to be more Christlike in how we respond to sexual abuse,” he tweeted.
On Wednesday, the abuse task force released an updated set of recommendations for reforms to deal with abuse. Those updates were a result of conversations among SBC leaders, according to Bruce Frank, chairman of the task force.
“Over the last few days since releasing our recommendations, we are grateful for all the encouragement and support,” Frank said in a video posted to the task force website. We’ve also listened to the questions and concerns of Southern Baptists. We are super grateful to receive valuable feedback.”
The updated recommendations call for Send Relief, a partnership between the SBC’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board that does compassion ministry, to provide $3 million in initial funding for abuse reforms. An earlier plan called for reforms to be paid for out of Cooperative Program funds collected from individual churches.
Send Relief will also contribute $1 million to set up a survivor care fund “providing trauma counseling for survivors of sexual abuse in the SBC, as well as trauma-informed training for SBC pastors, churches, local associations and state conventions,” Send Relief said in a statement.
“Southern Baptists are grieving for survivors of abuse and are seeking ways to better safeguard children and families,” the statement said. “Send Relief wants to be part of the solutions outlined by the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force.”
Frank said in a phone interview that most of the work the task force hired Guidepost to do has been completed. He said that any future work by Guidepost is out of his hands.
“I don’t really have an opinion on that,” he said, when asked about Davis’ comments. “That’s not my purview.”