The June 10 release of five audio clips from discussions among key SBC leaders heightened the controversy around the denomination’s handling of sexual abuse and care for survivors, and other allegations coming from leaked letters written by former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore.
“Southern Baptists deserve to know the truth by hearing leaders talk about sexual abuse in their own words,” tweeted self-described whistleblower Phillip Bethancourt upon releasing audio clips of leaders discussing the SBC’s handling of claims of abuse in its churches. Bethancourt, a pastor in Texas, formerly served as executive vice president of the ERLC.
Moore resigned in May for a new role at Christianity Today. Two leaked letters, written by Moore in 2020 and 2021 and released around his departure, allege major disputes among denominational leaders over the SBC’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis and racial tensions. The letters moved two pastors to call for a third-party investigation of the charges against the SBC Executive Committee, a motion they plan to make at the upcoming SBC annual meeting in Nashville.
Moore’s letters claim Executive Committee leaders were unhappy with his criticism of the Executive Committee bylaws workgroup’s exoneration of several churches accused of mishandling abuse, and with portions of a the ERLC’s 2019 Caring Well Conference on sexual abuse where some speakers criticized the SBC’s handling of such claims.
Moore also charged then-chairman of the Executive Committee Mike Stone with delaying the formation of a standing credentials committee to assess reports of churches mishandling abuse. Stone is also one of four announced candidates for SBC president.
Bethancourt’s new report includes audio clips from 2019 with Moore, Bethancourt, Stone, and Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd. The clips are from a May meeting about the credentials committee, and an October meeting following the Caring Well conference. During the October meeting, Floyd can be heard telling leaders to “remember the base” as they think through the strategy.
Floyd responded to the release of the clips with a statement on Twitter. “These discussions reflect leaders engaging in a scriptural process of coming together with others who have differing opinions on complicated issues and of discussing those differences honestly with a goal of how to best move forward,” he said.
“Following the Caring Well Conference, I requested a meeting with Russell Moore and Phillip Bethancourt to better understand how to respond to churches that had questions coming out of the conference. This was the context of the conversation. But I apologize from any offense that may have resulted from my remarks.
“Regardless of how some are attempting to characterize past action and future intent, since last weekend the Executive Committee staff leadership has been in the process of talking with and potentially securing a highly credible outside firm with the intent of conducting an independent third-party review of the accusations recently levied at the SBC Executive Committee.”
After Moore’s letters were leaked earlier this month, Pastors Grant Gaines and Ronnie Parrott tweeted plans to move for messengers to ask the newly elected SBC President to appoint a task force to hire a third party to investigate the allegations. SBC Executive Committee Chairman Rolland Slade has expressed his support for a third-party, independent review which Floyd said he also supports.
The 2021 SBC annual meeting is June 15-16 in Nashville.