Southern Baptist Convention claims no control over local churches. But new rules, lawsuit may test that argument

Houston Chronicle

Sept. 5, 2019

By John Tedesco and Robert Downen

A day before the Southern Baptist Convention adopted reforms in response to an ongoing sexual abuse crisis, a Baptist leader warned the measures might make it easier for abuse victims to sue the organization — and gain access to the hundreds of millions of dollars it collects every year.

“I have some concerns about potential liabilities,” Joe Knott, a North Carolina lawyer, told fellow Baptists at an executive committee meeting in Birmingham, Ala., where the country’s largest coalition of Baptist churches was conducting its annual gathering in June.

The national spotlight was on the SBC as it debated how to protect its flock from sexual abusers. But Knott was also worried about a proposal for an SBC committee to conduct “inquiries” into how churches handle abuse allegations.

Such a proposal, he warned, could weaken the SBC’s argument that it has no control over its member churches — an assertion that leaders have said gives the SBC immunity in sexual abuse lawsuits.

“I don’t see how in the world we’re supposed to know how 50,000 churches are acting,” Knott said. “But if we’re telling the public, ‘We do know, we’ve given them credentials,’ that seems to be a big problem potentially.”

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