Paul Chitwood’s first report to the Southern Baptist Convention comes amid one of the greater scandals to rock the International Mission Board. Southern Baptists have known of sex abuse cases involving overseas missionaries for years, and recent reports from the Houston Chronicle have served to tear open a wound yet unhealed for many.
Last month, the IMB released a report from the independent firm Gray Plant Moody that noted “much room for improvement” in the board’s efforts to prevent and respond to child sex abuse, sexual harassment, and sex assault. Moreover, the firm found “a number of significant concerns with the IMB’s handling of past cases.” Improvements to the board’s policies in past years have, shamefully, fallen “short of contemporary best practice standards,” the preliminary report found.
Southern Baptists should be hopeful that Chitwood’s leadership will address these “shortfalls” head on and repudiate past failures both transparently and courageously while inaugurating a new era of accountability, protection for innocence, and assistance to the victims whose lives have been fractured because of the past complicities and cover-ups by IMB personnel. As a former chairman of the IMB’s personnel committee and with two years as board chairman, Chitwood is uniquely equipped to ensure that the board not repeat past mistakes.
Meanwhile, Chitwood has other work cut out for him as he leads the largest mission-sending agency in the world to minister in a context of increased hostility to the gospel mandate, intensifying global refugee crises, poverty, hunger, and a shrinking pool of potential missionaries owing to Southern Baptists continued membership declines. Simply put, there is more lostness in the world now than ever before, and fewer Southern Baptists to respond to the call of sacrifice and service.
This year’s report to the convention is refreshing in one critical element. For years, Southern Baptists received reports that included undeniably inflated statistics for church planting, gospel witness, and professions of faith. A more modest appraisal of Southern Baptists’ global impact (reflecting work in 2017) can be found in the 2019 Book of Reports, a step in the sensible direction of rightsizing the IMB’s assessments. This more coherent and honest account promises a stronger foundation for appealing to churches to give, call, and go into a world that needs Southern Baptists mobilized now more than ever.
Chitwood will need to make more changes to the top leadership structure of the International Mission Board to have any hope of affecting a change of culture that protects innocence rather than shields offenders. Some of the men who yet serve at the senior-most levels of IMB leadership have been there for decades, meaning they potentially contributed to problems that have been identified in the independent review. As Chitwood implements the Gray Plant Moody recommendations, he will need a senior team whose past performance is in no way associated with the board’s past failures.
To put a finer point on it, if any of the watchmen on the IMB’s walls have the blood of cover-up on their hands, it’s probably past time for fresh eyes to take their posts while they are reassigned to a penitent ministry of quiet prayer and contemplation.
Next up…the North American Mission Board report.
One thought on “Birmingham Preview Part 2: The IMB”
David Platt implemented the two efforts you praised: more accurate statistical reporting and the formal study of abuse. Paul Chitwood has affirmed both efforts.