Two other churches were removed for employing pastors known to have committed sexual crimes. Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn., is led by a pastor who pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape for oral sex with a 16-year-old congregant at a previous church in the 1990s. The pastor at West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pa., is on Florida’s sex offender registry for a 1993 conviction of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The church’s website says the pastor once “lived as a great sinner and rebel” but “has gone from disgrace to amazing grace and now has served the Lord Jesus Christ at West Side for 18 years.”
Mr. Greear, whose final term as president is set to expire in June, has made a priority of improving the denomination’s response to sexual abuse in church settings. When a 2019 investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News uncovered hundreds of cases of sexual abuse in S.B.C. settings, the denomination made pastoral sexual abuse grounds for removing a church from the convention, and released its own report detailing its failures to care for victims.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and has been increasingly divided in recent years over a variety of cultural and political issues, including racism, sexuality and white evangelicals’ embrace of former President Donald J. Trump.
National leaders, including Mr. Greear and Russell Moore, its policy head, have attempted to hold the denomination together while expanding its reach. Mr. Moore, an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, has spoken forcefully against the Confederate flag and hosted conferences on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and on racial reconciliation. Mr. Greear used the phrase “Black lives matter” in a speech last summer, and affirmed the most racially diverse roster of committee members in the denomination’s history.
“Do we want to be a Gospel people or a Southern culture people?” Mr. Greear asked in his speech on Monday night. “Which is the more important part of our name, ‘Southern’ or ‘Baptist’?”