Southern Baptists vote to expel churches that mishandle sex abuse, racism

The Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly voted Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. during its annual meeting to take a stand against sexual abuse and racism in "a very significant moment in the history" of the largest protestant denomination in the United States.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, lauded the "messengers" as they cast their ballots for amendments to the SBC constitution to state sexual abuse and ethnic discrimination are grounds for a church to be deemed "not in friendly cooperation" with the denomination.

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"May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse," Floyd said. "May this world know that this convention of churches -- 47,000 churches, plus a few thousand congregations, just under 52,000 churches and congregations -- has given a clear signal not only about what we believe about sexual abuse, but we also stand against all ethnic discrimination in the United States and around the world."

The constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds messenger vote at next year's SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The repurposing of the Credentials Commission required only a two-thirds vote this year as an amendment to the convention's bylaws.

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The SBC's meeting comes as U.S. Catholic bishops meet in Baltimore to address the ever-widening sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church. The Southern Baptist Convention says it had 14.8 million members in 2018, down about 192,000 from the previous year. The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the U.S., with 76.3 million members as of last year — down from 81.2 million in 2005.

Sex abuse already was a high-profile issue at the SBC's 2018 national meeting in Dallas, after which SBC President J.D. Greear formed an advisory group to draft recommendations on how to confront the problem. Greear was unanimously re-elected to a second term on Tuesday.

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"This is not a distraction from the mission," Greear said of the fight against sex abuse. "Protecting God's children is the mission of the church."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.