State convention leaders and annual meeting messengers in at least 14 state conventions this fall — in a flurry of motions, resolutions, recommendations and announcements — have affirmed reviews of policies and procedures to prevent and respond to sexual abuse. Attempts to set up similar responses failed in Mississippi and Missouri.
These actions of state convention leaders and annual meeting messengers come on the heels of a vote by messengers to the June 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting who approved an independent third-party review of the SBC Executive Committee regarding its sexual abuse policies and procedures. The review is already underway by Guidepost Solutions. The investigation centers on “any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives” by the staff and members of the Executive Committee from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
States that addressed the issue of sexual abuse during 2021 annual meetings include:
Alabama Baptist messengers approved a motion Nov. 16 during the annual meeting at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville to create a task force to review policies and practices of Cooperative Program-funded entities and the State Board of Missions related to sex abuse, The Alabama Baptist reported.
Retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church Prattville, proposed the motion, which calls for “the newly elected president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention [to] name a Sexual Abuse Task Force of at least seven members with the newly elected president being an ex-officio member. The purpose of this task force would be to review the policies and practices of our Cooperative Program-funded state convention entities and auxiliaries, including the State Board of Missions, related to sex abuse. Reviewing members of the task force will not include paid staff of the entities, auxiliaries or State Board and will report back to the 2022 Convention. The executive director of the State Board of Missions will serve as a resource for the task force. Expenses of the task force will be covered by the State Board of Missions.”
Alabama Baptist State Convention president Buddy Champion subsequently has selected eight members to serve on the new task force.
Arkansas Southern Baptist messengers voted Oct. 26 to form a sexual abuse task force to better help protect children from predators. Messengers to the annual meeting of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention unanimously supported the motion, which instructs the next convention president to create the task force “to ensure the policies and procedures” of the convention “are above reproach in handling sexual abuse allegations,” the Arkansas Baptist News reported.
The task force is to report back on “best practices and steps taken within the convention” before the 2022 annual meeting, according to the motion presented by Brad Lewter, senior pastor at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith.
Archie Mason, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, and a trustee of the SBC Executive Committee, was among those agreeing to provide investigators with the material they had requested. Mason serves as chair of the EC’s convention finances and stewardship committee.
“I stand against sexual abuse to the highest degree. My heart breaks for those who have faced this tragedy. I fully affirm and welcome the establishment of a task force with the intention to ensure the ABSC operates by the highest standards possible in regards to sexual abuse and allegations related to this matter. We will continue to utilize resources to serve churches in order to prevent sexual abuse from ever occurring. Also, we will continue to seek ways to bring help, comfort and healing for those who have suffered sexual abuse,” said J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, ABSC executive director, in a statement that was signed in agreement by other convention leaders.
Meeting at Clovis Hills Community Church, Oct. 26–27, California messengers spent about an hour debating a motion to form a task force related to sexual abuse within California Southern Baptist Convention. The motion was introduced at the opening session of the two-day meeting by Christopher Cole, pastor and messenger of Redeemer Baptist Church in Paso Robles, the CSBC reported.
Cole’s motion was ruled out of order by CSBC president Shawn Beaty, senior pastor of Clovis Hills Community Church, because the wording seemed to contradict the convention constitution and bylaws regarding churches. Cole moved for messengers to overrule the chair. After about 20 minutes of debate, the motion failed, and the chair’s ruling was sustained.
Following other motions and procedural points, messengers approved a motion by Andrew Watkins, pastor and messenger from Unity Community Christian Baptist Church in Stockton, that “the new president appoint a committee to look into the issue of sexual abuse in [the CSBC] and report back to the Convention in 2022.”
After the adoption of the recommendation, Port Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship in Richmond, and director of missions for San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association, reminded messengers and guests they are “mandatory reporters” for sexual abuse allegations.
Messengers to the 2021 Florida Baptist annual meeting in Lakeland, Florida, overwhelmingly approved a recommendation to create a nine-person special committee to examine policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention within all cooperating ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention, the Florida Baptist Witness reported.
In presenting the recommendation from Florida’s State Board of Missions, president Brian Stowe said, “It is reprehensible that this sin exists,” adding that the State Board “has worked proactively in this area for years.”
In 2019, the State Board underwent a comprehensive review of existing policies governing the prevention of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care that resulted in establishing several new policies, including the background screening of all board members.
Stowe reported that over the past weeks, “We have wrestled with the question of what more should we do? We believe our actions in the past are appropriate and designed to address the areas of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care, but we want to go a step further.”
The Georgia Baptist Convention’s executive committee has voted to create a Special Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse “to make recommendations for developing programs, best practices and policy guidelines for preventing sexual abuse,” the Christian Index reported.
“I want to make clear that we as Georgia Baptists have zero tolerance for sexual abuse,” said W. Thomas Hammond, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “While we have done much in the past to train our churches and state entities to create safer environments, there is still more to be done. It’s important for all of us to do our due diligence to ensure that Georgia Baptist churches are safe places for everyone.”
Under the motion approved Nov. 9, the Georgia Baptist Convention president will appoint one member from each of the state’s regions to serve on the nine-member special committee.
The three other members will be the convention president, the executive committee chairman, and, as an ex-officio member, the GBMB executive director. The convention president will appoint the chair of the special committee.
“The recommendations will be shared with and may be utilized by Georgia Baptist churches, associations, institutions and entities,” the motion stated. “The desired outcome of the committee is to encourage and strengthen ongoing efforts in Georgia Baptist life aimed at preventing sexual abuse.”
The recommendations will also be utilized by the GBMB, Hammond said.
Under the motion, the special committee is directed to present its recommendations next November to both the executive committee and GBC messengers.
Messengers to the Kentucky Baptist Convention approved a recommendation Nov. 16 to establish a sex abuse task force, Kentucky Today reported. Wes Fowler, pastor of First Baptist Church Mayfield and KBC president, noted the task force would have no authority over individual churches but would serve as an aid in helping churches on these type issues.
“It’s nothing new for Kentucky Baptists to do their very best to protect and serve the most vulnerable among us,” Fowler said. “We’ve invested millions in Sunrise Children’s Services — serving the most vulnerable children among us. We’ve worked alongside the commonwealth to combat sex trafficking — again, striving to protect the vulnerable. We’ve invested heavily in security training, as well as child protection training for our local churches — to protect the vulnerable. Simply put, Kentucky Baptists have a heart to protect those who are vulnerable to any type of abuse.”
Fowler’s recommendation was directed to evaluate how KBC currently responds to sexual abuse allegations, reviewing all current policies, procedures and training material related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and response.
His recommendation includes consulting with a reputable organization to determine best practices for KBC to use when responding to sexual abuse allegations.
Messengers to the 2021 annual meeting of Maryland/Delaware Baptists approved a resolution concerning churches and sexual abuse, titled “In Support of Sexual Abuse Survivors and The Task Force,” BaptistLIFE reported.
The resolution affirms the SBC’s appointed task force’s work and calls on BCM/D churches to support sexual abuse victims by exposing abuse through teaching and preaching. The resolution also emphasizes reporting sexual abuse to the proper authorities and removing from membership any church that knowingly perpetuates sexual abuse among members or staff and resolves that churches stand ready to offer support to victims. Additionally, the resolution calls for the BCM/D General Mission Board’s Affiliations Committee to research the potential of requiring churches to participate in preventative measures to be considered in good standing with the BCM/D. And, the resolution stated that the state convention’s chief financial officer would research ways to provide funding to help cover the cost of background checks and other such measures. The results of the research will be presented before the BCM/D 2022 annual meeting.
The executive committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s board of directors unanimously approved a motion directing state convention officials to conduct a comprehensive review of existing policies and procedures related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and response, the Biblical Recorder reported.
The motion, made by state convention president Micheal Pardue, pastor of First Baptist Church Icard in Connelly Springs, came during the executive committee’s regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 8, held in conjunction with the BSC’s annual meeting.
The motion directs BSC executive director-treasurer Todd Unzicker to conduct a review of the state convention’s “policies, procedures and materials related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and reporting,” including all state convention ministry areas.
Unzicker will conduct the review in consultation with subject matter experts, abuse survivors and a cross section of North Carolina Baptists, which will include convention and board officers, pastors, church leaders and lay people, and will report findings of the review to the state convention’s board of directors in its regularly scheduled meeting in September 2022.
Messengers to the Baptist Convention of Ohio’s annual meeting Nov. 16 approved the creation of a sexual abuse task force, including “both pastors and women as task force members,” the state convention reported. State Convention of Baptists in Ohio executive director Jeremy Westbrook described the resolution as a “proactive” measure.
During his inaugural address at the Nov. 15–16 Oklahoma Baptist annual meeting, Todd Fisher, newly elected executive director of the Oklahoma Baptist State Convention, said one of his first actions in his new role would be to work with the new officers and the board of directors to form a sexual abuse prevention task force, which would focus on creating best practices in preventing sexual abuse in Oklahoma Baptist churches and ministry contexts, as well as how to care for abuse survivors, the Baptist Messenger reported.
Messengers to the 201st annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention approved a motion presented by D.J. Horton, pastor of Church at the Mill in Moore, to create a task force to respond to any recommendations regarding sexual abuse reporting and prevention that will be presented to messengers at the SBC 2022 annual meeting in Anaheim, California, next June, the Baptist Courier reported.
The incoming SCBC president was authorized to appoint members of the task force, which will bring a report to the SCBC’s executive board and to messengers to the SCBC’s 2022 annual meeting in Columbia. Horton urged South Carolina Baptists to be proactive in receiving the information from a report on sexual abuse that is expected to be presented to SBC messengers in Anaheim. The task force appointed by the SCBC president, he noted, may be helpful in answering questions, such as, “How do we apply these truths to our churches? How do we become better at protecting women, at protecting children, and at handling allegations justly, appropriately and legally?”
Additionally, South Carolina Baptists adopted a resolution condemning all forms of sexual abuse and repudiating with a unified voice all sexually abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful.
Messengers to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention approved a recommendation Nov. 16 presented by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board directors to establish a sexual abuse task force, the Baptist and Reflector reported. Bruce Chesser, outgoing TBC president, said with the conditions in society today and things that have happened in the larger SBC family, convention leadership “felt best that we need to get ahead of it.” He stressed the recommendation is not “an investigation. We want to be open, honest and transparent. This is something we have been doing for 20 years. It is a continuing, ongoing need.”
The task force is charged with evaluating how TBC/TBMB responds to allegations of sexual abuse, seeks to protect those it serves from sexual abuse and provides resources to educate church leaders on best practices to protect their congregants from sexual abuse. The task force is to present a report to cooperating Tennessee Baptist churches no later than the 2022 TBC annual meeting.
Messengers to the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, meeting Nov. 8–9, approved both a resolution condemning sexual violence and a motion focused on sexual abuse prevention and response, the Southern Baptist TEXAN reported.
Resolution 8 condemned all forms of sexual violence and called upon church leaders to take proactive measures to prevent sexual violence in their churches and communities and to support victims.
Also approved was a motion by messenger Michael Criner, pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, calling for newly elected SBTC president Todd Kaunitz to form a team to work alongside convention leadership regarding sexual abuse prevention and response. Criner was careful to point out he was not asking for an investigation or formation of a task force, but rather, studying how the convention can “better serve and be steadfast in equipping our churches to righteously” handle any allegation or instance of abuse and preventing “to the best of our ability” any future instances of abuse.
Criner said his desire would be that messengers “speak with a loud and unanimous voice that the gospel demands we do everything in our power to care for those who have been sexually abused.”
During the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia’s annual meeting Nov. 7–9, Brian Autry, SBCV executive director, announced he will work with the SBCV executive board chairman and president to create a special task force and Caring Well team for sexual abuse survivors, the SBCV reported.