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State Baptist conventions take historic actions regarding sexual abuse at annual meetings

Retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church Prattville, proposes the motion approved by messengers to review policies and practices of Cooperative Program-funded entities and the State Board of Missions. Photo by Sam Evans/The Alabama Baptist

As many Southern Baptist state conventions celebrated regathering for the first time in two years this fall, several took unprecedented actions toward ensuring their conventions are effectively handling sexual abuse allegations.

State conventions around the country passed motions to form internal groups or task forces to look at policies and procedures regarding sexual abuses. These steps follow a historic vote at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville that asked newly elected SBC President Ed Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation into how the SBC Executive Committee handled sexual abuse allegations from 2000 to 2021.

Besides the conventions that began formal policies to review policies related to sexual abuse, several other state conventions acted in other ways to address sexual abuse.

Alabama Baptist State Convention

At its Nov. 16-17 meeting, the Alabama Baptist State Convention voted to ask newly elected President Buddy Champion to appoint at least seven members to a task force to review the policies and practices related to sex abuse in the state’s Cooperative Program-funded state convention entities and auxiliaries.

Proposed by retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church of Prattville, Ala., the motion required the Alabama State Board of Missions to fund the effort.

“In its role, the State Board resources, assists, trains and does all the things to help churches do a good job, so we want to ensure its policies and practices are carefully reviewed,” Bowen told The Alabama Baptist before proposing the motion. “We want to do the same for all partner entities and auxiliaries which are funded by the Cooperative Program.”

Last week Champion selected eight members for the new task force.

For more information on the motion and the task force, see the report in The Alabama Baptist.

Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Messengers of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention voted on Oct. 26 to form a sexual abuse task force to “ensure the policies and procedures of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention are above reproach in handling sexual abuse allegations.”

While the motions specifically noted that the ABSC does not have authority over the local church, the motion’s drafters intended to ensure the state convention is above reproach where it has purview, according to the Arkansas Baptist News.

“As the Executive Director of the Executive Board of the ABSC, I stand against sexual abuse to the highest degree. My heart breaks for those who have faced this tragedy,” ABSC Executive Director J.D. “Sonny” Tucker said in a statement released after the vote. “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 regard to sexual abuse and allegations related to this matter.”

The motion asks the task force to report back with best practices and steps taken to the messengers at the 2022 ABSC annual meeting.

California Southern Baptist Convention

After an hour-long debate at their Oct. 26-27 annual meeting, California Southern Baptists passed a motion asking the convention’s new president, Victor Chayasirisobhon of First Baptist Church in Anaheim, “to appoint a committee to look into the issue of sexual abuse in the California Southern Baptist Convention and report back to the Convention in 2022.”

After the motion passed, Port Wiburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship in Richmond, Calif., and director of missions for the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association, reminded messengers they were “mandatory reporters” for sexual abuse allegations.

For more information about the new committee, read the article on California Southern Baptist Convention website.

Florida Baptist State Convention

On Nov. 9, messengers to the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention approved a recommendation to create a special committee to examine all policies and procedures governing sexual abuse reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention within the convention.

FBSC President Brian Stowe presented the recommendation, which was unanimously approved by the 967 messengers who were registered. The convention participated in a comprehensive review of its polices in 2019. The process eventually led to a variety of new policies related to the prevention of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care, including the addition of background screening for all members of the State Board of Missions.

The recommendation tasked the convention’s newly appointed president, Paul Purvis, to appoint members to the new task force.

For more information about this motion and the proposed task force, read the full story on the Florida Baptist Convention website.

Georgia Baptist Convention

Last month, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee 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,” according to an article in the Christian Index.

The motion calls for the GBC’s president to appoint one representative from each of the state’s regions to serve on the nine-member committee. The committee will also include the convention president and the chairman of the state convention’s executive committee. The executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board will serve as an ex officio member.

The recommendations developed by the special committee will be utilized by churches, associations, and entities of the Georgia Baptist Convention, according to the motion.

For more information about this special committee, read the full story in the Christian Index.

Kentucky Baptist Convention

During its November 2021 annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention voted to form a task force to review how the convention currently responds to sexual abuse allegations. The recommendation, approved by the messengers, was supported unanimously by Kentucky Baptist Mission Board.

Wes Fowler, pastor of First Baptist Church of Mayfield, Ky., and the KBC president, noted that the task force wouldn’t have any authority over individual churches. Instead, it would help churches to navigate these issues.

According to a news story on the recommendation in Kentucky Today, the motion directs the task force to evaluate how the KBC currently “responds to sexual abuse allegations, reviewing all current policies, procedures and training material related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and response.”

The motion also calls on the task force to consult with a reputable organization to help determine the best practices in this area for the KBC.

Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

The executive committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina unanimously approved a motion that directs state convention officials to review existing policies and procedures related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention, and response.

State convention president Micheal Pardue’s motion directs the convention’s executive director-treasurer, Todd Unzicker, to review the convention’s “policies, procedures and materials related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and reporting.”

According to the motion, Unzicker will conduct the review in partnership with subject-matter experts, abuse survivors, and a cross-section of N.C. Baptists, including convention and board officers, pastors, church leaders and lay people.

The motion directs the findings of the review, along with any actions taken or proposed recommendations, to be presented to the state convention’s board of directors at its September 2022 meeting and to report to the messengers at the 2022 annual meeting.

For more about this review in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, see the article in the Biblical Recorder.

State Convention of Baptists in Ohio

Ohio Southern Baptists approved the creation of a sexual abuse task force, which will include both pastors and women as task force members. Executive Director Jeremy Westbrook called the step “proactive.”

Oklahoma Baptists

After a special installation service for Todd Fisher as the convention’s new executive director-treasurer, Fisher said one of his first acts would be to work with new officers and the board of directors to form a Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force, which would develop best practices to prevent sexual abuse and care for abuse survivors.

Oklahoma Baptists also passed a resolution on “Responding to Sexual Abuse and Caring for Victims.” The resolution, passed during the Nov. 15-16 annual meeting, recognizes the ongoing need to defend and minister to victims of sexual abuse.

Read the full version of the resolution passed by Oklahoma Baptist messengers.

South Carolina Baptist Convention

Messengers to the South Carolina Baptist Convention annual meeting Nov. 8-9 passed a motion authorizing the incoming president to appoint members to a task force to provide recommendations regarding sexual abuse reporting and prevention. The task force will bring recommendations to the SCBC’s executive board and to the messengers of the 2022 annual meeting.

D.J. Horton, pastor of Church at The Mill in Moore, S.C., presented the original motion and said the South Carolina task force would help the state’s churches begin to apply the lessons learned from the report on sexual abuse that is expected to be presented to the SBC messengers in Anaheim next June.

For more on the South Carolina task force, see this article in the Baptist Courier.

Tennessee Baptist Convention

The messengers to the Tennessee Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a request to establish a sexual abuse task force at its annual meeting, Nov. 14-17. In an article in the Baptist and Reflector, TBC President Bruce Chesser noted that the proposed task force isn’t an investigation but comes from a desire to be “open, honest, and transparent.”

“This is an effort to get ahead of this, rather than reacting. We want to be proactive, to best help churches keep from sexual abuse happening in our churches,” Chesser said, according to the Baptist and Reflector.

The recommendation, as approved by the messengers, calls for the task force to create a report with suggestions for improvements and present it to cooperating Tennessee Baptist churches no later than the 2022 annual meeting.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

Messengers to the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention on Nov. 8-9 approved a motion by Michael Criner, pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, Texas, that called for the new SBTC president, Todd Kaunitz, to form a team that works alongside SBTC leadership regarding sexual abuse prevention and response.

Criner noted that he wasn’t asking for an investigation or a task force, but a group to study how the convention can “better serve and be steadfast in equipping our churches to righteously” deal with allegations or instances of abuse.

Other related news from state Baptist conventions

Messengers to the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s annual meeting on Nov. 15 passed a resolution affirming the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force and calling on the convention’s churches to support sexual abuse victims by exposing abuse through teaching and preaching. The resolution emphasizes the importance of properly reporting sexual abuse and removing from membership any church that knowingly perpetuates sexual abuse.

In addition, the resolution calls on the BCM/D General Mission Board’s Affiliations Committee to look into the possibility of requiring churches to take part in preventative measures like the Caring Well initiative.

Steve Horne, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, announced that he will meet in January with state missions and ministry staff to address existing personnel policies, best practices, and to develop helpful resources related to handling sexual abuse. He also noted that the LBC Executive Board staff will work on this issue throughout the year.

Horne offered a number of action steps for the state convention regarding sexual abuse in 2022. For a full list of these action steps, read the article in the Louisiana Baptist Message.

Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia Executive Director Brian Autry announced that over the next year, he will work with the SBCV president and executive board chairman to create a special task force and Caring Well team for survivors of sexual abuse, the SBCV reported.

Messengers to the annual meetings for Missouri and Mississippi Baptists voted against forming task forces related to sexual abuse.

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  • Tobin Perry