Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
The Southern Baptist Convention has taken another meaningful step in its efforts to account for a problem of sexual abuse that occurred in the denomination over two decades.
As first reported by the Baptist Press, SBC president Bart Barber has named nine members to the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.
“The purpose of this task force is to assist the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention in our efforts to shut the doors of our churches to those who would act as sexual predators and to wrap our arms around survivors and those who love them,” Barber said.
The task force was officially commissioned earlier this year at the annual convention by a vote of members. In Baptist circles, the representatives who vote on behalf of churches are called messengers.
Sex abuse allegations have haunted the SBC in the public eye since a 2019 report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News that documented the convictions of 263 sex offenders who held various positions at Southern Baptist Churches. In all, 30 states were represented in the report.
The two newspapers also created an interactive database that details the convictions of 263 perpetrators and the more than 700 individuals who were victimized. Adults and children were among the victims.
Since the news report, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is governed from the ground up by more than 47,000 member churches, has sought ways to respond to the report and prevent future tragedy. The task force is one of several measures the SBC has adopted following a vote from messengers and recommendations from Guidepost Solutions, a consulting group that specializes in investigations.
“Between the task force members and the various consultants, the task force discussions will feature the input of top experts in the subject matters of sexual abuse, the law, Southern Baptist history and polity, trauma-informed counseling, and most importantly, the Bible,” Barber said.
The task force will be chaired by Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.
Mike Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla., will be vice chair, with seven additional people – some pastors and other laypersons – completing the task force:
- Todd Benkert, pastor and lead elder of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind.
- Melissa Bowen, member of First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala.
- Brad Eubank, senior pastor of the Petal (Miss.) First Baptist Church
- Cyndi Lott, member of Catawba Valley Baptist Church in Morganton, N.C.
- Jon Nelson, lead pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Mo.
- Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston
- Gregory Wills, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Every member of the task force is an active member of a Southern Baptist church, representing a wide variety of church sizes from several geographic areas within the Convention,” Barber said. “Some of the members are also providing leadership to task forces serving their various state conventions.”
The task force will serve for a year, during which time it is expected to create a report detailing the best method for continuing to reform church policy, provide assistance to SBC member churches that request it, and work to implement other recommendations already made by vote of messengers.
Chief among the other recommendations is a website, known as “Ministry Check,” which would serve as a clearing house and database through which churches can cross reference applicants for positions against a list of persons “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
In the initial media report, it was revealed that numerous sex abusers were able to leave one church and re-offend in another (sometimes in a new state). One reason this occurred was that churches lacked the ability to properly vet their applicants.
While a person with a criminal conviction would have been easily identified with a background check, a person who avoided prosecution could avoid detection.