Southern Baptist leaders in several states have taken proactive steps to address the issue of sexual abuse within the denomination, forming special committees to review their state conventions' responses to allegation reporting, survivor care and prevention.
During its annual meeting on Monday, the Florida State Board of Missions approved a recommendation to create a special committee “to examine all policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention within the Florida Baptist State Convention."
If approved by messengers, the committee will be composed of nine individuals — including at least four pastors and four female laypersons — all appointed by the newly-elected FBSC president.
Specifically, the committee will review policies and procedures of the State Board of Missions, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist College of Florida, Florida Baptist Financial Services and any subsidiary organizations of each ministry.
Subsequently, the committee will provide a report to FBSC messengers gathered at an annual session next November regarding “the work of the committee and the committees’ recommendations (if any) for improvements.”
On Monday, 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."
The motion directs BSC Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Unzicker to conduct a review of the convention’s “policies, procedures and materials related to sexual abuse awareness, prevention and reporting.”
State convention president Micheal Pardue, who authored the motion, said the review is a proactive step to demonstrate the BSC’s commitment to taking matters of sexual abuse issues seriously. He is not aware of instances in which the state convention has mishandled cases of sexual abuse.
“This is not an issue that we can slack on,” Pardue said in a statement. “This will show that we are being proactive and ensure that we are doing everything we can to address this issue. We want to be very open to our convention and make sure that we are doing the best we can to protect people in our churches and hold people accountable.”
In September, the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board approved a policy declaring any registered sex offender “permanently disqualified” from church leadership. Churches that violate this standard “may be considered out of harmonious cooperation with the churches” of the convention.
“We take sexual abuse seriously. And we want our churches to be safe places and we want to do all we can to protect children and vulnerable adults in our churches,” Associate Executive Director Craig Christina said.
“This is just one way to say together that this is a serious issue and that we want to do all we can to encourage our churches to promote safe practices and not allow sexual predators to be in a position of leadership and have the chance to offend again.”
The move comes amid internal disagreements within SBC leadership over how to best respond to sexual abuse allegations at churches, which are autonomous in the SBC.
In June, SBC messengers voted for SBC President Ed Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of allegations SBC leaders mishandled a “crisis of sexual abuse” in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The move was prompted by a 2019 report from The Houston Chronicle that documented hundreds of alleged abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches over decades.
After weeks of deliberations, SBC Executive Committee members voted in October to waive attorney-client privilege as part of an investigation into the committee’s handling of sexual abuse claims. The decision prompted at least a dozen SBC leaders to resign, including committee head Ronnie Floyd.
The convention’s longtime legal counsel, attorneys James Guenther and James Jordan of the law firm Guenther, Jordan and Price, informed the board on Oct. 11 of their resignation in response to the trustees’ decision to waive attorney-client privilege. The group had represented the executive committee since 1966.
In his resignation letter, Executive Committee member Rod D. Martin said that though he supports the third-party investigation into the SBC, he disagrees with the “specific course chosen.”
“The SBC is in grave danger,” he warned. “We will have to do Herculean things to save it. And we must: we educate a third of the seminary students in America and field the largest missionary force in the world. We cannot allow this enormous force for good to be destroyed, whether by vile, wicked sex abusers who’ve violated the ultimate trust, or by foolish, self-serving leaders who’ve exposed the church to needless danger. We can punish the guilty while saving our churches and our Convention. We must.”