(RNS) — Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton has appointed a seven-member task force to look into accusations the denomination’s Executive Committee mishandled allegations of abuse.
The task force includes four Southern Baptist pastors, a lawyer, a social worker and the head of a Mississippi social service agency that works with children. Abuse advocate and attorney Rachael Denhollander and Chris Moles, a pastor and counselor who works on domestic abuse prevention, will serve as advisers.
“Southern Baptists, I urgently call you to pray for this process and to bear the burden alongside this task force as they pursue truth, identify issues, and move forward toward greater health in our response to abuse,” Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama, said in a statement announcing the task force.
At the SBC’s annual meeting in Nashville this past June, local church delegates, known as messengers, prevailed on Litton to appoint the task force after abuse survivors accused the denomination’s Executive Committee of mishandling abuse allegations and mistreating survivors.
Before the annual meeting, Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd announced the hiring of GuidePost Solutions to review its handling of abuse allegations. But a Baptist pastor from Tennessee made a motion to set up a task force to oversee the review.
“Said task force shall ensure that the third-party review includes an investigation into 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,” the motion for the task force read.
“We believe that the Executive Committee does not have the ability to handle this task force investigation,” the Rev. Troy Bush, pastor of Rehoboth Baptist in Georgia, told delegates during a debate over the motion, which passed by a wide margin.
Messengers also approved a resolution stating pastors and other leaders who commit abuse should be banned from the ministry.
The nation’s largest Protestant denomination has been struggling with how to respond to abuse over the past two years. In 2019, the Houston Chronicle published the results of an investigation that found hundreds of cases of abuse in SBC churches. That led the SBC to change its bylaws to allow churches that have mishandled abuse claims or hired known or accused perpetrators to be thrown out of the denomination.
SBC leaders have also apologized for past abuse and developed new resources to help churches minister to abuse survivors and prevent abuse. But critics say the denomination continues to fail survivors.
The task force members were announced Friday (July 9). Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, will chair the committee. Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, will serve as the vice-chair. Other members of the committee are:
- John Damon, CEO of Canopy Children’s Solutions
- Liz Evan, a judicial law clerk at the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
- Heather Evans, director of Evans Counseling Services
- Andrew Hébert, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church, in Amarillo, Texas
- Bucas Sterling, III, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church, Upper Marlboro, Maryland
The motion requires the results of the review to be made public.
In other post-SBC annual meeting news, the Metro Public Health Department in Nashville has found a handful of COVID-19 cases linked to the annual meeting, which drew more than 20,000 people. Between eight and 10 cases have been linked to the meeting, health officials told the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.