A Big Baptist Business Meeting

Church family,

I’ll be leaving Milton on Friday to perform a wedding on Saturday in Florence, Mississippi. The following day I’ll fly to Anaheim, California, to represent you at our Southern Baptist Convention, which meets next week. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have much to say in way of a preview for a big Baptist business meeting. However, our convention of churches faces some significant challenges. As your representative in Anaheim next week, I felt it might be profitable to give you some information.

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Nashville, where I represented your interests as a church. At that meeting, we (SBC churches) created and commissioned a task force to investigate the myriad of sexual abuse allegations that were being reported among our churches and determine what we could do to begin to fix this problem. That task force solicited an outstanding organization that did a great job in their investigation, though their report was difficult and heartbreaking to read. A few things became apparent to me as I read their report.

1. Some leaders in our work (i.e., former Executive Committee staff, former seminary leadership, etc.) did not rightly handle some of the abuse allegations that were brought to their attention. That’s to say that, at times, when abuse allegations were made, those allegations were not reported to the authorities, and in some instances the abuse victim was silenced and discouraged from taking further action.

2. As a group of churches that cooperate for the advancement of God’s kingdom, there is little or no cooperation when it comes to sharing information with each other regarding church leaders who have been guilty of abuse. There are recorded incidents of “pastors” and “ministers” who commit abuse in a church or church setting, were removed from that specific location, and later showed up at another church and abused someone else. Recidivism is an issue that must be addressed.

3. Our churches, for the most part, could be better equipped to create systems that might prevent abusive situations from happening, and are not equipped to respond or handle abusive situations in the church context. This is more than an observation for me. It’s a reality. Years ago, in a previous pastorate, an abuse allegation against a staff member was brought to my attention. The only reason I had an inkling of what to do was because I paid attention when something similar happened to a church in a neighboring city a few years prior.

There is much more that could be said about the issues we need to tackle when it comes to preventing sexual abuse in our churches and in how we treat victims and report abusers. This isn’t an issue that we’ll solve overnight or over the course of a year or two. But our convention will be asked to take steps to begin this process.

As your pastor and representative of your voice as a church, I felt bound to share with you my intention at the convention next week in Anaheim. The sexual abuse task force that was created and commissioned last year will make two specific recommendations to the messengers next week.

1. They are recommending that messengers approve the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This task force will be authorized to operate for one year, to be renewable by each subsequent annual convention as needed. As their name implies, this task force will face the challenge of helping the churches in our convention implement reform measures to better handle sexual abuse in the church setting.

2. They are recommending that messengers approve the creation of an online “Ministry Check” website, as well as a process for maintaining a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church.

I encourage you to read these forthcoming recommendations fully by visiting this website.

It is my intention, as your representative at the Southern Baptist Convention, to wholeheartedly vote YES in approving these two recommendations.

Also, each year we elect a President to serve our Southern Baptist Convention. This isn’t a very powerful position, as the President’s largest task is moderating a big business meeting each year. But the person elected to this office has some say in other matters. In most years, the impact of who is elected to that position is minimal. This year, however, it’s a bit more impactful. Specifically, the person our Convention elects as President will appoint people to serve on the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).

Three men have been named as candidates for SBC President. I’m posting a link with each name below that gives you more information about each candidate, should you desire to read it.

Tom Ascol

Bart Barber

Robin Hadaway

I’ve listened to each candidate in several interviews, and I’ve read many of their comments in various articles and social media outlets. Understanding the unique role our newly elected President will have as it relates to sexual abuse reform, I intend to cast my ballot for Bart Barber.

Furthermore, understanding the need for our churches to be as fully informed as possible and better equipped to deal with sexual abuse, I plan to attend an ancillary meeting Tuesday night, after the official events for the convention that day have concluded. This meeting is designed to resource and better equip churches to deal with sexual abuse. Although we already have some systems in place at FBC, I want to make sure our church has the best resources possible. We want to be a safe place for everyone who comes to our campus.

I normally wouldn’t take so much space to inform you of a big Baptist business meeting, but we’re in a unique and critical time in our work as a convention of churches who cooperate to advance the mission and kingdom of God. Please pray for those gathered in Anaheim next week, that we would simply seek the Lord and follow him.

If you have questions or comments regarding this information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Obviously, I’ll not be in the office, but you can always email me at jrussell@fbcmilton.org. I’m thankful to be your pastor and glad to represent our church as like-minded congregations come together next week to learn how we can better achieve the mission of God!

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