In the wake of a national sexual abuse scandal, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force will meet in Fort Worth during Labor Day weekend to discuss reforms within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. 

The meeting will take place at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary campus on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5. Fort Worth was chosen as the meeting location because the city is a hub for direct flights or drivable for the members of the committee, said Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force and pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla.

“This meeting will be the first gathering of the entire Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force,” Keahbone told the Report. “We will meet with leaders from the Sexual Abuse Task Force and paint a clear picture of what we will be tackling and prioritize what needs to be done.” 

In May, Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the convention, compiled a 288-page report detailing abuse reports from women and children against male pastors, church employees and officials between 2000 to today. 

The report found that leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention suppressed reports of sexual abuse and restricted proposals of reform for more than two decades in order to avoid liability for the abuse, according to the Associated Press

“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its policy regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report reads. 

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force is the successor of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. The 2021 Southern Baptist Convention authorized the abuse reform task force to evaluate and address all of the recommendations by Guidepost, according to the Guidepost Solutions Report.

The task force is composed of nine members and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention community. Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., will serve as the task force chair and Keahbone as vice chair, according to the Baptist Press.

Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force Members

The nine members of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, according to the Baptist Press:

  • Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.
  • Mike Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Oklahoma.
  • Todd Benkert, pastor and lead elder of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Indiana.
  • Melissa Bowen, member of First Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama.
  • Brad Eubank, senior pastor of Petal First Baptist Church in Petal, Mississippi.
  • Cyndi Lott, member of Catawba Valley Baptist Church in Morganton, N.C.
  • Jon Nelson, lead pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.
  • Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston 
  • Gregory Wills, member of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as professor of church history and Baptist heritage and dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Experts and consultants with varying affiliation with the convention will join the nine members to address the crisis. 

“The original meeting weekend was scheduled for the end of September, but we wanted to speed up this process because this is an urgent task that we need to address,” Keahbone said. “Luckily, everyone was willing to make it happen over Labor Day weekend.”

No immediate reforms will come as a result of this meeting, Keahbone said. The meeting will serve as more of an orientation to figure out a road map of what is expected of the task force this year, he added. 

“I hope (the task force) will bring out real and true reform with practical and real changes to show we care about the issue – not just PR or just to ‘clean it up,’” Keahbone said. “We want to help the victims and stop this abuse.” 

What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention is a network of thousands of cooperating churches across the United States, according to the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists represent more than one-third of church members in the United States, and more than 40% of Baptist churches in the country are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Jon D. Wilke, director of media relations for the convention’s executive committee, said the network differs from Methodist or Caltholic denominations because there is no governing body or authority that tells each church what to do or how to worship. 

“No two churches are exactly the same. But there are shared biblical beliefs and values among Southern Baptists, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, language, size, or location,” Wilke said by email. “And those shared beliefs lead us to cooperate together to send missionaries, plant new churches, train pastors, respond to natural disasters and so much more.”

Churches within the SBC network range from “mega-church” designation to churches that support a congregation of less than 200 people, according to the Southern Baptist Convention. 

The convention has an executive committee that was formed in 1917 and is currently composed of 86 representatives from 41 state conventions.

The executive committee is tasked with administrative duty for the convention when it is not in session. The committee receives and distributes funds, plans the annual meeting, publishes the “Conventional Annual,” aids convention committees, handles legal matters and provides staffing assistance, according to the Southern Baptist Convention. The committee is subject to review by the convention. 

Last year, at the executive committee’s annual meeting, there was an overwhelming vote to address the sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, according to Guidepost’s Solution Report. The Sexual Abuse Task Force designated the formation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force as its first action to confront the growing crisis. 

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force was appointed by current Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber, and is charged with implementing a series of reforms in the convention over the course of three years, according to the Guidepost’s Solution Report.

Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow with the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at izzy.acheson@fortworthreport.org.

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Izzy Acheson

Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she graduated from Texas Christian University in 2022 with a double major in journalism and environmental...