LAKELAND–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 was approved by messengers attending the Nov. 9 meeting at Lakes Church in Lakeland, Fla.
The action was presented to the messengers as a recommendation from the State Board of Missions by its president Brian Stowe. The motion was overwhelming approved by the 967 messengers registered at the time.
In making the recommendation, Stowe said “It is reprehensible that this sin exists,” adding that the State Board “has worked proactively in this area for years.”
In 2019, the State Board underwent a comprehensive review of existing policies governing the prevention of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care that resulted in establishing several new policies, including the background screening of all board members.
“But policies are not meant to be written and placed on a shelf,” said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Plant City. “Every organization should have a process of review to ensure that the policies not only remain applicable but are also being carried out.”
Stowe reported that over the past weeks, “We have wrestled with the question of what more should we do? We believe our actions in the past are appropriate and designed to address the areas of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care but we want to go a step further.
“We are requesting an independent review of our policies and procedures to be carried out by this conventions’ representatives that also includes consultation with professionals in this field of expertise.”
The action authorized the committee to review policies and procedures of the State Board of Missions, and the FSBC Cooperating Ministries–Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist College of Florida, and Florida Baptist Financial Services – including any subsidiary organizations of each ministry.
Stowe said these entities were consulted prior to the recommendation. “I am pleased to report that not only does your State Board of Missions welcome a transparent review of its policies but each of the Cooperating Ministries do as well.”
With the approval of the recommendation by FBSC messengers, the newly-elected FBSC president, Paul Purvis, is tasked with appointing a special committee composed of nine individuals—four pastors, four female laypersons—including one who is a sexual abuse survivor, if willing to serve, and the president who will serve as ex-officio voting member of the special committee.
During a time for questions, two messengers addressed the recommendation.
Lydia Greear, a messenger from Anastasia Baptist Church in St. Augustine, asked for “urgent and expedient formation” of the committee and for the timing of the report’s findings to be moved forward.
Teresa Juarbe, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Dade City, suggested the number of committee members be increased to include a male survivor of sexual abuse and asked for the committee makeup to be representative of the ethnic and culturally diverse communities that compose the state convention.
The recommendation was approved overwhelmingly by voice vote.
The following is the recommendation in its entirety:
Recommendation for Review of All Policies and Procedures of Florida Baptist State Convention Cooperating Ministries Governing Sexual Abuse Allegation Reporting, Sexual Abuse Survivor Care and Sexual Abuse Prevention
The State Board of Missions recommends that the messengers of the Florida Baptist State Convention gathering in annual session November 8-9, 2021, in Lakeland, Florida, adopt the following:
The Florida Baptist State Convention directs that the newly-elected president of the Florida Baptist State Convention establish a special committee of the state convention 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 by reviewing all applicable policies and procedures of the State Board of Missions, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist College of Florida, and Florida Baptist Financial Services – including any subsidiary organizations of each ministry.
The special committee shall be comprised of 9 individuals. These individuals shall be appointed by the president as follows:
- 4 pastors
- 4 female laypersons (one of which should be a sexual abuse survivor – if willing to serve)
The president shall designate one member of the special committee as the committee chair and designate another committee member as the vice-chair.
The president shall serve as an ex-officio voting member of the special committee.
Each cooperating ministry Executive Director/CEO shall designate a representative from their ministry organization to serve as a liaison between the committee and their respective ministry. These representatives shall not have any voting rights within the special committee.
To aid them in the review of the policies and procedures, the committee shall engage one or more outside professional consultants with expertise in crafting policies and procedures pertaining to sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention.
The special committee will:
- Review the policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention of the State Board of Missions, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist College of Florida, and Florida Baptist Financial Services – including any subsidiary organizations of each ministry.
- Identify and communicate opportunities for improvements in sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention to each ministry board of directors/trustees.
- Provide a report to the Florida Baptist State Convention messengers gathering in annual session November 14-15, 2022, in Pensacola, Florida, on the work of the committee and the committees’ recommendations (if any) for improvements.
Furthermore, to the extent this review process discovers any policy or practice which had (or might have) the effect of intimidating sexual abuse victims and/or advocates (or might be seen as evidence of resistance to reform initiatives), the committee will notify the cooperating ministry involved and offer suggestions regarding remedial steps that could be taken.
The Florida Baptist State Convention messengers direct that the State Board of Missions provide funding from available sources in an amount up to $100,000 to facilitate the work of this special committee including expenses related to travel, meetings, and outside consultant expenses.