Pictured Above: JJ Johnson, pastor of South Tampa Fellowship and chairman of the special committee tasked with studying Florida Baptists’ sexual abuse policies and procedures, is flanked by his committee as he reports to messengers at the 2022 Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting.
PENSACOLA–Messengers to the 2022 Florida Baptist State Convention held Nov. 14-15 at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola unanimously adopted a report brought by a special committee tasked with examining policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, survivor care and prevention within the state convention.
The creation of the committee was authorized by FBSC messengers during the 2021 annual meeting in Lakeland at the request of the State Board of Missions.
The special committee report presented during the 2022 FBSC annual meeting stated that its task was “to proactively evaluate our state convention’s cooperating ministries’ policies and procedures to identify any deficiencies and opportunities for improvement that would help ensure the utmost care in protecting the vulnerable and caring for the abused.” The committee was not tasked with investigating specific sexual abuse allegations.
The nine-person committee, chaired by JJ Johnson, pastor of South Tampa Fellowship, selected Telios Law, PLLC, based in Monument, Colorado, to conduct an independent review of such policies and procedures. Five cooperating ministries were included in the review: Florida Baptist State Board of Missions, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist College of Florida, and Florida Baptist Financial Services.
The committee reported that Telios Law noted there were “no overwhelming flaws in the policies and procedures of the state’s cooperating ministries.”
The committee’s report then highlighted seven “areas of critical importance moving forward” and requested that the cooperating ministries provide updates at the November 2023 FBSC annual meeting in Tampa on the progress made in addressing these “opportunities for improvement.”
The committee’s report stated that “The cooperating ministries should:
- Include the spiritual and biblical rationale for their policies when appropriate and possible.
- Have a clearly established process for a) completing background and reference checks, b) documenting said checks, and c) retaining records for employees and volunteers.
- Work together to develop applicable procedures for inter-ministry communication when sexual-abuse allegations may occur. Such procedures should be consistent with our Baptist polity.
- Document a verifiable process of training employees and volunteers for sexual abuse prevention and reporting, including the manner in which completion of that training will be documented.
- Evaluate the various recommendations related to sexual abuse reporting provided by the third-party policy audit and adjust policies accordingly.
- Clarify all definitions throughout all policies to bring them in line with recommendations from the third-party audit.
- Clearly articulate a trauma-informed approach to survivor care.
The committee was composed of four pastors, four female laypersons and the FBSC president as an ex-officio voting member. In addition to committee chairperson Johnson, committee members were: Chris Bonts, pastor, First Baptist Church in Middleburg; Adrian Taylor, Springhill Church, Gainesville; Theo Johnson, Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, Miami; Tami Kreitl, First Orlando; Stephanie Shermeta, Calvary Baptist Church, Clearwater; Nadine Kimsal, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Pensacola; Beth Harris, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola; and FBSC President Paul Purvis, pastor of Mission Hill Church in Tampa.
As a part of adopting the report, messengers voted to disband the special committee.