Advocates for Abuse Victims Criticize SBU Presidential Search Committee - Word&Way

Advocates for Abuse Victims Criticize SBU Presidential Search Committee

press conference outside MBC headquarters

As Southwest Baptist University looks for a new president to the lead the school in Bolivar, Missouri, a prominent group that advocates for victims and survivors of sexual abuse criticized the school’s trustees for naming a “controversial” minister as vice chair of the search committee.

Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a group formed in 1989 to draw attention to clergy misconduct within the Catholic Church but that now also advocates more broadly for victims of clergy sexual abuse, issued the statement criticizing SBU on Friday (April 2). SNAP’s statement argued that “a Baptist minister accused of mishandling a child sex abuse case” shouldn’t be on SBU’s presidential search committee.

The election of Mike Roy as an SBU trustee previously sparked complaints in 2020 after advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse argued he mishandled allegations against a staff member while Roy served as pastor at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, Missouri.

Roy hired Shawn Davies, a former classmate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to serve as the church’s youth minister. In 2005, Shawn Davies was convicted on charges including statutory sodomy, sex with a minor, and sexual abuse stemming from allegations involving at least 13 boys at four churches. Police at the time publicly said Roy was uncooperative during the investigation and that Roy had allowed Davies to continue to work around children for four months after they informed Roy of the investigation.

Messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention’s 2019 annual meeting elected Roy to SBU’s Board after the MBC’s Nominating Committee broke from its own rules and practices to reject SBU’s nominees and instead nominate Roy and others. SBU’s president at the time, Eric Turner, publicly criticized the nomination process at that annual meeting.

After learning about Roy’s record four months later, SBU officials announced a special Board meeting for Feb. 24, 2020, to consider the allegations against Roy. Turner mentioned at the time that Roy had been “unilaterally imposed upon SBU” by the MBC.

press conference outside MBC headquarters

Cheryl Summers of For Such a Time as This Rally (right) calls for a state investigation of Baptist clergy while standing in front of the Missouri Baptist Convention headquarters on Feb. 26, 2020, joined by advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse. (Brian Kaylor/Word&Way)

MBC leaders quickly defended Roy and criticized Turner for his comments about the MBC and the trustee election process.

SNAP and For Such A Time as This Rally, a group that advocates for abuse victims within the Southern Baptist Convention, held a rally outside the MBC’s building on Feb. 26, 2020, to call on the MBC and SBU to remove Roy as a trustee. The groups also urged Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to investigate clergy in the MBC for sexual abuse or misconduct — as he already had done with the Catholic Church. Schmitt, who is Catholic, has yet to investigate abuse within the state’s second-largest religious group even though his office did so with the largest group.

SBU left Roy on the Board amid legal threats from the MBC that argued SBU lacked the right to remove a trustee. Turner resigned as president in October as MBC leaders continued to unilaterally push new trustees for SBU’s Board.

SNAP’s new statement noted the problem of Roy remaining on the SBU Board, especially given the message it could send to students who have experienced sexual assault. But SNAP added that it is even worse to give Roy “a new role.”

“This move to appoint Roy to the presidential search committee increases the pain of those who’ve been assaulted and increases the chance that more abuse will be hidden in the future,” the SNAP statement read. “Every time a Baptist institution or individual gives Roy a promotion or position, they’re hurting child sex abuse victims and signaling that ignoring or concealing child sex crimes is no big deal in their denomination.”

“Twelve people are on this committee. Can’t the SBU trustees either stop at 11 or find one more qualified person to be on this committee who has not been wrapped up in scandal,” SNAP added.

SNAP’s statement adds to the criticism of SBU’s presidential search committee. SBU’s Faculty Senate on March 26 passed a resolution expressing they are “gravely concerned” that the search committee is comprised entirely of trustees. The previous search committee in 2018 was only half trustees, with other members representing faculty, staff, student, and alumni communities.

These controversies about the search committee come amid a more than two-year controversy at SBU over theology and control. This included the unusual move earlier this year as the trustees denied tenure or promotion to multiple professors. One professor denied tenure and terminated is Debbie Walker, a psychology professor who has worked on campus to help victims of sexual violence.