As a national task force investigates how the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee dealt with allegations of clergy sexual abuse, a motion coming this week at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting will propose a similar task force for Southern Baptists in the Show-Me State. Similar efforts could also emerge this fall in other state conventions.
Rev. Mike Leake, lead pastor of Calvary Church in Neosho, Missouri, shared a draft version of the MBC motion on his website on Thursday (Oct. 21). He added that the motion is coming after work with “a few other like-minded pastors throughout the state.” He introduced it in the blog post by noting, “It’s no secret that Southern Baptists have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.”
The motion will instruct the MBC president elected at the meeting — likely current President Jon Nelson — to “appoint a task force to examine the issue of sexual abuse for the purpose of developing and recommending a plan” for the MBC, its entities, and affiliated churches.
“The task force shall examine the Convention’s history relating to sexual abuse prevention and caring for sexual abuse survivors and whether there are any patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates or resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives,” the motion draft adds.
The motion calls for a nine-person task force to include MBC Executive Director John Yeats, an MBC Executive Committee member, a metropolitan pastor, a rural pastor, a female layperson, and a sexual abuse survivor. The task force would provide an initial report at the 2022 annual meeting and a final report at the 2023 meeting.
The MBC motion comes amid turmoil nationally for Southern Baptists after messengers voted overwhelmingly in June to demand the creation of a task force to investigate the SBC’s Executive Committee. Although the messengers’ motion instructed the EC to waive attorney-client privilege, many EC members balked at that demand. On the third vote in as many weeks, the EC finally approved the waiving of privilege in a virtual meeting on Oct. 5.
But the vote to finally affirm the messengers’ vote didn’t stop the controversy. Several members of the EC resigned this month. And EC President Ronnie Floyd, who fought the effort to waive privilege, also announced his resignation.
Four Missourians serve on the EC, and three of them voted against waiving privilege — including MBC Executive Director John Yeats. His leadership in MBC life last year drew criticism from advocates of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Leaders of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, complained about a trustee imposed on the board who had been previously accused as a senior pastor of mishandling allegations against a staffer who molested teenage boys.
The MBC’s publication, which is under the direction of Yeats, defended the trustee who according to police at the time failed to act for months after learning of the allegations. Among the voices in the piece defending the trustee was attorney James Freeman, who joined Yeats as an SBC EC member in voting against waiving privilege for the national sexual abuse task force.
In addition to the allegations concerning the SBU trustee (and another SBU trustee elected by the MBC), the proposed motion’s reference to the MBC’s history could also bring an investigation into the two MBC executive directors prior to Yeats. And it might lead to an inquiry into how convention leaders handled a number of cases in recent years at affiliated churches and associations.
The MBC annual meeting is being held Oct. 25-26 in Branson. Once introduced Monday, the motion might see a vote on Tuesday.
UPDATE [10/28/21]: After Rev. Scott Gordon, pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, made the motion previously published by Leake, it failed in a 266-507 vote. A similar motion also failed in the Mississippi Baptist Convention by a 217-178 vote. However, motions to create state sexual abuse task forces were passed in Arkansas Baptist State Convention and California Southern Baptist Convention.