SBC President Ed Litton has named a seven-member task force to oversee a third-party review into the handling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC Executive Committee (EC). The task force was required by messengers at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, after it was reported that the EC had hired a firm on its own to conduct an investigation of EC actions.
“The messengers of the 2021 SBC annual meeting spoke clearly and overwhelmingly regarding this important task,” said Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church of Arden, N.C., who will chair the group. Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., will serve as vice-chair.
In addition to the seven members, Litton named two advisors to the task force with “expertise in handling sexual abuse dynamics.” One of them, Rachael Denhollander, is an attorney and survivors’ advocate who became known internationally as the first woman to file a police report and speak publicly against USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. After her actions, 250 women made similar accusations.
The other advisor, Chris Moles, is a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and author of two books on abuse. Both Denhollander and Moles previously served on advisory group formed in 2018 by former SBC President J.D. Greear.
In the release, Litton said in formation of the task force he “sought counsel and recommendations from experts in the field and from trusted advisors.” He said the task force includes pastors in the SBC “who are independent of the Executive Committee and who do not have a conflict of interest related to the review” as well as laypersons “with professional expertise for this assignment.”
The motion was approved amid controversy over allegations made by former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore. Moore, who resigned from his post in May, charged in two letters leaked to news media that calls to address sexual abuse in the SBC had been “stonewall[ed]” by leaders. Audio clips from two meetings Moore described were later posted online by a former ERLC staff member.
The pastor who made the motion, Grant Gaines of Murfreesboro, Tenn., appointment of a task force was necessary “in order for this investigation to be truly external, independent and unbiased,” and that the Executive Committee “can’t be the ones to hold themselves accountable.”
The task force is to receive a written report 30 days before the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting. The report is to be made public within a week, along with suggested actions for messengers.
“Southern Baptists, I urgently call you to pray for this process and to bear the burden alongside this task force as they pursue truth, identify issues, and move forward toward greater health in the area of response to abuse,” Litton said in a statement.
Additional members of the task force are John Damon, CEO of Canopy Children’s Solutions, Jackson, Miss.; Nashville, Tenn. judicial law clerk Liz Evan; counselor Heather Evans, director of Coopersburg, Pa.; Andrew Hébert, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Bucas Sterling III, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Md.
–condensed from a report by Baptist Press