By Lonnie Wilkey
BRENTWOOD — Tennessee Baptist Convention messengers overwhelmingly approved a recommendation from directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to establish a sexual abuse task force.
The action occurred during the opening session of the TBC annual meeting Nov. 16 at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood. When the session convened, there were 938 registered messengers from 450 churches.
The TBMB recommendation came at the request of TBC President Bruce Chesser. He told the board on Nov. 15 that with the conditions in society today and things that have happened in the larger Southern Baptist Convention family, convention leadership “felt best that we need to get ahead of it.”
He reiterated that position to messengers, noting that the recommendation “is not an investigation. We want to be open, honest and transparent. This is something we have been doing for 20 years. It is a continuing, ongoing need,” Chesser said.
“This is an effort to get ahead of this, Rather than reacting, we want to be proactive, to best help churches keep from sexual abuse happening,” he continued.
Chesser also stressed it is important to remember the victims of sexual abuse and their families. “We need to know how to minister to those who have been abused and their families.”
The recommendation drew some discussion and an attempt to amend the recommendation. Floyd Paris, a messenger from Leawood Baptist Church, Memphis, observed that the recommendation, though “well intentioned,” violated the TBC Constitution. The TBC “does not have ecclesiastical authority,” Harris said. He later made a motion to amend the wording, but it failed by a substantial margin.
Messenger Phillip Senn of First Baptist Church, Ridgely, spoke against a task force, noting that the matter could be dealt with by the directors of the TBMB.
Chesser said he suggested a task force because it would help with transparency. The task force would be a group of people who do not work for TBMB and would be appointed by the newly elected president, he continued. “Every church is autonomous. Every church is independent. We cooperate to do mission work.”
Messenger Jacob Brimm of First Baptist Church, Bethel Springs, spoke in favor of the recommendation, noting “it is a proactive step” in saying that Tennessee Baptists take the matter seriously.
The recommendation, as approved by messengers, reads:
“That the messengers to the 2021 annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention , meeting at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tennessee, authorize the newly elected president to appoint a sexual abuse task force for the purpose of evaluating:
(1) The process of how the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) responds to allegations of sexual abuse occurring in churches and TBC entities and reported to the TBC;
(2) The process of how Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) seeks to protect those it serves from sexual abuse and responds to allegations growing out of TBMB ministries and events; and
(3) The resources and assistance provided by TBC and TBMB to cooperating churches to help educate church leaders on best practices to protect their congregants from the evil of sexual abuse.
The recommendation also calls for the task force to compile a report, including suggestions for improvements, for presentation to cooperating Tennessee Baptist churches no later than the 2022 annual meeting of the TBC in Cordova. B&R