Southern Baptist Convention meets in Texas to tackle sex abuse scandal

FORT WORTH (TX) [Janesville WI]

September 5, 2022

By Sarah Bahari, Dallas Morning News

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention are meeting in Fort Worth this weekend to discuss reforms in the wake of a national sex abuse crisis.

In recent months, the convention — which is the largest Protestant denomination in the country — has faced scrutiny for its handling of the widespread scandal.

Several branches within the denomination are under investigation from the Justice Department following a third-party investigation that found church leaders suppressed reports of sexual abuse for two decades.

In response, the convention created the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force to address the crisis.

Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the task force and pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Oklahoma, told Fort Worth Report that meeting would help provide a road map for reforms.

“I hope (the task force) will bring out real and true reform with practical and real changes to show we care about the issue — not just PR or just to ‘clean it up,’” Keahbone told the news outlet. “We want to help the victims and stop this abuse.”

Recommendations include a “ministry check” website, which will list names of people who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

A third party commissioned by a church or Baptist organization would decide if evidence amounted to a credible accusation, according to the Baptist Press. A lawsuit, criminal charges without a conviction or allegation not investigated by a third party would not meet the standard.

The meeting in Fort Worth comes just days after a high-profile North Texas pastor took a leave of absence because of an inappropriate online relationship with a woman who is not his wife.

Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, said the relationship was not sexual or romantic. But elders at the Southern Baptist church believed the messages exchanged over Instagram were “unguarded and unwise” and “revealed something unhealthy in me,” he said. The admission did not include allegations of sexual abuse.

“The Word of God holds me to a certain standard,” Chandler said. “And I fell short.”