Clergy sexual misconduct is one of those “not talked about” challenges that churches encounter, and it happens far more frequently than we might imagine. In 2008, The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church defined clergy sexual misconduct as “a betrayal of sacred trust.”

It is a continuum of unwanted sexual or gender-directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship (paid or unpaid). It can include child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent, or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another. In includes criminal behaviors in some nations, states, and communities.

As you can see, clergy sexual misconduct encompasses numerous behaviors—all of which need attention. Most Baptist congregations do have established policies and procedures with regard to abuse and assault of children, but few Baptist churches have guidelines that address clergy sexual misconduct with adults. As we know, Baptist denominational bodies and networks are loosely connected organizations with no official codes of conduct or approved policies for clergy members. Most Baptist bodies have no specific instructions about how to deal with clergy who assault or harass parishioners. Baptists also have no hierarchical structures or systems that mandate education for clergy members or churches, nor do Baptists have a denomination-wide way of investigating violations or monitoring violators. But the seriousness of clergy sexual misconduct demands a diligent response, especially by freedom-loving, autonomous Baptist churches.

Because of the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct and because of a grand hope and commitment to fostering healthy churches, we (Pam Durso and Stephen Reeves) began talking and strategizing in late 2015 about how the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry could work together to assist ministers, church members, partner organizations, and congregations to address the issue. In April 2016, we gathered a group of concerned Cooperative Baptists for face-to-face meeting with the intent of forming a Task Force. It soon became clear that this fellowship-wide initiative, working alongside a partner organization, is the type of endeavor for which CBF’s Ministries Council was designed. Stephen spoke with the council’s then-chair Emily Hull-McGee, who quickly blessed the effort and helped to recruit potential Task Force members from the council. Next, the idea was presented and formally recommended by the Ministries Council at their meeting preceding General Assembly in June. We invited a few more to join the Task Force, and in July, we all met via phone conference call to begin laying out a plan. The Task Force had another face-to-face meeting in October and again added several new members with specialized experience.

The Task Force now is comprised of two attorneys, two pastors, four church staff members, four social work degrees, two seminary professors, two leaders of CBF partner organizations, one pastoral counselor, and several survivors and/or family members of survivors. Those serving are:

Anne Cronic–minister of music, Central Baptist Church, Newnan, Georgia
Pam Durso—executive director, Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia
Jennifer Hawks—associate general counsel, Baptist Joint Committee, Washington, DC
Jenny Hodge—youth minister, Churchland Baptist Church, Chesapeake, Virginia
Jay Kieve—coordinator, CBF of South Carolina, Anderson, South Carolina
Nina Maples—senior associate pastor for pastoral care and leadership development, Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky
David Pooler—associate dean for baccalaureate and graduate studies at Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland’s School of Social Work, Waco, Texas
Micah Pritchett—pastor, North Broad Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia
Stephen Reeves—associate coordinator of partnership and advocacy, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Decatur, Georgia
Terry Rosell—professor of pastoral theology in ethics and ministry praxis, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kansas, and the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Missouri
Bob Searl—pastor, North Stuart Baptist Church, Stuart, Florida

Members of the Task Force agreed to serve a two-year commitment with at least one face-to-face meeting per year and three to four other meetings via conference call. The Task Force in November formed two sub-groups—one to collect and distribute best practices policies for churches and one to address and formulate educational resources for churches, ministers, and seminaries. These sub-groups reflect the three primary missions of the Task Force:

  1.  To collect and compile best practices policies that can be distributed to churches and partners via CBF and BWIM networks.
  2. To raise awareness through educational opportunities (workshops at General Assemblies, gatherings of state CBF and BWIM groups, seminary connections).
  3. To provide recovery services resources and information.

In the next few months, we will be sharing resources on both the CBF and BWIM websites and providing resources for churches, ministers, and eventually seminaries. The Task Force is committed to helping Baptists create healthy churches and partner organizations and to ensure the presence of ethical, honest, trusted ministers and leaders. We know this work requires hard conversations, intentional education, and consistent attention from all corners of the Baptist world, and we welcome your assistance and feedback along the way.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. Stephen Reeves is associate coordinator of partnership and advocacy, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Decatur, Georgia.