Mississippi Baptist leaders react to report on sexual abuse allegations with Southern Baptist Convention

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 8:42 PM CDT|Updated: May. 23, 2022 at 8:43 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A new report claims Southern Baptist Convention leaders mishandled allegations of sex abuse for nearly two decades. The independent investigation was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention last year.

The document was made public Sunday and suggests that members of the convention’s executive committee stonewalled and intimidated victims after they came forward with abuse allegations.

Many questions are now trained on how to prevent future abuse and better respond to new allegations. So, we went straight to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board for their reaction and to learn what current protocols, if any, exist.

“I think the accountability is, is going to be the healthiest thing for us,” explained Dr. Shawn Parker, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board Executive Director-Treasurer. “Obviously, I do have concerns that this might jade people in their perception of Southern Baptists and more importantly than that, the Christian church. And I would hate to see that be the case. Certainly, I would understand that there would be disappointment and frustration, and possibly even the development of some cynicism over this. But I would be, I would be disappointed to see that become such a deterrent to people’s spiritual health and growth that, that they no longer look to the church for spiritual guidance.”

So, what is the current structure for reporting abuse allegations? To start, you need an understanding of the Baptist governing structure.

“Baptist churches are all autonomous, meaning that they have a cooperative relationship with the Mississippi Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention,” described Parker. “But it’s not a hierarchical relationship. We don’t provide supervision for them. They aren’t answerable to us. They are self-governing. So when such an incident should occur, there’s no mandate that they report that to the Mississippi Baptist Convention.”

We reached out to Gore Springs Baptist Church Pastor Eric Sherwood, who filed a motion at the 2021 state convention annual meeting to create a state-level sexual abuse task force. It failed.

“The report from the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force is a shocking and necessary indictment of the behavior of some of our SBC leaders over the past two decades. The motion we presented was an effort to be proactive toward educating local church pastors in Mississippi about the reality of sexual abuse and equipping them to respond with trauma-informed sensitivity to potential SA disclosures in their churches. I was, of course, saddened that it did not pass, but I have been very encouraged over the past year by the commitment and cooperation of the MS Baptist Convention Board leadership, especially Dr. Parker, to take this matter seriously and take action in the spirit of the motion. Now is a time for all Southern Baptists to repent and humble ourselves, then take action to care for survivors and ensure that these sinful acts do not continue,” said pastor Sherwood.

Parker says in the last nine months, they’ve taken steps at the state level, including a review of procedures and protocols for reporting, and redoubled their efforts to provide churches training for identifying predators/preventing sexual abuse/caring for survivors. Right now, they encourage churches to look at sex offender registries before hiring but know that doesn’t cover instances of credible allegations not tied to an indictment.

“I think that there is a way for us to manage our church polity, and at the same time, develop some mechanism for recording credible allegations, and then ensuring that churches have access to that. Truthfully, at this point, I don’t know exactly how that’s going to pan out, but we’re working, and we’ll be working diligently on that,” Dr. Parker said.

One of the examples in the report is of a pastor in Texas allegedly allowing an accused abuser of young boys to be quietly dismissed in 1989. He didn’t report that abuse to police. The man, John Langworthy, was later charged with abusing young boys here in Mississippi in 2011. A check in the sex offender registry shows he has since died.

To view the full statement released by Dr. Shawn Parker, click HERE.

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