Retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church Prattville, proposes the motion approved by messengers to review policies and practices of Cooperative Program-funded entities and the State Board of Missions.
Photo by Sam Evans/The Alabama Baptist

Motion for Sexual Abuse Task Force in Alabama passes; members to be named this month

Newly elected Alabama Baptist State Convention president Buddy Champion said he plans to name the members of a Sexual Abuse Task Force by the end of the month.

The task force is being established following a motion approved by convention messengers Nov. 16 during the annual meeting at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville.

Retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church Prattville, proposed the motion as a way to review policies and practices of Cooperative Program-funded entities and the State Board of Missions.

Motion’s wording

Bowen’s motion reads that “the newly elected president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention name a Sexual Abuse Task Force of at least seven members with the newly elected president being an ex-officio member. The purpose of this task force would be to review the policies and practices of our Cooperative Program-funded state convention entities and auxiliaries, including the State Board of Missions, related to sex abuse. Reviewing members of the task force will not include paid staff of the entities, auxiliaries or State Board and will report back to the 2022 Convention. The executive director of the State Board of Missions will serve as a resource for the task force. Expenses of the task force will be covered by the State Board of Missions.”

Bowen spent a decade representing domestic violence victims through Legal Services Alabama before she retired in 2017. She cares deeply about the issue of abuse and sees the motion as an opportunity to help.

“Although sexual abuse is not my story, God has brought an awareness of this terrible issue to me over many years. Often throughout my career, I represented victims of domestic violence. Many, many of my clients told me about their past sexual abuse … the experiences of sexual abuse taught them that they were worthless and any abuse for mistreatment or them was deserved (in their minds).

“Sexual abuse that takes place in a church or Christian setting is especially damaging because it gives a message that the abuse is part of Christianity or maybe even approved by God,” Bowen said. “Sexual abuse is an issue that our churches should be passionate about because it destroys faith and separates people from God.

“There is a time and a need to lament the harm caused in the past to children, youth and women in our churches,” she said. “But we must do more. We must stop those who would victimize them. We must bring this terrible cycle to a close.”

Reason for motion

Bowen shared that the State Board of Missions can be a help to churches by providing training and modeling policies and procedures. “That’s the reason for the motion.

“In its role, the State Board resources, assists, trains and does all the things to help churches do a good job, so we want to ensure its policies and practices are carefully reviewed,” she shared with The Alabama Baptist prior to proposing the motion. “We want to do the same for all partner entities and auxiliaries which are funded by the Cooperative Program.”

The CP-funded entities and auxiliaries which partner with the State Board of Missions include: Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, Alabama Baptist Retirement Centers, Alabama Citizens Action Program, Alabama WMU, Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center, The Alabama Baptist, The Baptist Foundation of Alabama and University of Mobile.

Leaders of each of the groups mentioned indicated to The Alabama Baptist they support the proposal for a review.

Judson’s final report, other updates shared during annual meeting

In the final report of Judson College to the convention, Judson president Daphne Robinson thanked Alabama Baptists for their “kindness and generosity” through the years.

Harrell Cushing, chair of the Alabama Baptist Education Commission, urged Alabama Baptists to send their stories and memories of Judson and other Baptist colleges to the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission for posterity.

Beck Taylor, president of Samford University, and Lonnie Burnett, president of University of Mobile, also provided updates.

In other reports, Mike Jackson of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions shared favorable reports from the audit and insurance committees related to convention entities. And Athens pastor Joel Carwile was announced as the 2022 convention preacher with Jarman Leatherwood of Huntsville as alternate.

Messengers approved Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville as the location for the 2025 annual meeting. Next year’s meeting will be Nov. 15–16 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham. (TAB Media)

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