Retired attorney Melissa Bowen, a member of First Baptist Church Prattville, plans to propose a motion calling for a Sexual Abuse Task Force during the upcoming annual meeting of Alabama Baptists. The task force’s purpose will be to review policies and practices, not to investigate any alleged cases, she said.
Bowen, who spent a decade representing domestic violence victims through Legal Services Alabama before she retired in 2017, said she sees the motion as an opportunity to help in an area she cares deeply about.
“Domestic violence isn’t always about childhood sexual abuse, but it came up very often,” Bowen told The Alabama Baptist. “Victims of domestic violence who were sexually abused as children said they felt like they were worthless, so when they ended up in situations where there was physical violence, emotional abuse or ongoing sexual abuse, they would put up with it because they felt they deserved it because of feeling worthless.”
Resource for churches
Now that more and more groups across the nation are working to improve their policies and practices, “I see this as an opportunity to help Alabama Baptist churches with their own reviews.”
When FBC Prattville reviewed its policies and procedures in 2019, Bowen served on the committee along with other professionals who work with children.
“We found we were doing a lot of things right,” she said. “We had some good policies and practices … but we also learned about some things we had not thought of and were able to implement those.
“And we realized that this should be an ongoing concern and we should stay diligent about these reviews in an ongoing way,” Bowen noted. “I think we are all aware of our need for our churches to be pro-active.”
Because there’s always a need for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions to assist churches with resources, especially related to policies and practices, Bowen said, “That’s the reason for the motion.”
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 said. “And 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 Conference Center, The Alabama Baptist, The Baptist Foundation of Alabama and University of Mobile.
Support for the review
Leaders of each of the groups mentioned indicated to The Alabama Baptist they support the proposal for a review.
Rick Lance, executive director of the State Board of Missions, said, “We at the State Board of Missions welcome an opportunity to have our policies and practices reviewed by the task force. We affirm the process and pledge to cooperate with them. We desire any input that will help us assist churches.”
Joe Godfrey and Greg Davis of ALCAP and American Character Builders also said they welcome “this important review. Protecting children, young people, women and anyone else from those who might seek to disrespect individuals or harm them in any way (sexually or otherwise) is what these two ministries are all about.”
Shocco’s Russell Klinner shared his appreciation for the opportunity outlined by the motion because of the seriousness in which they seek to care for all who participate in camp and conference activities as well as all who work at Shocco.
“We welcome the transparency and are glad to cooperate with a task force review,” he said.
Rod Marshall, president of the Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, also noted an “utmost concern for the well-being of the children in our care.”
“We support this motion and look forward to the opportunity to meet with concerned Baptists to examine our policies and practices to ensure we are exercising due diligence to continue to protect, nurture and restore children and families through Christ-centered services at a level that is beyond reproach and will protect our children and our ministries for many decades into the future,” he said.
Text of the motion
Bowen, who recently wrapped up her second two-year term as president of Alabama WMU (an elected volunteer position), served on the WMU staff from 2000 to 2006 before becoming the managing attorney of the Montgomery office for Legal Services Alabama from 2007 to 2017.
She said her motion will read: “I move 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.”
The Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting will take place Nov. 16–17 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville.