September 27, 2019
By Carrie Harris and Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga.—The fall meeting of the Governing Board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, led by CBF Moderator Kyle Reese, kicked off Thursday with a time of reports, discussion and other business centered on visioning, church engagement, theological education and the work of the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force.
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley updated the board on the Fellowship’s renewed commitment to collaboration with its partners in theological education.
“We are aiming to imagine new ways of relationship between CBF participating congregations and theological schools,” Baxley said. “And we are off to a marvelous start.”
This collaborative effort has been centered around three retreat-style conversations that include leaders from 10 partner theological schools as well as pastors, CBF staff and young Baptists.
“We recognize the changing landscape of theological education,” Baxley said. “So we are paying attention to new ideas for training theological leaders and brokering different kinds of relationships. Our goal at the end of this process is to identify two or three concrete ways toward strengthening our collaboration in the calling and training for congregational leaders.”
The process, Baxley added, is already generating a new kind of relationship between congregations and schools because this is the first time that leaders of both are meeting together to strategize.
“This is a priority that we have to give higher visibility,” said Baxley. “If the church of Jesus is not proactively invested in finding and developing the calling of women and men to congregational ministry, then we’re not really being the church that Jesus called us to be.”
Safe Churches Initiative
The Governing Board also heard an update regarding the work of the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force, which was formed in 2016 by CBF and Baptist Women in Ministry and co-chaired by Stephen Reeves, associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for CBF, and BWIM Executive Director Pam Durso.
Reeves shared about the efforts of this group of volunteers to develop model church policies, offer educational opportunities and create resources to assist congregations in the prevention of clergy sexual misconduct.
In October 2018, the task force released two significant resources developed for use by churches, seminaries and partner organizations: “Safe Churches and Ministers,” an educational video that helps equip churches, leaders and students to take responsibility in preventing abuse; and “Clergy Sexual Abuse Prevention Recommendations for Churches,” a collection of prevention guidelines and documents intended to prompt congregations to create their own policies, procedures, processes and covenants. (Learn more about these resources at www.cbf.net/safechurches.)
Reeves reported that the task force has met 19 times over the past three years and has published more than 20 narrative stories, columns and other resources on the CBFblog. The task force has made significant progress in equipping congregations and encouraging dialogue on this problem, he said.
“We formed in hopes of doing something that can prevent this from happening,” Reeves said. “We were trying to raise the visibility of this problem. What we didn’t do is set up a hotline for reports. We didn’t intend to be this, but that’s what we became.”
As the work of the task force took on this role, Reeves said, the group connected with CBF’s chaplaincy endorser Gerry Hutchinson to engage 13 CBF-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors with experience in this issue to take calls from victims. The group has made progress around the area of victims’ services through counseling and the creation of a survivors group, Reeves reported.
This work, which is focused on both prevention and victims’ services, has grown beyond the volunteer hours that can be given now and the Fellowship must consider important steps to continue and heighten its engagement with this issue moving forward, he said.
Reeves noted the importance of collaboration within the Fellowship and beyond, especially with other Baptist groups, citing the need for a comprehensive database including information about clergy sexual misconduct issues.
“We’re not going to solve this ourselves,” said Reeves. “Of all the Baptists in this country, we have the resources to do better—but we have to work together.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley echoed this call for collaboration with other Baptists as well as other denominational bodies.
“This has to be an ecumenical endeavor both in the Baptist family and the greater Christian community,” Baxley said. “This is not a place where we can just put our heads down. We are willing to work with and alongside anyone who wants to do this work. We are serious about dealing with the problem, the scourge, the embarrassment of clergy sexual misconduct in Baptist churches.”
The Governing Board heard reports submitted from CBF’s governance bodies including the Ministries Council, Nominating Committee and the Missions Council. Governing Board committees also updated the full board on ongoing work in the areas of personnel/legal, finance, identity/advancement and networks.
Baxley closed the two-day meeting with words of gratitude for the Governing Board and its ongoing work on behalf of the Fellowship.
“As a former member of the Governing Board, I hope that you will find that this service is meaningful and that you have the opportunities to be part of something really important,” Baxley said. “What we do here really matters, and I am grateful that, at this moment, that my colleagues and I are in this work with you all.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. Learn more at www.cbf.net.