Hello, Missouri Baptist Convention Family!
I am Scott Gordon, Pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church in Kansas City. I was also a messenger at our recent MBC Annual Meeting in Branson. Prior to our time there, I had the privilege of working with my friend and fellow MBC Pastor, Mike Leake, and other fellow MBC Pastors on a motion to have appointed an MBC task force regarding the issue of sexual abuse. For those who were not able to be in Branson, you can find the full text of the motion at this link [MBC Tuesday Afternoon Business Update].
Sadly, this motion was rejected by the majority of messengers when it came to the floor for debate and vote. I am writing this letter to everyone in order to share what my desire was in bringing this motion, why I think the motion failed, and what I believe we can and must do going forward as a convention of Missouri Baptist churches and entities related to sexual abuse prevention and survivor care.
As we began working on this motion, we were greatly encouraged by the work fellow MBC Pastor Daniel Carr did in bringing a motion to the 2019 MBC Annual Meeting asking that a racial reconciliation task force be appointed for our Convention. His motion reads:
I move that the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention create a task force with the purpose of developing a plan to be implemented by the Missouri Baptist Convention toward racial reconciliation and greater diversity in leadership by examining the MBC’s history as it relates to racial issues, creating avenues for education and greater understanding of this issue for churches, and developing a plan for greater inclusion and diversity in the leadership of the Convention, especially on the Executive Board and the boards of our entities.
That motion, approved by the messengers, led to a task force which brought an excellent, challenging, and encouraging report at this year’s annual meeting. This example served as our template for our motion and encapsulated my desire for the sexual abuse task force—review past actions, remind ourselves of the importance of this issue, and recommend improved and additional action steps for us to take going forward. I believe this motion to be fully in sync with the statement of our Executive Director, Dr. John Yeats, when he prayed on Monday night in Branson during the highlighting of the good work of the MBC Children’s Homes regarding this issue: “Lord have mercy on us a people. Lord, may holiness arise in the camp of the Lord. Your people, Missouri Baptist, God, whatever it takes for us to be holy people, a pure people—people who do not shame your name. We glorify you not just with our words, but with our hopes, O God, with our actions.” I, too, am convinced that we must do whatever it takes to stop and remove predators of power and sexual abuse…and to care well for survivors.
So, why then did this motion fail? Basically because I do not believe that I was thoroughly ready for opposition. I, therefore, did not make the most of the opportunity I had when speaking in favor of the motion. When I spoke, I summarized the message of the motion and the reasons I believed it to be important for us as a Convention to approve it. Were I able to go back, I would’ve used more of that time to answer potential questions or objections while also highlighting the importance. Essentially, I would like the opportunity to advocate alongside the survivors who assisted us with this motion more thoroughly than I did.
I also was not prepared for the short duration of the debate and the lack of opportunity to respond to those who spoke against the motion with significant misunderstandings and mischaracterizations. In retrospect, I would’ve enlisted others to be ready to go to a mic and answer the objections that were raised. Bringing a motion from the floor does not easily allow the presenter of the motion to respond to the objections raised, so I turn to this format to respond to a few of the objections now.
One, this motion was seen as seeking to mirror the motion to investigate the SBC Executive Committee brought to the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville back in June by Grant Gaines and Ronnie Parrot. Neither Mike nor I deny awareness of that motion, but we intentionally chose not to utilize that motion as our template. Our situation in Missouri is different than the one Southern Baptists face on a national level. We are not calling for nor needing to fund an independent third-party investigation into one of our entities. We were asking to review, remind, and recommend…all from a task force comprised of active members of MBC churches.
Two, this motion was demonized from a mic by a messenger who utilized the name of Russell Moore, former ERLC President, as a pejorative to poison the well of debate. Think what you will of Dr. Moore, but he had no input and no connection to our motion. That being said, if the messenger meant to insinuate that Dr. Moore leading the ERLC to take the lead regarding the Caring Well Initiative and to host a conference to help equip churches regarding a more comprehensive understanding of sexual abuse and survivor care ministry… then I could not be more ready to be associated with such efforts.
Third, and finally, a concern was raised that we were moving to quickly before the motion—more accurately, motions—brought to and approved by the SBC messengers in Nashville have had time to return information to the SBC. To this I simply say that we, Missouri Baptists, need be careful how we view our polity as churches, state convention, and national convention. Too often we have hidden behind and invoked our cooperative polity—“the SBC cannot dictate what the MBC is to do…we are not hierarchical”—when we don’t want to be told to do something. It seems to me that in this case we are abdicating our polity—“let’s wait to see what the results of the SBC motions might tell us to do”—when we don’t want to take responsibility to initiate actions ourselves. I believe that we need to move this emphasis on all levels of our churches’ cooperation…local, association, state convention, and national convention. We need not leave any area open to inaction creating safe harbor for predators among us.
As I think about all that has happened and all that I hope to see happen for us to be doing “whatever it takes” to be faithful to Christ regarding the issue of sexual abuse prevention and survivor care, I would summarize it with the words from Scripture to go the extra mile. Walking the first mile—of receiving information from our church insurance carriers, of our readiness as mandatory reporters, of listing training resources on our Convention website—is necessary and good. The question that sticks with me is: What more, and what better, could we do if we invested the time and energy into seeking to walk even further—that second mile—down this road?
I am hopeful that our MBC President, Jon Nelson, will be able to take some of these ideas and help bolster our efforts across the Convention as soon as possible. I am ready to work on whatever remains necessary when the MBC Annual Meeting comes around next year. I am hopeful that state conventions, which are yet to have met and are considering similar actions of appointing a task force regarding sexual abuse, will learn from our mistakes and be able to embark upon such an excellent opportunity to show forth the impact and importance of the Gospel on an issue which needs such light to shine even further.