OAK ISLAND, N.C. — One day following the release of an extensive report that chronicled mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC), members of the N.C. Baptist board of directors devoted extensive time to praying for abuse survivors during their regularly scheduled meeting held Monday and Tuesday (May 23-24) at Fort Caswell Coastal Retreat and Conference Center.
The board also affirmed recommendations set forth in the report and pledged to take action to make caring for survivors, protecting the vulnerable and preventing abuse a priority in N.C. Baptist churches.
Todd Unzicker, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, opened the meeting Monday night with a time of individual and collective prayer. Unzicker read from Ezekiel 34:1-13, which recounts a prophetic warning to unfaithful shepherds and warns of God’s judgment on those who seek personal gain at the expense of others.
“What kind of shepherds will we be?” Unzicker asked board members, who voiced prayers for abuse survivors.
Board members also prayed for conviction and repentance over the sin of sexual abuse, and asked God to give wisdom to pastors and ministry leaders as they seek to address abuse, care for the abused and prevent future abuse from happening in churches.
Unzicker prayed that pastors would be shepherds who “defend the sheep” and “help them when they are injured.”
State convention President Micheal Pardue shared similar sentiments when he addressed board members Tuesday morning, prior to the second day of meetings. Pardue called on N.C. Baptists to “pray for those who were preyed upon,” before leading board members in another time of focused prayer.
The calls to prayer by N.C. Baptist leaders came in response to the release of a nearly 300-page report on Sunday (May 22) by the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force, which oversaw an independent investigation conducted by Guidepost Solutions into how the SBC Executive Committee handled claims of sexual abuse dating back to 2000. The formation of the task force, investigation into the SBC EC and subsequent report stemmed from a motion approved by messengers in attendance at the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Findings of the report stated that for the nearly two decades, sexual abuse survivors and other concerned Southern Baptists were frequently met “with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”
Pardue, who serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Icard in Connelly Springs, N.C., called the contents of the report “heartbreaking and gut wrenching,” and implored N.C. Baptists to “take decisive action.”
Pardue called on national leaders to immediately adopt and implement a series of recommendations that are outlined by the Sexual Abuse Task Force and included in the Guidepost report. Those recommendations focus on reforming how sexual abuse cases are handled.
Pardue encouraged N.C. Baptists to attend this year’s SBC annual meeting June 14-15 in Anaheim, Calif., to “hold our national convention accountable for the content of this report.”
Although the board took no formal action, an overwhelming number of board members stood to express support for what Pardue presented during his remarks.
“This is a time for action and not excuses,” Pardue said.
Some members of the board directed Unzicker to take additional steps to the proactive measures already underway, which include a review of the state conventions policies, procedures and practices related to sexual abuse.
The Christian Life and Public Affairs special committee voted to authorize Unzicker to engage North Carolina lawmakers in an attempt to adopt, enhance or strengthen state laws related to sexual abuse.
Unzicker also said state convention staff would develop and distribute new and existing resources to train and equip N.C Baptist churches in ministering and caring for abuse survivors, while also seeking to eliminate abuse from taking place.
Earlier this year, N.C. Baptists partnered with Guidepost Solutions on a review of state convention policies, procedures and practices related to sexual abuse. That review was initiated by Pardue and unanimously approved by the N.C. Baptist Executive Committee in November 2021.
“We will be proactive and transparent in making sure we do all we can to prevent abuse and respond when abuse occurs,” Pardue said.