Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) presidential candidate Pastor Mike Stone says that “one of the first things” he would do as the denomination’s president is appoint a new sex abuse reform task force. This new task force would take a “more biblical approach to dealing with sex abuse” compared to the current Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).
The approach of the new task force, said Stone, would “signal to the churches of our convention that we are moving on a different trajectory,” even as its strategy will be “resourcing, equipping, training our churches to deal more lovingly, more compassionately, more biblically with abuse when it occurs.”
First thing @PastorMikeStone says he would do as new SBC President is appoint a completely different SATF that would not include @toddbenkert and @R_Denhollander, would not build a database of credibility accused abusers, but instead return authority to the local church. pic.twitter.com/zcis1CZaHr
— SBC Platform (@TheSBCPlatform) May 17, 2023
Mike Stone Shares Plans for Sex Abuse Reform
On April 26, Mike Stone announced that he will be accepting a nomination to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a decision messengers (local church representatives) will vote on at the denomination’s annual meeting in New Orleans in June. Stone is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, and serves on the steering council of the Conservative Baptist Network. He will be running against the SBC’s current president, Bart Barber. Stone previously ran for SBC president in 2021, but lost to Ed Litton.
Stone is giving a series of informational meetings in Louisiana about his plans for the SBC should he become president. He made his comments on his plans for sex abuse reform on May 16 while speaking at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Most likely there will be another sex abuse reform task force that would be appointed by the newly elected president coming out of New Orleans,” said Stone. In a clip of his talk circulating on social media, the pastor said that, should he become president, he would put together a task force “first of all, that would not be comprised of people, as we currently have, who admitted on social media that they have lied to sex abuse victims about the unauthorized release of their sex abuse story.”
Stone appears to be referring to Todd Benkert, whom SBC president Bart Barber originally appointed to the ARTIF, but who is no longer on the task force. Benkert has been at the center of allegations surrounding the leak of a draft containing the abuse story of Jennifer Buck, wife of SBC pastor Tom Buck.
Tom Buck retweeted the clip of Stone speaking, urging his followers not to vote for Barber in June.
Mike Stone continued his comments on his plans for sex abuse reform, saying, “I would not allow an advisor to serve the task force who, it is known on SBC Twitter, is advising people on how to sue the Southern Baptist Convention.”
This is an apparent reference to Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and an abuse survivor and advocate who has been advising the ARITF. SBC abuse survivor Christa Brown has raised concerns that Denhollander has a conflict of interest in her role with the SBC and has said that Denhollander told Brown that she (Denhollander) can advise SBC survivors on their “legal options.”
Stone’s new task force would “put us on a path where we stop just automatically believing and publishing all accusations,” said the pastor, and would help SBC members bear in mind that the Bible says “the first to plead his case seems right until his neighbor comes to question him.”
Moreover, the new task force would lead the SBC to “stop claiming responsibility for things that happen in independent autonomous Southern Baptist churches” and would “not move us toward publishing a database of people who have been accused of crimes even though they have not been convicted, they have not confessed, and there is no proof or evidence that they actually committed that crime.”