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Southern Baptist changes reach to Jacksonville

Jae C. Hong
Staff members gather on the stage during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

The Southern Baptist Convention wrapped up its annual meeting this week in Anaheim, California, vowing major changes in the future.

The country’s largest Protestant denomination has a strong presence in Northeast Florida. The Florida Baptist Convention is based in Jacksonville, and its North region is home to 460 churches.

A report made public last month by the SBC, conducted by an outside consultant, outlined sexual abuse taking place in churches across the country. Ten churches from the Jacksonville area were included on that list.

The more than 8,000 members who attended the annual meeting voted Tuesday to track pastors and other church workers accused of sex abuse. They’re also launching a new task force that will lead further changes.

“One of the things that the sex abuse task force showed is that the Southern Baptist Convention is not going to be a place that is a safe haven for abusers,” said Heath Lambert, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

Lambert says protecting victims is now a priority for church leaders.

“I think folks understand that if we want to be heard, pointing to the truthfulness of the Bible and pointing to the grace of Jesus Christ, we have to do that in ways that ensure the safety of people that we're ministering to. That's what we're doing. And so I think it's good news,” he said.

“The Southern Baptist Convention wants to be an open, honest, safe place that takes victims seriously, that hears them that protects them and is not in any way a safe haven for anyone that would want to be an abuser,” Lambert added.

The SBC made it clear: Protection of victims against claims is something they will take seriously.

A new president was elected during the annual meeting: Bart Barber, a pastor from Farmersville, Texas.

“So the Southern Baptist Convention has chosen a pastor of a small church who I think was understood to be a faithful and a fair leader who was in favor of sex abuse reform, and who wants to be faithful to follow through on the recommendations of the Taskforce,” Lambert said.

Jamie is an award-winning, Emmy nominated broadcast journalist who serves as a host and reporter for WJCT Public Media.