Southern Baptists’ sex abuse task force renewed for additional year

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette ([Fayetteville AR]

June 17, 2023

By Frank E. Lockwood

NEW ORLEANS — Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to renew their Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force for another year, giving the body additional time and resources to complete its mandates.

A few messengers opposed extending the task force another year, arguing that the matter was better left to autonomous local congregations and voicing fears that ministers might be falsely accused.

Members of the task force said their work would make make churches safer spaces for children.

During this week’s annual meeting, the task force unveiled a prototype for its Ministry Check website,, where the names of credibly accused perpetrators will eventually be posted.

For now, it includes a “ministry tool kit” that provides resources for local congregations seeking to safeguard parishioners better, but doesn’t yet identify any perpetrators.

The task force is working to list the names of those ”credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

The names of the churches they served will not be posted, officials said.

“Vetting of candidates to serve as independent review experts is in process, as is the legal review and confirmation of reported criminal convictions and and civil judgment,” the task force said in its report.

Convention President Bart Barber, who favored creation of the task force and appointed its members, welcomed Wednesday’s vote.

“The messengers have overwhelmingly and enthusiastically affirmed the direction of the [task force] and are helping the convention to move forward with the work that we have before us,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.

Some sex abuse survivors have criticized the pace of the task force’s work.

“My heart aches for all the wounded victims and disheartened church members who no doubt feel betrayed by the SBC’s continuing refusal to protect kids by publicly identifying all credibly accused child-molesting pastors. A year ago, SBC officials proposed, in their own words, ‘the bare minimum’ of reform, and now they have done not even that, not even close,'” lawyer and abuse survivor Christa Brown said in a written statement.

In May 2022, the convention’s executive committee posted a list of alleged abusers online at, based largely on news accounts of court proceedings.

Referring to the speed of the process, Barber said, “It’s important for us to work to build unity, buy-in and consensus in the things that we do to move forward sex abuse reform, because if a church doesn’t like what we’re doing and they leave, the children in that church are no more safe than they were before,” he said, emphasizing the autonomy of the denomination’s 47,198 local congregations.

“Every church that participates in making our churches safer is going to have to do so because they want to. And so the [task force] has been working all year to help calm people’s fears and anxieties about changes that we’re proposing that churches make,” he said.

Marshall Blalock, a Charleston, S.C., pastor and chairman of the task force, emphasized its members’ commitment to safeguarding children.

He also portrayed Barber’s re-election as a welcome development.

“We were grateful that he believed in what we were doing and he supported us every step of the way,” Blalock said.

“We want to continue as Baptists to keep going forward on this issue, so we believe his re-election creates a lot of momentum for continuing to go on to take the next steps,” Blalock said.

In its report, the task force said it will work with convention leaders and ministers in the coming year “to establish a more permanent structure and budget for the implementation and carrying out of reform measures.”

Southern Baptists also demonstrated this week that congregations will “not be in friendly cooperation” with the convention if they fail to deal forthrightly with allegations of sexual abuse.

During Tuesday afternoon’s sessions, messengers upheld a decision by the convention’s executive committee expelling Freedom Church of Vero Beach, Fla. After allegations of sexual misconduct were lodged against its pastor, denominational officials sought information from the church but were rebuffed, convention officials said.

The vote in favor of expulsion was overwhelming — 9,984 to 343.