Abuse Reform Task Force [Mobile, AL]
August 31, 2023
The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) held an in-person meeting on Monday in Dallas, TX. This was our first in-person meeting since President Bart Barber announced changes to the ARITF on August 11. The ARITF wishes to express our gratitude to the messengers to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans for granting us an additional year to fulfill our assignment and for once again demonstrating overwhelming support for the work of abuse reform.
Protecting the vulnerable and caring for the abused is at the heart of every gospel-centered ministry. Collectively, we recognize the significance and the urgency of the task entrusted to us. We are grateful to President Barber for the confidence he has placed in this task force and for his unwavering support for this cause. We also wish to thank Send Relief for its generous financial support and ongoing partnership with the ARITF.
Since the annual meeting in June, members of the ARITF have also met with leaders from Lifeway, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC Executive Committee, as well as numerous pastors, state convention leaders, and Associational Missions Strategists. We are immensely grateful for the spirit of unity and firm resolve expressed by these Southern Baptist leaders to see abuse reform advanced at every level of our Southern Baptist family.
Developing a website to serve churches
In our meeting this week, the task force worked to onboard new members, review ongoing initiatives, and identify priorities for the year ahead. Among the most important efforts currently underway is the task of vetting* the names and background information of potential sexual offenders reported to the SBC sexual abuse hotline for survivors to determine their eligibility for Ministry Check.
The website sbcabuseprevention.com will serve as the online hub for abuse prevention resources across the SBC. While still a work in progress, it currently features two key components:
- Ministry Check: a searchable database of individuals credibly accused** of sexual abuse.
- Ministry Toolkit: a toolbox designed to help make every church the safest place on planet earth for every child, student, and adult.
The website will also serve as the future home of all ARITF updates. The task force plans to transfer all prior updates to the new website.
By way of reminder, the messengers approved a motion in Anaheim to establish and maintain “Ministry Check”–a public online database of “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity.” Per the adopted motion, the term “sexual abuse” is defined by the SBC as any sexual act that could result in a criminal conviction or civil liability in the jurisdiction where it occurred.
While we will continue working diligently to develop standards and protocols for the inclusion of individuals from all four categories adopted by the messengers, the ARITF anticipates that the first names included on Ministry Check will be the names of credibly accused individuals who have been convicted of sexual abuse in a court of law or have had a civil judgment rendered against them deeming them liable for sexual abuse as defined above.
In addition to the work related to Ministry Check, the ARITF is also working to create and augment the resources available in the Ministry Toolbox. The desire and goal of the Ministry Toolbox is to help churches become the safest place for the most vulnerable by equipping them with resources to help prevent abuse and to care well for victims and survivors. The Toolbox is designed to give churches the tools and resources needed to help prevent abuse and make them safe for the vulnerable.
The ARITF has also been closely engaged with the Credentials Committee. We will continue working to ensure the Credentials Committee is equipped with the resources and guidance necessary to effectively perform its vital role in increasing accountability in our convention. We will also continue working with our national entities, state conventions, local associations, and churches to assist with the implementation of reform measures, including the recommendations, suggestions, and requests, put forward to the messenger body in Anaheim, wherever possible throughout the convention.
Critically, the ARITF is committed to continuing to listen and learn from survivors of sexual abuse. With our broader convention, we are grieved by the immense pain many have suffered in ministry contexts that should have represented safety and refuge. As we enter into a new season of this work, it is our fervent desire to walk in humility and to honor Jesus whose heart was always for the vulnerable and those who are hurting.
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*This vetting process is presently limited to determining eligibility for Ministry Check on the basis of prior criminal convictions or civil judgments rendered against accused individuals for sex-based offenses. This represents two of the four categories for inclusion adopted by the messengers to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA. Further work is currently underway to develop standards for inclusion on the basis of the remaining two categories.)
** As reported by Baptist Press: The task force’s mandate from 2022 SBC messengers in Anaheim, CA – who authorized SBC President Bart Barber to appoint the group – defined a “credibly accused” individual as one fulfilling at least one of four criteria:
- Confessed the abuse in a non-privileged setting;
- Was convicted of abuse in a court of law;
- Had a civil judgment rendered against them for committing abuse; or
- Has been defined as “credibly accused” according to the preponderance of evidence, as examined by an independent third party.