The group tasked by the members of the Southern Baptist Convention with creating policies to address sexual abuse within the denomination has shared an update on their work and reaffirmed their commitment to “helping churches prevent sexual abuse and minister well to abuse survivors.”
On Dec. 22, The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force issued an update on their work aimed at “identifying and implementing reform measures” as instructed by SBC Messengers at the SBC's Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, earlier this year.
Among other duties, the group was tasked with creating a “Ministry Check” database to keep track of church leaders accused of sexual abuse.
The names listed on the website would be people who have been "credibly accused" of sexual abuse. This encompasses a "pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer … who has confessed to sexual abuse in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them."
In their December update, the group said they were making strides to “determine the specific nature and functions of the Ministry Check database and to identify a capable and qualified database administrator.”
The group said they had participated in “numerous meetings and interviews with SBC leaders, SBC Credentials Committee members and personnel, and leading experts in investigations, abuse prevention and response, and cyber and technological security.”
“At this time, the ARITF with the assistance of key SBC leaders has agreed to maintain the hotline and email notification system to receive and document these reports,” they added.
The ARITF applauded the state conventions that have taken steps to address sexual abuse during their fall meetings, adding: “the ARITF wishes to affirm the efforts of so many of our State Conventions to help set standards for churches and provide resources for churches to prevent abuse and care for survivors. These state-level and local reforms are critical for creating a convention-wide culture of prevention and care.”
In June, the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., overwhelmingly voted to pass a series of abuse reform recommendations. The vote came a month after the release of a report from Guidepost Solutions detailing the results of an investigation into allegations that some SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence of sexual abuse victims.
The report identified 700 victims over a 20-year span and found that survivors of sexual abuse encountered "resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility" from some on the SBC's Executive Committee.
In August, the SBC announced that the Justice Department is investigating multiple arms of the denomination over the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.
In September, the ARITF said that in addition to creating a Ministry Check database, it would prioritize the retaining of an individual or firm that is qualified and trauma-informed to receive reports of abuse or mishandling of abuse and “assisting the Credentials Committee in retaining a qualified firm to assist them in their processes and in performing factual inquiries related to sexual abuse.”
ARITF Chairman Marshall Blalock told the Baptist Press that since September, the group has worked to create multiple reforms “which must be designed from the ground up.”
“We have had to divide the team into smaller groups to work simultaneously on these important initiatives,” he said. “We realized when we started back in September the work before us was far more complicated than it appears at first glance.”
Blalock told BP the group plans to publish the new initiatives in the new year.
“While the task is more difficult than anticipated, our team is united by a Christ-honoring passion to help churches prevent sexual abuse and minister well to abuse survivors. We understand the urgency of what we have been called to do, and that drives us every day.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com