NASHVILLE (BP) – The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) has issued a second update on their work. The group was tasked by SBC messengers at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim with several jobs, including the creation of a Ministry Check database of those “credibly accused” of sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches.
In the new update, the group says they have had “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.” They have also met three times in person, according to the update.
“The Task Force faces the challenge of creating 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,” ARITF Chairman Marshall Blalock told Baptist Press.
In a Sept. 16 update the group said it would prioritize:
- The retaining of an individual or firm who is qualified and trauma-informed to receive reports of abuse or mishandling of abuse, determine the proper entity, association or church to respond to that report, and communicate this report to the relevant parties.
- The creation of the Ministry Check database, which will house the names of those credibly accused of sexual abuse in order to ensure thorough information flow throughout the Convention and better resource churches to protect their congregations.
- Assisting the Credentials Committee in retaining a qualified firm to assist them in their processes and in performing factual inquiries related to sexual abuse. As of right now, more than 200 referrals have been made to the Credentials Committee related to SBC churches and it is imperative that we equip and resource our CC members to respond to these reports.
“We realized when we started back in September the work before us was far more complicated than it appears at first glance,” said Blalock.
The update says the group has “worked diligently to determine the specific nature and functions of the Ministry Check database and to identify a capable and qualified database administrator.”
According to the Sexual Abuse Task Force report issued this summer, “A credibly accused pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer includes one who has confessed in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them. Additionally, an independent third party who has been hired by any church or other Baptist body, may determine, by preponderance of the evidence following an inquiry, that a pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer is credibly accused. A “preponderance of the evidence” is the legal standard required for a civil judgment.”
“Additionally, through this work the ARITF has also identified numerous outside groups that may provide needed assistance for SBC churches and entities in their efforts to prevent and respond to instances of sexual abuse,” the update reports.
The group says it will keep the phone and email hotline to report sexual abuse in place for the foreseeable future.
The update also mentions state conventions as many have addressed sexual abuse during their fall meetings.
The group says, “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.”
Members of the ARITF are:
- Marshall Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., ARITF chair
- Mike Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla., ARITF vice chair.
- Todd Benkert, pastor and lead elder of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind.
- Melissa Bowen, member of First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala.
- Brad Eubank, senior pastor of Petal First Baptist Church in Petal, Miss.
- Cyndi Lott, member of Catawba Valley Baptist Church in Morganton, N.C.
- Jon Nelson, lead pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Mo.
- Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas
- Gregory Wills, member of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as professor of church history and Baptist heritage and dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Blalock says the group is working on new initiatives and plans to publish them 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.”
The update is the first to be posted on the group’s new webpage.
If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.