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Criminal considerations aside, Southern Baptists want abuse reform, ARITF says

NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist sexual abuse reform leaders say work must persist even as investigations into allegations of the SBC’s mishandling of sexual abuse continue.

The SBC Executive Committee released a statement on March 6 saying it had been informed there would be no further action taken in the investigation that was launched in 2022. In August 2022, a statement from SBC entity leaders and SBC President Bart Barber said multiple SBC entities were involved in the DOJ investigation.

Legal counsel for the SBC has since confirmed that the investigation into the SBC as a whole remains open and ongoing, however, the DOJ has never made a public statement about the investigation and BP’s requests for comments were not returned on March 5 and March 7.

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) said, “Southern Baptists initiated the work of sexual abuse reform not in response to criminal inquiries or threats of lawsuits but due to an increasing burden and awareness that vulnerable people were suffering harm in many of our churches and institutions, which were vastly under resourced to care for and protect them.”

“Irrespective of any actions the Department of Justice may or may not take, the goal of abuse reform is to ensure SBC churches and entities are consistently able to protect and care for the vulnerable with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ,” the group said.

According to information provided to BP by the SBC Credentials Committee, “Eighty percent of the submissions received by the Credentials Committee since 2019 are related to allegations of sexual abuse.”

The committee says 65 percent of those submissions “warranted further consideration”.

In February, the ARITF announced the coming formation of the Abuse Response Commission – an independent non-profit organization to aid Southern Baptist churches in tracking credibly accused sexual abusers and creating resources to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse.

ARITF member Brad Eubank said in written comments to BP, “Many state conventions have put together many excellent resources to help equip and help their churches prevent and respond well to sexual abuse. There are also many excellent providers that can help.”

Eubank, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Petal, Mississippi, himself an abuse survivor, has helped to lead the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse reform efforts. He says more resources are coming this summer.

“There is a new curriculum coming out in June from the ARITF to help support the work of state conventions and local associations entitled Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response that we will believe will be a huge help to our normative size churches in our convention.”

Eubank is hopeful change will sweep across churches.

“It is so encouraging and brings great hope to see a lot of state conventions, associations, and churches begin to implement changes, however it certainly seems there is a still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

Based on a meeting of associational leaders in 2023, Eubank believes around one-third of Southern Baptist churches have taken steps to address the issue.

“Bottom line – it’s a Gospel issue,” he said. “We are compelled to act in accordance with Scripture, and God’s Word is crystal clear that we should speak boldly and rightly into this issue. We have to start there no matter what any civil or government entity may or may not do.”

Barber formed the ARITF following the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting. It came as a recommendation from the Sex Abuse Task Force named by then-SBC President Ed Litton following the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting.

The ARITF statement says the desire for sexual abuse reform pre-dates the formation of the SATF.

“Southern Baptists have recognized this need for significant and effective abuse reform as early as the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, more than four years before the Department of Justice mounted its inquiry into the SBC’s handling of sexual abuse,” the statement says.

Eubank and the other members of the ARITF are resolved in their work.

“The church should lead the way in prevention and responding well when sexual abuse happens,” he said. “We must have an unwavering commitment and passion to stay the course until the needed reforms are fully in place across our convention.”

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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