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Messengers vote to refer sexual abuse reform priorities to SBC Executive Committee

ARITF Chairman Josh Wester delivers the group's report to messengers at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting June 11 in Indianapolis. The rest of the task force sits behind him. Photo by Sonya Singh


INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – On Tuesday afternoon, June 11, messengers to the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis overwhelmingly approved two recommendations brought forward by the SBC Abuse Reform and Implementation Task Force (ARITF).

The recommendations hand the priorities identified by ARITF over to the SBC Executive Committee to further implement. The move closes a chapter of Southern Baptist life marked by three consecutive annual meetings where new task forces were appointed to make recommendations toward and implement abuse reforms.

Those recommendations were:

  • That the messengers of the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention affirm the objectives outlined in the 2024 Report of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, in particular, 1) the expansion of the Ministry Toolkit, 2) the establishment of the Ministry Check website, and 3) the creation of a permanent home for abuse prevention and response, but the Convention does not require the use of any particular organization outside the Convention’s entities or commissions to accomplish these objectives.
  • That the messengers of the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention urge the Executive Committee to work earnestly to complete the implementation of these objectives by recommending a structure adequate to support these objectives, by recommending the allocation of funds sufficient for the effective accomplishment of them, and to report back to the messengers to the 2025 SBC Annual Meeting on actions taken in response.

ARITF chair Josh Wester expressed optimism in the future of sexual abuse reform within the SBC as the Executive Committee takes the next steps.

“I hope the Executive Committee will take the blueprints we have laid out, all of the work product we’re going to provide, and secure permanent, long-term homes for abuse prevention and response for Southern Baptists,” said Wester, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C, during a press conference following the vote.

“This will ensure that any pastor in a church can have direct and immediate access, for free, to the help they need to keep their children and vulnerable people safe and to take the right steps.”

In his report to the Convention, Wester outlined the three priorities that have fueled the work of the task force over the past year.

First, they wanted to expand the ministry toolbox for church leaders. Wester and other task force members introduced a free five-part curriculum, entitled “Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response,” designed to make it easy for any church to get started with abuse reform and prevention in its ministry context. The curriculum covers training, screening, protecting, reporting and caring for survivors.

“Southern Baptist family, we truly believe this is a watershed moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said ARITF member Brad Eubank, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Petal, Miss., during the group’s report. 

“Our hope and prayer and belief is that the ‘Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response’ [curriculum] will bring about the generational change we’ve prayed for, that churches of every size, all across our convention, would actually implement these five steps and thus the countless numbers of children, students, and vulnerable adults will be spared from the horror and trauma of sexual abuse. And when it does happen, respond well, and be a safe and caring place for those who’ve experienced the trauma of abuse, whether inside or outside the church.”

Second, Wester described the task force’s efforts to establish a Ministry Check website that would act as a database of known sexual offenders. He announced the website is complete but is on hold due to insurance concerns.

Third, Wester told messengers of the task force’s efforts to find a permanent home for abuse reform. The task force consistently supported the idea of having that permanent home within the Convention, he said.

“We always, as a task force, believed that abuse reform would be best served within the SBC because by being internal to the SBC long-term, it would hold the trust of the churches of the SBC,” Wester said. 

But the task force looked elsewhere in January when the database stalled.

Wester expressed confidence in the SBC Executive Committee’s ability to implement Southern Baptists’ priorities on sexual abuse reform. 

Before changes in leadership to the SBC Executive Committee, Wester noted, the task force would have been hesitant to turn the assignment over to an entity with uncertain leadership and which had initiated the early concerns. 

“Now, it’s a new entity today in terms of new leadership,” Wester said. “Almost an entirely new trustee board have turned over in that time, or at least significantly turned over in that time. And so, we have a lot of confidence in placing this in their hands.”

To read the report in full and to access the new Essentials curriculum, visit sbcabuseprevention.com.

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  • Tobin Perry