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Responses continue over ARC announcement, funding and future

BP file photo

NASHVILLE (BP) — It was meant to be a moment of levity, one that pointed to the current financial challenges of the Southern Baptist Convention amid a desire to continue a response to sexual abuse reform that first gained a foothold in the Executive Committee five years ago.

Instead, it became an awkward introduction that left questions.

Prior to giving the President’s Address at the EC meeting on Feb. 19, Bart Barber called Josh Wester to the dais.

Wester, chair of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, had just announced the upcoming launch of the Abuse Response Commission. The decision had been made in consultation with SBC leaders like Barber, said Wester, who further announced that the ARITF was asking those individuals “to assist … in securing the financial resources required to launch this new organization.”

Now with the microphone, Barber turned to Wester.

“I could not help but notice, that in the report you just gave, you tagged me, among others, to provide financial support. … Do you realize that the Southern Baptist Convention actually does not have any money at all?” he asked.

“I’m going to pay you off out of my wallet, and say, ‘President Barber has done his part,’” said Barber as he reached into his jacket pocket. “Thank you, Josh.”

Barber continued with his message, but criticism followed that he had not treated the ARC announcement with the proper gravity. A joking comment from the EC crowd as Wester left the stage said the bill was Monopoly money, something Barber repeated.

Wester later told reporters that Barber had given a (real) $100 bill. Wester then spoke to the SBC president’s “fierce commitment” to the cause of sexual abuse reform and “willingness to call people together.”

“There’s been no greater friend or advocate to this cause than President Barber,” Wester said.

Barber, for his part, owned the moment in social media posts.

“I’ve just gotten back to the hotel room and have found out that the ‘Monopoly money’ thing I said tonight was really bad judgement on my part and did not communicate well my seriousness about this task,” he wrote, adding later that “Sometimes my sense of humor ain’t great.”

He later added, “My sense of duty is what drives me to see abuse reform all the way through to real accomplishment.”

Approximately $2.5. million is being sought in start-up funds for the ARC, which will be incorporated in South Carolina as a 501(C)(3). Full details on funding will appear in the coming months, Wester said. He added that he is encouraged by the support he has received from SBC entity leaders and Barber, who became the first public donor.

Send Relief issues statement

Prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, Send Relief committed $3 million toward sexual abuse reforms before providing another $1 million of “seed funding” for survivor care.

Send Relief is a cooperative effort between the SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) that provides gospel-focused compassion ministry.

Today, Send Relief released a statement reaffirming the original intent of the $3 million gift that came from undesignated funds, not Cooperative Program donations or gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®.

“The funds,” the statement said, “would not be used to fund an organization outside of the SBC … such as the Abuse Response Commission.”

NAMB President Kevin Ezell, IMB President Paul Chitwood and Send Relief President Bryant Wright released a joint statement.

“While we share a desire to support abuse reforms, many details remain unclear about the proposed ARC’s mission, legal structure, leadership, and accountability,” it read. “Though Send Relief funds are not available for a non-SBC organization, they do remain available to the ARITF for its assigned work within the SBC.”

ERLC to discuss motion on future role in sexual abuse care

Last summer at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Maryland pastor Keith Myer brought a motion to amend the SBC Organization Manual to add a ministry assignment so that the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission could assist churches and entities in responding to abuse. That motion was referred to the ERLC and will be discussed at their trustee meeting on March 21, Baptist Press has confirmed.

“I’m encouraged to know it will be discussed,” Myer told BP. “I have some thoughts on structural components that aren’t within the design scope – as I know it –i of the ARC but are with the ERLC.

“I’d be happy to talk with the board or Brent Leatherwood about ways I feel the ERLC can raise awareness of abuse, help train our churches to be safer, and equip us to care for those who have been harmed.”