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Sex abuse task force releases report, recommendations


NASHVILLE (BP) – On Tuesday (June 4) Southern Baptists’ Abuse Reform and Implementation Task Force (ARITF) released its final report and recommendations ahead of the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. The report highlights the release of a new curriculum designed to help local churches of all sizes “establish or evaluate their abuse prevention and response plan.”

The task force will ask messengers to approve two recommendations at the annual meeting. First, they are asking Southern Baptists to affirm the objectives outlined in the report. Second, they are asking messengers to urge the SBC Executive Committee to “complete the implementation of these objectives” by recommending a sufficient structure and allocating funds to do so.

“It’s our hope that the messengers will leave Indianapolis resolved to see abuse reform through and to address the needs of the SBC when it comes to sexual abuse,” said ARITF Chairman Josh Wester. “The needs are vast, but some of the key steps are really not complicated at all. It is our hope that Southern Baptists will speak with a lot of clarity, expressing their desire to see these steps taken quickly because the problem is urgent.”

The objectives outlined in the report are: 

  • the expansion of the Ministry Toolkit,
  • the establishment of the Ministry Check website,
  • the creation of a permanent home for abuse prevention and response.

The five-part curriculum,titled“The Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Training,”will help churches with five aspects of their response – training, screening, protecting, reporting and caring. The curriculum is designed for a church to complete it over five meetings among various ministry leaders in the church.

“This is not an easy topic,” said Wester, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C. “But we have sought to make something that is difficult as simple as possible, so that as many churches as possible can take these steps and be prepared.”

Messengers in Indianapolis can get copies of the new curriculum in both print and USB drive formats at the ARITF booth in the exhibit hall.

The expansion of the ministry toolkit to include this new curriculum was one of three priorities the ARITF focused on during the past year. The report also described the task force’s work toward the establishment of the Ministry Check website as well as a permanent home for abuse prevention and response in the SBC.

Toward that end, some members of the ARITF launched ARC (Abuse Response Commission), earlier this year in an effort to “allow for insurance and liability coverage that is fully independent of the convention,” the report said.

The report expressed the task force’s unanimous conclusion that SBC abuse reform needs a permanent home. It specifically outlines five “complex and multifaceted” needs that a permanent home for abuse reform can address:

  • Local churches need expert and cost-free assistance in times of crisis.
  • Local churches need accessible and effective resources to prevent abuse.
  • The Credentials Committee requires assistance in addressing sexual abuse claims.
  • The SBC needs to provide compassionate care for survivors.
  • State conventions and local associations need expert assistance to help their churches navigate sexual abuse.

The ARITF calls the Ministry Check website one of two mandates given to the task force from messengers at the 2022 and 2023 annual meeting and stresses that each task force member believes than an online offender database is important in helping Southern Baptists “inhibit” sexual predators from taking advantage of the SBC’s unique polity to “prey upon the vulnerable by moving from church to church.”

According to the report, the initial version of the Ministry Check website will include two categories of sexual offenders associated with Southern Baptist churches: individuals convicted of sexual abuse in criminal court and those found liable for sexual abuse in civil court.

“At present, ARC (the Abuse Reform Commission) has secured multiple affordable insurance bids and successfully completed the vetting and legal review of nearly 100 names for inclusion on Ministry Check at our own expense with additional names to be vetted pending the successful launch of the website,” the task force noted in the report.

The report said that ARC is working with the SBC Executive Committee to address remaining concerns regarding legal liability and insurance before publishing the Ministry Check website.

“I think the first thing that I would say is that our task force unequivocally affirms that Southern Baptists want to get this right,” Wester said. “There is concern out there that some people say the reform is about trying to police your church or telling you what to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. The abuse reform [task force] is about helping churches, and our churches overwhelmingly want to do the right thing.”

The ARITF report is planned for 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11. For information about the work of the task force and to read the report and recommendations in full, visit sbcabuseprevention.com.

    About the Author

  • Tobin Perry