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‘Very high priority’: Barber reveals criteria for new task force appointees

Photo by Sonya Singh

FARMERSVILLE, Texas (BP) – Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber has unveiled his desired skill set for appointees to an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force approved by messengers at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting.

“You need, above all, a sense of the rightness of this task and the importance of this task, for everyone,” Barber said during the July 5 episode of the SBC This Week podcast. “Everyone on this implementation task force needs to be committed to the solution of this problem.”

Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force members must understand trauma, sexual abuse, the needs and concerns of abuse survivors, pertinent legal requirements and SBC polity and structure, Barber said. The team must include good communicators, people who have good relationships with SBC leaders and people who have the diplomacy to provide proposals and receive feedback.

“It’s enormous, if you think about it,” Barber said. “I’ve just been trying to compile and analyze all of those skillsets in order to have the data that I need” to make appointments. “If I just decide to wing it … I could end up with a great, well-intentioned team who did not know how to do what they needed to do.

“So I’m devoting a lot of time to that right now. It’s a very high priority for me.”

Barber shortened his anticipated timeframe for appointing members to the task force, moving from the end of July to mid-month.

In addition to preventing sexual abuse, Barber said, Southern Baptist churches should become a place of excellence in ministering to sexual abuse survivors.

“There’s tremendous hurt and need all around us in every one of our congregations,” he said. “And to the degree that we haven’t taken clergy sex abuse very seriously – worker or volunteer sexual abuse – and worked to prevent it and to respond well to it, to the degree that we have egg on our face or anything like that, survivors of other sexual abuse are not going to feel safe and comfortable coming to us for help with what they’ve suffered.

“Beyond our mistakes and our problems, there’s a vast ministry need and ministry opportunity here that I hope we’ll be able to address.”

The task force will study the feasibility of various sexual abuse prevention measures recommended by Guidepost Solutions and the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) following an independent investigation of the SBC Executive Committee’s response to sexual abuse complaints spanning two decades.

Barber mentioned one recommendation in particular – the creation of a website tracking sexual abuse convictions and credible accusations.

“People are waiting on the Ministry Check website and the database and that sort of thing. They’re waiting on that to be fully ready and implemented,” Barber said. “So I’m working on this constantly. I feel very much the burden and mandate responsibility to accomplish this task and accomplish it well and accomplish it in a timely manner.”

The skillsets encompass and surpass those required of the SATF, which Barber encouraged all Southern Baptists to thank for its extensive and comprehensive work completed in advance of the SBC annual meeting. The work required the SATF to have knowledge of sensitive and traumatic accounts of abuse during the study period.

“What we probably will never appreciate is the degree to which being that close to that much trauma over the span of an entire year is traumatic in and of itself for anyone who’s involved in something like that,” Barber said. “I promise you it’s true that these are people who have given of themselves sacrificially in ways, not just in terms of time and work, but just in terms of their hearts and their emotions. They’ve given sacrificially over the space of a year.”

SBC This Week is hosted by Jonathan Howe and Amy Whitfield.

Listen to the interview.