Marshall Blalock says it was a long process to recommend Guidepost Solutions to the SBC Credentials Committee as the firm that would establish and maintain a “Ministry Check” website database for those credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., is the chair of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.
“It was a multi-step process,” Blalock said. “It wasn’t just, we walked into (the Credentials Committee meeting) and said, ‘We picked Guidepost.’ ”
According to Blalock, contract negotiations with Guidepost are underway.
He estimates the cost to build the site and get it off the ground will be $1.5-$2 million. The ARITF was allocated $3 million by Send Relief last summer to accomplish the work mandated by the messengers.
“We made a budget last year for Send Relief to say, ‘These are the kind of things we expect are going to cost money,’ ” Blalock said. “This was the largest ticket item.
“We have spent very little money. So far, the only money we’ve spent is on meetings. But we knew this (the database) was the biggest expense, so we’ve set aside money from our Send Relief funds that were given last year to get the database up and manage it for the first stretch.”
Although $1.5-$2 million is his ballpark estimate, he explained there are still plenty of financial unknowns.
“The major cost will be getting it running. Then once it’s there, the costs are going to be different, depending on how many submissions are made,” he said.
Blalock believes the sexual abuse hotline hosted by Guidepost will eventually be rolled into the contract with the “Ministry Check” website.
“I’m pleased to say that the hotline contract has protocols established to protect survivors and information about survivors. We have protocols, they’re in place, and that’s been the standard all along,” he said.
Blalock says the group was tasked by messengers to the 2022 SBC annual meeting to get the website up and running, not oversee the long-term operation or cost.
ARITF members were appointed by SBC President Bart Barber in late August, and their first meeting was on Sept. 5, 2022.
Indiana pastor Todd Benkert recently resigned from the group following his reporting of two churches to the SBC Credentials Committee. One of the churches invited Johnny Hunt to preach in January and the other church is hosting a men’s conference in March where Hunt is scheduled to preach.
Hunt was named in a 2022 report from Guidepost Solutions on the firm’s investigation into the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC Executive Committee. While Hunt has admitted to “a brief, but improper, encounter” in 2010 with a woman who wasn’t his wife, he has denied that it was abuse.
BUCKMAN APPOINTED TO SERVE ON ARITF
As a result of Benkert’s resignation, Barber has announced Kris Buckman will replace him on the ARITF.
Buckman serves as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s children’s and youth ministry consultant.
“Kris Buckman’s work with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware has yielded some of the most helpful resources for preventing abuse and supporting survivors that I have seen,” Barber said.
“Her appointment strengthens even more the symbiotic alliance between the Southern Baptist Convention and the various state conventions and local associations.”
Blalock says the task force is making progress, but he believes they need more time.
“I’m hoping that what can happen this year is the convention will agree to say, ‘Let’s renew the task force for the coming year,’ ” he said.
MEETING WITH STATE CONVENTION REPRESENTATIVES
Blalock said the ARITF invited representatives from each state convention’s sexual abuse task force to attend a meeting in Atlanta on March 28.
The meeting served as an opportunity to connect and talk through issues related to preventing sexual abuse at a local level in churches.
Blalock believes state conventions and local associations are the best way to make sure reform takes place.
“We’re trying to get in the hands of every local church positive ways to help make their church the safest place in their community so their children and their adults can come and know abuse is not a part of their equation,” he said.
— Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.