Statement from ARITF committee

On Feb. 20, Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) Chairman Marshall Blalock presented an update to the SBC Executive Committee on the development of the “Ministry Check” website in accordance with Recommendation Two, which was adopted by the messengers to the 2022 SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Recommendation Two instructed the SBC Credentials Committee in consultation with the ARITF to select “an independent, qualified firm” to establish and maintain a public database of “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity.”

In the February update, Chairman Blalock announced that the ARITF and Credentials Committee had jointly and unanimously selected Faith-Based Solutions to establish and maintain the Ministry Check website in fulfillment of their mandate as stated in Recommendation Two. (Details about the Ministry Check website as well as the selection process may be found here.)

This selection was for the building and maintenance of the website only and not for the verification of names and information to be included on the database (see “1. Database creation and maintenance” below). The multi-step process of verification and inclusion on the Ministry Check website is further outlined below (see “2. Assessment of Allegations”).

Toward Unity and Cooperation

Since our first meeting, the ARITF has sought to serve the churches of our Convention in furthering the work of abuse reform. Over the last month, members of the ARITF have engaged in numerous and extensive conversations with local, state, and national leaders across our Convention to address concerns about the proposal for the Ministry Check website. While we believe that Faith-Based Solutions – under the direction of Southern Baptist church member and attorney Samantha Kilpatrick — respects our values and is the best option for a single firm to assist with the establishment and implementation of the Ministry Check website, we have also endeavored to listen carefully and thoughtfully respond to those who have raised concerns.

In the spirit of unity and cooperation, the ARITF met in Atlanta on Monday, March 27, and voted to consider alternative pathways (dividing the work among smaller firms which share our values) to establish and maintain the Ministry Check website. The ARITF is presently sourcing and evaluating additional firms to assist with the Ministry Check process who meet our qualifications for the highest professional standards.

We wish to express our sincere gratitude to the local, state, and national leaders, as well as abuse survivors, who have not only engaged in productive dialogue with us, but have patiently allowed the ARITF and Credentials Committee time to consider these concerns and work toward a unifying solution.

The Ministry Check website is a vital tool in combating abuse. The ARITF possesses an unwavering commitment to the SBC messengers’ mandate to establish a reliable and trustworthy Ministry Check website and to advance true and effective abuse reform across our Convention.

We are grateful for the significant investment that Southern Baptists have made in the work of abuse reform. Caring well for the vulnerable and abused is critical to fulfilling both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It is our prayer that leaders in our Convention will choose to work together as we move forward in a manner that is both unifying and effective.

Ministry Check Process

The Ministry Check system presently entails two processes as follows:

1. Database creation and maintenance – The actual building and security maintenance of the Ministry Check website. (This does not include the determination of who is placed on the website.) This is the portion of the project which Faith-Based Solutions was selected to perform and which the ARITF is reevaluating in the spirit of cooperation.

2. Assessment of allegations – The process of investigating allegations of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches.

A. Part 1 “Independent Assessment” – If there has been no criminal conviction, civil judgment or confession, then the initial assessment of the credibility of an allegation will be performed by an independent, qualified firm. Each local church has full autonomy in selecting an independent, qualified firm.

B. Part 2 “Independent Verification” – A review panel comprised of qualified experts will review the records of conviction, civil judgment, confession, or the independent assessment performed by the firm voluntarily retained by a local church to verify that the standard has been met. Faith-Based Solutions was never involved in this portion of the process. 

Together, the “Independent Assessment” (A) and “Independent Verification” (B) ensure a two-part system of double-verification for allegations of abuse and will offer a multi-tiered system of checks and balances to justly evaluate evidence. (The ARITF is presently sourcing and evaluating additional firms to assist with the Ministry Check process who meet our qualifications for the highest professional standards.)

Addendum: SBC Sexual Abuse Hotline for Survivors

Southern Baptists established the sexual abuse hotline for survivors in May 2022. Since that time, hundreds of unique submissions have been reported to the hotline via phone or email. Given the sensitive and confidential nature of these submissions, and the significant privacy issues involved, it is paramount that the current process for receiving disclosures and securely maintaining these records remain in place.

In establishing the hotline, Southern Baptists invited survivors and their advocates to entrust personal, and often painful, details of their abuse to trauma-informed specialists under the guarantee that the information shared would be protected and that options for care would be available. This hotline is not merely a stopgap measure but rather a means of building trust with survivors as we create more permanent solutions for abuse reform.

No survivor who made a disclosure to the hotline should fear having their information shared with alternate vendors or additional third-parties. By transitioning the hotline to another provider at this critical time, the SBC would forfeit the trust of survivors and hinder our efforts to make our churches the safest place to encounter the gospel.

— Marshall Blalock is senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston, and chair of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.