2023 SBC: ARITF granted additional year to fight sexual abuse

The SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force will work for another year and report to next year’s SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

In its report to SBC messengers in New Orleans, the task force unveiled a toolbox to help churches combat sexual abuse and was granted another year of existence to fulfill the mandates set forth by SBC messengers last year. That work will include continued development of a website to list individuals “credibly accused” of committing abuse.

The task force’s mandate from 2022 SBC messengers in Anaheim, Calif. — who authorized SBC President Bart Barber to appoint the group — defined a “credibly accused” individual as one fulfilling at least one of four criteria:

• Confessed the abuse in a nonprivileged setting;

• Was convicted of abuse in a court of law;

• Had a civil judgment rendered against them for committing abuse; or

• Has been defined as “credibly accused” according to the preponderance of evidence, as examined by an independent third party.

A MinistryCheck prototype website was unveiled during the task force’s presentation. It incorporates the first three categories of “credibly accused” and will be populated with names when a legal review of those names is completed, said ARITF chairman Marshall Blalock.

To date, the ARITF has determined how to place the first three categories of credibly accused individuals on the website. The task force said its additional year will be utilized to develop the fourth — establishing a means to conduct third-party investigations.

“We have a commitment to implement the finding of the messengers last year, including category four,” said Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston. He acknowledged “considerable discussions” about the fourth category, but he assured messengers a “mere allegation” of abuse will “absolutely not” land anyone on the list.

The process for a third-party investigation is still being developed, Blalock said. However, the framework being considered by the ARITF includes investigation of the case by a licensed and qualified firm, review of that investigation by an independent legal team, and opportunity for the accused person to appeal.

Messengers express their views on ARITF report, resolutions, motions, convention officers, constitutional amendment on women pastors.

Jamie Arnette, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dillon, opposed granting the task force another year. He said his church was placed on a list released by the SBC Executive Committee last year, but the church felt being identified with abuse was unfair and inaccurate.

Blalock responded that church names will not be listed on the new website, only names and photos of credibly accused individuals, along with their cities and states.

The toolbox of resources unveiled by the task force included materials to help leaders understand abuse prevention and response, updated Caring Well educational materials, and assistance with vetting individuals to serve churches as crisis interventionists and survivor advocates.

“We want to see our churches faithful to Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, sending to the nations with the Good News,” Blalock said. “But if we are not protecting our people from abuse, we are compromising our mission.”

— David Roach is a writer in Mobile, Ala.