Sexual abuse ministry check website almost ready for launch, ARITF says
NASHVILLE (BP) – The SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force says it is preparing to launch a ministry database website as ordered by messengers to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim. The website will not be connected to Faith-Based Solutions or Guidepost Solutions in any way, according to a May 25 release on the group’s website.
“After listening and giving careful consideration, the Task Force determined, in consultation with the Credentials Committee, to move away from Faith Based Solutions (the Christian-led division of Guidepost) as the provider and manager of the website,” the update said.
The group also announced that during the site’s initial launch, it will utilize only the first three criteria in the definition of “credibly accused.”
ARITF Chairman Marshall Blalock told Baptist Press task force members are planning to have the website online when they give their report at the SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans on June 13. The names that have been vetted from categories one, two and three will be on the site at that time.
“Name, alias, birth date, offense, location of offense, date of offense and a photo will be on the site in a searchable database. It will be available for public search without a password or user account,” Blalock said.
Related to the fourth category, the update said, “The ARITF is not abandoning category four. We are, however, committed to implementing each category once it is fully developed. We will continue to work closely with churches, leaders, survivors and experts to thoroughly address concerns and ensure that the development of this category is as effective as possible in protecting all parties.”
The fourth point of the credibly accused definition deals with the “Determination by an independent third party according to a preponderance of evidence,” according to the update.
The group said the following statistics are among their rationale for the continued work to find a way to include the fourth criteria:
2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported. (RAINN)
Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, only 25 offenders will ever be convicted. (RAINN)
A male abuser who molests boys has an average of 150 victims. (Emory University)
A male abuser who molests girls has an average of 52 victims. (Emory University)
Only 16% of child victims ever tell about their abuse. (NCAC)
At the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, messengers passed the following definition for those considered to be credibly accused of sexual abuse:
“A credibly accused pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer includes one who has confessed in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them. Additionally, an independent third party who has been hired by any church or other Baptist body, may determine, by preponderance of the evidence following an inquiry, that a pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer is credibly accused. A ‘preponderance of the evidence’ is the legal standard required for a civil judgment.”
In the May 25 update, the group clarified the definition of sexual abuse that will be used on the ministry check site, saying, “the term ‘sexual abuse’ is defined as any sexual act that could result in a criminal conviction or civil liability in the jurisdiction where it occurred.”
Blalock told BP he had been encouraged by the cooperative spirit he had encountered from many Southern Baptists to rid churches of sexual abuse.
“The passion of our people to prevent sexual abuse has been one of the encouraging blessings of serving on this task force,” he said.
While he admits the task is great, he believes partnership is key.
“It’s the heart of our people to cooperate,” he said. “It will take each church sharing information to help every other congregation identify abusers and protect their people.”
The update said moving away from Guidepost is a primary reason it has taken a year for the ministry check website to be prepared. “… [T]his meant dividing the work related to Ministry Check between multiple providers,” it said. “This added complexity to our assignment, but our goal was cooperation. In order to encourage unity and the widest possible cooperation among our churches in combating abuse, we sought to remove every stumbling block.”
It also sought to address “false narratives” being spread about the group’s work.
“There is a narrative being promoted that these steps were taken in response to threats about churches or conventions withholding Cooperative Program funds. The ARITF agreed to pursue these changes for one reason: to have the widest possible participation by our churches to stop sexual abuse,” the update said.
The group said understanding the timing of their decisions is important, “It is also worth noting that the ARITF met to make these changes before any public announcements were made by any state convention.”
Blalock said the ministry check website will have information about prevention including a toolbox for local churches when it debuts in June.
Last year, messengers in Anaheim approved the creation of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, including the ground rules for the group’s work and how members are selected:
The task force operates on a year-to-year basis and must be granted an additional year by messengers at subsequent annual meetings as needed.
Vacancies on the task force are appointed by the SBC president at the time of the vacancy.
This is the full text of what messengers passed related to the creation and ongoing work of the ARITF:
“That the messengers to the 2022 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention approve the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF), authorized to operate for one year, to be renewable by each subsequent annual convention as needed. The ARITF is to be appointed by the president elected by the 2022 Convention, who will also appoint its leadership. Any vacancies will be appointed by the SBC president at the time of the vacancy. The ARITF and its work are to be funded by the Executive Committee for the first year from the sexual abuse reforms allocation. The Executive Committee will fund the ARITF’s expenditures and recommendations, pursuant to the recommendations adopted by the Messengers, the approval of which may not be withheld. The ARITF will work collaboratively with entity heads to recommend funding mechanisms for reforms for following years. The ARITF will report to each annual session of the Convention that it is in existence.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee.