Ahead of its report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting next month, the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) released an update May 25 to “bring truth and clarity” to the SBC about its work.
The update addressed questions about the standard of “credibly accused” as it relates to the upcoming Ministry Check website, and also explained the ARITF’s decision to move away from Faith-Based Solutions as the provider and manager of the website.
“Our goal remains to help every church be the safest place on earth for children and vulnerable adults,” tweeted Marshall Blalock, ARITF chairman, after the update was released. “We aren’t there yet, but we haven’t lost sight of the goal.”
Defining ‘credibly accused’
Messengers to the 2022 annual meeting approved the creation of the ARITF and the Ministry Check website that will maintain “a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse.” The recommendation approved by messengers noted that “credibly accused” could be defined in four ways:
1. Confession in a non-privileged setting.
2. Conviction in a court of law.
3. Civil judgment rendered.
4. Independent third party determines by preponderance of evidence following inquiry that individual is credibly accused.
After consulting with advisers and legal experts, the ARITF said, the Ministry Check website launching soon will include individuals who meet the standard of credibly accused according to the first three categories.
Category four is “crucially important” in preventing future abuse, the group said, noting that the first three categories won’t detect sexual abuse in the vast majority of cases. Category four also requires further study and consideration, they said.
“The ARITF is not abandoning category four,” they noted. “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.”
‘Widest possible participation’
The ARITF’s update also noted it has moved away from Faith-Based Solutions (the Christian-led division of Guidepost Solutions) as Ministry Check’s provider and manager. Guidepost raised concerns last year over a tweet posted during gay pride month.
The group challenged the assertion that the decision was due to some churches or state conventions considering whether to withhold Cooperative Program giving. “The ARITF agreed to pursue these changes for one reason: to have the widest possible participation by our churches to stop sexual abuse,” they said.
The task force also pushed back against characterizing the conversations they’ve had with pastors and leaders as threats.
“We have met with and had conversations with pastors and leaders from nearly every state convention,” they said. “We never took any of those conversations to be threats. We would never mischaracterize the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ in that way. We are of one mind to serve Christ, and in the work of this Task Force, we aim to help every single church become the safest place possible for every person to come to know our great Savior.”